I am both a big Cardinals and Mizzou fan and have been for 40+ years and feel that the comment about professional sports in Missouri as a detriment to being a college fan. If I'm not mistaken there are 3 professional teams in Georgia, 3 in Tennessee, one in Louisiana and at least 8 in Florida. So,I don't see how that can be a negative factor against Mizzou fitting into the SEC.
Numerous media reports indicate it is a just a matter of time before Missouri becomes the 14th member of the SEC. Missouri is not the first choice of many SEC supporters. Virginia Tech, Florida State, West Virginia and other schools have more of an “it” factor when being examined for possible membership. Curators of the University of Missouri recently granted Chancellor Brady Deaton permission to begin “divorce proceedings” with the Big 12. Now that Texas A&M is the official 13th member of the conference and Missouri and SEC officials are on course to finalize the Tigers entry into the SEC, SEC fans are asking is Missouri a good fit for the SEC?
As with any school Missouri has it pros and cons for membership.
On paper Missouri seems to be a good fit in comparison with other SEC schools. Many people have long surmised the reason that SEC officials are interested in Missouri is the expansion of the SEC footprint into two huge TV markets of St. Louis and Kansas City, Mo.. The St. Louis market is ranked #21 nationally with 1,258,580 and Kansas City is ranked #31 with 974,820 households.
The University of Missouri is a flagship state university similar to the universities of Kentucky, South Carolina, Florida, Georgia, Arkansas, Alabama, LSU. State flagship universities have on the whole larger fan bases, political strength (in their legislature and board of trustees) and brand value. In other words, these universities are the power brokers in higher education with more resources at their disposal.
The University of Missouri’s undergraduate enrollment numbers (20,802 fall of 2011) are similar to other SEC members. The city of Columbia, Mo. has a population base (101,838) similar to Gainesville, Columbia, Knoxville, Lexington and Baton Rouge. Missouri is a good fit because of its academics and the University has an enormous endowment. Missouri has a $143 million dollar endowment rated #9 in the “10 Best University Endowments” in the nation.
Where does Missouri fit in the east or west division- Missouri borders three SEC states: Kentucky, Tennessee and Arkansas which is key for many SEC schools fan bases that travel well. Gabe DeArmond, publisher of PowerMizzou the Missouri Rivals.com site, believes Missouri fans do not have a preference for which division the Tigers are placed. Texas A&M appears to be destined for the SEC West and it would be an easier fit to move Missouri to the SEC East rather than displace a school such as Auburn and move them to the East. The majority of the SEC schools are in favor of the addition of the Tigers to the SEC if it does not jeopardize decades old rivalries. Alabama athletic officials are fierce loyalists in wishing to keep the Alabama/Tennessee rivalry going. DeArmond believes traveling another 50 or 100 miles to play schools in the Eastern division would not be a big deterrent for travel.
Which teams would be a natural rival for the Tigers – Historically, Ole Miss is the SEC team that Missouri has played the most having played six times. Logically, Arkansas would be a big rival for Missouri. The two states share a large border and share a passion for basketball. Arkansas’ new coach Mike Anderson ironically coached at Missouri before coming to Arkansas. Recruiting also plays a role in this. The nation’s top prospect wide receiver Dorial Green-Beckham lives in Springfield, Mo and is being courted heavily by Alabama, Auburn, Arkansas and a host of other schools. Other rivalries for Missouri will materialize through competition. South Carolina didn’t have a true SEC Rival when it entered the league in 1992. The Gamecocks quickly developed a fierce rivalry with Georgia. Certainly other schools in the SEC will develop a rival relationship with the Tigers.
Missouri must buy in to what the SEC is selling - One of the reasons Alabama is now ranked #2 in the nation is Alabama head coach Nick Saban, asks each player to buy into his program. The playbook is one of the many items Saban gives the players. Saban does one of the best jobs in the nation in building a program from the inside out. Saban brings in noted motivational speaker Dr. Kevin Elko annually to check the “mental pulse” of the team. Elko helps each player build people and life skills. How do they manage their time, relationships, money, family and romantic relationships. Saban gives them a blue print to be a successful person on-and-off the field.
Missouri must understand the SEC is all-for-one and one-for-all. Members of the SEC remind people of the iconic TV drama Dallas featuring the oil-rich Ewing Family. The Ewings would cheat on their spouse, enter into shady business deals and fight like cats and dogs every day, but when “Miss Ellie” rang the dinner bell, everyone came running and put on their “Sunday best” clothes and attitude for dinner. Missouri officials must buy into the SEC’s way of doing business. SEC Commissioner Mike Slive lives by the Teddy Roosevelt principal, “walk soft and carry a big stick”. Slive allows SEC members to bicker and argue, but he makes the ultimate decision for the direction of the conference. Missouri athletic officials flirted with the Big 10 for several years because of their concern for the long-term future of the Big 12 and the close proximity of many Big 10 schools. Once a member of the SEC, Missouri must honor their wedding vows.
Professional sports rule the state - One of the biggest arguments against Missouri coming into the SEC according to Matt Barber of Dixiefriedsports.com is many SEC fans believe the sports population in the state caters to professional sports and has casual interest in college sports. Missouri has five major professional sports teams (Rams, Cardinals, Blues, Chiefs, Royals) located in two major metropolitan areas (St. Louis and Kansas City). These teams have been long entrenched with two of them, the Chiefs and Cardinals, possessing fan bases as passionate as any in pro sports. The Kansas City Chiefs have been inconsistent winners in the NFL the past 20 years but are still one of the founding members of the AFL and the NFL. The Cardinals are in a league of their own playing in this years World Series with some of the most knowledgeable sports fans in the nation. Missouri is and always will be a a pro sports state first with college sports a distant second.
Will the Tigers be able to compete in SEC football - Missouri’s 2007 team was the best team in recent memory going 12-2, winning the Big 12 North and the Cotton Bowl over Arkansas. The Tigers ended the regular season as the No. 1 team in the BCS standings. The Tigers have a 40-14 record in the last four years and have won 3 Big XII North Titles. Since 2005 the Tigers have two bowl wins an all time record of 19-8-1 against SEC schools. However, amazingly the Missouri football program never won more than nine games in a season from 1961 until 2007 under coaches such as Dan Devine, Al Onofrio, Warren Powers, Woody Widenhofer, and Larry Smith. It appears based on past records, Missouri would be a middle-of-the-pack team in the SEC. The Tigers seem to be on solid footing now with Gary Pinkel at the helm. The Tigers are no where near the caliber of the elite teams in the SEC Alabama and LSU, but very few teams in the nation are either.
Even though the Cardinals are the favorite sports team in the state, Missouri football does have a power base. Missouri averaged over 64,000 fans at each home game a year ago. In comparison, that number is higher than the average attendance at Ole Miss, Mississippi State, and close to Kentucky football. Wouldn’t Missouri and Big 12 fans be more interested in traveling to Baton Rouge, Knoxville, Gainesville, Tuscaloosa and Auburn than traveling to see Iowa State, Kansas State and Colorado (now in the Pac 12) play the Tigers. SEC fans sometimes forget that the majority of the SEC schools have added seating capacity of their stadiums in the past 15 years.
In conclusion, adding Missouri to the best conference in college football is not sexy. Many SEC pundits still believe Commissioner Slive should expand east to either West Virginia, Virginia Tech, North Carolina or Florida State. Missouri does not move the “fan meter” very much. The biggest concern from SEC fans is will the Tigers become as passionate about the SEC as they are. Only time will tell.
Brett Beaird and Harold Bugg are co-hosts of the Boomo Bugg Show on WYTK 93.9 FM the Score weekdays from 12:00-2:00 pm and the Sportsbuzz on WZTV weekdays at 5:30 and 11:00 pm CT. Brett is also a contributing writer for Tiderinsider.com and the Huntsville Times.