Matt Portillo

James Ashton Braband, a journalism senior and member of the Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity, died Sunday, March 3, in Houston. He was 22. 

During his time at the University, Braband's friends said he was a natural leader in the classroom and within his social circle. Those who knew him are quick to acknowledge his hard-working attitude, uplifting personality and altruistic manner. 

James Wolfgang Kuntz, an economics senior and close friend of Braband, said “Ash” was wise beyond his years, a loyal friend who always listened, never judged and gave sound advice. 

“He was the man with the plan,” Kuntz said. “He could walk into a room without you knowing him, and in five minutes you would feel like you could tell him anything.”

Braband started his journalistic career at The Horn, an online publication that covers UT related news.

Matt Portillo, a consulting editor for The Horn, said Braband had a clear, focused prose, journalistic ability and amicable attitude toward criticism.

“Ash was great to talk to and work with,” Portillo said. “He was extremely respectful, a testament to the strength of his character. It was a great working relationship while we had it.”

Braband is survived by his parents, Sandi and Dexter Braband, and his two brothers, Kirby and Sloan. 

A memorial service is being held Thursday at 4 p.m. inside the Sanctuary of Memorial Drive United Methodist Church in Houston. The family is asking all customary donations be directed to the Cullen Dolphins Special Olympic Swim Team, which Braband coached.

Published on March 7, 2013 as "UT journalism student remembered 'man with a plan'". 

UT alumnus Matt Portillo will watch Saturday’s football game against Wyoming from the Texas Exes Etter-Harbin Alumni Center. Although great company is an attraction, Portillo is not going there for the company. He is going because it is one of the few places in Austin to watch the game.

Longhorn football fans without tickets or a subscription to cable providers carrying the Longhorn Network will not be able to watch UT’s first two football games against Wyoming and New Mexico.

Although frustrations are high, Austin fans are in luck. LHN announced Wednesday it will host free viewing parties for both games at Republic Square Park, located at 422 Guadalupe Street in downtown Austin.

Friday morning, officials announced AT&T UVerse will carry the LHN in time for the football game against the University of Wyoming, and UVerse's almost 6 million sbscribers began seeing the channel in their program guides. Until the UVerse deal, LHN was only offered on Grande Communications, national provider Verizon FiOS and many other smaller providers like Austin’s Consolidated Communications and Houston’s En-Touch Systems.

Portillo, who was a student last year when the first game was also shown exclusively on LHN, said the students most affected would be alumni living far away who can’t attend viewing parties or watch the game on campus. Texas Exes hosts tailgates for all home games and will get coverage directly from the stadium, not LHN.

“I feel like we’re at the point now where we almost need to start asking, ‘Is the Longhorn Network doing more harm to the University’s brand than good?” Portillo, a Texas Exes member, said. “I know it is a 20-year contract, but it seems to be costing us more, and it’s not strictly monetary.”

Apart from offering fans an opportunity to watch the first two games, LHN has released no further information on when the UT community can expect wider distribution. Kristy Ozmun, a spokesperson for LHN, said ESPN is having active discussions with all cable providers. Last week Ozmun said she could not comment on a timetable for negotiations.

Matt Murphy, Grande Communications president, said his company decided to sponsor viewing parties because they are aware the company has somewhat limited coverage in Austin. Murphy said Grande covers near 25 percent of the city and provides service to the UT area, including the residence halls, and is looking to expand during the next three years.

He said carrying the Longhorn Network has helped business at Grande.

“It is certainly a plus for us, because our competition doesn’t have it,” Murphy said. “But for UT and Longhorn Network, more distribution is better. They’ve been a great partner and we want them to succeed.”

Launched August 2011, LHN is a 20-year partnership between UT and ESPN. For the first five years, 50 percent of net right fees from LHN will go toward academic initiatives, according to Texas Sports.

Some endowed academic chairs have already been created by this agreement. All on-campus residence halls carry LHN, paid for by student fees.

UT President William Powers Jr. and athletics director DeLoss Dodds were scheduled to give a five-minute LHN status update to the UT System Board of Regents last week. However, plans changed at the last minute, and the board took the update off the agenda.

At the meeting, Powers told The Daily Texan that talking about ongoing negotiations could cause potential harm and said he would update the regents at a later time. He said ESPN is dedicated to getting wider distribution.

“We want the widest distribution for fans,” Powers said at the meeting. “We have a great partner in ESPN and this is job one for them.”

At his weekly press conference, UT head football coach Mack Brown said he has become more comfortable with LHN and its involvement with Texas football during the past year. Brown is currently doing three one-hour shows on LHN.

“I don’t have anything to do with the sales of it or where it’s going, but like the large number of our fans, I’ll be happy when it gets greater distribution.”

Ryan Kelly, a Time Warner Cable spokesperson for Central Texas, said although Time Warner has a great relationship with ESPN, LHN negotiations are not active, and the company has no plans to carry LHN. All Time Warner Cable programming is distributed nationwide to more than 15 million customers.

“As expected, we’ve had inquiries about the LHN which coincides a lot with college football season, but right now the overall volume remains light,” Kelly said.
The Longhorn Network will broadcast Texas v. Wyoming Saturday at 7 p.m.

Story updated to incude current information about the LHN deal with AT&T UVerse: 11:30 p.m. 8/31/12

Additional reporting by Chris Hummer.

Printed on August 31, 2012 as: "Limited coverage causes frustration"

Jim Nicar, former Texas Exes director of history and traditions, was fired Monday after 20 years of service as a part of a strategic planning process the organization is undertaking.

The Texas Exes dismissed Nicar and two other employees Monday as part of the organization’s efforts to increase advocacy, student development, alumni relations and strategic partnering with UT. Leslie Cedar, Texas Exes executive director, said Nicar was involuntarily terminated because the organization is repurposing some staff positions to better deliver Texas Exes’ priorities in new and innovative ways.

Cedar said the organization began its reorganizing efforts after she joined the Texas Exes as executive director in 2011. She said the group has since evaluated its core purpose and decided Texas Exes will lead the charge to help UT be a first class, leading research and teaching public university in the country.

“The new strategy is more updated and focuses on making alumni very active in becoming a formidable force [at UT],” Cedar said.

Cedar said since July 2011, four people including Nicar have been involuntarily dismissed and five roles within the organization have been eliminated. Texas Exes now has a total of 49 employees. In addition to serving as director of history and traditions, Nicar also served as the Texas Exes liaison and advisor to the Spirit and Traditions Council, an umbrella group for many different spirit groups on campus. She said the organization wishes Nicar the best.

Admissions counselor Lisa Lockhart said she heard about Nicar’s firing via email from a student who is a member of a club Nicar mentored. Lockhart said Nicar has spent several decades serving UT working, researching, writing articles and giving presentations on UT history and traditions. She said students who worked for her were always thrilled when Nicar taught them something new about UT’s history. Lockhart said discharging an individual with Nicar’s longevity, knowledge and integrity is outrageous and damaging. She said she spoke to Nicar after he had been fired about what he would do next.

“We spoke of his future plans,” she said. “[Whether] to return to school or finish working on a book about UT’s history and traditions. I do not know what reason was given to him but he did mention poor morale and high turnover at Texas Exes.”

With regard to rumors of canceling and disbanding Texas Exes programs, Lockhart said to follow the money.

“Are new, middle management positions being created?” she said. “Did these jobs exist before? Are programs being sacrificed to provide salaries?”

Cedar said 11 new positions have been added and eight people have been promoted since July 2011 in efforts to align resources and talents and deliver on strategic priorities.

Matt Portillo, Spirit and Traditions Council co-chair, said his organization was shocked when they learned of Nicar’s termination. Portillo said he found out from Nicar himself and confirmed the news with an email from Tim Taliaferro, Texas Exes vice president of communications and digital strategy. Portillo said Taliaferro told him to direct any questions and concerns about the Spirit and Traditions Council to him from now on. He said Taliaferro also told him Texas Exes is currently assessing the council’s future within the organization and the council should hold no meetings or activities without a Texas Exes staff member present. Portillo said he was told the council could not meet until after they met with Texas Exes leadership in a meeting after spring break due to legal and liability considerations.

Portillo said he thinks the Texas Exes’ restructuring and Nicar’s firing is due to a budget shortfall within the organization. He said the council may be rolled into the Texas Exes Student Chapter organization. Portillo said the council is open to change, but he is concerned that Texas Exes has not involved the group in any discussions about the proposed changes.

“There’s been some miscommunication and I think everybody is in a somewhat turbulent state,” Portillo said. “But what’s important right now is for students and the Texas Exes leadership to come together and work towards solutions that will benefit everyone.”

Although the Spirit and Traditions Council receives approximately $6,000 in funding from the Texas Exes, Portillo said it is a registered student organization and he believes it is free to act according to the will of its student membership.

Cedar said despite rumors Texas Exes was cutting programs and clubs, no such entities have been eliminated.

“We will continue on with all of our traditions,” Cedar said. “We have the opportunity to build on top of these. How do we continue on? That’s the task we were charged with when I came in.”

Additional reporting by Nick Hadjigeorge.

Printed on Friday, March 9, 2012 as: Texas Exes' restructuring results in loss of jobs

Matt Portillo inaccurately describes why Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium fans felt compelled to boo, in his firing line Monday (“A reason to be embarassed”). I booed in the game after Garrett Gilbert’s second interception, joining many other dedicated fans.

Unfortunately, one cannot distinguish between boos intended for an individual athlete from those intended for the coaching staff. My disappointment was with the latter. Although Gilbert has not been on his “athletic A-game” for almost a year, I have great respect for him and his abilities, but I also support the Longhorns and their chances to win.

Booing a student athlete is unacceptable. But Portillo fails to yield judgment to the many responsible Texas fans. Last season, we watched our football team crumble. After the first quarter this Saturday, it appeared that Texas was about to repeat its past performance. The boos were directed at the poor coaching decisions that seemed to jeopardize a year of rebuilding.

The football season is directly correlated with important activities at the University, including alumni donations, partnerships and advertising revenues. After last season, donations stagnated and advertising revenues drastically fell, forcing various supported programs to trim their budgets further. A prime example is Texas Student Media and its properties, including The Daily Texan, which saw a horrible decline in advertising revenues because of last season.

So winning one football game or having a successful season matters across the University and to all who depend on the Longhorns’ success.

It’s more than a game.

— Tristan Mace
Public relations senior