COLUMBIA — Relegated to a sideline seat for the first wave of college sports' conference shake up, officials at Missouri said Friday they remain committed to the Big 12.
For now, anyway.
"We have obligations to our Big 12 Conference, first and foremost," said Missouri system president Gary Forsee. But he added that conference realignment is "a nine-inning game" — and it's still the first inning.
Forsee spoke to a roomful of reporters while Missouri curators met behind closed doors for the third time in two days.
Among the topics in the closed session: gauging the impact of fellow Big 12 North division member Colorado's defection to the Pac-10 and deciding whether Missouri remains a viable candidate for inclusion in an expanded Big Ten if Nebraska joins as expected.
The departure of those two schools could be just the start of the Big 12's unraveling as the Pac-10 considers inviting as many as five of the six Big 12 South members and the Big Ten mulling its own expansion. That would leave Missouri, Baylor, Iowa State, Kansas and Kansas State on the sidelines, waiting for offers from other, less prestigious conferences.
Despite the uncertainty surrounding the Big 12, Forsee and other Missouri leaders again offered strong statements of support for the Big 12.
"We are trying to be patient," said board chairwoman Judy Haggard. "We are committed to the Big 12 at this time."
The Big Ten announced late last year it was 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.
That move set off a wave of jockeying by other schools and conferences, with Missouri considered among the top Big Ten prospects thanks to its geographic proximity, academic profile and existing rivalry with conference member Illinois.
Athletics director Mike Alden, who met with curators for more than three hours Friday, suggested that Missouri is not interested in the Big Ten or any league other than its own.
"We aren't looking at any other conference," he said.
Alden has previously emphasized the school's commitment to its conference while also expressing his desire for more equitable revenue-sharing when it comes to TV revenue — a problem that would be solved by a move to the Big Ten, which divides its booty equally among its 11 members.
He acknowledged concern about whether the league can survive, saying the Big 12 "no doubt takes a hit" with Colorado's departure. And those comments came before Nebraska announced its widely anticipated desire to move.
Alden said that a further exodus could cripple the Big 12, which was created in 1996 when the Big Eight added four Texas schools.
"In general, when you get eight (teams) or under, that's where it becomes a bit more problematic to hold it together," he said.
The league's fate may rest with Texas, where university regents will meet Tuesday to decide whether to remain in the Big 12.