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ESPN football analyst James running for Senate in Texas

- Associated Press - Monday, December 19, 2011

AUSTIN, Texas — ESPN college football analyst Craig James, who starred as a tailback at Southern Methodist University and with the New England Patriots in the 1980s, announced Monday he was running for the U.S. Senate as a Republican from Texas, a GOP fundraiser said.

Mr. James, who appears on the cable network's weekly game broadcasts, has been flirting with entering politics for more than year. Republican fundraiser and close friend Roy Bailey told the Associated Press on Monday that Mr. James informed him he was running.

"I think it's great for Texas. Anytime you have someone with Craig's street smarts and business sense and willingness to serve the public, it's a great thing," said Mr. Bailey, who added that he would help raise money for the candidate. Messages left for Mr. James were not immediately returned.

Though Mr. James' name recognition could be an advantage in the race, it also could hurt.

Mr. James is a polarizing figure who was embroiled in Texas Tech University's 2009 decision to fire popular football coach Mike Leach over allegations the coach mistreated Mr. James' son, a Red Raiders player, after he sustained a concussion. He also was a member of the record-setting SMU football team in the early 1980s when the program entered a series of scandals that ultimately forced the NCAA to shut it down.

His late entry into the Senate race puts him a in a primary field already crowded with well-known and wealthy candidates who are vying for the seat vacated by retiring Republican Kay Bailey Hutchison. Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, former Dallas mayor Tom Leppert and former Texas solicitor general Ted Cruz have spent months raising money and collecting endorsements from prominent Republicans. The deadline to enter the race is Feb. 1.

Mr. James, 50, who lives in Celina north of Dallas, has been a board member of the influential conservative think tank the Texas Policy Foundation in Austin and he recently founded Texans for a Better America to promote conservative policies.

From 1979-1982, Mr. James was a star player at SMU and was part of the record-setting "Pony Express" backfield with Eric Dickerson. Though the Mustangs won Southwest Conference championships in 1981 and 1982, the team was also embroiled in several NCAA investigations.

In 1987, the NCAA hit SMU with the so-called "death penalty" for repeated infractions, shutting down the program for a year.

The scandal is generally considered among the worst in college sports history.

Mr. James was never directly implicated in the NCAA transgressions and he has consistently denied any involvement.

In 2009, Texas Tech fired Mr. Leach, who had the most wins in school history, after Mr. James complained that the head coach had mistreated his son, Adam James, by twice ordering him to stand for hours confined in a dark place after he got a concussion.

Mr. Leach denies mistreating the younger James and has said Craig James had called coaches trying to get his son more playing time. Mr. Leach also said he suspects an $800,000 bonus he was due on Dec. 31, 2009, was the reason he was fired.

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