NORMANDY, Mo. — On Monday, the Big 12 Conference asked its remaining members for promises.
On Tuesday, Missouri decided it wasn’t ready to make any.
After meeting for more than four hours behind closed doors in executive session, the UM System Board of Curators emerged, and Chairman Warren Erdman announced that the group had unanimously agreed to give MU Chancellor Brady Deaton the power to explore options relating to conference alignment.
In addition, Deaton announced he had stepped down as chairman of the Big 12 Conference Board of Directors in order to avoid any “perceived or actual” conflicts of interest.
Both are definitive steps away from the Big 12, but Deaton declined to speculate on any specific offers from other conferences.
“We're going to be exploring options generally, and we'll be making no comments about any specific areas where we have begun to look at data or examine the situation,” Deaton said.
Deaton said he will work with Athletics Director Mike Alden, interim UM System President Steve Owens and his “entire administrative group” to explore Missouri's options and added he will be meeting with his team Wednesday to begin the process.
The Big 12 asked Monday that schools move “expeditiously” to approve the granting of television rights to the conference for a minimum of six years, which in essence binds the schools to the league for that period.
“We don't fault the conference for asking for that. It's something it should be doing to promote stability,” Owens said. “But because we are currently faced with making a long-term commitment to the Big 12, now is the time to explore our options to fully understand where we are before locking into a long-term commitment with the Big 12.”
The next step in the process is for Deaton to actually explore the options available to Missouri. If or when Deaton decides there are more appealing homes for the Tigers than the Big 12, the school will have to apply for membership into a new conference.
The SEC has sent mixed messages about its future plans. Initial reports that Missouri had received an offer from the conference were denied by SEC spokesman Charles Bloom on Sept. 20. Commissioner Mike Slive said on Sept. 27 that the conference anticipates being a 13-team league next season. Just hours before Tuesday’s press conference, Vanderbilt Vice Chancellor of Athletics David Williams told The Tennessean that the league did not have a 14th team in its sights.
But Tennessee Athletic Director Dave Hart said the SEC will expand again, and the prevailing rhetoric is that a 13-team league is difficult to manage from a scheduling standpoint.
It is also important to remember the legal ramifications for the SEC to discuss these matters. Because of the potential of a lawsuit, the SEC does not want to be seen as a hindrance to the Big 12, and affirmative statements about the potential of adding Missouri could certainly be construed that way.
As for what the potential exit fee might be if Missouri were to leave the Big 12, Deaton again declined to speculate.
“We're really just beginning the exploration of our options, and those figures would become very clear during that process,” Deaton said.
Interim Big 12 Commissioner Chuck Neinas implied that the Big 12 would live on and expand with or without Missouri on Monday. When asked if he felt confident making offers to other schools despite the prevailing uncertainty surrounding Missouri, Neinas said, “That’s a good question, and I think the answer is yes.”
Neinas made a statement Tuesday following the press conference that "The University of Missouri is a member in good standing in the Big 12 Conference and I anticipate the University will continue to be a member of the Big 12.”
Deaton did not rule out the possibility of Missouri staying in the Big 12.
“Expeditiously" is hardly a specific term, and Deaton said Missouri had been given no deadlines by the Big 12 to agree to grant its television rights.
Deaton referenced “Tiger Nation” multiple times during the press conference. Over the past few weeks, there has been a growing swell of Missouri fans who want to leave the conference.
Fans got a hold of the call-in number for Tuesday’s press conference, and there were multiple chants of “S-E-C.” A website, www.mizzou2sec.com, has been created and has a twitter feed to match it. Attendees at a Tiger Quarterback Club luncheon Monday were excited to hear a Columbia radio personality suggest that Missouri should bolt for the SEC.
Whether that will be the case remains to be seen, but it is undeniable that Tuesday’s announcement was a major step in that direction.
Missourian reporter Zach Murdock contributed to this report.