College football is ultimately a business. And when someone’s money is at stake, tempers can flare.
On Wednesday, Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby sent a cease-and-desist letter to ESPN, accusing the network of taking actions “to not only harm the Big 12 Conference but to result in financial benefits for ESPN.” The letter comes one day after Oklahoma and Texas formally sent their request seeking “an invitation for membership” beginning July 1, 2025 to SEC commissioner Greg Sankey.
“I have absolute certainty that they (ESPN) have been involved in manipulating other conferences to go after our members,” Bowlsby told The Associated Press on Wednesday.
The letter goes on to accuse ESPN of attempting to persuade other members of the Big 12 conference to seek conference affiliation elsewhere “for the financial benefit of ESPN.”
“The Big 12 Conference demands that ESPN immediately cease and desists 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,” Bowlsby wrote.
.@SINow has obtained the cease and desist letter that the Big 12 sent to ESPN.
In it, commissioner Bob Bowlsby says that ESPN has reached out to at least one of the eight remaining Big 12 members in an attempt to convince the school to leave in wake of the Texas and OU exit. pic.twitter.com/j50gEBPWBY
— Ross Dellenger (@RossDellenger) July 28, 2021
On Monday, Oklahoma and Texas notified the Big 12 of their intention to not renew their grant of rights agreement that comes to an end in 2025.
The University of Texas at Austin and The University of Oklahoma notified the Big 12 Athletic Conference today that they will not be renewing their grants of media rights following expiration in 2025. Providing notice to the Big 12 at this point is important in advance of the expiration of the conference’s current media rights agreement. The universities intend to honor their existing grant of rights agreements. However, both universities will continue to monitor the rapidly evolving collegiate athletics landscape as they consider how best to position their athletics programs for the future.
While the statement says that both schools intend to “honor their existing grant of rights agreements,” this is college athletics we’re talking about. If both schools were to flee for the SEC before 2025, each university would owe between $75-80 million in order to break the agreement.
ESPN signed a $3 billion deal with the SEC last year which gives the network the broadcast rights to all SEC football games starting in 2024. ESPN also has contracts with the Big 12 and Pac-12 (shared with FOX), BIG 10, ACC and the American Athletic Conference, making them a major player in the world of college athletics.
The 13-year agreement between the Big 12, ESPN, and Fox comes to an end in 2025.
ESPN responded with a letter of its own on Thursday.
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.” We trust this will put the matter to rest.
“This is putting ESPN on notice that (the Big 12) may sue ESPN at some point in the future if Oklahoma and Texas leave the Big 12 before the grant of rights expires,” Mit Winter, a lawyer who has served as outside counsel to college athletic conferences, told USA TODAY Sports.
“Threatening to sue ESPN is going to sour the relationship between the Big 12 and ESPN if the Big 12 continues to exist. I assume ESPN is not going to be happy about receiving that kind of letter.”
The news has sent shock waves throughout college sports, with the Big 12 now left scrambling to save their conference. They will presumably look to add new members in order to keep the conference alive.
Joe Morgan is the Sports Reporter for The Daily Wire. Most recently, Morgan covered the Clippers, Lakers, and the NBA for Sporting News. Send your sports questions to [email protected]
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