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Columbia Missourian

DEAR READER: Records interesting for what they don't reveal about Big Ten move

By Scott Swafford
June 4, 2010 | 1:27 p.m. CDT

It’s no surprise that there’s a lot of interest out there surrounding the question of whether MU might join the ranks of the Big Ten. It’s a move that could mean millions of dollars in new revenue for MU athletics and a host of new academic opportunities. But it’s also a question that stirs the emotions of fans rapt by the traditions and rivalries of the Big 12 and its predecessors, the Big Eight and the Big Six.

Given the level of public interest, it’s also no surprise that the news media is hot for the story. So hot, in fact, that it becomes tempting to set aside the usual journalistic standards and venture into the realm of conjecture, speculation and anonymous sources.

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At your Missourian, we’re resisting that urge. We like our reporting to be based in fact and on knowable sources. That’s why Chris Canipe wrote a story exploring the reasons — mostly financial — why MU might be motivated to make the switch. It’s why Dieter Kurtenbach wrote a piece examining whether MU would be a good fit for the Big Ten. It’s why Dieter and Len Goldman penned another report that showed the move, in terms of athletic competition, probably would be a wash for the Tigers.

The quest for facts also drove the Missourian to use the Sunshine Law to get beyond idle speculation and to determine whether actual talks of any kind regarding a move to the Big 10 were going on behind the scenes. A few weeks ago, we asked for any and all written or electronic correspondence since Dec. 1 between or among MU’s heavy hitters — UM President Gary Forsee, MU Chancellor Brady Deaton, MU Provost Brian Foster and MU Athletics Director Mike Alden — that mentioned the Big Ten in any way. And for good measure, we tossed in a request for any correspondence between those folks and Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany since Dec. 1.

Earlier this week, UM Associate Vice President David Russell, the university’s custodian of records, provided 29 pages of e-mails that matched our request. The documents are as interesting for what they don’t contain as for what they do.

Is there any evidence of talks behind the scenes? No.

Is there any written correspondence whatsoever between the MU/UM foursome and Delany? No.

Is there any confirmation that Missouri has received an invitation, or even a hint of interest, from the Big Ten? No.

What the documents do show, however, is that Forsee, Deaton, Foster and Alden are at least as interested as you and I in the possibilities of a move to the Big Ten. Several e-mails show them forwarding news stories about the issue to one another. Others show Alden and the MU News Bureau trying to ensure everyone is on the same page about what to say when the media inquires, which essentially is nothing. Others show faculty and fans offering Alden their opinions. Some favor the move. Most oppose it. One exchange has former UM curator Woody Cozad seeking guidance from current curator Warren Erdman about what he should or shouldn't say.

The records – at least the batch we obtained this time – offer no blockbuster scoops, no smoking gun, no “gotcha” news leads. Still, we’re happy we paid the $219 bill to get them. The Sunshine Law exists to help shed light on matters of public interest, even when the record is devoid of big headlines.

Take a look for yourself. The documents belong to you.

Scott Swafford