Since yesterday afternoon, talk show hosts across the country have blasted Missouri for not making a decision quickly enough to satisfy the desires of said talk show hosts. Many a messageboard SEC fan has posted words to this effect, too: “If Missouri doesn’t want in by now, they can get lost.”
Here’s the problem with all that — Missouri officials never said, “Hey, we’ll have a big announcement on Friday!” The school held its pre-scheduled board of curators meeting. The media figured MU would talk expansion so they showed up. The media — including this site — wrote that we expected a “we’re outta the Big 12″ announcement. But MU officials never said that was coming.
What they did give yesterday was akin to a “we’re outta the Big 12″ announcement, however.
Here’s the simplified version:
* In early October, MU’s board of curators gave chancellor Brady Deaton the power to go out and explore the school’s conference options.
* A 45-page report examining the benefits of SEC membership was leaked to the press a short time later.
* This weekend, Deaton went back to the board of curators to explain what he’d found. And in an unusual step, Missouri AD Mike Alden was also summoned before the board.
* After hearing Deaton’s findings, the board unanimously gave him the right to work out contracts with other conferences. (And in a very telling exchange, Deaton admitted that MU and the SEC have already exchanged information.)
* Deaton can now work out a deal with Mike Slive and the SEC without having to return to the board for approval. It’s all in his hands. And you can be sure the board wouldn’t have proposed playing basketball and football games in Kansas City if Deaton was expected to keep MU in the Big 12.
* Very short version: “Go look around, Brady. What’d you find, Brady? Go cut a deal, Brady.”
* So why not just pull the trigger as the ACC and Syracuse and Pittsburgh recently did? That’s a good question. To be honest, I’m not sure of the timeline of those actions. They were so surprising that it seemed as though John Swofford had simply picked up the phone, called the schools, asked if they wanted in, and then announced the move. But I’ll guess the conversations back and forth probably had been going on for two weeks to a month prior to the actual announcement. That would fall right in line with what’s happening with Missouri and the SEC.
* Missouri’s timeline so far has meshed identically with Texas A&M’s. But if/when Mizzou decides to apply for membership, it’s likely they’ll be unconditionally welcomed more quickly than A&M because the threat of lawsuit is not as great (not after the Big 12 poached TCU from the Big East).
* Why do we say “if” when it’s clear we believe Missouri is SEC bound? Because politics and money are involved. Something could go wrong on one end or the other. But it’s quite unlikely things will fall apart at this point. The SEC and Missouri have been in contact. Things wouldn’t have gotten to the point they did yesterday if the school or the conference didn’t want them to. I heard one talk show host say yesterday that “Missouri just likes the spotlight.” Good Lord. If MU officials could end all this today and stop the thousands of booster, fan, donor and media calls they must be receiving daily, you know they would.
* We expect Deaton is now talking to Slive about divisional alignment, permanent opponents, scheduling, etc. Once MU and Slive have a handle on things, the SEC’s commissioner will go back to his presidents — including those few who’ve been holding out on this one — and let them know of his and MU’s desires. At that point, the presidents will fall in line and MU will be welcomed into the SEC.
Earlier this week we wrote that according to our sources around the SEC and inside multiple school’s administrations, we expected this all to be played out by the middle to end of the coming week. We still feel that way. As we noted earlier this week, Missouri and Texas A&M are scheduled to play football next weekend and a well-timed announcement could create an SEC “preview” in College Station.
It’s our belief that…
1. In the next 7 days — barring any major fallouts between the parties — Missouri will be welcomed in as the SEC’s 14 member. The Tigers will begin play next season in all sports.
2. If they are as agreeable to it as has been suggested by sources in Columbia, the Tigers will be slotted for the SEC East. (Surprising fact: Of the eight schools closest to Columbia, four are in the East Division). As we explained here in great detail, we have been told that the SEC wants as easy a transition as possible and MU to the East protects every major rivalry in the league and requires no current school to shift divisions. It’s the easiest possible transition.
3. Missouri will likely have a say in who its permanent cross-divisional rival will be — as well as those other schools involved. Arkansas is the closest campus to Mizzou and would make sense as a rival. Texas A&M is farther away, but Gary Pinkel would surely like to keep his recruiting foothold in Texas alive. One or the other will serve as the Tigers’ cross-divisional rival.
4. Eventually — perhaps as many as five years down the line — the SEC will follow the lead of every other major conference and go to a nine-game league schedule (over the protests of the conference’s football coaches). This will insure all SEC member institutions will face each other on a more regular basis.
5. There is no drive to 16. Our SEC sources have told us repeatedly that the league wasn’t looking to expand this summer. When you’re highly successful, why mess with that success? But when A&M came knocking — a school that had been flirting with the SEC since the mid-80s — the league couldn’t pass the chance to bring in such a perfect fit (one that also helps the league’s academic reputation and geographic footprint). That required the finding of a 14th school. The ACC was more stable than expected. West Virginia wanted in as did smaller schools like East Carolina, but those institutions didn’t bring enough to the table. Enter AAU member Missouri with its large state population and big TV markets. That’s it. If someone else changes the landscape of college athletics, perhaps the SEC will be forced to follow, but the league will not be the guinea pig when it comes to a 16-team league. If someone tells you Slive wants to add two more teams, they’re not talking to any solid sources in the SEC, I can tell you that. For now, the SEC is done with the expansion process…
Assuming nothing does fall apart with Mizzou.
Could we be wrong in our assessments? Sure. But we trust our sources. And we were the only site to guarantee an eventual A&M/SEC marriage in July of 2010… as well as the only site to discuss Missouri as a good expansion option in May of 2010. So we’ve been able to add 2 and 2 together pretty well in the past.
If we’re wrong, we’ll have our mea culpas prepared. But we think this one’s about wrapped up and Missouri will land in the SEC East.