Site said Mizzou in; SEC says not so fast

Updated: October 28, 2011, 6:52 PM ET
By Mark Schlabach | ESPN.com

SEC officials said Friday that the league's web vendor mistakenly published a news release Thursday night announcing Missouri as the conference's newest member.

Missouri officials are currently deciding whether to leave the Big 12 for the SEC. But, judging from the news release published on the SEC's website for a few minutes Thursday night, Missouri apparently already has made up its mind.

The news story on the SEC site had a release date of Oct. 31.

Should the move happen, the Tigers would become the conference's 14th member, joining Texas A&M in a leap from the Big 12. In September, the Aggies announced they will join the SEC in all sports during the 2012-13 school year.

[+] EnlargeSEC announcement
A cached version from Google of the Missouri-to-SEC announcement that the website host says was a draft and was never published to the site.

In an email to ESPN.com Friday morning, SEC spokesman Charles Bloom said: "Web vendor made mistake. No agreement between SEC and Missouri."

The SEC site's operator, XOS Digital Sports Network, said the "draft article" was discovered by a website user.

"There had been considerable speculation about the possibility that Missouri would join the Southeastern Conference, and the working draft, which was never published, was prepared so the article could be finalized and posted quickly should Missouri in fact join the SEC," XOS said in a statement. "The draft was not intended to be publicly available, but a website user was able to obtain it through the use of a new advanced search technology."

At SEC basketball media day Thursday in Hoover, Ala., conference commissioner Mike Slive said there was no "new news" to report regarding Missouri and possible SEC expansion.

But the news release on the SEC website may have let the cat out of the bag. It said: "Given the ever-changing conference paradigm over the past year, the Southeastern Conference has continued to demonstrate its commitment to maintaining its stature as one of the nation's premier conferences by welcoming the University of Missouri as the league's 14th member, Commissioner Mike Slive announced Monday.

"Missouri joins Texas A&M University as the league's two new institutions who will begin full membership on July 1, 2012. It is the first expansion of the SEC membership since Arkansas and South Carolina joined the conference in 1992."

The SEC website on Thursday night also included links to pages listing Missouri's SEC connections and its rich homecoming tradition.

The SEC webpage also included Q&A stories with CBS college football analyst Tony Barnhart and Blue Ribbon College Basketball Yearbook editor Chris Dortch. Barnhart and Dortch also work as compensated writers for the SEC site.

According to a person familiar with the situation, Barnhart and Dortch were asked to write the Q&A stories "in case Missouri became the SEC's 14th member."

In a Friday news release announcing the addition of West Virginia to the conference, the Big 12 said that "beginning with the 2012-13 season it is expected that the Big 12 Conference will be comprised of 10 Universities -- Baylor, Iowa State, Kansas, Kansas State, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, TCU, Texas, Texas Tech and West Virginia."

Missouri was not named in the release.

Big 12 interim commissioner Chuck Neinas declined to answer questions about Missouri during a conference call with reporters Friday.

"I think any questions regarding the University of Missouri should be directed to the University of Missouri," Neinas said. He said he had no information on a timeline for Missouri's decision on whether to stay in the Big 12.

Senior writer Mark Schlabach covers college football for ESPN.com. Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.

Mark Schlabach | email

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