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Missouri to join SEC after months of conference-realignment drama

Sunday, November 6, 2011 | 12:29 p.m. CST; updated 10:45 a.m. CST, Monday, November 7, 2011

The wait is over. 

In a release posted on its website Sunday morning, the Southeastern Conference announced that the University of Missouri will join the league, becoming its 14th member.

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"We came to this decision after careful consideration of the long-term best interests of our university," MU Chancellor Brady Deaton said in the release.

Missouri will join the conference effective July 1, 2012, and will compete in the SEC for the 2012-13 academic year, according to the news release.

A "press conference and celebration" with Deaton, MU Athletics Director Mike Alden, University of Florida President Bernie Machen and SEC Commissioner Mike Slive has been scheduled for 4:30 p.m. today at the MU Student Center.

"The Southeastern Conference is a highly successful, stable, premier athletic conference that offers exciting opportunities for the University of Missouri," Deaton said in the news release. "We believe the Southeastern Conference is an outstanding home for the Mizzou Tigers, and we take great pride in our association with this distinguished league."

Chuck Neinas, the Interim Big 12 Commissioner, was critical of the move in a statement posted on the league's website.

"The decision by the University of Missouri to leave the Big 12 Conference is disappointing," Neinas said in the statement. "Mizzou has been a valuable member, with a conference connection to schools in the Big 12 that dates back to 1907. I personally believe this decision is a mistake and that Missouri is a better fit in the Big 12."

Neinas said the Big 12 will officially respond to Missouri's departure once it receives a formal notice of withdrawal from Missouri. At issue is a conflict between West Virginia and the Big East that could effect when Missouri starts competition in the SEC.

West Virginia announced last week it would be joining the Big 12 and was being seen as a replacement for Missouri. But Big East Commissioner John Marinatto wants to enforce the league's 27-month notification period and keep West Virginia in the conference for the next two years.

West Virginia filed a lawsuit challenging that rule and the Big East countered with a lawsuit asking the courts to make the school abide by its contract.

Conference changes in the NCAA began in the spring and summer of 2010, when the Big Ten decided to add another school. Though Missouri lobbied for selection, the Big Ten invited Nebraska in June 2010. That same week, Colorado left for the Pac-10, which also added Utah and became the Pac-12 Conference.

The remaining 10 Big 12 teams appeared to be united in stability last March when the conference signed a 13-year cable rights deal with Fox Sports beginning in 2012. In the deal, the network would televise a minimum of 40 games a year. 

Financial terms were not disclosed, but the contract was reported to pay the conference $90 million a year.

Meanwhile, the University of Texas launched its own "Longhorn Network" with ESPN, agreeing to a 20-year, $300 million contract.

This did not sit well with other schools, particularly Texas A&M University and the University of Oklahoma.

On Aug. 31, Texas A&M announced that it would withdraw from the Big 12. Legal threats from other Big 12 schools delayed the school's exit, but at the end of September, it officially joined the SEC as the conference's 13th team.

Many thought the SEC would add a 14th team to balance its divisions, and Missouri was rumored to be a prime candidate to fill the spot. Deaton, who was also chairman of the Big 12 board of directors, continued to reiterate Missouri's commitment to the conference. However, more talk that schools such as Oklahoma and Oklahoma State would leave for the Pac-12 made Missouri's future in the Big 12 — and the Big 12's future in general — more uncertain.

The Pac-12 decided it would not expand, but Deaton said Sept. 22 that the Big 12 still had specific issues to be addressed if it were to find stability. The board of directors reactivated its expansion committee and agreed to pursue the "granting" of schools’ Tier 1 and 2 television rights — which accounts for the overwhelming majority of the conference’s TV revenue — over the next five to six years.

Then on Oct. 4, the UM System Board of Curators announced that it had unanimously agreed to give Deaton the power to explore options relating to conference alignment.

Deaton also announced he had stepped down as chairman of the Big 12 Conference Board of Directors to avoid any "perceived or actual" conflicts of interest.

Over the last month, Missouri has taken one baby step after another toward leaving the conference. On Oct. 21, the curators granted Deaton "decision-making powers" regarding conference realignment.

Also, the board decided Missouri should explore the possibility of a football game at a neutral site against a traditional rival — probably Kansas — and an invitational basketball tournament in Kansas City.

Unlike Texas A&M, Missouri never publicly withdrew from the Big 12 conference. Exit fees for both schools have not been announced. Nebraska paid $9.25 million to withdraw from the Big 12, and Colorado paid $6.86 million.

Missouri’s conference affiliation had remained constant for nearly 90 years. 1907 was the first year of the Missouri Valley Intercollegiate Athletic Association, which by 1928 would become known as the Big 6, with Missouri, Iowa State, Kansas, Kansas State, Nebraska and Oklahoma as members. Colorado was admitted in 1948, altering the conference title to the Big 7, and Oklahoma State was admitted in 1960. The conference officially changed its name to the Big 8 in 1964.

In 1996, the eight schools in the Big 8 Conference and four schools from the Southwest Conference — Texas, Texas A&M, Texas Tech and Baylor — formed the Big 12.

A switch to the SEC could provide a beefed-up level of competition for the Tigers, who did not fare too well historically in their current conference, winning 12 conference football championships. The first nine of those conference championships came before 1945, with none coming since 1969.

The SEC is known for its dominating football programs, entering this past weekend with four teams ranked in the top 10 of the BCS standings. The conference also boasts the past five national champions in football and seven national titles since the BCS started in 1998.

Historically, though, Missouri has a strong record against the teams in its future conference. Against the 12 teams currently comprising the SEC, the Tigers have a 20-7-1 record. It is important to note that many of those games were played decades ago and mostly during postseason bowl matchups. Gary Pinkel, now in his 10th season coaching the Tigers, has a 4-1 record against SEC teams, with just two of those games — both against Mississippi — coming during regular season play.

The average distance to SEC schools, including Texas A&M, is 640 miles. The average drive time is 10 hours and 49 minutes — two hours more than to current Big 12 schools (also including Texas A&M), which on average takes 8 hours and 46 minutes.

If the Tigers are placed in the SEC East Division, fans would have to travel for away games to cities as far away as Gainesville, Fla., and Columbia, S.C.. Florida is the farthest SEC school from Missouri, clocking in at a drive of more than 17 hours.


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