There are smarter guys than me working on the details of this Longhorn Network contract between ESPN and the University of Texas. It's full of some scary (yet predictable) language, so we'll run through the highlights for you here and what they mean for the rest of the league.
First and foremost, the Big 12 could be down to nine teams pretty soon. The contract has language which gives ESPN exclusive negotiating rights if the Longhorns go independent at any time over the course of the contract. Also important is that this is sport-specific, meaning Texas can go independent in just football and still remain in the Big 12 or another conference for basketball, etc.
If that does happen, the Big 12 would quickly become the equivalent of the Big East, having a BCS tie-in but maybe not deserving it each season. For a league that is searching for respect post-defection, it could be a serious blow and lead to Oklahoma and Texas A&M bolting for greener pastures as well.
Secondly, the control over comments and ability to fire those who speak poorly of the team is the same thing as most colleges and pro teams have for their announcers on radio and TV. However, with this being bigger than just game broadcasts, it takes on a little more meaning. Plus, it has some potential conflicts of interest. How will that affect the College GameDay stuff on ESPN? How will it affect highlights done on ESPN News?
It's a brave new world, but this contract just highlights all the issues around this network, including the revenue boost it'll give Texas. The financial figures are vague, but it could be a very sizeable gain for the Longhorns once ESPN has recouped its costs. If there was ever a reason for Texas to leave the Big 12, it's that.