AUSTIN (AP) – The soon-to-launch Longhorn Network has its first national carrier.

Verizon announced Thursday that it will carry the ESPN-backed network for its FiOS TV subscribers. The 24-hour channel dedicated to University of Texas sports launches Friday and will broadcast the Longhorns’ first game of the season against Rice on Sept. 3.

ESPN and Texas announced a $300 million, 20-year deal for the network in January.

The Verizon distribution deal puts the network within reach of about 4 million viewers nationally. Verizon officials say it will eventually also be available to FiOS TV subscribers online, on tablets and smartphones.

“The Longhorns have a huge presence in Texas, with a passionate fan base that extends across the country,” said David Preschlak, executive vice president for Disney and ESPN Media Networks. ESPN is owned by The Walt Disney Co.

Texas and ESPN have not yet announced any major cable or satellite carriers with the launch rapidly approaching.

The network has become a major point of contention within the Big 12, which lost Nebraska (Big Ten) and Colorado (Pac-12) in July and may lose more.

The ability to have its own network was a major reason Texas spurned offers to join the Big Ten and the Pac-10 in 2010. But its creation has ruffled some of the schools in the Big 12 amid worries it will give even more influence to the already wealthy and powerful Longhorns program.

Texas A&M officials have authorized the school president to explore a possible move to the Southeastern Conference, throwing into question the storied rivalry between the Aggies and the Longhorns.

Network officials hoped to be able to show Texas high school football games and highlights but that move has been shut down for now by the NCAA as a possible recruiting advantage. The Longhorn Network also hopes to be able to broadcast a Texas Big 12 football game, but league officials have said that can only happen if the league and the opposing school agree.

The network will launch with a two-hour live program from the Texas campus, including interviews with football coach Mack Brown and other Texas coaches. The first live game broadcast will be the volleyball team’s match against Pepperdine on Friday night.

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