There won't be high school football games broadcast on the ESPN co-owned Longhorn Network … yet. According to the Associated Press, Austin American-Statesman and other sources, the Big 12 Conference passed a one-year moratorium that will keep the University of Texas sports-themed cable channel from airing any live prep sporting events until the conference can complete more due diligence to determine how such a decision would affect recruiting.
Whether the Longhorn Network is allowed to broadcast high school games after the forthcoming year-long moratorium is completed remains to be seen.
"[Big 12 athletic directors] recognize that this issue is complex and involves a detailed analysis of the recruiting model in many areas, including existing NCAA legislation related to the publicity of prospective student-athletes and the rapidly evolving world of technology," the Big 12 said in a statement to the media. "This process will take an extended period of analysis."
The most interesting part of that previous statement, of course, is "extended period of analysis." If that extended period lasts for more than one year, it could have knock on affects for the overall high school coverage market in both the state of Texas, where the Longhorn Network had expressed interest in televising games involving teams like the Austin (Texas) Stephen F. Austin High squad pictured above, and on the West coast. With the recent contract between New York City's Public School Athletic League and the Cablevision-owned MSG Varsity network setting a benchmark for prospective future deals for some large markets, interest in landing a significant portfolio of high school events on a cable television platform has never been higher.
That's precisely where the likes of the newly created Longhorn Network and Pac 12 Network come in, as Prep Rally outlined in late July. Just as televising Texas games on the Longhorn Network could still be determined to be a recruiting advantage for Texas (that's the logic currently keeping games off the network in 2011-12), the same could be said for the Pac 12 Network's 7 individual regional sub-brands, all of which will focus on groups of schools within the reorganized conference.
While it remains a legitimate question for debate whether airing games on these newly created school-branded networks is actually a boon for a school's recruiting, at least one Austin-area coach whose school had been approached by the Longhorn Network said he felt that the broadcasting high school games on the Texas-based channel could present a viable conflict of interest to the other schools in the Big 12.
"I can see why (Big 12 athletic directors) made that decision," Austin High coach L.D. Williams told the American-Statesman. "It would be an advantage for Texas unless every other team [in the Big 12] had their own network."
If that thinking is shared by the rest of the conference, it's likely that the Longhorn Network would be blocked from televising the games for the foreseeable future. Yet, with the financial backing and interest of ESPN interwoven within the channel from it's inception (ESPN has guaranteed $300 million to co-own and carry the Longhorn Network for the next 20 years), it seems unlikely that the new network would back off hunting down any and all angles to gain those rights until it became clear they had no chance to televise high school sports at all.