I'm not exactly sure what Missouri is doing. If they're trying to make some kind of big splash and surprise us, it's the worst kept secret in college sports.
Big 12 Conference officials, now under the leadership of interim commissioner and former Big Eight Conference chieftain Chuck Neinas, apparently are not waiting for Missouri to sign, stamp and deliver its final decision on realignment. From my sideline seat, it's actually good to see that the Big 12 is not sitting around, being held hostage by Missouri or any other conference school, waiting to deal with the inevitable fallout from all the politicking, posturing and positioning associated with the schizophrenic conference realignment issue.
Here's the latest Big 12 scorecard in case you might have lost track:
- Texas A&M is out (headed to the SEC).
- TCU is in.
- West Virginia is fighting to get in, and
- Missouri appears all but gone (also to the SEC), but is hesitant to tell anybody yet.
If that doesn't add to your confusion, maybe this will: In the abstract, all of this adds up to a count of 10 Big 12 teams. TCU replaces Texas A&M as the ninth team, and half of Missouri (reflecting Mizzou's half in, half out current position) and half of West Virginia (the Mountaineers are fully on board but the Big East is not ready to concede a quick exit without a fight) adds up to a whole number of 10.
Realistically, we all know you can't be half in and half out when it comes to conference restructuring. You are either part of the league, or you're not. Missouri has already played its cards on this issue, making it fairly evident that it is more interested in the increased revenue and future stability offered in the Southeastern Conference than the 104-year legacy it has created as one of the founding institutions in what has evolved into the Big 12 Conference. So count the Tigers among the not-so-dearly departed. I'm not so sure what is holding up the process, other than perhaps the SEC member schools not being in full agreement on whether to add a 14th league member at this time or some such procedural delay.
You can't fault Missouri officials for wanting to make certain all the i's are dotted and the t's are crossed before jumping overboard. After all, the Tigers have already crossed the point of no return on this issue. Remember, this isn't the first time officials in Columbia have indicated they would like to take their ball and go elsewhere. A little over a year ago, as I recall, Mizzou let it be known that it would love to be a member of the Big Ten, if asked. At that time, Missouri Chancellor Brady Deaton said it was the academic quality of the institutions that made up the Big Ten that appealed to him and his colleagues the most. I guess it was understood that the Big Ten would also show them the money.
Academic standing clearly is not in play this time around for Missouri, but the opportunity not to be left out in the cold should the Big 12 collapse, which now isn't likely to happen, and the chance to join arguably the country's richest, pun intended, football conference apparently is too good to pass up.
So enough, already, of kicking the proverbial can down the road while believing you're keeping everyone in some kind of suspense. Let's get on with it and get this done. It's been great having you, Missouri, but it's time for everyone to move on.
Getting back to the politicking involved (Oklahoma President and former U.S. Senator David Boren and Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky have been bending each other's ear about Louisville's desire to become a member of the Big 12), you can take this one to the bank also. Louisville will become the 11th member of the Big 12 Conference, maybe not this year or next but eventually, for sure. That will be the first shoe to drop in the conference's return to full strength as a 12-team league, leading to speculation on who would become the school to bring the conference back in alignment with its name.
With the Big East quickly caving in like a house of cards, luring Notre Dame as a basketball-only member is not at all out of the question. If not the Fighting Irish, Cincinnati (which, incidentally, is a city similar in population and culture to Kansas City) would bring respectable programs in both football and basketball, and BYU is still a possibility as things play out further.
Interim Big 12 commissioner Neinas said last week that until Missouri formally withdraws from the conference it is still a member of the Big 12, and the conference is prepared to accommodate 11 members if it comes to that. That makes for good public relations messaging, but believe me, it's not going to happen.
Neinas was asked by ESPN.com's David Ubben, who writes about the Big 12, about the urgency in bringing West Virginia into the tent and what would happen if the Big East is successful in delaying the Mountaineers' exit to the Big 12. "We fully expect West Virginia will be (here)," the acting commissioner said. If not, "then I guess for the first time in college football history, we'll have home-and-home schedules," he joked. "Oklahoma State told me they don't want to play Oklahoma twice."
The hang up that could potentially prevent West Virginia from joining the Big 12 before the fall sports season next year is the Big East by laws, which prevent a school from leaving that league any sooner than 27 months after officially withdrawing. No one outside of the Big East headquarters seems to think this is an insurmountable issue. If there's a will, there's a way, as they say. Besides, what conference wants a school that clearly doesn't want to be there hanging around for two years as a lame duck member. That outcome just creates more bitterness and doesn't benefit anyone involved.
Taking the longer view of what is taking form in the Big 12 regarding conference realignment, with TCU and West Virginia, both with nationally recognized football programs, coming on board in place of Texas A&M and Missouri, the Big 12 just may have gotten stronger in the process of becoming smaller. Or you could say: an example of addition by subtraction.
For more information:
Big 12 Conference official website