COLUMBIA — Carefully crafted loyalty pledges to the Big 12 aside, Missouri's interest in joining an expanded Big Ten couldn't have been more obvious.
But with conference rival Nebraska apparently the top choice to make that switch, and the Pac-10 Conference poised to grab as many as six more Big 12 schools, Missouri now finds itself on the outside looking in — and Tiger fans are starting to worry.
"There's a lot of concern among alumni about what happens to Mizzou and how this works out," said Todd McCubbin, executive director of the Missouri Alumni Association.
University curators opened their regularly scheduled meeting in Columbia on Thursday morning with a closed-door session — the first of three scheduled over the next two days. Board Chairwoman Judy Haggard confirmed that the curators plan to discuss conference affiliation at some point.
The meeting comes amid reports that Nebraska will announce its move to the Big Ten on Friday. And the Pac-10 announced Thursday that Colorado, like Missouri a member of the Big 12 North division, is leaving to join the West Coast-based league.
The loss of those two schools, and possibly more, could spell the end of the Big 12, with Missouri joining Baylor, Iowa State, Kansas and Kansas State on the sidelines.
Such a scenario seemed unlikely as recently as several weeks ago, when Missouri supporters proudly touted the school's academic strength, geographic proximity and existing rivalry with Big Ten member Illinois as obvious draws.
"Anything could happen, but we're working hard to stay together," said Missouri chancellor Brady Deaton, who added that he had called Texas president William Powers to discuss the conference's future.
Haggard suggested that Missouri's fate remains unclear.
"It's too soon to say," she said before the closed meeting. "We're going to be getting a lot of information these next two days.
After the closed meeting, curator Warren Erdman told the Associated Press that Missouri had not been asked to join the Big Ten. Erdman noted that he had been out of state the past week but wasn't aware of any change in the situation. He said the curators did not discuss conference affiliation during the morning session.
The Big Ten announced late last year it is considering adding at least one school, and possibly more, to add a league championship game in football and broaden the reach of its cable television network.
Commissioner Jim Delany has said the conference planned to wait until later this year or even 2011 before deciding whether to add more schools. That timetable may have been accelerated, though, with Missouri and Nebraska reportedly facing an imminent deadline to affirm their commitment to the Big 12.
Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon, who has previously suggested that a move to the Big Ten would benefit Missouri, on Thursday urged school leaders and fans to remain calm.
"This is not something we should be operating for an ultimatum or some really short time frame," he said. "It's a big decision, and if the Big Ten wants to begin these discussions with the university then the university should listen."