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U.S. Sen. Roger Marshall, then a member of the U.S. House, speaks at The Mercury office in 2018. Marshall on Wednesday drafted a letter to the Department of Justice asking for an investigation into “ESPN’s role in the potential destruction of the Big 12 Conference.”

U.S. Sen. Roger Marshall, a Kansas Republican and a graduate of both Kansas State and the University of Kansas, drafted a letter to U.S. attorney general Merrick Garland asking for the Department of Justice to launch a formal investigation into ESPN.

The letter, which was released Wednesday, comes in the wake of Big 12 powers Oklahoma and Texas departing the league to join the SEC — and leaving the conference’s eight remaining members unsure about their collective future.

“I write today to ask that the DOJ investigate ESPN’s role in the potential destruction of the Big 12 Conference,” Marshall wrote in a letter released from his office Wednesday afternoon, “and if any anti-competitive or illegal behavior occurred relating to manipulating the conference change or ESPN’s contractual television rights.”

Marshall obtained a biology degree from K-State with a minor in nuclear physics. He received his medical doctorate from KU.

But he had confidence in both of his alma maters.

“I have faith @kstatesports and @KUAthletics will do what is best for their athletes,” he wrote on Twitter, “and our resilient universities will come out of this realignment stronger than ever.”

Now, the senator wants to learn more about what role — if any — ESPN had in orchestrating Texas and Oklahoma’s departure from the Big 12.

Not long after news broke that the two powerhouse schools were prepared to join the SEC, Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby sent a “cease-and-desist” letter to ESPN and accused the TV network of conspiring with at least one other conference to break up the Big 12. He suggested that ESPN helped the Sooners and Longhorns find a new conference home and that ESPN worked with the American Athletic Conference in hopes of poaching several of the Big 12’s remaining teams, such as Kansas and K-State.

Bowlsby went so far as to say ESPN was engaging in a clear act of “deception” against 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 Big 12 has a media rights contract with ESPN and Fox that runs through 2025. ESPN is the sole TV partner for the SEC and also broadcasts AAC games.

Some believe ESPN played a role in breaking up the Big 12 as a way to add value to its partnership with SEC. If more teams decided to leave for the AAC, that would allow ESPN to get out of the remainder of its lucrative Big 12 contract and enhance the AAC.

Texas president Jay Hartzell, during a recent political hearing, also denied that his school had any conversations with ESPN about switching conferences.

Mike Aresco, commissioner of the AAC, also denied that his conference “aligned or plotted with ESPN” to go after any Big 12 teams.

“Our conference has never strategically aligned or plotted with ESPN to influence conference structures,” Aresco said. “We wouldn’t do that. ESPN has never done that and would not do it. We do consult with our television and business partners on issues related to our conference. Everyone does, of course. But any suggestions or statements that we colluded with ESPN with regard to the structure of any other conference is a completely unfounded and grossly irresponsible accusation.”

Earlier this week, Bowlsby promised to publicly downplay his conference’s grievances with ESPN in the future.

“We have agreed to not escalate this publicly,” Bowlsby said. “It’s in neither party’s best interest to do so.”

K-State athletics director Gene Taylor, who on Wednesday replaced Del Conte as the Big 12’s representative on the College Football Playoff selection committee, supports Bowlsby and the conference as a whole.

“The goal is to keep this conference together as much as we can,” Taylor said in a video message to K-State fans posted on the athletics department’s official website.

He also urged the K-State fan base to remain optimistic as college football appears set for yet another wave of conference reshuffling.

“We are a Power 5 school,” Taylor said. “We are a Power 5 conference. We are going to remain that way, and that is why it is important for us to stick together. That is what we are doing — positioning ourselves to be in a Power 5 conference.”

Taylor said there are multiple reasons for the Wildcats to remain upbeat about their conference future — even amid the ongoing uncertainty.

“We just have to remember the kind of program we are,” he said, “certainly from an athletic perspective, the championships we have won and how we have competed — not only within the Big 12 Conference, but nationally and some of the things we have accomplished, not just in football but all of our sports. Look at our facilities and the wonderful fan support that we have. Our bowl partners love K-State to come to their bowl games. Those are the things that make K-State special and will put us in a great position to work through this transition period.”

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