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May 22, 2012
It is late May, so that means college football is about to be shaken to its core and reshaped forever. It's become an annual sign that summer is nearly here.
The latest chapter in conference realignment has Florida State and Clemson reportedly on the verge of joining up with the Big 12. It may or may not happen. I don't really know. For the first time in three years, I'm following realignment simply from a bystander's point of view. I don't have to know what is going on every day, don't have to check Twitter every 12 minutes, don't have to have my cell phone surgically attached to my right ear. So I don't. Most people seem to think at least the Noles are headed to the Big 12. Clemson, Notre Dame or Louisville are the most popular speculated partners to give the Big 12 twelve teams (imagine the novelty of that!).
A year ago, I wrote this about the Big 12: "This league doesn't work. I've seen it called the Vampire League, the Zombie League, the league that just won't die."
And, to be fair, at the time, it was true. Nobody thought the Big 12 was going to work then. Well, maybe Deloss Dodds and Chuck Neinas. But that was about it.
Now, it appears not only will the Big 12 work but that it is one of four power brokers (along with the SEC, PAC-12 and Big Ten) in the reshaped future of college football.
Many people--most of them seem to live in Kansas and follow me on Twitter--seem to believe this makes me angry. It really doesn't. But I have heard a common argument this week with which I have to voice my disagreement.
It has become common this week to say, especially if you are a member of the media that follows a current Big 12 team or if you host a radio show in my hometown, that Missouri messed up by moving to the SEC. "If they knew then what they know now?"
Now, let me preface this by saying that I've long said the Big 12 was the best place for Mizzou IF you could guarantee that the Big 12 was as good as it had been for the first 14 years it was around. I still believe that. If Nebraska and Colorado and A&M were still around--regardless of whether the league was talking about adding more teams--it would be the conference in which I feel Missouri should play. But that's not the Big 12 anymore.
The people making the statements that Missouri made a mistake are making one themselves. What is now speculated about the future of the Big 12 (and it is still only speculation, because as of now, Florida State is in the ACC) was not only not known last year, but it was impossible to foresee.
Had we known nine months ago that the Big 12 would add Florida State and, let's say for the sake of arguing a best-case scenario, Notre Dame, would Missouri have stayed? Yeah, they may have.
Not only did we not know that, but I'd argue had Missouri stayed, it wouldn't have happened.
Let's say the Tigers looked at the SEC and stayed in the Big 12. We'll assume Texas A&M had already left so the Big 12 would have been at nine teams. The league probably would have gone ahead and added either West Virginia or TCU (I don't know which one was truly the first choice) to get back to ten teams. The SEC, meanwhile, would probably have gone after Virginia Tech to get to an even number of 14 teams. Would the Big 12 have still tried to raid that league for the Seminoles? I have absolutely no idea. My guess is no. Missouri didn't leave a Big 12 that had Florida State and Notre Dame or Clemson in its sights. They left a Big 12 that had lost a full quarter of its original membership and had one foot on either side of a fault line that was rapidly getting wider.
Missouri had one chance to make the move it made last year. The opportunity was there to join the Southeastern Conference. It is the strongest football league in the country (and still will be in my opinion, even if the Big 12 gets FSU and ND) and that's not debatable. We all know in realignment there is football and then there is everything else. Here is what I wrote at the time:
"It's an unusual position. Missouri is more prominent in the national landscape than Iowa State or Baylor. But it's not - and never will be - Oklahoma or Texas. This is the first time the Tigers have had much of a stick to swing in this whole process. It also will very likely be the last. And that's why, today, finally, I've reached the conclusion that the Tigers have to abandon this poor semblance of a league."
Missouri had a choice to make. They had one chance to make the choice. The SEC wasn't going to come calling again. It was a take it or leave it forever proposition. The choice was not rock-solid SEC or rock-solid Big 12. The choice was align yourself with the strongest league in the most important sport in college athletics or show loyalty to a league that looked to be falling apart and then hope like hell it didn't.
Most people are familiar with the old game show "Let's Make a Deal." Missouri's spot was similar to a contestant on that show. The Tigers had been handed the keys to a brand new Ferrari. They could either take the keys and drive home in a shiny new car that would make them the envy of everyone on their block or they could choose what was behind door number two.
Behind door number two may have been a car that was as nice as the Ferrari. But it wasn't going to be any nicer. Of course, what also might have been behind door number two was a shotgun with Bevo pulling the trigger.
In case I didn't make my point clearly enough with that analogy, here's what I mean: Missouri had a spot in the premier football league in the land (and it's pretty good in some other sports too) that will have the equivalent of a license to print money when it renegotiates its television deal. It had a seat at the table if and when the music ever stopped. Guaranteed. No questions asked. Had they not taken it, the Tigers might have ended up in another seat at that same table. They may have ended up in a situation that was as good, or at least close. But they would not have ended up in a situation that was any better. And they may have found themselves in a spot far, far worse.
What Missouri lost in leaving the Big 12 was the chance to play Kansas and some history with Kansas State, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Iowa State. That's really it. Because even if the Big 12 rebuilds and is just as good as it was three years ago, it's not any better than the SEC. Big 12 teams won't make more money than Mizzou will in the SEC or be more visible on the national landscape. They might be equal (though I think that's arguable), but they will not be superior.
So those saying Missouri made a mistake believe that giving up games against the Jayhawks, Wildcats, Cylcones, Cowboys and Sooners outweighed the risk of committing to a league that had, at best, an uncertain future. I just can't agree with that. If you're guaranteed to win the World Series of Poker next year, you don't put those winnings at risk on the slight chance you might win it twice. You take the money and run.
The Big 12 appears as if it will march on. It may be just as good as it was from 1996 to 2010. Heck, who knows, it might be better. But that doesn't mean Missouri should be casting glances of regret over its shoulder. The Tigers will be just fine. They haven't had to worry about that for more than six months now. The decision was made and it remains a good one, regardless of what happens in the Big 12 over the next few weeks or months.
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