Chip Brown: Expansion's Edward R. Murrow or Austin's Baghdad Bob?

Is Chip Brown an investigative reporter, or is he merely releasing information that University of Texas at Austin President William Powers Jr., left, and Men's Athletics Director DeLoss Dodds want released. (Photo by Erich Schlegel/Getty Images)

One of the more amusing sideshows of the entire conference realignment saga is the rise of Chip Brown.  Two weeks ago, Brown was best known as a former reporter for the Dallas Morning News. Then, on June 3rd, Brown broke the story that Texas and five other Big XII schools were considering joining the Pac-10. Brown's Twitter feed went from 1,800 followers to 11,931 at last count. Brown has been interviewed on radio stations nationwide and his reports have been featured prominently on ESPN throughout the last week.

Yesterday, Brown was one of the first to report that Texas was planning to stay in the Big XII, even as ESPN's Joe Schad reported that Texas was accepting a Pac-10 bid. Hours later, Schad changed his story and by the end of the day, Brown's report became reality as the remaining ten schools in the Big XII began to announce that they were staying in the Big XII.

But as the story developed, an undercurrent of criticism of Brown began to fester both in the blogosphere and in the mainstream media. Almost immediately, Brown began to take advantage of his new-found notoriety to promote the Texas Rivals.com site and his own celebrity.  Free trial subscription offers were promoted via Twitter once or twice each day; other plugs revolved around promoting Brown's Austin radio show. As the story broke, he promoted his ESPN media appearances and even began to call out Erin Andrews and Kim Kardashian in his tweets.

And while Brown nailed the initial Pac-10 story and the final reclamation of the Big XII yesterday, Brown's reporting hasn't been always on target.  Brown's initial report indicated that Nebraska was not in line to receive a Big Ten berth, a position he maintained for several days.  He then indicated on Twitter that  "Tom Osborne [was] not enamored with direction of pass-happy fball in B12 and prefers down-dirty B10.", though he tried to deflect that comment to Rivals' Texas Tech site.

Brown wasn't done trying to paint Osborne in negative light, calling him "disgruntled" with Texas and that the "Media has probably let Tom Osborne's view of Texas infect the perception of the relationship between UT and Nebraska. It's good at top."

Brown's criticism was strong enough that Osborne felt compelled to respond both on last week's radio show and in the Board of Regents meeting:

"We certainly don’t have anything against anybody in the Big 12. This decision is not going to be based on animosity, on petty jealousy. I mean, you’re talking about something that could maintain for the next 75 or 100 years. I mean, this is a big deal in terms of the University of Nebraska. This is a big deal in view of many other institutions.

"So you don’t ever make a decision based on personal likes, dislikes. And frankly, I get along very well with (Texas athletic director DeLoss Dodds). I’m a great admirer of (Texas football coach) Mack Brown. And Texas has obviously done very well athletically and you have to admire them for that. So this is not a case where we’re somehow reacting to any one school, particularly to Texas."

Then last Wednesday, Brown erroneously reported that the Nebraska Board of Regents had voted to join the Big Ten, even though Nebraska media debunked the report. ESPN picked up the erroneous report and ran with it the rest of the day.

Brown certainly had two of the bigger breaks in the story, but he hasn't been the most reliable source in conference expansion. (Sorry, Timmy Rose.) That honor goes to Illinois' blogger "Frank the Tank" who not only corrected Brown by saying that Nebraska not only a lock for the Big Ten, but added that Nebraska would join for the 2011 season. Frank was first to debunk the notion that media markets were driving expansion by illustrating that a nationwide following really matters.  That's where the whole "Nebraska to the Big Ten" momentum really got started.

The Chicago Tribune's Teddy Greenstein has been a consistent good source as well. Dave Matter of the Columbia Daily Tribune might deserve even more credit for breaking the potential Fox/Big XII contract story last week. Seems that report got lost in the hoopla over the impending Big Ten invitation to Nebraska.

Truth be told, Brown's two stories might be best attributed to his sources in Austin, as the reliability of his information obtained outside of Austin has been questioned.  In fact, many people now consider Brown to be merely the mouthpiece of the Texas athletic department, seeding the message that Texas wants you to know. The Journal-Star's Steve Sipple indicated just that last week in a particularly scathing tweet:

A little slow today on the Nebraska/Big Ten expansion front. Maybe UT-selected Texas media can invent a few tidbits to toss out

Has Chip Brown lost his credibility?  Or has he enhanced his reporter's resume with the expansion story?

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