‘Cease and desist’: Big 12 accuses ESPN of trying to ‘destabilize’ conference

In a cease-and-desist letter to a network executive, Commissioner Bob Bowlsby accused conference media rights partner ESPN of actively encouraging the pillaging of the Big 12 Conference for financial benefit.

“I have absolute certainty that (ESPN) have been involved in manipulating other conferences to go after our members,” Bowlsby told The Associated Press on Wednesday after sending the letter to Burke Magnus, ESPN’s president of programming and content.

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According to CBS Sports, ESPN issued the following response to Bowlsby’s letter: “The claims in the letter have no merit.”

Bowlsby’s action came one day after officials with the University of Oklahoma and the University of Texas at Austin submitted a formal request to join the Southeastern Conference when their Big 12 media rights expire in four years.

>> Related: Texas, Oklahoma formally request admittance to Southeastern Conference

ESPN, which owns the SEC Network, signed a $3 billion deal with that conference in 2020, giving the network the broadcast rights to all of the SEC’s football games starting in 2024. Meanwhile, ESPN shares Big 12 broadcast rights that expire in 2025 with Fox, KOKI reported.

Bowlsby’s letter also accused ESPN of orchestrating the systematic dismantling of the Big 12 so that the Sooners and Longhorns can move to the SEC more quickly and without paying a massive buyout, the TV station reported.

Meanwhile, Bowlsby told CBS Sports that ESPN’s “tortious interference” has actively engaged the American Athletic Conference to pursue “3-5” Big 12 members, suggesting such an expansion would be rewarded with “future television proceeds.”

The AAC agreed in 2019 to a 12-year, $1 billion deal with ESPN, KOKI reported.

“I have every expectation that Oklahoma and Texas will do whatever they can to not meet their [contractual] obligations. That’s what they’ve done so far. ... One of the ways the two schools and ESPN will seek to absolve themselves of the obligation is to destabilize the league and cause an implosion of the other eight members,” Bowlsby told CBS Sports.

Specifically, Bowlsby told the network that current “exit obligations” for Texas and Oklahoma include the payment of between $70 million and $80 million each to cover two years of lost revenue, as well as forfeiting media rights to the Big 12.

“We’re just not going to sit still and let somebody who is supposed to be our partner collaborate and disrupt our business. I know with certainty they are doing it relative to one conference. I suspect they have done the same thing in moving Texas and Oklahoma to the SEC,” Bowlsby told CBS Sports.

SEC university presidents and chancellors are scheduled to meet today, but it is unclear if they will vote on extending invitations to Oklahoma and Texas. Eleven of the SEC’s 14 members would need to vote in favor of inviting a new member, which does not appear to be a problem, KOKI reported.

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