Sen. Roger Marshall on Wednesday called on the Department of Justice to investigate whether ESPN played a role in the latest conference realignment affecting the Big 12 football conference.
“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,” the Kansas Republican said in a letter to Attorney General Merrick Garland.
Marshall’s letter follows the news that Texas and Oklahoma plan to leave the Big 12 and join the SEC. Questions about ESPN’s role in the realignment have been swirling in recent weeks.
Big 12 Commissioner Bob Bowlsby sent a letter to ESPN’s president last week, accusing the company of conspiring with at least one other conference to disband the Big 12. He suggested the company helped Texas and Oklahoma find new homes in order to poach the Big 12’s remaining teams like Kansas University and Kansas State — two universities Marshall has ties to.
ESPN has denied the accusations, calling Bowlsby’s claims “unsubstantiated.”
“The accusations you have made are entirely without merit,” ESPN’s letter said. “To be clear, ESPN has engaged in no wrongful conduct and, thus, there is nothing to ‘cease and desist.’”
The Big 12’s television deal with ESPN and Fox expires at the end of 2025, and ESPN is the sole TV partner for the SEC.
“Because they have the television rights to the SEC they will benefit from the additions of Texas and Oklahoma immensely,” Marshall said. “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.”