October 21, 2011
In the last exciting episode of "Missouri Goes to the SEC," Missouri's Board of Curators emerged from a four-hour closed session to formally authorize chancellor Brady Deaton to "explore" Mizzou's athletic conference affiliation. Unofficially speaking, it gave Deaton the green light to negotiate a defection from the Big 12 to the SEC, and report back on his progress.
Today, another bold step: After dodging reporters on Thursday night, the Board of Curators has voted to authorize Deaton to act on conference alignment and execute all relevant contracts. (Before he was exploring and reporting; now he's acting and executing. Missouri likes having meetings.) There is "no timeframe" for a decision, but Deaton said there is "no expectation that I would go back to the board to approve a decision" — i.e., the board has made up its mind — and any move would likely go into effect in 2012. If Mizzou is going to become the SEC's 14th member by next summer, it probably means it plans to be in the fold within a matter of weeks, if not days.
Not that it would come as any surprise: The Tigers were the only Big 12 members who refused to pledge solidarity to a reformed conference after it miraculously escaped another existential threat from the Pac-12 last month, and rumors of the Tigers' ongoing flirtations with other conferences boiled over earlier this week in multiple reports that they had decided to follow Texas A&M's lead by formally applying for SEC membership. Various university sources described their departure as "inevitable and imminent" and "100 percent sure." All that's left now is Brady Deaton's signature.
Before that, though, two more things have to happen. First, the SEC presidents have to actually agree to invite Missouri, which is probable — Missouri's not dotting its i's on a hunch — but hardly a foregone conclusion. Second, Mizzou has to find some way to mitigate the potential economic hit to Kansas City, which stands to lose an annual rivalry game between Missouri and Kansas in Arrowhead Stadium and regular opportunities to host the Big 12 basketball tournament; if the Big 12 Championship Game is ever revived in football, K.C. would likely miss out on that, too. If a move means the largest city in the state suffers, it could be a deal-breaker.
Still, the Tigers are rapidly reaching a point of no return. Of all the possibilities for expanding the SEC to 14 teams, Missouri makes the most sense: It may not be a natural fit geographically or historically — Mizzou hasn't won a conference championship in football since the late sixties — but it is on the upswing competitively, it provides access to new media markets and recruiting grounds in Kansas City and St. Louis and it clearly wants out of the Big 12. SEC fans may not necessarily be enthralled about the prospect of disrupting longstanding rivalries for road trips to Columbia, Mo., but if a 14th team is inevitable, the course is looking pretty well set.