By Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven on Twitter)
Even though the Big 12 appears to have survived for now, all of the previous uncertainty and rumors in the conference have shifted to Missouri. Texas A&M has already joined the SEC, leaving the conference with 13 members for 2012. The SEC can certainly stick with 13 members for a year, but at some point, the league would like to go to 14 to even out the divisions and for scheduling purposes.
Missouri was rumored to have an invitation on the table from the SEC last week. Whether that’s true or not, it’s clear the Tigers are a very attractive candidate for SEC expansion.
Missouri has not experienced a tremendous amount of success on the field over the last 20 years, but did claim three Big 12 North co-division titles in the 2000s. The Tigers also played in the Big 12 title game in 2008 and 2009.
As we have learned throughout the realignment crisis, success on the field isn’t always the driving force behind the moves. Texas A&M hasn’t posted a season of double-digit victories since 1998, but was still an attractive candidate for SEC expansion. Why? Take a look at the geographic and market impact. The SEC now has a team in Texas with large television markets like Dallas and Houston. Sure, the conference now has to split the pie 13 ways instead of 12, but getting into Texas only adds to the value of the SEC’s television deal.
Even though Missouri is not competing for a national title every year, it still has a lot to offer a conference like the SEC. Columbia, Mo. is located almost halfway between Kansas City and St. Louis. Missouri would help boost the academic reputation of the SEC and is a very good geographic fit.
Although Missouri joining the SEC makes sense, let’s not forget the school is also interested in the Big Ten. Could Missouri show some interest in the SEC to get the Big Ten’s attention? Needless to say, Missouri is a team that won’t be without a home when more dominoes fall in conference realignment.
Last week, Missouri chancellor Brady Deaton did not give a glowing endorsement for the school’s future in the Big 12. The Tigers may not be going anywhere for a couple of years, but it’s fair to wonder if the school is fed up with all of the instability and fighting within the Big 12. If the conference stabilizes, then those feelings could change. However, it’s clear Missouri isn’t 100 percent convinced the Big 12 is the right home.
With Deaton’s comments in mind from last week, should Missouri stay in the Big 12 or go to the SEC?
Let’s say Missouri does leave for the SEC, this is how the divisions could look –
Here’s a guess at how the Big 12 could look after expansion –
The SEC is already the toughest conference in college football and adding Texas A&M and potentially Missouri makes it even more challenging.
Although Missouri football has improved under Gary Pinkel, winning in the SEC is going to be very difficult. If the Tigers stay in the Big 12, they have a much better chance of competing for a conference title.
Missouri has developed recruiting pipelines in Texas, which could be threatened if the Tigers move to the SEC. However, jumping to the SEC would create more revenue and a greater visibility for the Tigers.
Is it worth taking a step back on the field for a conference that has more stability? That’s something Missouri is going to have to decide. Is the school willing to make a jump to the SEC or wait to see if the Big Ten wants to expand to 14 teams?
The ball is in Missouri’s court. The SEC appears to have some interest in the school and if the Tigers remain unhappy with the Big 12, Missouri could become the 14th member of the nation’s most difficult conference.
This decision may not take place anytime soon, but if it does, it’s going to be a defining moment in Missouri’s athletic history.