Big 12's Bob Bowlsby: OU, Texas, ESPN Have Been 'As Deceptive as They Possibly Could'

After sending a cease-and-desist letter to ESPN, Bowlsby tells the AP that the network has incentivized other conferences to try to destabilize the Big 12.
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Remarkably strong words from Big 12 Commissioner Bob Bowlsby on Wednesday — words like “articulation of deception” and “tortious interference” — as he tries to keep his conference alive.

Bowlsby told the Associated Press’ Ralph Russo that Oklahoma and Texas had been working on an exit strategy to the Southeastern Confferen cefor months “while taking part in Big 12 strategy meetings where proprietary information was being shared.”

Bowlsby told the AP, “this whole thing has been a complete articulation of deception.”

Bowlsby also accused ESPN of “incentivizing other conferences to destabilize the Big 12” so Oklahoma can get out of paying a buyout to the conference.”

OU and Texas announced Monday they would not accept the Big 12’ offer to extend their media rights deal for an additional five years beyond the current contract of 2025. The schools on Tuesday formally applied for membership into the SEC.

SEC presidents and chancellors are scheduled to meet on Thursday, and the OU Board of Regents has called a special meeting for Friday morning in Oklahoma City.

It’s all bordering on conspiracy, Bowlsby suggested.

Bowlsby and the Big 12 Conference also sent a cease and desist letter to ESPN, in which he accuses the network of trying to convince at least one school to leave after OU and Texas bolt.

The letter was obtained by SI’s Ross Dellenger.

“It has come to my attention that ESPN … has taken certain actions that are intended to not only harm the Big 12 Conference but result in financial benefit for ESPN,” Bowlsby writes.

“I am aware that ESPN has also been actively engaged in discussions with at least one other conference regarding that conference inducing additional members of the Big 12 Conference to leave the Big 12 Conference.”

“The actions noted above are an apparent attempt to interfere with and induce our members to break these contractual obligations to the conference and to encourage further conference realignment for the financial benefit of ESPN.”

ESPN told SI, "The claims in the letter have no merit.”

Bowlby told SI that he learned of OU and Texas' desire to leave the Big 12 from the Houston Chronicle's report last week.

He told Dellenger that in various league meetings in recent months, both the Sooners and the Longhorns "acted the part of happy members. Had we been aware of some grievances, we would have attempted to address it. I’m sure they’ll try to get out of the exit fee and the Grant of Rights."

Bowlsby told the Associated Press that he has “absolute certainty they (ESPN) have been involved in manipulating other conference to go after our members,” and told SI that ESPN "had their hands all over the Texas and Oklahoma move to the SEC. They were was deceptive as you can possibly be. There are right and wrong ways to (do) these things. They sought to deceive us from the very beginning."

Although aggressive estimates for OU and Texas leaving the Big 12 start with the 2022 football season, and conservative estimates place their departure at the end of the current grant of rights contract of 2025, Bowlsby said it wasn’t clear.

“Because we can’t get any information out of Texas or OU,” he told Chuck Carlton of the Dallas Morning News, “I make the assumption they will stay in our league as long as they have to and will try to get themselves out as soon as they can.

“They’ve certainly violated our bylaws in other ways by not notifying us that they were having conversations with other conference,” Bowlsby said, “They’ve done everything about as deceptive as they could.”

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