Big 12 accuses ESPN of trying to 'destabilize' conference

·3-min read
Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby is shown on the giant screen as he speaks during NCAA college football Big 12 media days Wednesday, July 14, 2021, in Arlington, Texas. (AP Photo/LM Otero)

Big 12 Commissioner Bob Bowlsby accused ESPN of encouraging other conferences to pick apart the league so Texas and Oklahoma can move to the Southeastern Conference more quickly and without paying a massive buyout.

“I have absolute certainty that they (ESPN) have been involved in manipulating other conferences to go after our members,” Big 12 Commissioner Bowlsby told The Associated Press on Wednesday after sending a cease-and-desist letter to the network.

The letter addressed to ESPN executive Burke Magnus, President of Programming and Content, said the Big 12 had become aware the network had taken actions “to not only harm the Big 12 Conference but to result in financial benefits for ESPN.”

ESPN, which owns the SEC Network, signed a $3 billion deal with the Southeastern Conference last year that will give the network the broadcast rights to all SEC sports starting in 2024.

The network also has a rights deal with the Big 12, though it shares those rights with Fox. Those deals expire in 2025.

The Big 12 demanded the network stop “all actions that may harm the Conference and its members and that it not communicate with the Big 12 Conference’s existing Members or any other NCAA Conference regarding the Big 12 Conference’s Members, possible conference realignment or potential financial incentives or outcomes related to possible conference realignment.“

ESPN responded in a one-sentence statement: “The claims in the letter have no merit."

Texas and Oklahoma informed the Big 12 this week they would not be renewing an agreement that binds them to the league and its eight other members until 2025. The grant of media rights runs concurrently with the Big 12′s billion-dollar television contracts with ESPN and Fox.

On Tuesday, Texas and Oklahoma submitted a request to the SEC to join that league in 2025. To join the conference earlier than that could cost the schools tens of millions of dollars — unless the Big 12 were to fall apart because some of the other members left as well.

“ESPN is incentivizing other conferences to destabilize the Big 12,” Bowlsby added.

ESPN owns the rights to all Atlantic Coast Conference athletics and has an exclusive deal with the American Athletic Conference. The network also has current rights agreements with the Big Ten and Pac-12, though it shares those with Fox, too.

Bowlsby told AP that Texas and Oklahoma have been working on a move to the SEC for months, doing so while taking part in Big 12 strategy meetings where proprietary information was shared.

Bowlsby said he suspects ESPN was involved behind the scenes when Texas and Oklahoma were in discussions with the SEC, but he has no proof of that.

“This whole thing has been a complete articulation of deception,” he said.

SEC university presidents and chancellors are scheduled to meet tomorrow, but it is unclear if they will vote on extending invitations to conference to Oklahoma and Texas. SEC bylaws state 11 of the 14 members would need to vote in favor of inviting a new member, and it appears that won't be a problem.

Texas A&M officials had voiced their displeasure last week with the possibility of rival Texas joining the SEC, but A&M's board of regents on Wednesday directed University President Katherine Banks to vote in favor of the Longhorns and Sooners coming aboard.

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