Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Why I want Mizzou to stay in the Big 12

Mizzou alumni, fans and students, if you were offered a deal in which the university would receive $5 million annually, but in exchange the Columns on the quad would have to be torn down, would you take the deal?

Maybe some people would grudgingly, painfully sign the Columns' death warrant, likely arguing persuasively that economic times are tough, money keeps getting more scarce, that it just makes sense to take the money. Times are changing.

But I also suspect some of you would say "Hell no" to the money. I walked through those Columns as a terrified yet excited freshman, you might say. I watched College Gameday by those Columns. I saw bats flying around Jesse Hall by those Columns. I saw people streaking from my vantage point on those Columns. I took engagement pictures by those Columns. I graduated by those Columns.

I'm aware it's not a parallel comparison, but I think Missouri's decision on whether or not to leave the Big 12 for the SEC follows the principle of the hypothetical question above. For my money and memories (I have more of the latter), Mizzou's heritage of playing schools in the Big 12, particularly Kansas, are as much a part of the university's soul as those beautiful columns. I'm not sure you can put a price tag on them.

I didn't pull that $5 million figure from nowhere. An article by Mike Dearmond in the Kansas City Star last week said SEC schools revenue sharing total is $18.3 million. The average for a Big 12 school right now is $13 million to $14 million, according to the article. There's your additional $5 million. But conference revenue totals are obviously complicated.

First, if Mizzou has to pay an exit fee of $30 million, the estimated fee Texas A&M will pay, then it will take years for this move to pay off. (And if Mizzou leaves, does it get its share of that A&M exit money?) Second, conferences constantly pass and get passed by others based on who has negotiated its TV deal most recently. Each new deal is bigger than that the last. Third, if Mizzou joins the expansion-minded SEC and that league adds another school, the total pie grows but Mizzou gets a smaller slice. The 15th and 16th schools, if added, would have to add more than 1/14th of the SEC's total value to be logical additions financially.

But the key case for joining the SEC is stability. This is maybe a naive post, but it's also very naive to just assume Mizzou would be entrenched in a stable SEC, immune to the insanity taking over the college athletics landscape. Leagues do break apart. Additions could alter how much money Mizzou gets. Any long-term budgeting based on TV revenue projections in this climate is risky. History is littered with people and institutions who thought they were stable.

Of course, the SEC is the Rock of Gibralter compared to the Big (House of) 12 (Cards). But the league is making progress. Revenue sharing. The granting of TV rights helps, even if the reported six-year figure is a bit laughable. The ironclad Big Ten has a grant of rights of more than 20 years. But this upheaval has got the remaining Big 12 schools re-evaluating things. Perhaps most critically, big dogs Texas and Oklahoma learned the grass isn't more welcoming on the Pac-12 side of the fence. Commissioner Chuck Neinas actually appears capable of leading.

But in the end, my argument for the Big 12 goes back to that soul of the University of Missouri. If athletic department officials are so smugly confident in "the Missouri brand," the school will be fine even if it gives the Big 12 another try. Instead, look at what's lost if Mizzou bolts.

The rivalry with Kansas suffers tremendously. It loses the juice of being a conference clash. It's not a guaranteed game, and let's not forget these two athletic departments can't even agree on what the football series is. (See the 1960 controversy.) It could endure in football, but basketball is where the Border War would take its greatest hit. Even if they played every year, that still means every other year, Kansas is not on the home schedule. That's tragic. Mizzou Arena (and the Hearnes before) is simply a different, more electric atmosphere when KU is in town. Imagine going 24 months between those experience. Even worse, I could easily see the hoops matchup being played annually in Kansas City. In this case, Mizzou Arena would never have that special buzz, and the hoops game would likely feature a 70-30 KU crowd every year. (And so help me, I'd miss Mizzou's annual chance at a epic victory in the Phog.) Lastly, a November noncon between the two pales compared to a Saturday/Sunday senior day game on CBS or a Big Monday clash in January/February.

In closing, think of your greatest moments as a Mizzou student. Maybe you think of a miracle A on an exam you had no business passing. Maybe it was the rare gem of a snow day or perfect fall weather. Maybe it was that girl you'll still remember on sunny spring days when you're old and gray saying she'll go out with you.

...And maybe you'll remember rushing the court and seeing your friend brought to tears after beating those high and mighty Jayhawks. Maybe you'll remember Todd Reesing driven into the frozen Arrowhead Stadium turf because it was the perfect intersection of not just rising to No. 1, but rising to No. 1 by beating No. 2 Kansas, your ancient rival. Maybe you'll remember a picturesque fall evening when the Tigers beat No. 1 Oklahoma, special not just because it was the No. 1 team but because those powerful Sooners have been the standard of excellence in your neighborhood for decades. Maybe you'll remember listening to and watching Big 12 Tournament games in Kansas City, MISSOURI.

Missouri's heritage is the Big 12 and its predecessors. It's chasing Kansas in basketball and Oklahoma and Nebraska (gone now) in football. It's battling the mystical old sage Bill Snyder out in wonderfully quirky Manhattan. It's annual battles with Hilton Magic and the manic Gallagher-Iba Arena in Stillwater. Even the Texas schools, conference family for a scant 15 years, share lots of overlapping history, styles and geography with the old Big Eight schools. It's traveling familiar roads or watching the team play on TV in familiar venues. It's hearing familiar fight songs. Texas Fight? Boomer Sooner?

So, yes, it looks after today's Curators meeting like Mizzou is leaning ever more to the SEC. Yes, I'd still be a crazy college sports fan, and I have to admit trips to those incredible SEC venues would be fun. The SEC is the best college football conference out there right now, and being part of it would be a thrill and a challenge.

But competing in the Big 12 and the Border War uninhibited are the very soul of Mizzou. Just like those columns.

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