COLUMBIA — Usually, when I write these little essays, I try to practice what I preach in the classroom. I aim to be objective — fair if not balanced.
When it comes to sports, especially our Tigers, not so. I’m a fan, pure and simple.
It’s in that spirit that I’ve been watching the turmoil surrounding the No Longer Big Some Number Less Than 12 Conference. Nobody seems to know what’s going to happen to it and therefore to us.
Now that Texas and Oklahoma, the conference’s big dogs, have been rebuffed in their attempt to join the Pac-12, how seriously can we take their pledges of undying loyalty? I seem to recall that Texas A&M signed a similar pledge just before bolting for the SEC.
Joe Castiglione, now the athletics director at Oklahoma, is quoted as saying he’s “in full support” of OU President David Boren’s new commitment to the conference he was trying to leave 48 hours before. (Irrelevant aside: My favorite memory of Joe’s days as Missouri AD was his claim to be unaware that the woman he was living with was stealing a half-million dollars from the university. That’s ancient history, of course.)
So where does all that leave our Tigers? While Brady Deaton, an honest man, serves as titular head of the current configuration and insists that it can and will survive, his football coach says that kind of thinking is “naive.”
Meanwhile, the newspapers in both St. Louis and Kansas City report that MU has an informal offer to join the SEC if the NLBSNLT12 should collapse.
Thursday’s headline on the Kansas City Star's website was “Anxiety, frustration bedevil Big 12 fans.” The story below the headline reports, “Fans not only feel left in the dark, but also as though their opinions don’t matter.”
That feeling is based on fact, unless those fans also happen to control a television network.
I’m neither anxious nor frustrated. I’m just fascinated. Why, I wonder, should any Missouri fan care much about the Formerly Big 12? It is, after all, the bastard offspring of a marriage of convenience 17 years ago that followed the collapse of the old Southwest Conference. Those nuptials were inspired by love — love of recruiting in Texas and love of the added revenue the wealthy Southerners would bring as their dowry.
One of the ironies of the present situation is that the most eager aspirant these days to join our conference is SMU, whose flagrant cheating contributed greatly to the demise of the Southwest Conference.
I’m sure Brady and Mike Alden have sympathy for their colleagues in Norman and Austin. Just a couple of years ago, it was MU being spurned in painful public fashion when the Big Ten chose Nebraska over the obviously more deserving Mizzou. They put the best possible face on that rejection.
But let’s be serious and not naive. Under the best of circumstances, the Big 12 seems certain to be left, in the phrase Vahe Gregorian wrote in the Post Dispatch, “a portrait of dysfunction.” Who wants to be part of that picture?
To me, the SEC doesn’t look bad. A friend who’s an athletic booster tells me the MU coaches favor it as a landing place. No question it’s a powerhouse conference, especially in the sport that brings in the big television bucks, football.
The scholars among you might complain that academically the SEC is no Big Ten. True enough, but neither is MU. The Wall Street Journal this week published some numbers that provide perspective.
Compared to Big Ten schools, MU would rank above only Nebraska — late of the Big 12 — and Indiana in either the U.S. News ranking or the more prestigious ranking of federal research dollars.
In the SEC, we’d be above average. We’re a member of the AAU. So are all the Big Ten schools, except Nebraska. In the current SEC, only Florida and Vanderbilt belong.
So would we rather be a weak sister or a star (in the classroom if not on the football field)? Or are we content with dysfunction? I’m guessing we’ll get the answer from ESPN.
George Kennedy is a former managing editor at the Missourian and professor emeritus at the Missouri School of Journalism.