The Big 12 sent shockwaves throughout the college football world when they sent a cease and desist letter to ESPN. In the letter, Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby accused the sports broadcast network of severe wrongdoing.
Bowlsby accused ESPN of conspiring with at least one other conference to approach multiple Big 12 schools about joining their conference. Ross Dellenger, a college football insider, has reported that the conference referenced in the letter was the American conference.
Bowlsby suggested that ESPN was essentially trying to blow up the Big 12 conference by incentivizing the American conference to poach some of the remaining eight schools. Bowlsby says he has proof of all the accusations he mentioned.
Bowlsby has requested that ESPN stop communicating with the remaining Big 12 members.
If ESPN is guilty of what Bowlsby is accusing them of, the reason for their actions is simple: The network desperately wants Texas and Oklahoma in the SEC as quickly as possible.
If the Big 12 ceases to exist, Texas and Oklahoma can freely leave the conference without paying an exit fee. If the Big 12 remains, the two schools will have to stay put in the conference until 2025 or pay a substantial exit fee.
ESPN recently issued a statement responding to the allegations made by Bowlsby. In the letter, the network denied any wrongdoing.
All of this leads to a couple of fascinating questions: What role does ESPN play in all of this? How do they benefit from Texas and Oklahoma joining the SEC?
How ESPN benefits from Texas and Oklahoma joining the SEC
The best way to figure out ESPN's benefits in the conference realignment mess is by following the money. The network currently has TV deals with both the Big 12 and SEC.
So why would ESPN sabotage the Big 12 when they have a TV deal with the conference?
If the Big 12 no longer exists, the network will no longer be accountable for the current TV deal. Hence, the accusation of the network approaching another conference to take away some of the remaining Big 12 teams seems believable.
If powerhouses like Texas and Oklahoma leave the Big 12, ESPN won't find their current TV deal with the conference too enticing. Thus attempting to end the agreement altogether makes sense from their perspective.
The SEC already outearns the Big 12, so ESPN stands to earn a lot more money with their SEC TV deal than they ever would with the Big 12. With Texas and Oklahoma joining the SEC, profits for ESPN will only go up. In other words, ESPN doesn't have a lot of use for the Big 12 anymore.
Ultimately, ESPN gets monetary gains from Texas and Oklahoma joining the SEC.
What's next for the Big 12 and the SEC?
The next steps for the Big 12 and the SEC are unclear. Now that ESPN is involved in the madness, it could be a long time before we see something tangible take place.
The Big 12 could attempt to sue ESPN, Texas, or Oklahoma, but that could get complicated and messy. However, as we saw from Bowlsby earlier, the Big 12 is extremely upset and they're willing to make it known.
The eight teams in the Big 12 will likely try to keep their conference alive by sticking together. Maybe they'll even try to add teams from another conference. Meanwhile, Texas and Oklahoma will remain in the Big 12 until 2025. That is, unless the conference crumbles or the two schools work something out money-wise with the Big 12.
The SEC will vote on accepting Texas and Oklahoma into their conference and then play the waiting game. It may be a while before we see the new-look SEC in action.
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In conclusion, it's safe to say that the uncertainty surrounding conference realignment will persist for weeks and possibly even years.