The Big 12 conference has gone scorched earth against one of its media partners, accusing ESPN of tampering to get member schools like Texas and Oklahoma to leave the conference.
In a cease and desist letter sent on Wednesday, Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby accused ESPN of not only facilitating the two schools’ desire to leave, but that it’s been “actively engaged” in “inducing additional members of the Big 12 conference to leave.”
“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,” the letter states.
Earlier this week, two of the conference’s biggest schools, Texas and Oklahoma, signaled their intentions to leave the Big 12 for the SEC, which would create a college sports mega-powerhouse conference.
You can read the letter below, courtesy of Sports Illustrated’s Ross Dellenger. A rep for the Big 12 did not immediately respond to TheWrap’s request for comment. In a statement emailed to TheWrap, ESPN denied the accusations: “The claims in the letter have no merit.”
Rumblings had been swirling this week regarding ESPN’s involvement in Oklahoma and Texas’ plan to leave the conference for the SEC in the next few years (the two schools made the first formal step earlier this week when they informed the conference they will not be renewing their grants of media rights when they expire in 2025).
An individual with knowledge of the situation was adamant that ESPN had nothing to do with Texas and Oklahoma reaching out to the SEC.
ESPN has a considerable financial stake in the SEC. Not only are the SEC football rights moving from CBS to ESPN beginning with the 2024 season, but ESPN owns the SEC Network (which is itself a joint venture between Disney and Hearts Corporation). ESPN already held rights to other SEC sports including basketball. Additionally, ESPN has an ownership stake in and operates the University of Texas’ Longhorn Network.
As for the Big 12, the conference’s rights deals with ESPN and Fox expire in 2025.