COLUMBIA — Here we go again.
For the second time in less than two years, Missouri is at the center of the discussion when it comes to conference realignment, this time choosing whether to stay in a still-unstable Big 12 or explore its options, including potentially becoming the 14th member of the SEC.
A big step in that process will come during Tuesday's meeting of the UM System Board of Curators in St. Louis. The board will discuss a variety of issues, most likely including realignment.
The Big 12 took a small step toward stability when it announced Monday that it had agreed to share revenue evenly for the conference's Tier 1 (over the air broadcast) and Tier 2 (cable) television money. Previously, the largest share of that money had gone to the schools that appeared on television more frequently (Texas, Oklahoma and Texas A&M), creating a sort of rich-get-richer type of system.
However, this agreement to share equally comes with an important caveat. Each school must agree to grant its rights to the league for a minimum of six years. That essentially means that if a school were to leave the Big 12 for another conference, its television revenues would still belong to the Big 12, regardless of where the school played its games.
That, as University of Oklahoma President David L. Boren said on Sept. 22, "is a pair of very strong handcuffs."
The specific language the Big 12 used Monday in its news release is important as well. Each school has a different process of how to approve the granting of rights, but the league’s release stated that the "process will commence expeditiously at the institutional level."
Missouri’s process requires the approval of its curators, hence the potential importance of Tuesday’s meeting. A meeting without a decision on this topic would be tough to characterize as moving "expeditiously" on the issue.
During Chancellor Brady Deaton's Sept. 22 press conference, he notably did not commit to anything, only saying that the Big 12 had "specific issues to be addressed." While Boren claimed on that same day that the institutions had agreed in principle to the granting of rights, Deaton only said the schools had "agreed to pursue" it.
Missouri is widely believed, along with some of the other Big 12 institutions, to be unhappy with the overwhelming share of the power that Texas has inside the league. That sentiment only increased with this year's addition of the Longhorn Network, a cable network operated by ESPN that provides Texas with a $20 million per year windfall, not to mention potential recruiting advantages that come from showing highlights from high school sporting events.
One aspect of Monday's discussion that is perhaps a signal of Missouri's unwillingness to commit to the Big 12 was that Deaton, who also serves as the chairman of the Big 12 Board of Directors, recused himself from a part of that group's Sunday conference call. Interim Big 12 Commissioner Chuck Neinas, however, declined to discuss which specific aspect of the call Deaton did not participate in, only saying that Deaton had done so "on advice of his legal counsel."
Neinas did confirm that Deaton is still the chairman of the board of directors as well as a member of the league’s five-person expansion committee, which Neinas said was reactivated and will meet at some point this week.
Until then, though, the next move comes from the UM curators on Tuesday.
Neinas declined to comment on whether he was confident that the schools, including Missouri, would approve the granting of rights. He did say, however, that he had reached out to Missouri, and that he was set to visit Columbia sometime this week.
"Communication with the University of Missouri has already occurred," Neinas said. "I think granting rights is very important to the University of Missouri."
Neinas also said that Missouri had not requested any specific changes to the league's structure and that the items regarding revenue sharing were on the league agenda even before he took over for past commissioner Dan Beebe on Sept. 22.
There are many different scenarios that could play out at the curators meeting, which starts at noon inside the Millennium Student Center at the University of Missouri-St. Louis. The following is a breakdown of what a few of the most likely ones would mean:
The curators vote to approve the granting of rights.
This would tie Missouri to the Big 12 for the next six years and likely prevent it from bolting to the SEC. The only way that would still happen would be if one of the other remaining Big 12 schools did not approve the granting of rights.
The curators vote to give Deaton the authority to explore options related to athletic conference alignment.
This signals that Missouri is probably headed out of the Big 12. If this were to happen, Deaton would have the power to apply and accept membership into the SEC.
The curators vote not to approve the granting of rights.
This is highly unlikely. The curators would much rather not vote at all and not commit than to take the option to grant rights off the table.
If it were to happen, however, it would be as strong a vote of no confidence in the Big 12 as the previous scenario.
The curators do none of those things.
If we've learned anything during this latest round of conference realignment talk, it's that nothing is ever simple. The curators could potentially do nothing definitive Tuesday, but it's important to remember that the schools have been instructed to move quickly on the granting of rights, and it would likely be a sign of discontent for the curators not to make any sort of ruling on the matter.
But as Deaton so aptly put it in his Sept. 22 press conference, "In a sense, anything is possible."
The Missourian will be in St. Louis to cover what decisions are made or not made. Look for Twitter updates at @CoMoSports.