ESPN fired back at the Big 12 on Thursday with a letter disputing the allegations made by the conference and commissioner Bob Bowlsby.
The Big 12 sent ESPN a cease and desist letter on Wednesday saying the network "has taken certain actions that are intended to not only harm the Big 12 Conference but to result in financial benefits for ESPN." The Big 12 also said that ESPN was working with an unnamed conference — the American, per Yahoo Sports sources — to absorb remaining members of the Big 12 after Texas and Oklahoma leave for the SEC.
ESPN said Thursday that the Big 12's claims were baseless.
“The accusations you have made are entirely without merit," a letter from ESPN's Burke Magnus to the Big 12 said. "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. ESPN reserves all rights and remedies in connection with this matter.”
ESPN owns SEC Network and other TV rights
ESPN owns the SEC Network and the ACC Network and would stand to benefit from the addition of Oklahoma and Texas to the SEC. While ESPN owns some Big 12 football rights, Fox is the league's primary rights holder and has the first choice of Big 12 games along with Big Ten games.
Adding OU and Texas would mean ESPN would pay more for SEC rights — but also have more inventory and the ability to charge more for ads and subscriptions. A dissolution of the Big 12 would also mean that ESPN wouldn't be on the hook for the remainder of its TV contract with the conference.
Here's what Yahoo Sports' Pete Thamel wrote on Wednesday night about the situation.
Lawyers, crank up your billable hours. Bowlsby has made it clear he’s dying to go to court, would love to depose you and can’t wait to read all your texts and emails. “Do you let it go on or do you call your partner out?” asked a Big 12 source. “Even though they are our TV partner, I’m not sure they’re helping us at this point.”
Bowlsby’s allegations were clear that ESPN’s alleged maneuverings were designed to cause a chain reaction of net financial losses to “destroy” the Big 12. ESPN was attempting to dissolve the league and get Oklahoma and Texas to the SEC sooner, avoid paying exit fees and allow the grant of media rights to fizzle away with the league.
SEC presidents meet Thursday afternoon to potentially officially extend an invitation to OU and UT to join the conference. From there, the boards of regents at both schools meet Friday where they could accept the invitation and commence the legal wrangling that's set to occur.
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