The Big 12 Conference issued a cease and desist letter to ESPN on Wednesday, claiming the network has "taken certain actions" intended to harm the Big 12 and result in financial benefits to the company.
In the letter, obtained by Ross Dellenger of Sports Illustrated, Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby accused ESPN of being "actively engaged" in discussions with at least one other conference member regarding realignment in the wake of Texas and Oklahoma formally seeking entrance to the Southeastern Conference.
Ross Dellenger @RossDellenger
.<a href="https://twitter.com/SInow?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@SINow</a> has obtained the cease and desist letter that the Big 12 sent to ESPN.<br><br>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. <a href="https://t.co/j50gEBPWBY">pic.twitter.com/j50gEBPWBY</a>
"The Big 12 Conference demands that ESPN immediately cease and desist all actions 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."
The commissioner asked ESPN to respond with "written assurances" by 1 p.m. ET on Thursday. In response, ESPN said the claims have no merit.
The accusations pit the Big 12 with arguably its most important broadcast partner. As of 2019, ESPN airs every Big 12 football championship game through 2024 and created a Big 12 platform on ESPN+. Additionally, ESPN has deals with eight of the 10 conference members to broadcast events across multiple sports.
That deal is set to expire following the 2024-25 season—which is when Texas and Oklahoma seek to begin play in the SEC.
Brett McMurphy @Brett_McMurphy
Big 12’s “cease & desist” to ESPN claims network contacted other conferences "encouraging” them to take Big 12 schools so Big 12 dissolves, eliminating grant of rights, sources told <a href="https://twitter.com/Stadium?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@Stadium</a>. If Big 12 implodes, ESPN not responsible for final 4 years of deal, worth $1.06 billion
Speaking to reporters after sending the cease and desist letter, Bowlsby claimed he was "absolutely certain" ESPN has been "in contact with" other conferences to try poaching Big 12 schools in an attempt to destabilize the league.
Bowlsby further noted that Oklahoma and Texas have been taking part in Big 12 strategy meetings—during which proprietary information was shared—while working in secret to abandon the conference for the SEC.
"It causes me to further suspect [ESPN] had their hands all over the Texas and Oklahoma move to the SEC," Bowlsby said. "They were as deceptive as you can possibly be. There are right and wrong ways to these things. They sought to deceive us from the very beginning."
The commissioner called the network's actions "tortious interference" and claims he has documented evidence to back up his claims.