With potential conference realignment shaking up the college football landscape, the Big 12 has accused ESPN of manipulation in a cease-and-desist letter sent to the media organization.
“I have absolute certainty that they (ESPN) have been involved in manipulating other conferences to go after our members,” Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby told The Associated Press on Wednesday. “ESPN is incentivizing other conferences to destabilize the Big 12.
“This whole thing has been a complete articulation of deception.”
The cease-and-desist letter said that ESPN had taken actions “to not only harm the Big 12 Conference but to result in financial benefits for ESPN.”
“The claims in the letter have no merit,” ESPN said in a statement.
The issue stems from Texas and Oklahoma attempting to transition out of the Big 12. The traditional powers told the conference this week that they won’t be renewing an agreement that currently binds them to the league and its members until 2025. Texas and Oklahoma also submitted a request to join the SEC in 2025.
ESPN owns the SEC Network and signed a $3 billion deal with the SEC last year that will give the network broadcast rights to all SEC football games starting in 2024. ESPN and FOX share Big 12 rights in a deal that expires in 2025.
The Big 12’s letter says ESPN has “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.”
An AP source said that the conference in question is the American Athletic Conference, which agreed to a 12-year, $1 billion deal with ESPN in 2019.
If the Big 12 falls apart and additional schools leave, Texas and Oklahoma could join the SEC earlier than 2025 without paying significant fees. In order to approve adding Oklahoma and Texas, 11 of the 14 SEC members need to vote in favor of inviting new members.
ESPN also owns the rights to all ACC athletics, and shares the rights to the Big Ten and Pac-12 with FOX.
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