UM System Board of Curators grants Deaton decision-making powers

Friday, October 21, 2011 | 3:46 p.m. CDT; updated 4:03 p.m. CDT, Friday, October 21, 2011

KANSAS CITY — The UM System Board of Curators was supposed to make Missouri's conference alignment clearer with a press conference after two days of meetings.

Instead, the picture is still blurred.

In a resolution passed Friday morning, the board gave MU Chancellor Brady Deaton the power to make decisions regarding conference alignment, announced chairman Warren Erdman. Previously, any change in conference alignment would have had to be approved by the board.

Additionally, the board announced a directive that Missouri should explore the possibility of a neutral site football game against a "traditional rival" — likely Kansas — and an invitational basketball tournament in Kansas City.

These moves indicatemore steps away from the Big 12, but not necessarily large ones.

With speculation abound that Missouri is considering a move to the Southeastern Conference, allowing Deaton to make the final decision without board approval makes that process simpler.

The Kansas City directive is likely aimed at the concerns of board members from the state's western region who might be worried that a conference change could impact their area.

Erdman, who was the most straightforward speaker during the press conference, explained the reasoning of the Kansas City directive.

"Should his (Deaton's) decision lead to our departure from the Big 12, this board is committed to doing what we can to preserve the rich tradition and heritage that is very important to us here (in Kansas City)," Erdman said. "The board's intent was that if we do not remain in this conference, the intent to schedule these events would take place."

Erdman and Deaton both called the issue "complex" many times.

"As anxious as everyone, including our rabid fan base, is to have a definitive answer, we have to exercise our fiduciary duty and we are taking our time to analyze all of the issues and to exercise that fiduciary duty on behalf of the university," Erdman said.

Deaton declined to give a timeline for the process, but described the next steps as "very expeditious."

"There have been absolutely no extraordinary delays in our process," Deaton said. "There will continue to be no unnecessary or inappropriate delays in the process. There's no reluctance to go forward and make the right decision for the university."

Erdman, meanwhile, said the public step in the process would be the "final resolution of the question."

Deaton will announce the next move, whenever it might come, and said MU's next step if, it does leave, would be to pursue an application to another conference.

"We've asked for information from the SEC to inform us with regard to our future decision making," Deaton said.

Friday was the first time anyone from MU confirmed specific communication with the SEC.

Deaton also said that despite what interim Big 12 Commissioner Chuck Neinas said last week, a move in conferences would likely be effective for next season.

The fiduciary duty Erdman referred to could include discussion on the Big 12 exit fee. But when asked directly about that topic, Deaton did not answer, and said only that a "range of complex issues" affect the topic.

Missouri could benefit financially from a move to the SEC. On Oct. 10, the Associated Press published details of a 45-page document the board received at its last meeting. It outlined a potential $12 million per year increase in revenue from a move to the SEC.

That was disputed by interim Big 12 Commissioner Chuck Neinas the next day.

"Let me say that Missouri, or an institution in the Southeastern Conference is going to make $12 million more annually and there are 14 members, that means they would have to increase their annual income from TV by $168 million," Neinas said. "I don't know, you can ask ESPN, or anybody if they want to pay another $168 million, I don't think that's in the cards."

The stability of the Big 12, which operated as a 10-team league this season after the 2010 departure of Nebraska and Colorado, had been in question for most of September since Texas A&M announced on Aug. 31 that it, too was leaving the conference. It was rumored that Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Texas and Texas Tech were headed to the Pac-12, and that the Big 12 was going to be nothing more than a memory.

But on Sept. 20, the Pac-12 announced it was not going to expand. That revitalized the Big 12. Instead of looking for ways to escape, conference members began the process of solving the problems that they felt were causing the league's turmoil.

Commissioner Dan Beebe was ousted after rumors abounded that schools were unhappy with how easily Beebe gave in to the demands of the University of Texas. He was replaced by Chuck Neinas.

Perhaps more importantly, the conference members agreed to share their Tier I and Tier II (over-the-air and cable broadcast revenue) television money evenly, which replaced a system where teams were compensated based on the amount of times they appeared on television.

There was just one catch to the new revenue sharing agreement. Each school had to approve a grant of rights of a minimum of six years, which meant that if a school left the Big 12, it would forfeit all of its television money from its new league to the Big 12 until the six years were up. In essence, as University of Oklahoma President David L. Boren put it, creating a pair of "very strong handcuffs."

The Big 12 announced on Oct. 3 that it expected each school to work to approve the grant of rights "expeditiously at the institutional level."

But Missouri went the other direction the very next day by taking a first definitive step away from the Big 12 when the board delegated to Deaton the power to explore Missouri's conference options.

Rumors flew about mutual interest between Missouri and the SEC, but nothing was  confirmed from either party. 

Friday was the first time that anyone from MU confirmed discussion with the SEC specifically.

Meanwhile, the SEC also stayed mum on the topic. The conference has released statements saying it had not offered membership to Missouri and also that it was in the process of working out a 13-team football schedule for the 2012 season.

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