COMMENT: Realignment Q&A — Tackling the next step for Missouri and the SEC

Sunday, October 23, 2011 | 7:48 p.m. CDT; updated 12:14 p.m. CDT, Monday, October 24, 2011

Need help dissecting what’s going on with Missouri in conference realignment? Perhaps a translation from “curator-ese” into layman’s terms? Wondering why you’re hearing Missouri is going to be in the SEC East Division? You’ve got the questions, and we’ve got the answers.

What happened Friday in Kansas City?

The UM System Board of Curators gave MU Chancellor Brady Deaton the power to make decisions and enter into contracts relating to the school’s conference alignment.

What that really means is that Deaton has the power to negotiate and possibly seal a deal with the SEC without the approval of the curators. In essence, the curators have likely made their decision, and now it's up to Deaton to execute the curators' wishes.

This also makes the process far simpler. There will be no extra curators meeting to decide realignment. The next step will likely be an announcement from Deaton that Missouri is withdrawing from the Big 12.

Also, the curators issued a directive to MU to explore a neutral-site football game with a “traditional rival” (read: Kansas) and an invitational basketball tournament in Kansas City.

Securing the support of the curators from the Kansas City region was likely one of the last hurdles in getting them on board for a move to the SEC, which they felt would negatively impact the economy in their area. Those members were worried that Kansas City would lose the Big 12 basketball tournament — played 10 of 15 times there — and the Missouri-Kansas football game at Arrowhead Stadium if MU were to bolt the Big 12.

So by creating the condition that MU must find a way to at least recover some of that economic impact in Kansas City, the pro-SEC contingent of the board was able to satisfy the Kansas City contingent enough to convince it to take the next step toward the SEC.

Why would the curators bother to make that directive if the plan weren’t to leave the Big 12?

The short answer is that they probably wouldn’t.

The directive is probably the strongest indication yet that Missouri plans to leave the Big 12. The issue of economic impact in Kansas City would be something to be concerned about only if Missouri plans to leave soon. Deaton also, for the first time, admitted that he's had discussions with the SEC.

Why didn’t the curators just announce Missouri was leaving on Friday?

During the Oct. 4 meeting, Missouri opened the door to leave the Big 12 by giving Deaton the power to explore MU’s options.

Announcing an official withdrawal would be equivalent to Missouri turning around, saying goodbye to all its old friends, leaving its key on the table and shutting it behind them. Once you shut that door, you can’t open it again.

And if you aren’t 100-percent, "lockdown sure" that you’ve got another door to open — in this case for MU, the SEC — then it would be foolish to prematurely leave.

So instead, the curators took another step out the door but didn’t close it all the way. Conceivably, if the SEC move were to fall through for any reason, MU could turn back around and say to the Big 12, “Just kidding! Can we just forget this ever happened and continue to be friends?”

Another possibility is that Deaton wanted to tell the other Big 12 presidents in person. Since they are meeting in Dallas on Monday, if Deaton feels like that's the right thing to do, it doesn't really hold up the show time-wise.

What is going to happen next?

Without supernatural powers, a crystal ball or even a working Magic 8-ball, no one can really say.

That said, the most likely scenario is that Deaton is going to announce sometime this week, possibly as soon as Monday, that Missouri is withdrawing from the Big 12.

The Big 12 Presidents are meeting Monday, and the word is that Deaton is going to be present and ready to discuss what Missouri is going to do next, though that is still unconfirmed.

Once again, it could just be that he is going to tell the Big 12 goodbye in person.

Once MU withdraws, if it follows a similar timeline to Texas A&M in its departure, the SEC Presidents will vote to accept it into the conference sometime within a period of roughly seven days.

With a positive vote, Missouri would officially become a member of the SEC.

What’s all this grumbling about SEC divisions? Why in the name of  geography would Missouri play in the SEC East?

The simple answer is conference politics.

Missouri needs nine of 12 votes from the current SEC schools to be accepted into the league. According to reports, the only way that will happen is if the Tigers agree to play in the SEC East.

If we’ve learned one thing during conference realignment, it’s that conferences have no respect for math or geography. MU’s move to the SEC will do nothing to dispute that. If it were to join, MU would be the farthest north and third farthest west of the schools that would make up the 14-team league. (Check out this map to see what the divisions would look like.)

In a pure geographic sense, the most obvious move would be to shift Auburn from the West to the East. But Alabama doesn’t like that one bit. It feels its bitter rival would gain a recruiting advantage in Florida by moving. It’s also concerned, because of how the new schedule would work, that it would lose an annual rivalry game with Tennessee.

So to appease Alabama, it appears the Tigers will be making frequent trips to Gainesville, Fla., Columbia, S.C. and Athens, Ga.

Whether that kind of travel burden is in the best interest of the Missouri athletics department is a whole different discussion. At this point, it’s probably too late in the process for Deaton to demand to be added to the West, so MU will have to take what it can get.

However, regular trips to the east coast are going to be expensive, both financially and academically. An SEC move might be enough to recoup the extra travel costs, but there is no way to recover the extra class time Missouri's athletes would be missing.

Is Missouri going to be competitive in the SEC in football?

The short answer to this is that it really doesn't matter. This move is about stability, which MU feels the Big 12 lacks, and profit, which MU feels will increase in the SEC. Wins and losses don't show up on Athletics Director Mike Alden's balance sheet.

That said, it's a topic worth discussing anyway, whether or not it impacts the decision-making process.

The prevailing wisdom is that Missouri is going to, for lack of a better term, get beat if it moves to the SEC. Fans feel that the program's overall level of success is going to decrease.

Consider this, for a moment. In the Gary Pinkel era Missouri is 1-7 against Oklahoma and 0-5 against Texas. Is it really unreasonable that Missouri couldn't duplicate that 1-12 record against the likes of Alabama and LSU?

Perhaps the second-tier SEC teams like Arkansas and South Carolina are better than Kansas State and Texas A&M (oh wait, it'll be in the SEC, too), but in the end, if you're going to be an elite program, you need to beat those teams anyway.

Does the “Kansas City directive” mean that if Missouri goes to the SEC, it will still play Kansas?

Not by a long shot, especially if you read anything into the rhetoric that has been coming from Lawrence over the past few days.

Kansas Athletics Director Sheahon Zenger issued a statement Friday afternoon shortly after the curators' press conference saying the following:

“KU-Missouri is a great rivalry. The University of Kansas is a great Midwestern school, loyal to our Midwestern conference and to our Midwestern roots. The KU-Missouri rivalry belongs in the Big 12 Conference. Should Missouri decide to leave the Big 12, we would wish them well.”

That doesn’t sound like a confirmation that Kansas is interested in continuing to play Missouri on a regular basis.

In football, while the game brings tradition, it also traditionally brings an “L” to Kansas’ schedule in recent years.

With the Jayhawks football program struggling to find a lot of “W’s” on the schedule of late, removing Missouri from the schedule and replacing it with a cupcake would be something Zenger and his department would have to consider.

Basketball is no sure thing either.

Kansas basketball coach Bill Self spoke about the rivalry at the Big 12 basketball media day in Kansas City on Thursday, and his comments certainly didn’t inspire a ton of confidence that the rivalry will continue on the hardwood.

“I may feel that we need to continue playing them; I may feel that we don't need to continue playing them,” Self said.

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r w October 23, 2011 | 9:22 p.m.
This comment has been removed.
Kenneth Fair October 23, 2011 | 10:11 p.m.

Just FYI, but Bama's reluctance to add MU to the Western Division has nothing to do with AU gaining a "recruiting advantage."

In the current arrangement, SEC teams play one school from the opposite division every year. That allowed the league to keep most of the traditional rivalries when the league split into two divisions. Alabama plays UT, AU plays UGA, LSU plays UF, etc. The other opposite division teams are on a rotation.

If MU joins the West and AU moves to the East Alabama would likely lose it's every year rivalry either with Tennessee or AU. They would, in effect, trade a yearly game with UT or AU for one with MU.

All due respect to MU, but that would make no sense to the UA fanbase, or AU or UT for that matter.

(Report Comment)
Richard Saunders October 24, 2011 | 5:09 p.m.

Are we there yet?
Are we there yet?
Are we there yet?

(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith October 25, 2011 | 3:55 p.m.

Repeating (but not verbatim) a prior post, not long ago the local media led us to believe that MU going to the Big 10 was all but a done deal.

Apparently nobody explained that to the Big 10.

PS: Given the results so far this football season, MU could finish 7-5. University of Iowa may well also finish 7-5, possibly 8-4. The two teams could then stage a bowl rematch. The Toilet Bowl, perhaps.

(Report Comment)

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