An unprecedented time in college athletics continues with tensions extremely high between the Big 12 Conference and ESPN. The league and its television provider are at odds ahead over the near-certain departures of Oklahoma and Texas to the Southeastern Conference.
Big 12 Commissioner Bob Bowlsby sent a cease and desist letter to ESPN President Burke Magnus on Wednesday claiming the network was attempting to cripple the Big 12 in an effort for Oklahoma and Texas to avoid paying a large sum to leave the league prior to the expiration of the grant of rights.
Bowlsby’s letter stated: I am aware that ESPN has also been 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.
Multiple national media outlets confirmed the aforementioned conference to be the American Athletic Conference, which began a 12-year contract with ESPN at the start of the 2020-2021 athletics season.
The Big 12’s deal with ESPN and Fox expires at the end of June 2025, but Texas and Oklahoma appear likely to bolt for the SEC before then. Losing any of the remaining eight Big 12 schools — West Virginia, Baylor, Kansas, Kansas State, Iowa State, Texas Tech, TCU and Oklahoma State — could cause the Big 12 to disband and the Longhorns and Sooners to escape a costly departure that would otherwise factor out to $35-40 million each year before 2025.
Bowlsby’s letter to Magnus went on to say: The Big 12 Conference demands that ESPN immediately cease and desist all actions that may harm the Conference and its members and that it not communicate with the Big 12’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.
Magnus responded to Bowlsby on Thursday with a statement that read: The accusations you have made are entirely without merit. Apart from a single vague allegation that ESPN has been “actively engaged in discussions with at least one other” unnamed conference, which ESPN disputes, your letter consists entirely of unsubstantiated speculation and legal conclusions. To be clear, ESPN has engaged in no wrongful conduct, and thus, there is nothing to “cease and desist.”
OU and Texas requested an invitation to join the SEC on Tuesday, one day after notifying the Big 12 they would not renew the grant of media rights.
SEC presidents and chancellors voted 14-0 Thursday to invite Oklahoma and Texas to join the conference in all sports effective July 1, 2025.
Both schools will likely accept the invitations in the near future and seek SEC membership before that date, though Bowlsby has now made it known that won’t come cheap.
The SEC and ESPN struck a 10-year deal worth $300 million annually in December 2020.
Later Thursday, Bowlsby issued a statement through the Big 12 Conference, saying: Today’s SEC announcement reaffirms that these plans have been in the works with ongoing discussions between the parties and television partner for some time. We are disappointed these discussions went as far as they did without notice to, or inclusion of, other Big 12 members. Despite our concerns for the process and for the overall health of college athletics, we will do everything possible to make sure that the student-athletes at both universities enjoy an excellent experience throughout the remaining four years of their participation and competition in the Big 12 Conference.