Missouri grants chancellor OK for move

Updated: October 22, 2011, 6:25 PM ET
ESPN.com news services

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Missouri has taken another step toward leaving the Big 12 Conference and there is interest in the SEC in taking the Tigers.

The governing curators at Missouri unanimously gave chancellor Brady Deaton the authority Friday to move the school out of the Big 12 if he decides that is in the school's best interest.

Deaton gave no timeline for a decision but indicated that a move, if it happens, would not take much longer.

"We're not looking at a long time frame," Deaton said, adding that any move would anticipate playing in another conference beginning next season, not in 2013 or farther out.

While Deaton avoided saying that he favors leaving the Big 12 or identifying the SEC as a potential landing spot, it was clear that the SEC is the target.

"We've provided information to the SEC," Deaton said at a news conference following a two-day curators meeting, sitting alongside athletic director Mike Alden and other school officials.

SEC school presidents have informally discussed Missouri, and there's "certainly talk and interest" in adding the school, a person familiar with the situation told The Associated Press. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because the SEC has not publicly talked about the discussions.

There has been no formal vote by the presidents and one was not immediately scheduled, the person told the AP. For his part, Deaton said discussions about realignment are ongoing and a "decision will be undertaken expeditiously."

A source with direct knowledge of the Big 12's expansion plans told ESPN.com's Andy Katz Saturday that West Virginia holds a slight edge over BYU on the conference's preference list if the league loses Missouri. But the source was quick to say that it was a fluid situation and the order could change quickly.

The source said the league is more inclined to go to 10 in the short term -- the membership number for this season -- while it assesses the pros and cons of 10 vs. 12 teams.

Louisville is a close third behind West Virginia and BYU, with Cincinnati the fourth choice, according to the source.

Chuck Neinas, the Big 12 interim commissioner, noted that its board of directors has a regularly scheduled meeting in Irving, Texas, on Monday and "conference membership will be thoroughly discussed at that time."

"We look forward to discussing Missouri's future with the Big 12 Conference," he said in a statement. He declined to comment further when reached by telephone.

The league already has lost Nebraska (Big Ten) and Colorado (Pac-12) and will lose Texas A&M to the SEC next year, when TCU joins. Losing Missouri would leave the league with nine teams, while the SEC will have 13 once the Aggies join.

Deaton said the conference's stability has been a significant concern with the departures of the three schools.

"Those actions, I think, in a sense, speak for themselves," he said. "They're part of the environment that we're recognizing and evaluating as we go forward."

Missouri also directed Deaton to try to set up a holiday basketball tournament and an 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.

The move also is designed to blunt concerns that the Big 12 won't have a reason to continue holding its basketball championship tournament in Kansas City or schedule a Kansas-Missouri football game there if Missouri bolts the Big 12.

"Should this decision lead to our departure from the Big 12, this board is committed to doing what we can to preserve the rich tradition and heritage that is very important to us here," curators chairman Warren Erdman said.

Ed McKechnie, chairman of the Kansas Board of Regents, which governs both the University of Kansas and Kansas State, said Missouri's departure from the Big 12 would be "a massive blow" to the area. He said it would be difficult to keep the basketball tournament in Kansas City if Missouri left.

"The traditions surrounding the Big 12 tournament are a big deal," McKechnie said. "I believe the Big 12 is the right place for KU and K-State."

Kansas athletic director Sheahon Zenger called Kansas-Missouri a great rivalry but didn't commit to any sort of plan for the future.

"The University of Kansas is a great Midwestern school, loyal to our Midwestern conference and to our Midwestern roots," Zenger said. "The KU-Missouri rivalry belongs in the Big 12 Conference. Should Missouri decide to leave the Big 12, we would wish them well."

Kansas men's basketball coach Bill Self said the Tigers' focus shouldn't be on their rivalry with the Jayhawks, saying "there are bigger decisions to be made."

"I haven't said we won't play them and I haven't said we would," Self said, talking about if Missouri left the Big 12. "I don't have any idea. We'll address that when it's time to address it. ...

"But I will say this," Self said. "My interest level would wane if they were no longer in our league.''

A big concern for Missouri is broadcast and cable television dollars, and in exploring a move to the SEC, the university is hoping to boost its revenue. An internal university document obtained recently by The Associated Press showed Missouri hopes to gain as much as $12 million annually in additional revenue in the SEC if other factors fall into place. The school could also face a hefty exit fee from the Big 12.

Earlier this month, the Big 12 endorsed a plan require schools to give up their most lucrative TV rights to the league for six years in return for equal sharing of the revenue.

The plan, if approved, would give each school an estimated $20 million in June. The figure is expected to grow by 2013 when the league's new 13-year contract with Fox Sports kicks in and the Big 12's television contract with ABC/ESPN expires in 2016 and could 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.

"This is a very complex transaction to consider," said curators chairman Warren Erdman. "We are taking our time to analyze all of the issues."

Erdman insisted that if Missouri leaves the Big 12, the curators are "committed to doing what we can to preserve the rich tradition and heritage that is very important to us here."

Missouri basketball guard Kim English said players don't care about the university's conference and that he's not losing any sleep over the possibility of not playing Kansas every year.

"It has nothing to do with players in general," English said. "I didn't come here just because it was the Big 12."

Information from The Associated Press and ESPN.com's Andy Katz and Dana O'Neil, and ESPN's Joe Schad and was used in this report.

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