Report: Missouri hopes to join SEC

Updated: October 6, 2011, 3:33 PM ET
ESPN.com news services

ST. LOUIS -- The University of Missouri hopes to join the Southeastern Conference but would have preferred an offer from the Big Ten that never came, a school official told The Associated Press.

The person, who is familiar with the discussions involving conference affiliation, spoke Wednesday on condition of anonymity because the school has not commented publicly about its intentions.

Missouri hoped to join the Big Ten last year but the league instead chose Nebraska. The university official said the Big Ten remains Missouri's top choice but that conference "has no interest."

"That's what's left," the official said, referring to the SEC.

Missouri's seven voting curators agreed unanimously Tuesday night to give chancellor Brady Deaton authority to look elsewhere rather than immediately commit to the troubled Big 12 Conference.

Just one day earlier, Big 12 leaders -- including Deaton -- agreed to equally share the wealth from the conference's most lucrative television deals if members agree to lock those top-tier TV rights into the league for at least six years.

The agreement is subject to approval by university governing boards -- a step Missouri curators don't want to take until the school is able to "fully explore options for conference affiliation ... which best serve the interests of the University of Missouri," board chairman Warren Erdman told The Associated Press.

The Big 12 is down to 10 members and will lose Texas A&M to the SEC next year after the departures of Colorado to the Pac-12 and Nebraska to the Big Ten.

A source with direct knowledge of the Big 12's expansion plans told ESPN.com's Andy Katz that Missouri's indecision has put the expansion committee and the conference in a tough position as it waits to see how many teams it will seek to add to the conference.

The source said the five-person expansion committee expects to have a second conference call sometime within a week. The committee still doesn't know if Deaton will recuse himself, because he's one of the five members of the committee with Kansas State president Kirk Schulz, the chair, as well as Oklahoma State president Burns Hargis, Oklahoma athletic director Joe Castiglione and Texas athletic director DeLoss Dodds.

There were a number of top candidates, the source said, including BYU, Louisville, West Virginia, TCU and previously unmentioned Tulane, of Conference USA. The source said the Big 12 has been contacted by a number of other schools about possible inclusion, as well.

On Thursday, the Big 12 invited TCU, which was supposed to begin membership in the Big East in 2012-13. The TCU board of trustees was scheduled to meet later in the day to discuss the invitation.

The source said that Tulane would become a viable option for the Big 12 if it were to grab four schools to beef up the membership to 12, in a situation where BYU decides it doesn't want to leave its football independence or its new tie to the WCC in all other sports. Tulane is interesting to the Big 12 because of its location in New Orleans and in a state, Louisiana, where the Big 12 is absent, as well as the school's renewed commitment to sports and facilities after Hurricane Katrina.

A source with knowledge of Tulane's situation told ESPN.com that the Green Wave have privately been making overtures to the Big East and Big 12 about possible membership but didn't want to upset Conference USA as that league looks to form a partnership with the Mountain West.

Tulane is also a member of the Association of American Universities -- the only AAU member listed as a possible addition. The prestigious AAU tag is something that the SEC has looked at as an important criterion for expansion, as evidenced by the league promoting Texas A&M as one of three AAU members in the SEC in a news release announcing the Aggies' addition. Florida and Vanderbilt are the other two in the SEC.

The Big 12 would be down to four AAU schools after the departure of Texas A&M, and down to three -- Texas, Kansas, and Iowa State -- if Missouri leaves.

The source cited the improved academics at TCU and Louisville as important aspects to possible inclusion in the Big 12.

University of Oklahoma president David Boren told ESPN.com Wednesday he believes it's "50-50" Missouri leaves the Big 12 for the SEC.

"We'll be fine either way," said Boren, reaffirming Oklahoma's position of committing to the Big 12.

Asked about a timetable for adding new members to the Big 12, Boren said it could happen in a "week to 10 days."

"There are three or four good choices out there," he said.

The SEC members' athletic directors and commissioner Mike Slive met Wednesday in Birmingham, Ala., to discuss the logistics of Texas A&M's arrival. A conference spokesman said the meeting was called several weeks ago.

A possible addition of Missouri was not on the agenda, a source with direct knowledge of the meeting told ESPN.com's Katz.

A majority of SEC heads are in favor of Missouri applying to the conference, the Birmingham News reported Wednesday, citing two sources familiar with the discussions. But nine votes are needed to add a new school, and Missouri does not have enough backing for that to happen.

Slive has not ruled out further expansion to the SEC, and Tennessee athletic director Dave Hart has said the SEC will eventually add members.

Mississippi State athletic director Scott Stricklin said Tuesday the conference is in a wait-and-see mode on further expansion.

"The commissioner has done such a great job of positioning us and we continue just to kind of look for his guidance and for him to lead us in whatever direction we decide on," Stricklin said. "When he says, 'Hey, here's an idea,' we're going to listen to him. Until then, I think we are all very comfortable with where we are at 13 for the time being."

But South Carolina president Harris Pastides has said he doesn't "think 13 is a sustainable number, but I think 14 is." He added that he doesn't advocate growing to a 16-team league.

Sticking with the Big 12 remains an option, Deaton said Tuesday, and the costs of leaving could prove troublesome with Missouri likely forfeiting most of its annual conference revenues.

The revenue-sharing plan approved Sunday by the Big 12 board of directors -- a move designed to keep Missouri and other potential stray members in the fold -- would give each school an estimated $20 million in June.

And that figure is expected to grow by 2013 when the league's new 13-year contract with Fox Sports kicks in, according to two people with knowledge of the deal and ties to the Big 12. They spoke only on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly about the revenue-sharing plan.

The Big 12's television contract with ABC/ESPN expires in 2016 and also likely will bring in additional money when renegotiated.

The SEC, by contrast, distributed $18.3 million in revenue to each of its 12 members this year. But that league can also expect more lucrative contracts when the next round of TV rights' negotiations occur.

It's kind of like a boyfriend-girlfriend relationship. Once it's fractured and somebody gets a wandering eye, can you repair that? It's not clear.

-- Missouri state Sen. Kurt Schaefer

State Sen. Kurt Schaefer, a Republican whose Columbia district includes the Missouri campus, said his constituents are "hands down" in favor of an SEC move. Now that Missouri has made its desire to roam known, he has doubts that a union with the Big 12 can be salvaged.

"It's kind of like a boyfriend-girlfriend relationship," said Schaefer, a Missouri graduate. "Once it's fractured and somebody gets a wandering eye, can you repair that? It's not clear."

While Missouri is a charter member of the Big 12, founded in 1996 when the Big Eight schools added four members of the defunct Southwest Conference, dissatisfaction with the conference has grown. In the early '90s, with the Big Eight on the verge of collapse, Missouri pushed to join the Big Ten and a group of state business leaders even formed a lobbying group.

A year ago, Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon, an avid sports fan, was an outspoken supporter of a move to the Big Ten, noting that its schools, like Missouri, are members of the invitation-only AAU. The Big Ten instead chose another AAU school in Nebraska.

Besides being a fresh blow to the Big 12, a Missouri departure would threaten its long-standing rivalry with neighboring Kansas, one of the oldest in college sports.

Kansas basketball coach Bill Self told The Associated Press on Wednesday he would be in no hurry to schedule Missouri as a nonconference opponent if the Tigers decided to leave the Big 12 and sever a conference tie with the Jayhawks that dates to 1907.

"I don't know why we would want to do that, if they've done something that put KU in jeopardy," Self said.

Such a move would not be unprecedented for Kansas. When Notre Dame negotiated its own football television deal with NBC, causing the television contract held by the College Football Association to collapse, Kansas canceled its home-and-home basketball agreement with the Irish.

Kansas athletic director Shannon Zenger was less forceful, appealing instead to the Tigers' sense of loyalty to the league.

"We believe the Midwest deserves a strong conference for student-athletes, fans and alumni, and it is our desire that Missouri will stay committed -- as Kansas is -- to the Big 12 Conference," he told the Lawrence Journal-World.

Erdman, a Kansas City attorney, said the school takes long-term relationships and regional affiliations seriously. But the financial allure of seven-figure TV contracts and the broader benefits of such deals to a university are equally if not more important, he said.

"The cultural and economic effects of a decision like this on all parts of the state are important," he said. "And we should be sensitive to those factors as part of our overall consideration. However, when it's all said and done, our fiduciary duty is to the University of Missouri."

Missouri alumni, donors and fans haven't been shy about sharing their opinions with university leaders, barraging curators with emails encouraging a Big 12 exit.

"It's been pretty overwhelmingly positive to leave the Big 12," said Todd McCubbin, executive director of the Missouri Alumni Association. "And the SEC has been a popular choice."

Information from ESPN.com's Andy Katz, SoonerNation's Jake Trotter, and The Associated Press was used in this report.

ALSO SEE