Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby accused ESPN of pushing other conferences to pick apart the league so Texas and Oklahoma can move to the Southeastern Conference without paying a massive buyout.
“I have absolute certainty (ESPN) has been involved in manipulating other conferences to go after our members,” Bowlsby told The Associated Press in a phone interview Wednesday after sending a cease-and-desist letter to the network. “ESPN is incentivizing other conferences to destabilize the Big 12.”
The letter addressed to ESPN executive Burke Magnus — the 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.”
In the letter, 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,” it said.
ESPN, which owns the SEC Network, signed a new $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.
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.
Texas and Oklahoma informed the Big 12 this week that they will not be renewing an agreement with the Big 12 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, with some of the eight remaining members scattering to other conferences.
Bowlsby told the 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 in which proprietary information was shared.
“This whole thing has been a complete articulation of deception,” he said.