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Thursday, September 1, 2011
A&M offered TV partnership, Texas says

Associated Press

AUSTIN, Texas -- Texas A&M could have been a partner with Texas in a lucrative television network but wasn't interested in joining the Longhorns when the idea was hatched, Texas athletic director DeLoss Dodds said Thursday.

Dodds told The Associated Press he first met with Texas A&M athletic director Bill Byrne about the idea of an Aggies-Longhorns network about four years ago but Byrne didn't seem interested. At the time, the Longhorns weren't sure they could carry a network on their own.

Byrne tried to re-open discussions about a year ago, but by then it was too late, Dodds said.

Texas had decided it had the national brand, stature and skill to forge ahead alone.

"I said we were too far down the road," Dodds said. "We had figured out how to do it by ourselves."

The Longhorns signed a 20-year, $300 million deal with ESPN in January to create the Longhorn Network that launched last week. Byrne has said the Longhorn Network created uncertainty in the Big 12 and cited it in his Wednesday blog as a big reason why the Aggies will leave the Big 12 by July, presumably to join the Southeastern Conference.

Byrne wrote that he liked the original joint network idea but assured Texas A&M fans he did not pass up a $150 million deal for his school.

"Our fans should know me better than that," Byrne wrote. "That never happened."

Byrne's blog posting did not say why the partnership never materialized. He did not return a message left seeking comment on Thursday.

Dodds acknowledged that no one anticipated the size of the contract the Longhorn Network would get when he first approached Byrne with the idea.

Dodds said Texas has been unfairly cast as greedy for pursuing a network that has been blamed for shaking up the Big 12, which lost Nebraska and Colorado in July. A&M's departure has heightened speculation that the entire league could crumble if the Big 12 can't replace them with at least one attractive program.

"It's not about what we did," Dodds said. "It's about what they didn't do -- create their own network."

Texas' pursuit of its own network was widely known in 2010 when Nebraska and Colorado decided to leave and the remaining 10 teams all committed to keeping the conference together.

"Nobody seemed concerned with it until it was done," Dodds said. "I find it interesting that it's a problem today ... If somebody is surprised by this deal, they haven't been paying attention."

Nebraska athletic director Tom Osborne took a swipe at the Big 12 during a booster appearance in Lincoln, Neb., on Thursday. He said the Big 12's revenue-sharing plan lends itself to instability.

"When there are inequities, eventually something is going to give somewhere," Osborne said. "It doesn't mean it will happen, but it makes it more difficult."

Each Big Ten school received $22.6 million this year -- about twice as much as Nebraska could have expected if it had stayed in the Big 12.

Texas first pursued the network to create exposure for sports that seldom get on television, Dodds said. Longhorns officials eventually figured out it could be a very lucrative venture much quicker than they imagined.

When ESPN offered $300 million, "I don't think anybody in the country would have turned it down," Dodds said.

Dodds refused to speculate on the future of the Big 12, whether it will break up and where Texas and the other members of the league would go if it does. He also would not say if Texas would consider going independent and restated his preference that the Big 12, an automatic qualifying league in the BCS, survive.

"We have worked our fannies off to build a good conference," he said. "I think we've been strong for the Big 12. I think it's better because we're in it."

But Dodds also added, "you don't close options."

Dodds would not comment on speculation on which teams that may be invited to join, such as BYU or Pittsburgh.

He said academics would be given strong consideration. Pittsburgh is a member of prestigious American Association of Universities, a group of the country's top research schools.

"It's way too early to be talking about schools," Dodds said.

He acknowledged that other members in the Big 12 are nervous about their future.

"Everybody's nervous, for good reason," Dodds said. "But there are no quick decisions."