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Big 12 Accuses ESPN of Destabilizing Conference, Issues Cease and Desist

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The Big 12 Conference sent a "cease and desist" letter to ESPN on Wednesday, demanding that the network ends all actions that could harm the conference and its members.

In a letter obtained by Sports Illustrated's Ross Dellenger, the Big 12 calls for ESPN to not communicate with the league's existing conference members or any NCAA conference regarding its members, possible conference realignment or potential financial outcomes associated with realignment.

Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby claims that ESPN—a current media rights partner of the conference—has taken actions to not only "harm" the league, but actions that "result in financial benefits for ESPN." 

The letter also states that ESPN is currently violating Section 20.2(c) of the Telecast Agreement with the Big 12 that states the network will not "take any actions likely to impair, or [that are] inconsistent with the rights of the league under the agreement."

Here is the full letter:

Beyond ESPN's involvement in the announcement of Texas and Oklahoma intending to leave the Big 12 in 2025, Bowlsby told SI that he has documented evidence that ESPN tried to encourage an unnamed conference to add Big 12 members in an effort to destabilize the league, meaning Texas and Oklahoma could avoid exit fees. 

"It is tortious interference," Bowlsby said. 

The unnamed conference was the American Athletic Conference, according to Dellenger. The AAC declined to comment on that report to Dallas Morning News reporter Joseph Hoyt.

A source from the Big 12 told SI that the network is trying to cause "chaos and panic."

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"You think that you've seen it all," the source said. "You can't make this s*** up. They want the Big 12 to dissolve for financial gain. But time is on our side."

DELLENGER: Big 12 in Disarray With Expected Departures of Texas, Oklahoma

This news comes a day before the SEC's vote to determine if Texas and Oklahoma will join the conference. At least three-fourths of the SEC's 14 members will have to vote yes on the conference expansion. 

However, according to Chuck Carlton of the Dallas Morning News, the Big 12's letter has nothing to do with the SEC's vote on its conference expansion.

MORE: Texas and Oklahoma Won't Renew Grants of Media Rights

ESPN claims that allegations in Bowlsby's letter hold no merit. 

Both Texas and Oklahoma—two of the founding members of the Big 12—took a pivotal step toward leaving the conference on Monday when they announced they would not be renewing their grant of rights agreement. This allowed the SEC to formally consider adding both programs to the conference. 

Sources told Dellenger that both programs were prepared to wait until their grant of rights expires in 2025 to join the SEC instead of paying the $70 million exit fee.

"It is imperative that the eight of us do not crack and we stay together for the four years and hold OU, Texas and ESPN to the contracts even if it is uncomfortable," a Big 12 source told SI. 

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