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The ongoing drama over Big 12 expansion clearly demonstrates one thing — ESPN has been, um, fudging the truth for years.

No surprise here.

The Worldwide Leader has been consistent. It has always claimed that it doesn't influence conference realignment. And it clearly does.

The denials became utterly unbelievable this week when ESPN and Fox executives — speaking off the record — went public in their attempts to influence the Big 12.

According to the Sports Business Journal, "Network executives spoke on the condition of anonymity because they are in the midst of negotiating with the conference."

They are negotiating the league's expansion plans.

Long story short — the Big 12's contracts with ESPN and Fox mandate those outlets up their per-season payments to the league if it adds members. Adding two teams would up the payments about $40 million per year; adding four teams would add $80 million per year through the life of the contract, which expires in 2025.

Because new members would get less than a full share of that money for several years — as was the case when Utah joined the Pac-12 — it would be a bonus to the 10 current Big 12 members, which would split the rest.

According to SBJ, ESPN and Fox aren't happy because they don't think there are four teams out there that would be worth another $80 million per year. And they're "negotiating" how the league might expand.

Yes, they have a contract … which they don't want to honor. Yes, it's their right to make their feelings known. And, yes, it's in the Big 12's best interest not to completely tick off ESPN and Fox.

But what's ridiculous is the longstanding, less-than-truthful insistence by ESPN that it just doesn't do this sort of thing.

Remember, ESPN issued this statement in the midst of a lawsuit over Maryland exiting the ACC for Big Ten membership: "As we've said many times, decisions about potential realignment and expansion were made by the individual schools and conferences."

And remember that, back in 2012, the president of Boston College said, "ESPN is the one who told us what to do" in regard to ACC expansion. He later said he spoke "inappropriately and erroneously," but do you believe that?

I certainly don't.

Maybe no one at ESPN or Fox has issued — or is issuing — direct orders to anyone at the ACC, Big Ten or Big 12. But ESPN and Fox are certainly making their wishes known. Making it clear that they would prefer School A to School B. Two schools to four schools? No schools to two schools?

I have no idea exactly what's going on inside the Big 12. Although, I don't know any less than the "experts" who reported that the league was going to table expansion right up until the moment that the Big 12 announced it was going ahead with the process.

Is this a negotiating ploy by ESPN and Fox to limit the expansion to two teams instead of four? Is that good news or bad news for Big 12-hopeful BYU?

Nobody who knows for sure is talking.

But one thing is certain. ESPN can no longer pretend that it's not deeply involved in conference expansion. It can no longer maintain that it didn't influence what happened with the ACC and the Big Ten — that it didn't play a major role in the destruction of the Big East as a big-time college football conference.

What's happening with the Big 12 made all those denials utterly unbelievable.

Scott D. Pierce covers TV for The Salt Lake Tribune. Email him at; follow him on Twitter @ScottDPierce.