By Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven on Twitter)
The Big 12 has already lost three members over the last year, and Missouri appears to be interested in continuing the exodus. A Missouri Board of Curators meeting on Tuesday cleared the way for the Tigers to explore leaving the Big 12 for another conference.
Although the Big 12 is still on shaky ground, it appears to be more stable than it was a couple of months ago. Oklahoma and Texas seem committed to working things out, and the conference members appear all set to commit first and second-tier television rights to the Big 12. By pledging the rights to the conference, it should ensure the teams remain in the Big 12.
Despite the Big 12’s renewed interest in sticking together, it appears Missouri is ready to move on. The curator’s meeting and decision is a pretty clear sign the Tigers have zero interest in sticking around in the conference.
What options do the Tigers have when it comes to realignment?
Although no official word was given on which conference Missouri would like to open discussions with, the SEC is target No. 1. After adding Texas A&M, the conference is stuck at 13 teams. Although the SEC could play years with 13 teams, scheduling with unbalanced divisions is an issue.
The SEC has avoided mentioning teams for No. 14 and has insisted they are happy with 13 for 2012. However, there’s no question the SEC is very interested in Missouri. Columbia, Mo. is located nearly halfway between Kansas City and St. Louis. Both cities are potentially untapped and attractive television markets for the SEC.
Although Missouri may seem like an odd fit at first, it borders Tennessee, Kentucky and Arkansas – three states with SEC teams. Geography has basically been tossed aside in conference realignment, but there’s little concern about how Missouri fits into the SEC.
Also, the football program has raised its profile under coach Gary Pinkel in recent seasons. Missouri may not be a national championship team every season, but it’s not going to be one that goes 3-9 every year either.
If the Tigers leave the Big 12, there’s no doubt the SEC is a step up in competition. However, Missouri is a program on solid ground and should be able to continue to recruit well in Texas with the SEC adding Texas A&M in 2012.
Despite the increased competition, there’s more stability in the SEC. Considering all that has gone on with the Big 12, finding a conference with zero drama and a secure future has to be appealing for Missouri.
If the Tigers join the SEC, there are two theories on how the divisions could be configured. There’s no question Texas A&M is going in the West. However, will Missouri be assigned into the East or will they join the Aggies in the West?
If the Tigers are placed in the West, Auburn will be moved to the East to balance the divisions. However, Missouri could join the East division, which would help keep some of the SEC’s cross division rivalries intact.
The Tigers were one of the driving forces to keep the Big 12 together last season, but the constant instability and uncertainty has taken its toll. After watching Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Texas and Texas Tech explore a spot in the Pac-12, Missouri has decided to look out for itself and secure a safe home for its athletic programs.
Despite the board of curator’s decision to allow Missouri to look for a new conference, it’s not a lock they will leave the Big 12. Although the SEC seems to be interested, what if the conference wants to wait on deciding on team No. 14?
Although the Tigers seem like they are headed out the door, maybe Tuesday’s announcement was to gain a few concessions or leverage from the Big 12? It’s unlikely that is the case, but interim Big 12 commissioner Chuck Neinas continues to insist Missouri won’t leave.
This option is truly a longshot. Missouri was believed to have heavy interest in the Big Ten during last summer’s expansion, but that appears to be an unlikely option in 2011. Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany has indicated his conference is happy with 12 teams and likely won’t explore adding teams anytime soon.
The Final Decision
It may be a couple of days, weeks or a month before Missouri makes an official announcement about its conference affiliation for 2012. However, Tuesday’s meeting left no doubt the school is unhappy with the Big 12 and is prepared to do something about it.
Returning to the Big 12 isn’t out of the question, but seems very unlikely, especially after Tuesday’s meeting. If the Tigers were serious about the Big 12, the board of curator’s would not have authorized chancellor Brady Deaton to explore options for a new conference.
Missouri wants stability and that’s something the SEC can provide. Although the Big 12 may stick together for 100 years, there’s no way the Tigers can pass on a home that brings more stability, exposure and money.
It’s not 100 percent certain Missouri will join the SEC. However, the odds are stacked heavily in favor of the Tigers joining the SEC in time for the 2012 season.