The Big 12 Conference dropped a bombshell on the college football landscape this afternoon with a series of scathing allegations by Commissioner Bob Bowlsby following the delivery by the Conference of a “cease and desist” letter to the Worldwide Leader in Sports. In short, the Big 12 (through Bowlsby) has accused ESPN of attempting to actively undermine the future of the conference by not only working with UT and OU for months behind the scenes on their departure to the SEC but also by trying to manipulate other conferences into poaching remaining Big 12 members. Bowlsby says he has evidence of at least one member being approached by another conference, allegedly at ESPN’s urging, and the entire effort is intended to allow UT and OU to leave the conference more quickly and without being required to forfeit revenue or pay any penalties.
Big 12 Commissioner Bob Bowlsby to AP: “I have absolute certainty they (ESPN) have been involved in manipulating other conferences to go after our members.”— Ralph D. Russo (@ralphDrussoAP) July 28, 2021
The Big 12 has sent a cease-and-desist letter to ESPN, as first reported by @PeteThamel
Bowlsby told AP that ESPN is incentivizing other conferences to destabilize the Big 12 so Oklahoma and Texas can get out of paying a buyout to the conference.— Ralph D. Russo (@ralphDrussoAP) July 28, 2021
Story to come.
In addition to salacious and extremely bold, these allegations are likely 100% true. As I and KK (and others) have been saying here and on Twitter since the stories about realignment first broke last week, the best possible outcome for UT, OU, and ESPN is for those schools to be playing in the SEC as quickly as possible now that they have decided they are leaving. That would be the 2022 season. The problem? Our Grant of Rights runs through 2024, binding the Longhorns’ and Sooners’ Tier 1 and Tier 2 media rights to the conference for four more seasons if nothing else changes. They could leave if they wanted to upon the end of the applicable notice period, but that’s only 18 months, and they’d do so without their all-important media rights.
How does that change? In all likelihood, one of two ways: first, enough members can also decide to leave that the conference itself votes to dissolve (because each leaving member wants its rights and to not pay anything to anybody for them); or second, the conference and its remaining members settle or compromise with those skipping town and allow them to leave with their rights. You may recall the latter is what ultimately happened with A&M and Missouri the last time around. ESPN bought our acquiescence with the current media deal that guaranteed similar revenue despite losing those teams and having lost two before.
What the Big 12 is saying is that ESPN is taking a different tack this time and going with the former by actively manipulating other conferences such as the AAC, ACC, or whoever else to try to poach current members. Remember, if enough schools decide they should also leave, all of those schools together can decide to dissolve the conference without penalty to anyone. Also remember, this is exactly what UT and OU want. They would benefit tremendously from this outcome and so, too, would ESPN. So while the Big 12 attempts to keep its remaining eight members together, the Conference alleges ESPN is actively attempting to break them apart by arranging landing spots for those members. Bowlsby does not say which conference he has evidence reached out to which member, but the smart money is on it being the AAC, which ESPN would want to elevate by adding members, on the reaching end.
But putting the content of the allegations aside, that they are being made at all is, itself, extremely newsworthy. There is no more powerful a force in CFB today than ESPN, and that includes state and federal governments and the NCAA itself (by a lot). Firing this shot across the bow is an extremely bold move considering, among other things, ESPN is the Big 12’s biggest media partner. The Conference just publicly accused its largest media partner of working to engineer its dissolution. That’s fairly incredible. Good for you, Bob. It’s nice for us to be on the offense for once.
More on this one as it develops but for now, suffice to say that things are getting WILD.
UPDATE: The Big 12 has now dropped a direct reference to tortious interference and is officially NOT PLAYING AROUND.
Bob Bowlsby told @TheAthletic: "This collaboration between and among ESPN and conferences to undermine the Big 12 is a tortious interference with our business."— Max Olson (@max_olson) July 28, 2021
Bowlsby: "It’s clearly them doing things that are disadvantageous to our business and I have absolute certainty that what I’m saying is factual."— Max Olson (@max_olson) July 28, 2021
Bowlsby: "I’m not prepared to share the evidence, but I can tell you it’s irrefutable."— Max Olson (@max_olson) July 28, 2021
Bowlsby is on the warpath.
UPDATE 2: They want to leave. The best thing we can do is stay together and not let them.