COLUMBIA — Let’s start with the one thing that seems inevitable: Texas A&M is leaving the Big 12 Conference.
Its relationship with the SEC is beyond the “Let me buy you a drink,” stage. They’ve been on the dance floor for a while and it appears the two are going to be going home together very soon. The Oct. 29 meeting in College Station between Missouri and Texas A&M will be the pair’s last Big 12 get-together.
For the complete version of Tuesday's statement from MU Chancellor and Big 12 board chairman Brady Deaton, go to the Missourian Sports Blog.
Even though Texas A&M is denying reports that it sent a letter to the Big 12 stating its intentions to leave the conference, Aggies football coach Mike Sherman all but admitted to the planned departure. On Monday’s Big 12 teleconference, he answered a question about conference realignment by saying, “We have a bunch of seniors that will never play in that conference.”
The Aggies have had enough of their relationship with Texas. The Longhorn Network pushed them far enough. They will graze in what they perceive as greener pastures.
That leaves the obvious question: What happens next, both to Missouri and the Big 12 as a whole?
The people who should have the answers aren’t talking, at least not much.
Brady Deaton, MU Chancellor and President of the Big 12 Board of Directors, declined to speak Tuesday, but the MU News Bureau released a statement on his behalf, trotting out what has become the Big 12 party line.
"The Big 12 Board formed a special committee to discuss schools that may be considered in the future to join the Big 12 in the event Texas A&M leaves the conference or if further expansion is desirable even if Texas A&M stays in the conference," a part of the release read. “The Big 12 is poised to act aggressively to assure a strong Big 12 for the future."
Missouri Athletics Director Mike Alden referred all comments to the Big 12, which referred all comments to a one-sentence statement from Commissioner Dan Beebe that boiled down to “We’re working on it.”
Another thing no one seems to want to comment on is what happens to the reported $1 billion TV contract between the Big 12 and Fox when Texas A&M bolts. This was the contract signed in April that was supposed to “save the Big 12.”
According to Glenn Wong of the University of Massachusetts, an expert in media contract law, it’s likely that a contract like this one contains a clause allowing Fox to renegotiate their terms if a league giant like Texas A&M leaves. But last year, when Nebraska and Colorado left the league, both Fox and ESPN had the opportunity to take a chunk of money out of their Big 12 deals, and both elected not to do so.
Both the Big 12 and Fox declined requests from the Missourian to view the contract, citing confidential terms. Both organizations also declined to comment.
The short answer, though, is that whatever actions are taken, Missouri is going to be just fine.
But that still leaves us to wonder what the next step in this process will be. Texas A&M makes 13 teams in the SEC, a mathematically unfriendly number for scheduling purposes. One can only think that the league will soon be in search of school No. 14. Rumored 14th teams such as Florida State and Clemson are all in states that already have SEC schools, something the New York Times is reporting that the league doesn’t like.
With the No. 21 (St. Louis) and 31 (Kansas City) largest media markets in the nation, Missouri opens up a whole new area to the SEC’s geographic footprint, and puts the conference in more than 2 million new homes. Even if Missouri isn’t high on the list for No. 14, it would have to be strongly considered if the conference ever went to, say, 16 teams.
Why would the SEC do that, you ask? Because of Larry Scott, commissioner of the Pac-12, who is a man who has proven willing to buck tradition to create a business opportunity.
With his progressive nature, Scott is the commissioner least likely to fear the repercussions of becoming the first 16-team super conference. In a weakened Big 12, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State would be likely first targets for Scott. Others would follow. Missouri could be one of those others.
Without a doubt though, if and when Scott makes his move, the Big Ten and SEC would have to react. They would have to, just to keep pace.
Then, perhaps, Missouri gets what it wanted from the beginning: An invitation from the Big Ten. Or maybe it ends up in the SEC as its 15th or 16th team.
Then again, maybe the Big 12 continues to exist. But what happens if and when Fox decides to renegotiate the TV contract will have an impact on the league.
Mike Alden has bills to pay. If the TV money decreases enough in an Aggie-less agreement to the point where Alden can't pay those bills, Missouri, as well as other Big 12 schools, are going to have a problem on their hands. Maybe then Alden picks up the phone and calls Scott, the SEC or the Big Ten and pleads his case.
But there's a chance, some might even call it a good chance, that the Big 12 does remain together as a league. As CBSSports’ Dennis Dodd pointed out recently, as long as the league has Texas and Oklahoma, it can survive. “We are poised to move aggressively” has become the league's mantra. Notre Dame or Arkansas certainly won't step in to replace Texas A&M, but BYU, Air Force and Houston could be legitimate options.
Either way, though, those fears we all heard last year about Missouri being relegated to relative obscurity in the Mountain West or even the Big East are unfounded this time around.
It won’t be instant, and because it’s a slow process, people will panic. People will cry, “Mike Alden, Brady Deaton, why are you sitting there, letting this all happen? Do something!”
The truth is there isn't a whole lot for either of them to do. Missouri isn’t anyone’s first option. Texas A&M brought the Big 12 more than twice as much revenue from 2003-2009 than Missouri did. Texas Tech even brought in more cash than Missouri over that period.
But because of the TV markets, Missouri isn’t anyone’s worst option either.
However this all shakes out, Tiger fans should take solace. The question is not whether Missouri will find a home in a BCS conference, but which BCS conference it will be.