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Commissioner Bob Bowlsby says ESPN trying to break up Big 12

Commissioner Bob Bowlsby says ESPN trying to break up Big 12

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WICHITA, Kan. — Bob Bowlsby has a message for ESPN.

Stop trying to break up the Big 12 Conference.

Bowlsby, the league's commissioner, sent a cease-and-desist letter to the TV network on Wednesday that accused the company of taking "certain actions that are intended to not only harm the Big 12 Conference but to result in financial benefit for ESPN."

He later told The Associated Press in a phone interview that "I have absolute certainty they (ESPN) have been involved in manipulating other conferences to go after our members."

The Big 12 is in a state of uncertainty following news that Oklahoma and Texas, its two most powerful members, intend to leave for the Southeastern Conference when the Big 12's grant of rights agreement comes to an end in 2025, if not earlier.

Should the Longhorns and Sooners try to exit the Big 12 early, they could owe the conference as much as $80 million a piece in exit fees. If the Big 12's remaining eight schools stick together, they will no doubt try to collect as much money as possible from their departing rivals. But if those teams leave for other conferences themselves and the Big 12 dissolves, some schools could save a lot of money.

It has been speculated that ESPN could also save considerable cash, upwards of $1 billion, if the Big 12 quickly dissolves and it no longer has to honor its TV contract with the league.

Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby speaks during Big 12 media days at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, on July 15, 2019.

Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby speaks during Big 12 media days at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, on July 15, 2019. (Lynda M. Gonzalez/Dallas Morning News/TNS)

Bowlsby later told the Dallas Morning News that ESPN has conspired with at least one other conference and as many as half of the Big 12's remaining schools about expansion plans that could harm the league.

"There were incentives discussed for that conference to go and take those members," Bowlsby told the newspaper. Sports Illustrated reported the league Bowlsby was referring to is the American Athletic Conference, which is headquartered blocks away from the Big 12 in Dallas.

"So that's as clear a tortuous interference with our business as you can possibly have," Bowlsby also said to the Morning News. "I'm absolutely certain it has occurred. I have every belief that they were similarly involved in the UT and OU move to the SEC."

ESPN issued a statement that read the claims listed in the Big 12's letter "have no merit."

The letter was first reported by Yahoo Sports. The letter was first obtained by Sports Illustrated.

The letter itself requests that ESPN stop engaging in conversations with Big 12 members about the topic of conference realignment.

Such a request is unusual, because ESPN is the primary television partner of the Big 12. The TV network broadcasts several Big 12 football games every Saturday in the fall and nearly all of the conference's basketball games in the winter.

But now, the Big 12's commissioner is accusing ESPN of trying to break up the conference.

"It causes me to further suspect they (ESPN) had their hands all over the Texas and Oklahoma move to the SEC," Bowlsby told Sports Illustrated. "They were deceptive as you can possibly be. There are right and wrong ways to these things. They sought to deceive us from the very beginning."

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