Bob Bowlsby's Last Resort: Desperate Legal Maneuvers to Save the Big 12 Conference
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Texas and OU’s potential exit from the Big 12 Conference to the Southeastern Conference took another dramatic turn on Wednesday of this week. During the same week that Texas and OU caused tremors across the college football landscape by officially petitioning to join the SEC in 2025, the Big 12 now appears to be on the offensive, as the conference issued ESPN a cease and desist letter. Bob Bowlsby, the commissioner of the Big 12, asserts that ESPN took actions to “harm” the league, and mentions that ESPN engaged in tortious interference- an intentional interference of contractual relations.
Given the escalating legal situation between the Big 12 and ESPN, where do Texas and OU fit into the picture? Ross Dellenger of Sports Illustrated reports that Big 12 commissioner Bowlsby also accused ESPN of attempting to incentivize an unnamed conference (American Athletic Conference) to add Big 12 members, consequently destabilizing the Big 12 so that Texas and OU would be able to avoid exit fees. Moreover, Bowlsby claims that Texas and OU have been “As deceptive as they possibly could.” ESPN briefly responded by stating that the claims found in the cease and desist letter have “no merit.”
Will legal action or future lawsuits derail Texas and OU’s objective to join the SEC?
Although Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby assumed a more aggressive public position to protect the interests of the Big 12, it is likely too late. Ultimately, there are forces outside of the commissioner’s control that are too great to prevent Texas and OU’s departure from taking place. Now that Texas A&M’s Board of Regents recently voted in favor of Texas and Oklahoma joining the SEC, it is likely that Texas and Oklahoma will be unanimously admitted to the SEC. If approved by a ¾ majority vote by SEC member schools, it will be increasingly more difficult to thwart Texas and OU’s efforts.
It is also within the realm of possibility that the quickly deteriorating relationship between key entities at the negotiating table on all sides may lead to an early Big 12 departure for Texas and Oklahoma. Through a means of buying out the remainder of their media rights contracts ($70-$80 million) with the Big 12, Texas and Oklahoma could force the move earlier than 2025. Given the immense fundraising abilities that both Texas and OU possess, if called upon, boosters would be able to play a role in facilitating the move to the SEC as early as the 2022 season.
Thirdly, given the accelerated rate at which the ongoing proceedings are moving, it is possible that other Big 12 members may bolt for the door early and seek entry to other conferences prior to 2025. It is already reported that Baylor, Texas Christian University (TCU), and Texas Tech have already reached out to the Pac-12 about a potential move out west. If Texas and Oklahoma’s admission to the SEC does not implode the Big 12, the departure of Baylor, TCU, and Texas Tech would certainly act as the catalyst for widespread realignment around the college football world.
My Concluding Remarks: A Texas Longhorn’s perspective
It is my belief that despite potential legal challenges from varying entities, Texas and Oklahoma will eventually find their way to the SEC as early as 2022 or 2023. From a Texas grad’s perspective, this is a great move for the Longhorns. By joining the SEC, Texas will be able to make more money in media rights earnings, improve recruiting prospects, and set themselves up well long-term for an expanded, 12 team college football playoff. On the other hand, I can understand why a move of this nature will indirectly widen the gap between top programs and smaller college football programs.
If the SEC increases its membership to 16 teams, this will likely lead to the creation of super-conferences in the future. This is leading down the road to the creation of additional super-conferences. If so, it will set off a chain reaction that will likely resemble what we saw in college sports in 2011-12. The question is, who will be left without a seat when the game of conference musical chairs ends.
Article written by: Mel Stack, Incoming 1L student at the University of Miami School of Law.
Interested in more information on this topic? Check out Blue Bloods to Bolt from Big 12? by fellow writer Joe Esses.