Missouri Takes a Bold Step to the SEC
By Paul Myerberg // Oct 5, 2011
Missouri just wants to take its official visits, in my opinion. The Tigers gave the Big 12 a verbal commitment, but as we all know, a verbal commitment is nice but non-binding. Like your local five-star recruit, Missouri wants to test the waters, getting a taste of life in the SEC — and the Big Ten, maybe — before making its final decision. That’s the big message from last night’s seemingly never-ending meeting of the Missouri Board of Curators, who deliberated and deliberated before coming to the expected decision, granting Chancellor Brady Deaton power to explore conference affiliation.
But what conference? This should tell you something: moments after Missouri disclosed that it had given its chancellor this all-encompassing expansion power, it was announced that Deaton had relinquished his role as the chairman of the Big 12’s board of directors.
Perhaps Deaton dropped that title to avoid any conflict of interest. On the other hand, perhaps that Deaton removed himself from the conference’s board of directors is a sign of coming changes in Columbia. You can see both sides, and where your feelings lie depends on optimism, pessimism and geography.
The ball is now in Deaton’s court. He’s become Missouri’s wartime leader, its Charles de Gaulle, in essence, and has the accompanying power to dictate the university’s athletic future. There’s some pressure associated with Deaton’s decision, mind you; it’s a good thing, therefore, that Deaton can’t really make a wrong choice.
I see three options — three legitimate options, as while the MAC and the Sun Belt would take Missouri with open arms, the Tigers are moving forwards, not backwards.
But Missouri could tread water, if it so chose. Remaining in the Big 12 is still an option: keeping with the recruit metaphor, there are examples — not many, but it’s happened before — of a top prospect reneging on a verbal commitment, taking his trips and eventually, when all was said and done, signing with his original school of choice.
The Big 12’s draw is simple: home is where the heart is. And don’t undervalue the importance of comfort, as while the conference has many, many issues, Missouri knows exactly what it’s going to get from Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas and the rest of the league. There’s a built-in comfort level, and there’s comfort in the knowledge that landing at least eight wins is a near certainty as long as the program doesn’t alter the status quo.
But the Big 12 does have issues — enough where Missouri is even entertaining the idea of switching its conference affiliation in the first place. The league faces questions about its long-term viability. Even if the N.C.A.A. makes a Missouri-friendly decision about the Longhorn Network’s ability to show high school highlights, the Big 12 remains heavily tilted towards the Lone Star State. This isn’t news.
Yes, the Tigers could stay in the Big 12. Two conference members — Oklahoma and Texas A&M — went through a similar rigmarole, calling a meeting of the minds and announcing a decision to pursue new conference affiliation. One, A&M, actually did something; the other, O.U., stayed put, though perhaps not of its own volition.
Missouri is going to follow the same game plan. Again, the university wouldn’t go through this process, taking all these steps, unless it ultimately planned on taking its ball and playing elsewhere. It’s up to the SEC to decide whether Missouri is its 14th team; if the SEC declines, the Tigers are coming back home chagrined.
Maybe. I think the SEC is the program’s first choice, and rightfully so. There’s an opening at the most exclusive club in college football: there’s a tough interview process and a long line of applicants, and the league has enough drawing power to take only the program it believes best fits what the SEC wants to accomplish. That’s national supremacy, of course.
But while Deaton’s putting out feelers towards Mike Slive and the SEC, he might be wise to at least consider petitioning the Big Ten. And that would be awkward, seeing that the Tigers seemed dead-set on joining that conference last summer only to be rebuffed and replaced by — and this hurt most of all, I’d think — the rival Cornhuskers.
You can’t afford to hold a grudge when you take this leap. At least the Tigers have the Big 12’s safety net to lessen its fall should the program be unable to gain entry into either the SEC or the Big Ten. The program holds that card, but I’d be shocked if Missouri plays it.
Missouri isn’t coming back to the Big 12. This was a breakup done in front of a national audience, and while interim Big 12 commissioner Chuck Neinas said the right words — “The University of Missouri is a member in good standing in the Big 12 Conference, and I anticipate that the University will continue to be a member of the Big 12” — there’s very little chance that the two sides will be able to put aside their differences and retake their places at the Big 12’s table.
A return to the Big 12 would be a disaster for Deaton and Missouri. It would mean that the Tigers gambled and lost, and would mean, for all intents and purposes, that the program would remain tied in with Texas and Oklahoma for the rest of its football future.
Good news: Missouri’s not taking this step without relative surety that the SEC invite is on the table. Why? Because Missouri is not Oklahoma: Missouri’s not a program that could afford to take this step without knowing its next move. Missouri simply doesn’t have the value, the history or the prestige to take this leap, in my opinion; Oklahoma did and does, which was why it took a step towards the Pac-12 without knowing where the chips would fall.
Basically, Deaton simply needs to wear a nice suit, chew with his mouth closed, use the right salad fork and update Missouri’s resume. The SEC wants a 14th team. Missouri’s on the open market. The Tigers will shortly take an official visit to the nation’s premier conference, albeit one with a slight twist: the Tigers will try to impress the SEC, not vice versa. It shouldn’t be too hard. Just don’t screw up, in short.
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