KANSAS CITY — For Missouri fans eager to learn more about Missouri's upcoming move to the Southeastern Conference, Westport Flea Market Bar & Grill in Kansas City was the place to be Tuesday afternoon.
SEC Commissioner Mike Slive was on hand to address the Tiger Club of Kansas City, giving Tigers fans a chance to get a feel for their new conference’s leader and for Slive himself to find out what kind of fans his league just adopted.
In the back of the sports-themed restaurant, Slive spoke and answered questions for almost 40 minutes in front of an jam-packed crowd of more than 300 people that included Kansas City Mayor Sly James, Missouri Athletic Director Mike Alden and UM System President Tim Wolfe.
After a rousing 30-second round of applause following Alden’s introduction of Slive, sporting a black tie striped in gold, gave a standard welcome speech complete with a glorified history of both the university and the conference it is joining that most in attendance unabashedly appreciated. Slive even led the gathering in a spirited cheer, loudly pronouncing "M-I-Z" to which the crowd passionately responded "Z-O-U."
But after the ritual glad-handing and excitement had ended, Slive provided some interesting insight into his conference’s and Missouri’s motivations for teaming up and some of the expectations he has for the SEC in the future.
On why Missouri moved to the SEC
"I think what Missouri was looking for was a home that was stable and a home where it felt comfortable," Slive said, alluding the uncertainties surrounding the rebuilding Big 12 Conference.
On the financial situation Missouri is entering
Slive told the crowd that the SEC has “landmark deals” with ESPN and CBS. ESPN alone has committed for the next 15 years to broadcast on average, about one SEC event per day. As far as Missouri’s incorporation into these deals, Slive said the SEC has begun negotiations with its television partners and that he is “optimistic that we can make Mike Alden very happy,” to which the crowd responded with roaring laughter.
On further expansion of the SEC
"We weren't looking to expand before," Slive said. "We were content with our 12 teams. What made us consider expansion was the quality of institutions" that were available. Slive added that the SEC is not looking to add more teams now and that they are focused on the 14 teams currently in its conference.
On the chance that sports (such as wrestling) will be added to the SEC
"Not much," Slive said.
On potential nonconference opponents for Missouri next season
"That will be a decision that institutions make," Slive said. "In other words, Mizzou plays the schedule it wants to play. That’s not a conference decision."
On rumors of Arkansas becoming Missouri's cross-division rivals from the SEC West Division
Slive didn't budge much on this question. In a post-speech interview, Slive commented that future football schedules will be finalized in May during SEC meetings. He also would not comment on how it was decided Missouri would join the East Division of the SEC. In 2012, Missouri is scheduled to play football games against SEC West Division members Alabama and Texas A&M.
On whether SEC conference championships games will be played in Kansas City
Slive said there is a chance that could happen, but it won't be anytime soon. The men's conference basketball tournament is booked all the way until 2016-17. Cities such as Kansas City can apply to host for the next season. As far as football, Slive made it clear he thinks the conference championship game won't be played anywhere but Atlanta for the foreseeable future. Atlanta has successfully hosted this game since 1994.
On a nine-game conference football schedule
"It is an interesting discussion ... but as of now, there has been no interest in our league to go to nine," Slive said.
On individual television networks for SEC schools
"Our institutions cannot go ahead and have their own networks," Slive said, addressing a question about the Longhorn Network that the University of Texas recently created.
By the end of Slive's speech, it felt very much like the Missouri faithful had become ardent fans of the commissioner. His references to Missouri's long-standing traditions like the whisper walk and declaring his affection for Shakespeare's Pizza certainly helped.
As long as Missouri's transition continues to progress smoothly and the university prospers from its newly formed bond, Slive and his conference appear to have at least 300 new fans.