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In this photo, the ESPN logo is shown against a backdrop. A letter from the Big 12 Conference office sent to ESPN accuses the network of orchestratating the shakeup of the league, with the intention of destroying the conference by communicating with multiple schools beyond Texas and Oklahoma.

ESPN executives are intentionally trying to destroy the Big 12 Conference by communicating with multiple schools beyond Texas and Oklahoma, as well as other conferences, Big 12 officials claimed in a letter to the network.

Multiple sources confirmed to The Mercury Wednesday afternoon that the Big 12 office sent a cease-and-desist letter to ESPN. They said the letter is based on evidence the Big 12 gathered that ESPN executives purposely engineered the shakeup of the conference, with the intention of dissolving the league entirely for ESPN’s financial gain.

The letter states that ESPN has 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.”

According to Dennis Dodd, a national college football writer for CBS Sports, the league in question is the American Athletic Conference. The Big 12 told Dodd that “ESPN conspired with American to take ‘3-5’ teams to (the) AAC.”

The letter, obtained by Sports Illustrated and signed by Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby, asserts that the network not only is harming the league, but intends to “result in financial benefits for ESPN.”

Bowlsby on Wednesday afternoon publicly asserted the Big 12’s stance in a written statement to the Associated Press.

“I have absolute certainty they (ESPN) have been involved in manipulating other conferences to go after our members,” he said.

ESPN disputed the allegations made in the Big 12’s letter.

“The claims in the letter have no merit,” ESPN said in a statement provided to Brett McMurphy, a national college football reporter for the Stadium Network

Wednesday’s numerous developments are the latest twists and turns in an eventful week for the Big 12.

On Monday, Texas and Oklahoma, the league’s two most well-known schools, informed the conference they do not intend to renew their grants of media rights when the agreement expires in 2025. A day later, Texas and Oklahoma officially applied for membership in the SEC.

The 13-year grant of rights deal is what governs the Big 12’s TV contracts. Texas and Oklahoma would have to pay penalties in the range of $75 million if they opted to leave early. If the conference dissolves, member schools could leave without paying a penalty.

The SEC has a long-standing deal with CBS and ESPN, which pays the league $55 million annually, that will end in 2024. According to The New York Times, the league in December signed a 10-year contract with Disney, which owns ESPN and ABC, worth $3 billion. In that deal, ESPN will pay the league $300 million annually to air its games.

The SEC brings in significantly more revenue than the Big 12. According to a report by Front Office Sports, the SEC earned $728.9 million in 2020, while the Big 12 reportedly earned $409.2 million. On a per-member basis, Big 12 schools received between $37 million and $40.5 million in disbursements, while SEC schools received $45.5 million, plus a one-time payment of $23 million to offset costs related to the coronavirus pandemic.

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