June 10, 2010
This time a week ago, with the Big 12 looking like a sinking ship and the Big Ten prepared to take on as many as five new members in its quest for more television sets, Missouri seemed to be feeling pretty good about its prospects in the looming game of musical chairs between the power conferences. When news of the Pac-10's plan to poach half the Big 12's membership broke last Thursday, Mizzou president Brady Deaton was one of the few Big 12 power brokers who declined a firm commitment to the conference, instead explaining that the Tigers really wanted to keep their options open:
"As an institution, we're looking at all the aspects of this, conference alignment and all the speculation we hear," he added. "I'm sure all the schools are doing that."
"As an institution, we're part of the Big 12. We're not shutting our ears to anything. I'm sure every school here has a responsibility to its own institution as a primary responsibility. Then, conference alignment is something we do for our athletic program. That's what we're working on right now."
That was taken as such a naked appeal to be carried off in the rippling arms of the Big Ten and its $20 million annual payout that the rest of the Big 12, hoping to avoid being caught on a sinking ship themselves, issued ultimatums to Mizzou and fellow flight risk Nebraska to state their intentions to stay or go. Almost certainly, Missouri was planning to go before the sentence "We'd like to invite you to join the Big Ten" could leave commissioner Jim Delany's mouth.
Fast-forward to this morning. Nebraska's apparently has its invite to the Big Ten, or will very soon, filling out the conference roster at a nice, even dozen teams, to which it may have no good reason to add. Elsewhere in the North Division, Colorado has officially taken its act to the Pac-10. Texas, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Texas A&M and Texas Tech, after doing their due diligence, are fully expected to join the Buffaloes in the West Coast exodus. Suddenly, Missouri sounds very committed to the viability of the Big 12 (emphasis added):
"Anything could happen, but we’re working hard to stay together," said Missouri chancellor Brady Deaton, who added that he had called Texas president William Powers to discuss the conference's future.
[Board of Curators chairwoman Judy] Haggard suggested that Missouri’s fate remains unclear.
"It's too soon to say," she said before the closed meeting. "We're going to be getting a lot of information these next two days."
It may be too soon to say where the Tigers will eventually land, but it's not too soon for the university leadership to begin sending out e-mails reminding Mizzou officials to tell the media, "We are proud members of the Big 12 Conference." In fact, it may be too late.
With wholesale Big 12 implosion looming around the next news cycle, Missouri – along with forlorn North Division comrades Kansas, Kansas State and Iowa State – is stuck hoping against hope that either a) The Texas/Oklahoma contingent improbably decides at the last second that the conference is worth saving even without Nebraska, or b) The Big Ten comes through with a life raft in the form of an offer to apply for membership. There's still a chance the Big Ten will be looking to add more teams, especially if it manages to lure Notre Dame into the fold and needs another team to balance the membership at fourteen.
Clearly, though, Deaton no longer sounds like a man who's getting a whole lot of phone calls from potential suitors – or at least, not the potential suitors he's interested in. You know his number, Delany.
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Matt Hinton is on Twitter: Follow him @DrSaturday.