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Big 12 Realignment Story Has Come Full Circle Back To Missouri

Well over a year ago Missouri drew fire for making public overtures about possibly becoming a member of the Big Ten. That didn't turn out so well for MU, but it ended up triggering major upheaval in the Big 12. Now the ball is in Mizzou's court, again.

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Missouri Chancellor Brady Deaton
Missouri Chancellor Brady Deaton

It was about 15 months ago that the smoke started to surface about who was in and who wanted out of the Big 12 Conference before in broke out into a fully kindled fire. Nebraska's dislike of all things associated with the Texas Longhorns became more vocal and more public until key officials at Nebraska decided they couldn't take it any longer and began negotiations to leave the Big 12 for the Big Ten. At about that same time, Missouri announced if the Big Ten would have the Tigers, they would consider departing the conference they helped form over 108 years ago, as well.

Since that time, Nebraska and Colorado have left the Big 12, and nine months from now Texas A&M will become the third school to leave when it officially becomes the 13th member of the Southeastern Conference. A week ago, it appeared that Oklahoma and Oklahoma State were on their way to the Pac-12 Conference and possibly taking Texas and Texas Tech with them. That would have reduced the number of remaining members of the Big 12 to five institutions and probably would have resulted in the ultimate death knell for the conference.

As it turned out, the Pac-12 was not interested in expanding its membership beyond its present 12 members, at least not at this particular time or until such time as Texas was willing to make concessions with its Longhorn Network as a condition for switching its athletic conference affiliation away from the Big 12, which is as good as saying not in the foreseeable future. So as a result, Oklahoma is back reconfirming its commitment to the Big 12 and ostensibly working to hold the remaining nine schools together conference officials consider a prospective expansion partner or three. The Sooners declared they would remain in the Big 12, but only if the conference would undergo major reforms going forward, including but not limited to the immediate resignation of conference commissioner Dan Beebe.

In the midst of all of the saber rattling being done by Oklahoma, officials at Missouri, not wanting the Tigers to be left without a place of their own choice and liking to go in the event of a full-scale collapse of the Big 12, which looked fairly certain just a few days ago, again began seriously considering MU's options. The SEC reportedly responded with an open invitation for Missouri to become part of the SEC should the Big 12 end up falling apart beyond repair and closing its doors. Many also feel the Big Ten would welcome Mizzou into the fold should the Big 12 cease to exist, or even before.

A good number of people feel - and I do personally, as well - that the Tigers would be a much better fit in the Big Ten than the SEC, but they might not have that choice and, either way, they would be assured a much brighter and more stable future than the conference affiliation disharmony their dealing with right now.

So, for now, the cards seem to be back in Missouri's hands. Chuck Neinas, the newly appointed interim Big 12 commissioner replacing the deposed Dan Beebe, said after accepting the appointment that he believes Missouri will choose to stay put. But that remains to be seen.

Missouri is in a curious position in that the school's chancellor, Brady Deaton, also is the chairman of the Big 12 Board of Directors. When the board discussed realignment in a conference call last Thursday, Missouri stopped short of offering a long or even a short-term commitment to the future of the conference. Until last week's board discussion, Missouri has been consistent in expressing its commitment to keeping the conference together.

Gaining a genuine commitment from the remaining members of the Big 12 seems to be a fleeting show of good faith and certainly not something, that at the end of the day, a member school is being held accountable for. Unless the board is able to get in place some form of binding agreement that ensures the structural stability of the conference for a set number of years, including financial penalties with more bite in them than exists today for anyone who elects take their business to another playground, there is little if any hope of gaining any kind of unilateral support and solidarity from existing members, let alone be attractive enough for new members to want to be part of it.

All eyes are now firmly focused on Missouri, and something tells me the folks in Columbia kind of like it that way. It's time for another member school to step up and take a serious stand against Texas - for the greater good of the Big 12 conference - without simply walking away and seeking refuge elsewhere to avoid the problem.

If this is Missouri's motive, MU officials should be applauded, not the object of attack.