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Incomplete pass: No one can watch Longhorn Network, but ESPN promises it's going to be great!

Austin Photo: Author_kevin_benz
Austin Photo Set: News_Kevin_Longhorn Network_July 2011_lhn logo
Courtesy of ESPN
Austin Photo: News_Kevin_Longhorn Network_UT set_August 2011
The College GameDay set being built on the University of Texas South Mall. Photo by Kevin Benz
Austin Photo: News_Kevin_Longhorn Network_Herbstreit_August 2011
Kirk Herbstreit meets the media. Photo by Kevin Benz
Austin Photo: News_Kevin_Longhorn Network_talent_August 2011
Kevin Dunn (l), Lowell Galindo, and Samantha Steele. Photo by Kevin Benz
Austin Photo: news_kevin_longhorn network_galindo_july 2011
Lowell Galindo Courtesy of ESPN
Austin Photo Set: News_Kevin_Longhorn Network_July 2011_sam steele
Samantha Steele Courtesy of ESPN
Austin Photo Set: News_Kevin_Longhorn Network_July 2011_Kevin Dunn
Kevin Dunn Courtesy of ESPN
Austin Photo Set: News_Kevin_Longhorn Network_July 2011_set desk
Courtesy of ESPN

If a cable television channel launches but no one can watch it, does it really exist? Despite the assurances of many who should know, there is still no word that the Longhorn Network will be available in Houston, Austin, San Antonio or much of anywhere else in Texas.

Still, the Longhorn Network is here, even if no one around the state can see it.

Friday night at 6 p.m., LHN will launch live from the South Mall at the University of Texas — to an audience that's in the low thousands (from deals with very small cable outlets). With it come very high expectations from University of Texas fans and great fear and loathing from Longhorn competitors.

The most looming question is: Who will watch? So far, almost no one can. Thursday morning ESPN/Longhorn Network announced its first major distribution deal with Verizon FiOS. Verizon provides cable television to the Dallas/Fort Worth region and a few cities along the I-45 corridor between Houston and Galveston. It will not start carrying Longhorn Network until Sept. 1, just in time for the exclusive broadcast of Texas' season opening game against Rice. But even FiOS customers will not see the launch.

 "It's pretty cool as a Texas fan to have your own network. You have to be appreciative of getting the kind of access fans will get with this network." 

Besides Verizon . . . crickets.

Time Warner Cable says, "We've had discussions." AT&T says, "We can't discuss details." Grande is said to be close. All parties still believe a deal will be announced soon, most likely ahead of the launch . . . chirp.

This is how cable deals with national networks go — down to the wire. Too much money is at stake to make quick decisions, the corpoate masterminds prefer to wring out every ounce of leverage they have.

ESPN did confirm that there will not be any other way to watch the network then on TV. They will not be streaming online.

Still, it's full speed ahead for launch.

ESPN royalty came to Austin Thursday, supporting the Longhorn Network crew. The College GameDay team is the best in the business and Kirk Herbstreit is the best color man in college football broadcasting. He took a few moments between show rehearsals and production meetings to talk about Longhorn Network and the college football landscape.

College football is undergoing significant change which began last year when Nebraska bolted from the Big 12 to the Big Ten and Colorado jumped to the Pac-10. "We knew this wasn't going to be the end," Herbstreit said. "This won't end until we get to the point of realignment. It's inevitable. It's about conference networks and creating conference networks."

But Longhorn Network is not a conference network, it's a single school network. A point that bothers the other schools in the Big 12 (10) like a hangnail. Those schools are concerned about the potential advantage Texas might gain in recruiting. That's why the NCAA decided not to allow any high school football coverage on the Longhorn Network. Herbstreit had a different perspective.

"As a (high school) athlete, I can't say the Longhorn Network would affect me one way or another," he said. "As an athlete, I am much more interested in whether I'll play for national championships and will the coaching staff prepare me for a career in the NFL. That far outweighs any other issues."

But Herbstreit also thought Longhorn fans should appreciate having their own college sports network (hey Kirk . . . we DO . . . if only we could see it!). "It's pretty cool as a Texas fan to have your own network," he said. "You have to be appreciative of getting the kind of access fans will get with this network."

 In other words, you're probably not missing much. ESPN is smart enough to keep its powder dry until UT fans can actually watch. 

For their part, Longhorn Network talent — anchor Lowell Galindo, reporter Samantha Steele and analyst Kevin Dunn — were humble, excited and surprised by all the national attention the network attracted.

"We came here for something we knew would generate attention," Galindo said. "I'm feeling more relief (getting this started) than pressure."

"I didn't expect it to be national the way it is," Dunn, said, "but it's out of our hands, out of our control. For us, this is about doing good TV."

And good journalism, added Galindo responding to criticism that the network might be a bit well . . . biased. "We're all journalists first and we want to be fair and balanced and do it the right way," he said. "We're not doing our jobs if we don't ask the questions that need to be asked."  

For her part, Samantha Steele seemed simply appreciative of the opportunity: "I am building relationships in this community and I appreciate being part of this community. I've been on the road for the last three to four years. This is a chance to really get inside of a program, with the access we can provide."

It's access that as of right now, largely only a select few ESPN employees sitting in a production truck will get to see. Until, that is, the cable companies and ESPN get their shit together and get a deal done.

University of Texas athletic director, DeLoss Dodds, all but acknowledged some deals as done (especially the Austin market) on Tuesday, "You might have heard we will launch the Longhorn Network Friday morning," Dodds said then, "and it looks like it will be available to you. We have great news coming, but we can't announce anything yet."

We're all still waiting.

In the meantime, here's the weekend Longhorn Network show schedule. It's what you'll miss if the worst possible scenario for everyone ends up coming to pass — well, actually it's just some old football games, films, volleyball and soccer, and what might be a pretty good Texas All-Access show. In other words, you're probably not missing much. ESPN is smart enough to keep its powder dry until UT fans can actually watch.

If a tree falls in the woods and there's no one there to hear it . . . 

First weekend Longhorn Network schedule highlights:

Friday:

6 p.m. — The Longhorn Network debut. Anchor Lowell Galindo, reporter Samantha Steele and analyst Kevin Dunn will introduce the channel, joined by ESPN's College GameDay crew — Chris Fowler, Kirk Herbstreit, Lee Corso, Desmond Howard and Erin Andrews. According to the LHN press release, this group will "preview the Longhorns upcoming football season and its Sept. 3 home opener vs. Rice which will air exclusively on Longhorn Network. . . . Texas coaches, players and former student-athletes will also be on hand for the two-hour special."

8 p.m. — Volleyball — No. 4 Texas vs. Pepperdine in the Burnt Orange Classic live from Gregory Gym. ESPN's Carter Blackburn and Heather Cox will call the game with Steele reporting.

10 p.m. — Texas All-Access — Again from a Longhorn Network press release, "the documentary-style Texas All-Access show will debut providing unprecedented access to Coach Mack Brown and the Texas football team as it prepares for its Sept. 3 home opener against Rice."

Saturday:

11:30 a.m. — Live Volleyball — No. 4 Texas vs. Mississippi

5 p.m. — Live Volleyball — No. 4 Texas vs. Israel's National team

Sunday:

1 p.m. — Live Women's Soccer — Texas vs. Cal State-Northridge

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