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Sen. Jerry Moran calls for congressional hearing into ESPN's role in conference realignment

Manhattan Mercury | Ryan Black

U.S. Sen. Jerry Moran on Friday called for a congressional investigation into ESPN’s role in conference realignment in college sports. The Mercury obtained Moran’s letter Friday afternoon.

His call for a hearing before the Commerce Committee comes in the aftermath of the Big 12 Conference’s two most prominent schools, Texas and Oklahoma, leaving the league for the SEC. And Moran wants to know how much of a role — if any — ESPN played in their departure.

“I am extremely troubled by allegations that some in the broadcast community attempted to incentivize this consolidation — not in an effort to improve competition and increase opportunities for more amateur athletes, but in order to improve their bottom line,” Moran wrote. “I believe these allegations and the effects of conference realignment warrant the attention of the Commerce Committee.”

In the letter, Moran also noted the “extreme concern across the country — and especially in middle America” surrounding the future of collegiate athletics.

“It appears college athletics are quickly entering a race to consolidate power and talent with profit as the only consideration,” Moran wrote. “Increasing and maximizing the economic impact of college athletics should be done with the goal of improving the entire ecosystem of college athletics rather than increasing profit for a select few.”

The rich getting richer — in this case, the SEC adding two of the nation’s most high-profile football programs to a league that already arguably is the strongest in the country — gravely concerns Moran.

“The continued consolidation of the biggest brands within college athletics under fewer conferences will only serve to further increase the divide between schools and make it increasingly harder for smaller institutions to compete,” he wrote. “Furthermore, additional consolidation will result in athletic programs being judged solely by the number of people who tune in for a game rather than success on the field or the value they add to college athletics.

“This tosses aside the pillars of tradition, historic rivalries and fair competition which have held up college athletics for well over a century.”

Moran cited a study that estimated the potentially “devastating” effect that conference realignment could have “on the enrollment and recruitment of faculty and university programs” as well as the lasting economic damage that could follow.

Specifically, he pointed to the losses that might be incurred by Kansas’ two flagship universities.

“In Kansas alone, early estimates put the annual economic losses for Manhattan, home of the K-State Wildcats, at $253 million and for Lawrence, home of the Kansas Jayhawks, at $342 million a year,” Moran wrote. “Revenue losses of this magnitude would be devastating for towns like Manhattan and Lawrence, and the economic ripple effects would be felt across the state.”

Moran’s letter is the latest development in the ongoing saga involving ESPN, the Big 12, the SEC and the college football blue bloods. After news broke that Texas and Oklahoma’s decision to join the SEC was imminent, Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby sent a “cease-and-desist” letter to ESPN. In the letter, Bowlsby not only implied that the TV network helped orchestrate Texas and Oklahoma’s exit from the Big 12, but that ESPN also conspired with at least one other conference to break up the Big 12.

“I have absolute certainty they (ESPN) have been involved in manipulating other conferences to go after our members,” Bowlsby told the Associated Press. He also claimed he had irrefutable proof to back up his claims, but denied to provide it with media outlets.

The day after Bowlsby’s letter, ESPN responded with one of its own, claiming that the accusations are unfounded.

Moran’s letter Friday follows a similar push from Sen. Roger Marshall, who on Aug. 4 drafted a letter calling for the Department of Justice to launch a formal investigation into ESPN and its role in realignment.