Blunders at Missouri Cast Shadow Over Benefits of New Big 12

Ryan FallerAnalyst IJune 16, 2010

Soon after the University of Texas formally announced Tuesday that it will remain a member of the Big 12 — thus preventing the once-imminent demise of the 14-year-old conference — celebrations erupted across the reinvigorated league’s geographical footprint.

And in no one city were more balloons inflated, champagne bottles uncorked, and trumpets harmonized than in Columbia, Mo. At least, one would think.

Once the residence of a team of shrewd and forward-thinking administrators that were looking to cash in on a mutual interest between its university and the Big Ten, the humble mid-Missouri town is now the setting of a soirée whose main theme is utter relief .

Perhaps the correct coinage would be sheer disbelief. Maybe even embarrassment.

For Missouri, college football conference realignment wasn’t supposed to turn out this way. And yet, considering the alternatives, MU couldn’t be happier that it is still a member of the very conference with which it has found so much fault.

I, like any other faithful MU fan/alum, find it hard to accept the conclusion that has occurred. It’s seems almost stupid that Missouri stayed in the same spot after having been the subject of so many rumors and endless speculation — both of which weren’t exactly extinguished by what may have been misconstrued as a quiet confidence within the athletics department that a deal with the Big Ten was all but done.

Viewed through glasses shaded equal parts Black and Old Gold, here’s the bottom line: MU blew a glorious chance to improve itself — perhaps dramatically — athletically, academically, and financially. And, barring any incredible unforeseen developments in realignment, it appears to have been a chance that may not pop up again for quite some time.

That being said, when tempers cool and fandom gives way to logic, it’s easy to see there are some reasons to believe a streamlined Big 12 may ultimately be the best place for Missouri.

The Tigers don’t lose their valuable rivalry with Kansas, nor does the football program run the risk of severing crucial recruiting pipelines in the state of Texas. In fact, those connections can only be enhanced, with Nebraska having presumably sacrificed at least a share of its relationships with high school staffs in the Lone Star State.

Meanwhile, Mike Anderson’s basketball program retains its opportunity to mature into a superpower in arguably the nation’s most elite basketball conference . Same goes for MU’s other noteworthy programs, including softball, wrestling, baseball, women’s soccer, and women’s gymnastics.

Sans two of its original members, the Big 12 remains one of the nation’s premiere football conferences, as well as retains its standing as a BCS automatic qualifier. As recently as last weekend, with the Big Ten refusing to extend its hand and with the Big 12 on the verge of collapse, Missouri fans were cringing at reports that the Tigers may be snatched up by either Conference USA, a solid yet unimpressive league, or the Mountain West , a far more respectful football conference but one that struggles for national respect nonetheless.

Academically, Missouri will continue to forge ahead on its current path, which is as one of the Big 12’s few AAU members, a strong research institution, and a perennial leader within the conference when it comes to graduation rates among student-athletes.

And though the new Big 12 will proceed division-less (at least for now), making it even harder for the former North teams to compete for a conference title, Missouri fans should be excited about the new round-robin format, which requires each team to play one less boring non-conference game. Furthermore, head coach Gary Pinkel, winless against Texas and OU in his Missouri tenure, now has a shot to unseat the conference bullies each and every season.

But this whole realignment saga was about money. It’s what fueled MU’s desire to join the Big Ten. It’s what nearly led to almost half of the old Big 12 fleeing to the West Coast. And it’s certainly what enabled the Big 12’s remaining 10 teams to coalesce into an unexpected union.

It’s not Big Ten money, but under the Big 12’s new proposed television contract with Fox Sports, Missouri is guaranteed anywhere between $14-17 million, a significant increase from the $10.4 million it earned during 2008-09.

Better yet, because the Big 12’s unequal revenue sharing model remains intact, Missouri is given reign to dictate its worth. Yes, the teams that made more than Missouri before will still receive bigger checks. But the more the Tigers win, the more they’re on TV, the more revenue they earn. Facilities continue to get better, as do the recruiting classes, and everything goes full circle.

Long story short, the Tigers will not be assured as much as they would have ultimately made as a member of the Big Ten, but they have the opportunity to make nearly as much without having to deal with any of the upheaval that comes with being initiated into a new conference.

If the Tigers didn’t end up in the Big Ten, a financially souped-up Big 12 was the next best destination.

I credit Big 12 commissioner Dan Beebe, who was about two seconds away from waiting in line at the unemployment office, for burning his share of the midnight oil to hatch this plan, though it seems he had plenty of help from several people who will forever remain nameless.

Beebe welcomed the remaining 10 teams back to the table knowing full well that Texas would take the seat beside him. At his press conference Tuesday, Beebe stated that there wasn’t “any one institution that was the critical institution ” to the continued viability of the Big 12, which is a bold-faced lie.

The Longhorns, with their unparalleled financial clout and influence, drove the figures contained in the new TV proposal.

Texas, which never desired realignment of any kind, will reportedly receive upwards of $20-25 million, which includes potentially as much as $5 million it would generate from the creation of its own television network . Oklahoma and Texas A&M, which complete the first “tier” of the payout scale, will receive similar payouts, with Oklahoma State and Texas Tech reportedly taking in around $17 million annually. The remaining four teams will roughly earn the same as Missouri.

On Tuesday, Oklahoma athletics director Joe Castiglione said the Sooners would pursue creating their own TV network.

The TV package looks beautiful on paper and in theory. If agreed upon in writing, the 18-year mega deal would be on par with the SEC’s agreements with CBS and ESPN, which result in a $17 million payout to each school. We’ll know by April, when the Big 12 sits down with Fox Sports, whether Beebe’s promise of more dollar signs was nothing more than a tactic to keep him gainfully employed.

In the days prior to the all-in move pulled by the gang of would-be Pac-10 defectors, Columbia was a sullen place. Now it is overrun with a feigned optimism, mostly because you could argue not a single thing was accomplished outside of Missouri receiving a bigger payday.

The moolah will blanket a lot of ills, but it’s clear the MU administration sold a part of its collective soul to the devil when it was forced to commit to the new Big 12, which is the biggest disappointment in this whole scenario and gives credibility to the complaints of MU fans that the ball was dropped.

And the result was a huge thud that reverberated throughout college football, particularly within the hearts and minds of those within the Big 12’s inner circle.

Even if this evolves into the best thing ever for Missouri, how heavily will its alleged “bad guy” role in all of this weigh on its relationships with fellow Big 12 members going forward?

Principally speaking, this is a huge loss for Missouri. In essence, the university did not stand up for itself, and instead agreed to surrender its position when it became apparent that there was nowhere else to go.

That much was evident when the school agreed to be among the five Big 12 members who will surrender departure fees collected from Nebraska and Colorado so that they may be divided among Texas, Oklahoma, and Texas A&M, in an effort to ensure that those three institutions receive what they could have raked in from another conference.

It is unsure whether those three schools would necessarily utilize those funds, which will otherwise be divided upon evenly among each conference member.

Maybe other options were out there. As Missouri chancellor insisted on Tuesday, maybe they weren’t. But in the end, Missouri must now endure the same perceived injustices it cited for wanting to get out in the first place, all the while bearing the moniker of the university who reportedly was on the cusp of getting bounced from the league for supposedly igniting the flames of conference realignment.

Past and potential future bowl snubs. Unequal revenue sharing. Texas-centric conference leadership and bias toward schools not located in the South. Forget it all. Though it would have been a huge risk to say no, Missouri waived its right to complain when it said yes to this new Big 12.

Throughout this whole process, MU officials — other than an encrypted “Hell yes, we’ll join the Big Ten!” earlier this year — have been tight-lipped, saying nothing more than the school was “a proud member of the Big 12.”

But athletics director Mike Alden admitted during a press conference Tuesday that key elements were left out of that script, especially when it became apparent an invite from the Big Ten was not in the cards, contrary to the belief of many anticipatory fans.

“By us not coming out and reinforcing that message that we have not received an offer from the Big Ten or that we needed to only focus what we were doing in the Big 12, certainly I can understand how that fueled the desires and the angst of our fans,” Alden said. “For those out there who thought about that, the reality is we did not receive an offer from the Big Ten Conference.”

Alden was not operating alone. He was joined by Deaton and President Gary Forsee, both of whom corroborated in giving the national and local media the perception that the MU brain trust was suffering a cramp while an evolution in college athletics was taking place.

People may not say it, but MU will be known as the dog that unceremoniously limped backed to its home with its tail firmly tucked between its legs. If nothing else, it was a public relations hiccup.

But Missouri officials are not apologizing . They feel, despite some obvious missteps here and there, the university ended up where it needs to be. What could have been an unmitigated disaster ended up being a luke-warm victory of sorts, even if it means surrendering pride for a little additional cash.

Which, I suppose, is some reason to celebrate, however half-heartedly.


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