The University of Missouri could be on the verge of making a stupendous mistake of impatience, borne out of a handful of university and state leaders wanting to wipe egg off their face from last year’s Big Ten debacle with a move to the SEC, a league that has neither the academic pedigree nor the competitive atmosphere suited for such a starchy Midwestern institution.
Mizzou in a ditch fight with SEC programs who embrace cheating and slippery ethics like a favorite uncle? The Tigers’ so-so fan base traveling to South Carolina, Georgia and Auburn? In trade for what? A little more TV money? Long-term security?
See, this is how powerful people get. They beg for one thing — the Big Ten — get shut down there, and figure there’s a better move to make outside of waiting. There isn’t. And I’m not going to go into some painful 3,000-word exegesis about this, either. Save exegeses for Occupy Wall Street or child welfare or something. This is a great school making a dumb move and all the Kansas City media and Mizzou alums will stomp and cheer and all the rest of it (the St. Louis media will pay attention when the World Series is over, thank you) while the SEC-centric college football sites that bloat and pillage my Twitter feed will write 4,000-word blog posts comparing this change to the conquest of whole plate of chicken and waffles in Memphis. Or whatever. It’s dumb. It’s the wrong play.
Missouri has a home in the Big 12. It’s as secure and comfy as it needs to be — for Missouri. It’s not going anywhere now; the Pac-12 made sure of it by closing down its own expansionist interests. And if it went somewhere — if the whole league fell apart because Texas and Oklahoma headed to wherever the heck they’re going to head now that the Pac-12 is out — then the Big Ten expands. And Jim Delany invites Missouri naturally.
Let’s be clear: There’s not going to be a world where the central partners in college football’s biggest bowl game — the Rose Bowl — have different means of qualifying for that game. If Pac-12 goes to Pac-16, the Big Ten goes to 16. Delany’s never going to say it, but it’s the play; the Big Ten’s not going to be at 12 when the rest of the college powers go to 16. And if a world of superconferences were to exist — and it’s not going to for the time being, remember — then Missouri is one of those 64 teams. In the Big Ten.
The issue of security seems relevant, but it’s not. It’s bunk. Mizzou would always have a better place to land than Kansas, Kansas State and Iowa State.
Will Missouri make more TV money? Sure. In aid of what? More losing. What Missouri program gets better in the SEC? Women’s basketball? Surely not football. Men’s basketball is a wash. Baseball? No way. Wrestling program goes away. Softball? No. Track? Gawd no. What? Nothing.
The money’s just for money, in other words. Who counts that? Money people? It won’t translate into a better on-field product.
Beyond that, TV petro dollars are slated for an eventual decline. ESPN overpays for its contracts because it bilks cable companies into gigantic per-subscriber fees. The cable giants have a hard time getting away from it because ESPN is owned by Disney, which strong-arms cable companies into accepting those high costs are part of the whole Disney family bundle. But a rise in a la carte cable packages — along with the Big Ten and Pac-12 Networks owning and controlling league production — means ESPN’s influence is bound to decline. ESPN is not AMC.
Missouri’s financial projections will hold up — for a while. In the long run, the advantages are negligible if the money just go toward more losing teams — and the Big Ten, Mizzou’s preferred destination, makes far more money thanks to giant media markets and the ability to profit off its own network.
So much of this conference realignment game is being able to chart the shifting nature of it. You have to be willing to admit you’re dead wrong about certain assumptions. I thought Texas would go independent; it’s obvious UT wants a conference to strong-arm with content. The Big 12 will exist as long as Texas and the Pac-12 desires for it to exist, which could be a long time. And even if it isn’t, the Big Ten is a good home for Missouri.
On Oct. 7, Delany was in town for NU’s inaugural Big Ten home game with Ohio State. He said this about conference expansion: “Some institutions will be helped by it, some institutions will be hurt by it. Whenever there’s that much change and uncertainty, there’s going to be winners. I think probably there will be some losers.”
Aside from Utah, Nebraska’s the biggest winner. Huge academic upgrade. Access to an academic consortium that might as well print grant money. An opportunity to recruit students from several of America’s largest cities, thereby creating stronger, bigger donor bases. A seat at the big money table. And folks, the big money isn’t really in football — it’s in scientific research.
What would Missouri get? A trip to the SEC Media Days in suburban Birmingham?
See also: Tom Shatel approves the move.