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October 4, 2011The University of Missouri is not a member of the Southeastern Conference - yet.
Maybe Mizzou never makes that move. But as of Tuesday night, it appears that the bags are packed, the front door is open and the car motor is running, at least in terms of Missouri leaving the Big 12.
After a lengthy meeting of its Board of Curators, Missouri officials met the press. Those officials never mentioned "leaving," applying a thick layer of the euphemistic "exploring options" instead. But if Missouri were intent on staying in the Big 12, the easiest comment in the world would have been "we're staying." And no one said that.
There still appears to be a waiting period before anyone knows decisively if Missouri is Team No. 14 for the SEC (or, for that matter, if the SEC is stopping at 14 teams, although I think it will for the time being.) Until the SEC starts making some concrete announcements about which teams are going to be in which divisions, and who is going to be playing whom, speculation will be simultaneously rampant and idle. If the 14-team future arrives, it will be interesting to see which SEC rivalries are erased. Some will be. Most of the interest (and a great deal of the concern) in Tuscaloosa is that, if Auburn is shifted to the East, the history-laden Alabama-Tennessee rivalry will no longer be an annual event. That same move would probably claim Auburn-LSU, not as steeped in history but certainly a fascinating rivalry over the past two decades. Other games might go by the wayside, or be moved from their current schedule positions to new, different times of the year (although I still think the "possible rematch" argument is a bit thin to be moving the Alabama-Auburn game away from the final weekend of the regular season.)
Change is the price of progress - and I am not an antiexpansionist. But rivalries are part of what makes the SEC unique, and to the extent that they can be preserved(which is not 100 percent), I hope they will be.
One hypothetical solution would be simply to put Missouri, should it bolt the Big 12 and join the SEC fold, into the East Division. It doesn't make geographical sense, but it does make at least some common sense. One could argue that it is just as logical as the Dallas Cowboys playing in the NFC East, although one could counter with the argument that the National Football League doesn't also have to worry about flying the Dallas Cowgirls to play a Tuesday night volleyball match against the New York Giantesses and getting them back to a Wednesday class. As the SEC goes to more far-flung locations, even if they have familiar names (there is already one Columbia in the league) and mascots (the market on Tigers would be cornered if Missouri comes, unless Princeton decides it wants in), nonfootball travel will become another issue.
Somewhere in all this, the bottom line will have to work out. That means a renegotiated broadcast contract with all those Texas and Missouri television sets (again, this is all hypothetical since Missouri is only idling in the driveway, not rushing down the highway at the moment) turning into millions of SEC-shared dollars. Will that offset the travel costs in every sport, or the culture shock of West Division teams seeing more of Missouri and Texas A&M and a lot less of Florida and Georgia? That's what the SEC is going to have to show me, as they say in Missouri, and show a lot of other people, too.