A senator from Kansas called on the Department of Justice (DOJ) to investigate the alleged role that ESPN may have played in the University of Texas’ (UT) and the University of Oklahoma’s (OU) decision to move from the Big 12 Conference to the Southeastern Conference (SEC).
Sen. Roger Marshall, R-Kansas, sent a letter to Attorney General Merrick Garland on Wednesday raising concerns about ESPN’s role in UT’s and OU’s conference shift out of the Big 12.
Marshall noted that the schools were invited by the SEC to join after announcing that they “do not intend to renew their contract with the Big 12 conference,” and highlighted the “less apparent” allegations that ESPN “is encouraging and working to ensure this move occurs.”
The Kansas senator pointed to news reports that illustrated the Big 12 had evidence of manipulation by ESPN and commented that Big 12 Commissioner Bob Bowlsby “even sent a cease-and-desist letter” to the network accusing them of trying to poach teams for the SEC.
Additionally, the senator wrote that the commissioner is claiming ESPN has spoken to at least one other conference about adding the departing members of the Big XII conference.
“Another article reports that ESPN acquired the prized SEC on CBS package, giving them 100 percent of the SEC’s television rights,’” Marshall wrote, citing a report on the matter. “Because they have the television rights to the SEC they will benefit from the additions of Texas and Oklahoma immensely.”
“Conveniently, the ESPN-SEC deal begins in 2024 and their contract expires with the Big XII only a year later when the teams are slated to join the SEC,” Marshall added.
The Republican senator wrote that, while he does not know the terms of the contract, “the U.S. Supreme Court has decided that the exclusive right to televise all league games is a violation of anti-trust laws.”
He also added that legislation previously “passed to overturn this decision for professional football” did not apply to college ball and, therefore, don’t receive the anti-trust exemption.
“I write today to ask that the DOJ investigate ESPN’s role in the potential destruction of the Big XII Conference and if any anti-competitive or illegal behavior occurred relating to manipulating the conference change or ESPN’s contractual television rights,” Marshall concluded.
In a Friday email, a spokesperson for ESPN pointed Fox News to a letter sent by the company’s president of programming and original content Burke Magnus to Bowlsby after his accusations, saying they are “without merit” and that the Big 12 commissioner’s letter consisted “entirely of unsubstantiated speculations and legal conclusions.”
“To be clear, ESPN has engaged in no wrongful conduct and, thus, there is nothing to ‘cease and desist,’” Burke wrote. “We trust this will put the matter to rest.”
The spokesperson also pointed Fox News towards comments from Jay Hartzell, the president of UT, who told the Texas Senate “absolutely, categorically, no” when asked if Texas had conversations with ESPN during the conference realignment process.
ESPN also pointed to comments made by American Athletic Conference Commissioner Mike Aresco denying plotting with ESPN to poach Big 12 teams.
“While ESPN is a valued partner, I have to take a moment to address some accusations that have been made up either directly or indirectly against our conference,” Aresco said at a press conference on Wednesday.
“Our conference — and I say this categorically — our conference has never strategically aligned or plotted with ESPN to influence conference structures. We wouldn’t do that. ESPN has never done that and would not do it,” he continued. “Any suggestions or statements that we colluded with ESPN with regard to the structure of any other conference, as it’s a completely unfounded and grossly irresponsible accusation.”
UT and OU announced last week that they would allow their contracts with the Big XII to expire by 2024 and move to the SEC by 2025.
DOJ did not respond to Fox News’ request for comment.
Houston Keene is a reporter for Fox News Digital. You can find him on Twitter at @HoustonKeene.