COLUMBIA — When talking about the future of the Big 12 conference, Zaviar Gooden sounds like a young kid watching helplessly as his parents shout their way to a divorce.
“It kind of sucks that the Big 12 is thinking about breaking up,” the Missouri junior linebacker said after practice Monday. “I haven’t thought about it too much, but … college football is going to be a lot different. It’s unimaginable.”
Missouri football's head coach Gary Pinkel has said he has absolutely no control over the potential collapse of the Big 12 and ensuing realignments.
Imagine how his players must feel.
Missouri football players know they have no say in whether Texas A&M joins the SEC, or whether Texas, Texas Tech, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State leave for the Pac 12.
Most maintain they're entirely focused on the team's next game, Friday night at Arizona State.
But having chosen a college football team at least partly based on the level and location its conference's competition, some do have opinions on the future of Missouri, the Big 12 and college football in general.
Senior linebacker Luke Lambert watched in disappointment last year when Nebraska and Colorado left the conference for the Big 10 and Pac 12, respectively. The loss of the annual match up against rival Nebraska, and all the tradition that game carried, especially bothered him.
After the most recent developments, Lambert can only shake his head.
“I don’t like to see it,” he said. “It seems like bits and pieces are getting picked away, and I’m not sure what the idea is or what’s going on. Somebody has to have a plan for what’s going on, but they’re keeping it from us.”
Lambert said he saw one good thing come out of the departure of Nebraska and Colorado: It allowed Missouri to play all remaining teams, including Texas and Oklahoma, every single year. He expected the revised schedule to “raise the level” of recruits Missouri would go after.
Now, he said, he feels bad for younger and incoming players who might not get what they signed up for.
“It’s one of those things you look at when you come in as a freshman,” Lambert said. “You want to come in and play these teams. If they leave, you can’t do much about it since you’re committed. What happens, happens.”
Redshirt freshman Darvin Ruise, one of the linebackers' backups, grew up an hour away from Gainesville, Fla., home of the University of Florida. He said he originally committed to LSU, but then switched to Missouri. If the Big 12 disintegrated, Ruise said he'd love to play against former high school teammates who now go to SEC schools.
But that’s only if the Big 12 disintegrates.
Ruise does not want to see the next four teams leave, but said he still thinks new additions could hold the conference together.
“We would like to be competitors,” Ruise said. “With those guys leaving … I would like to see some bigger-name teams come to the Big 12. Everybody wants to play the best, and everyone wants to beat the best.”
Sophomore wide receiver L’Damian Washington agrees with Ruise: He would like to see the Big 12 survive, but if not, he wants Missouri to join the SEC. Over the last few years, he's watched many teammates from Texas get excited about visiting their home state; Baton Rouge, home of LSU, is a four-hour drive from Washington's home in Shreveport, La., but the famed Tiger Stadium would be close enough for him to consider it a homecoming.
“To be honest, yeah, getting a LSU game, that would be great,” he said.
But Washington and his teammates emphasized that such speculation at this point is meaningless. Not only do they have real, concrete football matters to attend to, but they also said they have no clue what is going to happen.
“It is a mess,” said senior safety and team captain Kenji Jackson. “It just shows how things are going. Money matters, and people are making moves.
"You can't let it affect you too much because all we can control is what we can control, and that's winning football games.”