JEFFERSON CITY — Missouri's decision to join the Southeastern Conference has piqued the interest of one of the state's top budget leaders, who's trying to find out who will cover the cost of the move.
"I've sent some questions to the university folks and have been looking into whether or not alumni could be made to cover the costs," said House Budget Committee Chairman Ryan Silvey, R-Kansas City.
Silvey said he would be disappointed if the financial burden of the switch falls on students or taxpayers. He asked the university about the specific penalty cost and how the university plans to pay for it.
"I have not yet heard back with a definitive answer," Silvey said, adding that he was in contact with a liaison Monday afternoon and expects an answer Tuesday.
Citing a confidential source, the Associated Press reported that the university could be on the hook for paying $26 million to the Big 12 as a penalty for leaving the conference. Nebraska and Colorado paid a combined $16 million when they left the conference.
MU officials said the athletic budget would need a boost to compare with other SEC schools and that they might lean on fans to upgrade athletic facilities and scholarships.
Other legislative budget leaders expressed little concern about impact of the cost on the state budget.
"We don't know how much it will be, but we know where it will be paid from," Rep. Chris Kelly, D-Columbia, said. "And we know, more importantly from the point of view of the taxpayer, where it won't be paid from. It won't be paid from tuition, nor will it be paid from state dollars."
Negotiations are still under way on the specifics of the move, but SEC Commissioner Mike Slive said MU would be an equal financial partner in the conference beginning July 1, 2012.
"Revenues to the university, with their agreement with the SEC, would be so substantially higher, that alone would be enough to cover it," said Senate Budget Committee chairman Kurt Schaefer, R-Columbia.
Schaefer added that the possibility of raising tuition to make up for the costs was "not in the realm of reality." Schaefer said he believes the Big 12 conference is holding a substantial amount of the university's money, potentially enough to cover the exit payment.
Gov. Jay Nixon refused to comment beyond a statement he released Sunday about the conference change.