COLUMBIA — It’s about that time when people are starting to panic. The Big 12 Conference looks to be crumbling around Missouri, and fans are beginning to wonder where their beloved Tigers will make their next home.
No one knows, not yet anyway.
Here’s one thing we do know: No matter what happens, the fans are the ones that lose from this latest, and possibly most damaging round of conference realignment.
The passion and spirit of the fans, along with the tradition, help separate college sports from their professional counterparts. Strip those things away, and college football and basketball become minor leagues. Football turns into nothing more than a breeding ground instead of something that unites an entire state for 12 Saturdays a year.
A huge part of that passion stems from rivalries. Missouri fans love to hate Kansas, can’t stand those obnoxious Nebraska fans and live for the rare upset of bullies Texas and Oklahoma.
Think of the memories of these rivalries in the past five years alone. Remember the joy fans felt less than a year ago while carrying the goalposts to Harpo’s after finally beating Oklahoma? What about the massive party — and the supposed longest wave in college football — that was the 41-6 drubbing of Nebraska in 2007?
All of that? Potentially gone, replaced by games against unfamiliar schools in far-flung locations. Looking forward to an annual matchup with South Florida? How about a traditional rivalry with LSU? Don’t you think there would be tons of vitriol between Missouri and Stanford?
And why does it all slip away? It’s for the extra dollars that fans — and players for that matter — won’t see a dime of. It will go into the pockets of conference commissioners and into budgets for fancy training complexes and well-decorated offices. Things that don’t matter to Joe Graduate, MU 1996, who has to scrub the grass stains out of his jeans after four-plus hours spent sitting on a hill just so he can see his Tigers.
Oh, and do you think the price of his season tickets is going to decrease in the post-realignment era? Are athletic departments going to suddenly start turning away donations? Is the Tiger Scholarship Fund going to cease to exist because of this new financial windfall? Not a chance.
Professional sports are all about the money. Everyone understands this and accepts it. When Albert Pujols considers leaving St. Louis because it can’t meet his $30 million per year salary demand, people might not agree, but they at least understand. Even the Cardinals season ticket holder who might cry if Pujols dons a Cubs uniform understands that the team is a business, just like Apple or Microsoft, existing only to take his money and turn it into profit. And at least that money goes to Pujols, who earned it with his play on the field.
The University of Missouri isn’t a corporation. It’s an institution, and even though the athletic department operates with a separate bank account, it still represents the institution. It falls under the University of Missouri umbrella. Brady Deaton is the Chancellor of the University of Missouri and Athletics Director Mike Alden answers to him. He’s even said so himself multiple times.
The mission of the University of Missouri is first and foremost to educate, but it also exists to give the people of the state something to be proud of.
Walk around the parking lots before a football game. There are people from St. Joseph to Ste. Genevieve and everywhere in between. Children, parents, grandparents and even great-grandparents come together to bond over something that is inherently theirs — their state, and in a lot of cases, the school at which they spent four (or more) years of their lives.
Regional divisions, age differences and all the other things that separate us fade away to a unity that is truly unique to college sports. Fans love it because they partially own it — or because, at least until now, they’ve felt like they have.
The guy who stands up and screams in section E for three and a half hours in the pouring rain on a Thursday night, only to watch his team lose in heartbreaking fashion to a rival — conference realignment doesn’t care about him.
But it should. Five years from now, when the dust has settled, rivalries are torn and fans are embittered, maybe the people in charge of this whole business will remember that guy.
In reality, though, they probably won’t. They’ll be too busy shopping for office decorations.