Mar 11, 2020; Kansas City, Missouri, USA; Big 12 championship logo at center court prior to the game between the Iowa State Cyclones and the Oklahoma State Cowboys at Sprint Center. Mandatory Credit: William Purnell-USA TODAY Sports
Update July 28, 2021 @ 7:10 p.m.: Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby alleges the league has “irrefutable” evidence that ESPN has been pushing at least one other conference to take on several of the league’s teams in order to force its dissolution.
Bowlsby told The Athletic’s Max Olson that ESPN and another league (the American Athletic Conference, according to multiple reports) have been working to undermine the Big 12 in an act of tortious interference. For more on the legal ramifications of this read Jay Jordan’s piece for us here.
While the current matter at hand does not specifically pertain to Texas and Oklahoma’s decision to leave the Big 12 for the SEC, Bowlsby told Olson each situation is still linked to the other.
“It’s not unrelated to OU-Texas, because if the conference ceases to exist, they have the best chance to join the SEC more quickly and they have the best chance to get out of their obligations for the grant of rights and the exit fees,” Bowlsy told Olson.
After days of rumors swirling about ESPN’s involvement in Oklahoma and Texas’ decision to leave the Big 12, the league has taken a step towards attempting to put a stop to the Worldwide Leader’s actions.
As first reported by Yahoo Sports’ Pete Thamel, the Big 12 has sent a cease and desist letter to ESPN on Wednesday looking to prevent the television network from communicating with league members regarding conference realignment.
“The letter demands ESPN end ‘all actions that may harm the conference and its members and that it not communicate with the Big 12 Conference’s existing members,'” Thamel wrote on Twitter. “‘Or any NCAA conference regarding the Big 12 conference’s members, possible conference realignment or potential financial incentive or outcomes related to possible conference realignment.”
The Big 12 and ESPN agreed to an expanded media rights deal back in 2019, which led to ESPN adding the Big 12 football championship game to the network’s lineup and creating a Big 12 platform on ESPN+. That deal runs through the 2024-25 academic year.
ESPN also owns the Longhorn Network, which pays roughly $10-$15 million per year to the University of Texas.
The league attempted to begin discussions to extend their media rights deals with ESPN and Fox earlier this year but were rebuffed by the media partners. The SEC, which is expected to vote to officially add Oklahoma and Texas as members starting in 2025 later this week, is also closely connected with ESPN, having signed a new 10-year, $3 billion deal that made ESPN the official home of SEC’s prime football package starting later this decade.
It is unclear what the ramifications of the cease and desist letter will be, how ESPN will respond or anything else at this point, but this makes it clear at least some folks within the Big 12 suspect ESPN of having played a role in Texas and Oklahoma’s decision to leave the league.