Last week the University of Texas announced a 20-year, $300 million deal with ESPN to create a 24-hour-a-day Longhorns cable network, and the message to other college athletic programs was clear: Texas is Texas, and you're not.
Sure, Oklahoma can try to match its rival. But sorry, Sooners: ESPN isn't interested. "This is unique," says ESPN senior vice president Burke Magnus, who put together the Texas deal. "I don't think you'll find us pursuing other opportunities."
The Longhorns are the dominant program in a state of nearly 25 million people. (Oklahoma has 3.7 million.) Their conference, the Big 12, is not so concerned with sharing revenue, so Texas is free to break out on its own. The chance to create its own network was one reason Texas rebuffed the Pac 10's overtures. The Pac 10 (soon to be 12) wants a network for its league. Texas wanted one for itself.
Fans can scoff at the Texas network's programming; due to other contractual commitments, the channel may be limited to one football game and a few men's basketball games each year (along with a range of other sports, coaches' shows and university news). But it speaks to the power and reach of the Texas brand that ESPN wanted to do this anyway.
So who's in charge? Says ESPN's Magnus, "This is definitely the University of Texas's network ... they've partnered with us." But Texas athletic director DeLoss Dodds says, "The network is owned by ESPN. We have some say about content but not total say." The distinction could be important if the network follows through on plans to televise high school games. NCAA rules prohibit schools from "arranging for the appearance of [a] prospect" on TV. But if ESPN is doing it, it's O.K. Dodds says high school broadcasts were a "small" part of the larger conversation. One way or the other, everything—revenue, fan base, and especially exposure—really is about to get bigger in Texas.