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September 19, 2011

Mizzou's options are many, certainties are few

The death of the Big 12 Conference seems all but official at this point in time. While Texas A&M still officially hangs in legal limbo on its way to the SEC, a report in the Austin American-Statesman has Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Texas and Texas Tech on the verge of applying to the PAC-12 for membership.

While keeping in mind that this story reached this point a year ago before dissolving, the real question for Missouri fans is this: If all this comes to pass, what becomes of the Tigers?

Oklahoma and Texas are expected to begin the process of changing conferences this afternoon by authorizing their respective presidents to explore options regarding conference affiliation. How soon after that an official invitation would come from the PAC-12 is not certain. It could happen as soon as tonight, but more likely at some point over the next ten days.

So what is Missouri's future assuming those five all leave and the Tigers, along with Kansas, Kansas State, Iowa State and Baylor are remaining? There seem to be three options. At this point, no one seems quite sure what is most likely. We will simply outline the three scenarios.

Mizzou to the Southeastern Conference: Eventually, the SEC will add A&M as the 13th team. At that point, the league will need a minimum of one more. Missouri is in the mix for certain.

However, there are reports that West Virginia has already "sent paperwork" to the SEC. In instances such as this, paperwork is not sent unless the school and the league already have an understanding it will be accepted. If the reports are true, it appears the Mountaineers would be the 14th team added to the SEC.

The question then becomes, does the SEC stand pat at 14 or does it move all the way to 16? Speculation around the Atlantic Coast Conference is that schools such as Rutgers and Connecticut could join fellow Big East brethren Pitt and Syracuse, which were added to the ACC over the weekend, pushing that league to 16. The common thought throughout the realignment process has been that once one league pushes past 12 teams, everybody will get to 16 rather quickly.

If the SEC wants to go to 16, it seems nearly certain that Missouri would be involved as a target. The league could then add another team from the East (Virginia Tech, Florida State?) to balance out divisions.

Mizzou to the Big Ten: Just a few days ago, this seemed to be more or less a dead issue. But the move by the ACC could have changed things. Pitt and Syracuse were both teams that had been mentioned for eastward expansion by the Big Ten. Rutgers, which is now being mentioned with the ACC, has also been talked about as a Big Ten target if the league tries to get to 16.

However, that all ignores the biggest fish in this race. It is no secret that the prize in expansion for the Big Ten has always been Notre Dame. With two teams already having left the Big East, and three more potentially on the way out, how much damage has been done to that league? Football-wise, it's obviously done, but that doesn't impact the Irish. However, what would losing Pitt, Syracuse, Rutgers, UCONN and West Virginia do to basketball and other sports, where Notre Dame is a Big East member? Is that damage enough to convince the Irish to finally look toward the Big Ten?

If the Big Ten does indeed get Notre Dame, Missouri becomes the next logical target to get to 14. If it goes all the way to 16, Rutgers is still currently on the board and a team like Kansas could come into play. But would the Big Ten want Missouri without first getting Notre Dame? And will the Tigers be taken by the SEC before the Big Ten is ready to act? Both are legitimate questions.

Big East, Big 12 leftovers merge: Clearly, this is the worst case scenario. If the above schools all were to leave the Big East, only Cincinnati, South Florida, Louisville and TCU are remaining in football. The Big 12 would have Kansas, Kansas State, Baylor, Iowa State and Mizzou.

Those teams could come together to form a conference. They could even add the likes of Memphis, Houston or SMU. It's a decent basketball conference. But basketball doesn't much matter in this whole thing. It's not a BCS league in football. It just isn't.

The Bottom Line: Most believe Missouri's future lies somewhere in a BCS league. If everyone is talking about going to 16 teams, there are four spots in the Big Ten up for grabs, three in the SEC and two in the ACC. The Tigers are clearly one of the nine most attractive options out there.

The problem is, Missouri is also reliant on other things happening before their destination is known. The process has to play out with the Big 12 teams going west. The Big Ten may need to find out about Notre Dame. The SEC may need to decide just how many teams it is ready to add. While each scenario makes sense for Mizzou, there is also something potentially standing in the way in each case.

Sources have told PowerMizzou.com that Missouri has been involved in discussions with every major conference over the course of the past few months. The Board of Curators, according to sources, has been told a meeting could be called at any time on short notice, though nothing is imminent at this point.

In short, the possibilities are endless. Mizzou's ultimate landing spot is dependent on many factors. Most of those will begin taking shape as soon as this afternoon.

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