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When The Lone Star Network All Came Apart

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"Bill, I have a proposal. A very valuable one."

The man who spoke was old, but still imposing, with an air of quiet authority.

The man - called Dodds - handed the dossier to another behind a maroon mahogany desk.

The man, Byrne, took it, squinted, mouthed the title haltingly, opened it, and placed it on his credenza.

He leafed through it, pretending to read it.

"Words, words, words, bullshit, graphs, profit, market share, words, words, bullshit, bullshit. Reading dulls my instincts, DeLoss. Summarize, please."

The man called Byrne placed both hands under his chin and closed his eyes, his elbows finding worn grooves in the mahogany. He called it Listening-Face. The groove of his chin-hands would route the words to his ear holes, where his instincts resided.

Dodds held forth confidently, his tone collegial:

"Bill, this is a proposal to form a Lone Star Network featuring Texas and Texas A&M. ESPN underwrites all of the operating costs and guarantees us massive escalating royalty payments, we assume no risk, we broadcast content that gives our fans exceptional access to all of our programs, and we set the financial landscape for all college athletics. Its structure can be married to the current Big 12, but it can also be folded in as a regional network in a future super-conference scenario. Further, ESPN now has a vested interest in bolstering our brands. It will at least double future revenues with no risk, elevate our fan experience, and may even create a future platform for additional non-athletic programming state-wide. If sufficiently profitable, it may even fund our university's education and research missions. It can't lose."

Byrne was impressed. He liked how Dodds had made so many words. He took out a Sharpie.

"I see. I'll just take some notes. Network. Net. Work. Establishing a..."

Byrne wrote the word N-e-t-w-o-r-k on the palm of his hand.

"What was the middle part?"

DeLoss smiled patiently. "Bill, this is win-win. I've set this all up. Bring it to your people."

Byrne shrugged.

"I like it. I hate it. I don't know. You were throwing around a lot of statistics and legal terms."

DeLoss closed his eyes briefly. His tone shifted imperceptibly: "No, I didn't. This is profit without risk. A complete rewriting of college football's financial structures."

Byrne laughed heartily.

"I don't like to write. The Weekly Wednesdays take me four days and it takes another day for my secretary to type up my thought-drawings."

"Bill. Focus. Please."

Byrne smiled naughtily, as if he were going to say something provocative. He ran his finger along the edge of the credenza and pointed upward emphatically.

"How will this address the bats?"

"Bill, don't start with the bats."

Byrne threw up his hands. How could he not bring up the bats?

"Well, I will start if I want to. These bats are everywhere and they drink blood and battle werewolves and they make rich guano and they buzz Lady Reveille. And then they wake up the crickets. The crickets. Sometimes I think they're watching my movements...they're clever, the crickets, the way they regard you, the way they observe."

Dodds watched him, unblinking. His hands unconsciously flexing in agitation.

Byrne sensed the man's frustration. He knew he was winning the exchange handily.

"OK - what will you pay us for naming rights? For this network of...(Byrne spit)...Texas?"

Dodds chuckled and spoke slowly, "Texas is the name of our state, Bill. And we're calling it the Lone Star Network. Neutral branding."

Byrne gasped audibly. Dodds had walked into the trap. Just like a snipe hunt. Byrne had been too many. And caught no snipe. Which is the chief lesson of a snipe hunt.

Byrne offered, "Our state is actually named tu. We have a handwritten note from Sam Houston locked in a vault that says so. It's on Alf stationery. It has been verified by carbon dioxide ratings...rankings. Carbon dioxide."

Byrne frowned slightly. His coup de grace had been delivered expertly if not for the small slip on carbon dioxide rankings.

Dodds retorted: "I don't want to speak about that note. Or the bats. Or the crickets. We do this every time, Bill."

Byrne hushed Dodds by pointing aggressively at his calves.

"Hold on. I've got to rub in my lotion."

Byrne pushed back from his desk, revealing that he had no pants on, a startling contrast to his tie, pressed shirt, and jacket. His black socks were pulled to his knees, his white cotton Hanes impeccably clean. His thighs were moist and glistening from earlier applications. He began to coat his white legs in fragrant lotion.

"Keeps crickets away."

Dodds implored, "Bill, do you understand what I've related to you? Can we make this happen?"

Byrne chuckled.

"Let me tell you what I do understand. I understand you come into this office thinking you're better than me with reading, and paper, and talking, and things, and figures, and reckoning of sums, and networks, and ideas, and I feel threatened. I really do. I feel like you're putting a fast one over on me. I feel like you're wearing a wire and this may be illegal. The SEC wants us, DeLoss. They respect us. They're friendly. You talk down to me. I won't stand for it."

He slapped on a final application of lotion and rolled forward under the desk.

Dodds shook his head. "This is business, Bill. It's not about your feelings."

Byrne sprung like a cockapoo. "Then let's talk business. Can the SEC be in this state network?"

Dodds cupped his hands over his face and let out a slow sigh. He regarded Byrne with something like amazement.

I have him, thought Byrne. Catspaw!

"Stumped you with that one, Mr Deal Maker. Well, it's settled. Get the SEC to be in this state of tu network thingy and the Aggies will sign on."

Dodds smiled: "You don't partner, we'll do it alone. We're the more desirable property. We'll call it the Longhorn Network."

"You will fail miserably. It will never work."

"I'm pretty sure it will work."

Byrne paused, his voice a whisper, "Then it will be the greatest threat to Texas A&M since The Time Of The Coming Of The Bats."

"Which is it, Bill? Is it a great threat or a boondoggle you want no part of?"

"Both!"

"It can't be both."

"Neither!"

"That can't be either. It will work or it won't."

"Biscuits!"

"Now you're just saying words. You just react to things."

"Lozenge."

"Tarmac!"

"Mastodon."

"Rowboat."

Byrne didn't like Dodds' tone, particularly since he'd lost the thread of the conversation sometime before and was simply stating that he liked biscuits. After that, however, he was just saying words, but they were not random. Byrne called them word-pictures and it was a verbal form of Byrne's Weekly Wednesday picture-writings.

Translation: Choke on it. You have a plane to catch. The SEC will make you extinct. You're up the creek.

Finally, Dodds leaned forward, one hand on the maroon desk, the other extending a wizened finger six inches from Byrne's glasses. Byrne followed the finger in until his eyes crossed.

"Do you want to do this or don't you?"

Byrne just smiled and put a hand to his ear. And then Dodds heard it too.

They were observing. They had seen. All around them.

The crickets were chirping. Obeying.

Closing in.

Another Bill Byrne victory.