Big 12 accuses ESPN of encouraging its schools to leave conference in cease-and-desist letter

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The Big 12's current realignment crisis has become even uglier.

Days after Texas and Oklahoma, the conference's two biggest teams, triggered a move to join the SEC, Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby issued a cease-and-desist letter to ESPN, the Big 12's television partner, accusing the network of attempting to push other schools to leave the conference, as first reported by Yahoo Sports' Pete Thamel.

Here's the full letter:

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The letter's direct accusation:

It has come to my direct attention that ESPN, the current business partner of the Big 12 Conference, has taken certain actions that are intended to not only harm the Big 12 Conference but to result in financial benefits for ESPN. Setting aside ESPN's potential involvement in the recent announcement by the University of Texas and the University of Oklahoma that they intended to leave the Big 12 Conference in 2025 (as to which we reserve all legal rights), I am aware that ESPN has also been actively engaged in discussions with at least one other conference regarding that conference inducing additional Members of the Big 12 Conference to leave the Big 12 Conference.

Bowlsby's accusations didn't stop at the letter. Speaking with Thamel, Bowlsby accused ESPN of deliberately attempting to destabilize the Big 12 and claimed to have hard evidence of such interference:

"What pushed me over the top was a couple of days ago when it became known to me that ESPN had been working with one or more other conferences and even providing incentives for them to destabilize the Big 12 and approach our members about moving away and providing inducements for the conference to do that. That’s tortious interference with our business. It’s not right.

"I wouldn’t state this if I didn’t know it was absolutely true."

Sports Illustrated's Ross Dellenger has additionally reported that Bowlsby believes ESPN is pushing some of his schools to leave for the American Athletic Conference. The reason why ESPN would allegedly do such a thing is that it as also the television partner of the SEC, and dissolving the Big 12 would allow an easier exit for Texas and Oklahoma.

ESPN has denied Bowlsby's allegations.

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The Big 12 has been in chaos ever since it was reported that Texas and Oklahoma were looking to leave. The conference has attempted to talk down the power programs with offers of an increased cut of revenue, but both took their first official step in leaving earlier this week.

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