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November 6, 2011

Where they've been, where they're going





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Officially, Missouri's move to the Southeastern Conference took place on November 6th, 2011. That is the day that was called "historic" a number of times at the press conference. The Tigers will officially become members on July 1, 2012 (probably), but the decision was made today (at least officially).

The stage for that move was set months--if not years--before.

Each fan, each media member, each coach has his or her own thoughts on whether it was the right move. Ultimately, we may not know for quite some time. I personally believe it was a move Missouri should have made and had to make. But that's really here nor there. Instead, as my first reaction, as my first commentary as a member of the media covering the SEC, I want to take a little different approach. It is not up to me to say whether the move was right or wrong, to convince you to agree with me. Instead, I'll lay out the facts (perhaps with some opinion) and let you decide over the course of time.

First, five things that led to Missouri leaving the Big 12:

*The birth of the Big 12. Most Missouri fans grew up with the Big Eight. Most Missouri fans who love the Big 12 love it because it was an extension of the Big Eight. For all the talk of superconferences, in reality, the Big 12 became the first one back in the mid-1990's when it invited four old Southwest Conference members. To say it was a marriage doomed to fail would be pretending I knew something back then that I did not. But it never had the familial feel of the Big Eight. That much I know.

*The growth of Texas. When the Longhorns joined the league, they weren't what they are now. What they are now is the New York Yankees of college sports. They spend more, they can afford more, they have more exposure. Maybe it's fair, maybe it's not. But it just is. Had Texas been on level footing with everyone else, Missouri might not be moving. But that wasn't the case.

*The lack of vision in Big 12 leadership. Blame Texas if you want. But this country is built on free enterprise. You look out for number one. You do what's best for you. That's what Texas has done. And the Longhorns' recent success argues that it's exactly what anyone would have done in their position. Texas has become the symbol of evil. But the Big 12 leadership---including the other 11 schools in the conference-allowed them to become that symbol.

*Nebraska and Colorado leaving. Many blame Missouri for starting this. Whatever, it's not an argument I want to get back into. But the fact is, when the Huskers left for the Big Ten and the Buffs for the PAC-12, Mizzou lost two of its long-time rivals and conference brothers. And it set off a get-your-seat-at-the-table while you can attitude across the country.

*Money. Let's be honest. That's what it's all about. That's what everything is about. How much money you get and how much money you get compared to everyone else. In the SEC, Missouri gets just as much as anyone else. It wasn't that way in the Big 12. It wasn't ever going to be that way. And, oh, by the way, small sidenote, it appears the Tigers are in line to get a bundle more cash than they've been getting…even if they have to share it equally.

*I've already listed five, but here's a special career achievement award for Oklahoma president David Boren. Boren's role in this really is two-fold. First of all, as the leader of one of the Big 12's two superpowers, Boren perpetuated the instability of the league by twice taking his school (and Oklahoma State with it) to the brink of leaving twice in 16 months. But beyond that, the league seemed to be on the verge of being saved. Brady Deaton had scheduled a 6:45 press conference on a Thursday night after a Big 12 conference call. We all assumed he was going to tell everyone Mizzou was coming back to the Big 12. "Proud members" and all that jazz. And then Boren scheduled a presser of his own for 6:30. Deaton was the chair of the Big 12 Board of Directors. He had been elected to speak for the league presidents. But Boren, seemingly, needed everyone to know that, damn it, this is Oklahoma and we "will not be a wallflower." So he had the press conference 15 minutes before Deaton. Then Deaton came out and said nothing approaching that Missouri would be proud members of the Big 12. Many sources behind the scenes at Mizzou have told me that premature press conference was the proverbial straw that broke the camel's back. It showed Deaton that loyalty and trust weren't prevalent in the Big 12. It turned him a little bit more toward the SEC. And ultimately, it landed the Tigers there on Sunday evening.

Those are the major factors, in my opinion, that have put the Tigers in a new conference. Now, a quick look at where Mizzou goes from here. To be symmetric, here are five things Missouri must do to succeed in its new home.

*Build, build, build. Missouri's facilities have gotten better. They're not elite level SEC better. No doubt, facilities need improving. Softball coach Ehren Earleywine told me football, softball and baseball topped that list. Get to work, find a contractor. There is work to be done.

*Recruit. The SEC is the best athletic conference in the country. Yes, it has to do with football. But baseball, softball and other minor sports are up there. The level of player in the SEC, due to simple geography, is just better. Ask Jim Tressel…or any other Big Ten coach that has faced an SEC team in a BCS bowl lately. Missouri has gotten better players in the last decade than it did in the decade before. Again, an upgrade is needed.

*Donations. This one's on the fans. Like I said above, it's all about money. It's why many would say Texas is so successful. Mike Alden said he received quite a bit of feedback that fans would give more if Missouri moved to the SEC. The Tigers did. Now the fans must.

*Football is now a religion. It's not something to do on Saturdays in the fall. It's a year-round deal. You want to compete in the SEC, football takes top billing. Deer hunting doesn't interfere. Kickoff time doesn't matter. Nobody cares if your cable system doesn't carry the right channel. Because you need to be at the game. Stadium expansion is in the future. But Missouri hasn't regularly filled the 71,004 seats it has now. If they build it, will you come? In the SEC, there are three seasons: Football season, spring football season and football recruiting season. Missouri has passionate fans. It needs more.

*Just win, baby. Chicken or the egg. Will winning bring more money and support or will money and support bring more winning? I don't know. What I do know is that Missouri enters the SEC East in football at the best time it possibly could. Florida is good, not great. Georgia is good, not great. Tennessee is down. Marcus Lattimore is coming off a knee injury and South Carolina is inconsistent. Vandy and Kentucky, historically, just aren't major factors. What would an SEC East title in year one do for Missouri football? Personally, I don't think it's as far-fetched as many might think.

Those are the facts as I see them. Decide for yourself.

Nobody has covered conference realignment like PowerMizzou.com. Over the coming days and weeks, we will continue to blanket every angle of the Tigers' move to the Southeastern Conference. If you are not yet a member, just try out our free trial.

MORE ON THE MOVE TO THE SEC:
  • SEC officially welcomes Mizzou
  • Column: Burden of proof falls to fans
  • Video highlights from Sunday


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