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Friday, October 21, 2011
Missouri moves closer to leaving Big 12

By Eamonn Brennan

It's a slow Friday in the college hoops news landscape -- once you've digested our copious Big 12 and Big East media day coverage from this week, you're pretty much caught up -- but there is at least one story of massive import, and it came via the Associated Press this afternoon. Essentially, Missouri is getting ever closer to making their long-awaited Big 12 move, and there doesn't seem to be much that can stop the transition now:
The governing board of the University of Missouri unanimously gave its chancellor the authority Friday to move the school out of the Big 12 Conference. [...] Deaton said discussions about realignment are ongoing and a "decision will be undertaken expeditiously." He did not name the SEC or any conference other than the Big 12 during a news conference sitting alongside athletic director Mike Alden and other school officials.

"We've provided information to the SEC," Deaton said. "We would anticipate that any decision we make would be apropos to next season."

This isn't revelatory: Missouri has been more than flirting with a move to the SEC for weeks now, and many have expected the Tigers to take steps toward finalizing that move sooner rather than later. At this point, the chances of Missouri staying seem slim.

What does that do to the Big 12? It costs the conference another team, for one. At first glance, the loss would seem to be devastating. If Mizzou goes through with this, it would be the fourth school to leave the conference in the past two seasons, following in the footsteps of Nebraska, Colorado and Texas A&M, which have found more revenue-friendly offers from the likes of the Big Ten, Pac-12 and SEC, respectively. But the Big 12 has already taken steps toward shoring up its future -- the addition of TCU being the biggest such step -- and it appears the conference is finally in a position to survive further expansion with less concern than before.

But this is all stuff you know already. No, the most interesting bit from today's news comes in the last graph of the AP report. To wit:
The school also decided to explore setting up a holiday basketball tournament and annual football game in Kansas City with an unidentified rival -- Kansas would fit the bill -- moves designed to answer critics who say departing the Big 12 will gut storied traditions that date back decades. Missouri and Kansas have played each other in football for 119 years.

This is a brilliant bit of PR strategy; it helps quell those like me, who have somewhat angrily argued that Missouri is throwing away its traditional storied rivalries for the sake of extra money on the bottom line. The question is whether Kansas, or any current Big 12 team, would want to grant Missouri that sort of game. A few weeks ago, Bill Self made clear that he would think twice about scheduling Missouri if the Tigers left the conference. He reiterated that stance to Andy Katz at Big 12 media day Thursday.
“I don’t feel any obligation to play Missouri,’’ said Self at Thursday’s Big 12 media day in Kansas City. “The Missouri fans want us to play, but I’m not sure Kansas fans care. If they’re not in our league then we should do what’s best for us. If it’s to play them in the Sprint Center, then so be it. But I’m not sure that will be the case.’’

The attitude seems to be: OK, Missouri, you want to leave? Fine. Go.

It might not be the most diplomatic stance, but at this point, can you blame Kansas? Or, for that matter, any Big 12 team?