The Big 12 Conference knows that it’s in trouble and knows that it could be on the brink of disappearing, with Texas and Oklahoma announcing their intentions to leave the conference at the conclusion of the grant of rights deal in 2025.
So, in an attempt to try to save his conference, Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby sent a cease and desist letter to ESPN on Wednesday evening claiming that the sports broadcasting network worked with the SEC and is currently working with another conference to help facilitate conference realignment and leave the Big 12 without enough members to survive.
Bowlsby said in the letter that the efforts that ESPN is making to help other conferences add members of the remaining eight schools is “an apparent attempt to interfere with and to induce our members to breach these contractual obligations to the Conference and to encourage further conference realignment for the financial benefit of ESPN.”
While it remains unclear if ESPN and the SEC were facilitating deals behind closed doors in the last several months, it does appear that there could have been some politicking going on from SEC commissioner Greg Sanky in the matter. Bowlsby is rightfully upset bout is that there could be further discussions underway that could put the future of his conference in jeopardy.
“This collaboration between and among ESPN and the conference to undermine the Big 12 is a tortious interference with our business,” Bowlsby told the Athletic on Wednesday. “We would be able to assert that even if it wasn’t in our contract, but in fact, it is in our contract. It’s clearly them doing things that are disadvantageous to our business, and I have absolute certainty that what I’m saying is factual.”
While there aren’t any specific reports over which conference — in addition to the SEC — is actively pursuing members of the Big 12, it appears that the American Athletic Conference could be the most likely, and Bowlsby’s refusal to not name the conference he is accusing only complicates the matters.
However, the same Athletic story did report that “multiple sources confirmed” that the American Athletic Conference has attempted to engage three to five members of the Big 12 conference about the idea of potentially joining the AAC.
Why the American wants to add
While it’s not clear if the American wants to add members to the conference, it is clear that they are in a position to act aggressively when it comes to this round of conference realignment.
The American has long strived to be considered one of the power conferences in college sports. They even monikered the name “the Power Six” in efforts to be seen on an equal level as the SEC, Big Ten, ACC, and Pac 12. However, it’s certainly clear that through their television contracts and the brands in the conference, the American doesn’t add up to the traditional Power Five conferences.
The American is now trying to add members to the conference — most likely from the Big 12 — that will make the conference one of the most powerful conferences in college sports. If the conference could poach the likes of Kansas, Oklahoma State, Baylor, Texas Tech, and TCU from the Big 12 it would create an opportunity for the American to be considered more equal with the other conferences.
Does adding solve all the problems?
However, this doesn’t completely solve the American’s problems. The biggest problem the American has is that it lacks major brands as a conference. Kansas basketball is a national brand, but the other schools that the conference could look to add really don’t bring much cache to the table.
So while expanding makes the conference a more legitimate player on a national scale, it doesn’t really help increase the influence the AAC will have on the college sports landscape.