University of Missouri Chancellor Brady Deaton should do everything possible to find an avenue from which to exit the Big 12.
The University of Missouri Board of Curators unanimously voted Tuesday to grant Deaton the power to explore conference alignment options. Deaton should use that power to do everything possible to lead his school to a conference with a more stable long-term future.
No matter how comfortable the flight was, passengers on the Hindenburg eventually started scrambling to find parachutes once the airship went up in flames. Deaton undoubtedly needs to find the Tigers a parachute as quickly as possible before the Big 12 is swallowed by flames of a burnt orange hue.
The Big 12's imminent collapse can be traced directly to the University of Texas' brief summer flirtation with the Pac-10 (soon to be named the Pac-12) after Colorado and Nebraska both agreed to leave the Big 12 last year. In order to woo Texas into staying in the conference, the Big 12 allowed Texas to keep the rights to operate its own local television station.
Acquiescing to Texas' television demands was intended as a panacea for the Big 12's woes, but the cure was short-lived. Texas' television rights delivered a kiss of death to the conference in January, when the university reached a 20-year deal with ESPN to launch a 24-hour, year-round television network of UT sports coverage.
The monolithic presence of the Longhorn Network opened Pandora's Box, and all hell broke loose in the conference as the start of college football season approached. Texas A&M entered a bizarre courtship with the SEC that ended in the Aggies' exodus from the Big 12.
With the Big 12 reduced to nine teams, the Pac-10 attempted to lure Texas, Oklahoma, Texas Tech and Oklahoma State to officially create college sports' first 16-team super-conference. The deal fell apart quickly, with the Pac-12 announcing it was no longer planning on expanding.
All eyes then fell on the University of Missouri and the possibility of the Tigers becoming the SEC's 14th team. At a September 22 press conference, Deaton announced the University was not leaving the Big 12, but was reluctant to offer any long-term commitment to the conference.
"Our primary responsibility is to our home institution," Deaton said. "The University of Missouri is going to continue to work with what is best for the University of Missouri."
Deaton was meticulously careful throughout the press conference to avoid expressing any explicit commitment to the Big 12. The unspoken message was that Missouri is staying with the Big 12, but only until a better opportunity arises.
The outcome of Tuesday's board of curators meeting makes Missouri's departure even more likely. Deaton resigned as the chairman of the Big 12's board of directors Tuesday to avoid a potential conflict of interest. Missouri is poised to deal a deathblow to the Big 12, and the conference deserves it.
The Big 12 bent over backwards to keep Texas last summer, and in doing so alienated the rest of the conference by allowing conditions that led to the Longhorn Network's creation. Fear of the Longhorn Network creating a recruiting and revenue advantage for Texas spurred Texas A&M to defect to the SEC, and Missouri is in position to follow A&M out of the Big 12.
From a football standpoint, Missouri wouldn't be as bad of a fit in the SEC as fans and analysts seem to think. The Tigers' run defense is stellar but the secondary struggles to contain Big 12 spread attacks. Missouri's defense would be better suited for playing in the SEC, where running is more of a priority and passing doesn't feature as many four- and five-wide formations.
On offense, coordinator David Yost would have to change some aspects of the playbook, especially when he got near the goal line. However, the emergence of running back Henry Josey and the running skills of quarterback James Franklin will make such an offensive transition very smooth. The Tigers would play much tougher opponents than normal, but would remain competitive.
In terms of basketball, Missouri would also easily survive a transition to the SEC. The level of competition in basketball in the SEC is nowhere near as tough as it is in the Big 12, and even the Tigers, who have faced turmoil in the basketball offseason, could easily compete for a SEC title.
Missouri could move to the SEC and remain competitive in both major revenue-producing sports. The Tigers don't need to fear being crushed if they leave the Big 12.
For a conference with a future currently contingent on Missouri's membership, the Big 12 hasn't placed anywhere near as much of a priority on keeping Missouri as it did Texas last year.
Columbia Daily Tribune reporter Dave Matter reported Tuesday the University of Missouri's Homecoming game against Iowa State will not be televised. The Big 12 offered to broadcast the game at either 11 a.m. or 6 p.m. on Fox College Sports, but Missouri declined in favor of starting at the traditional 1 p.m. start time, according to Matter.
The Big 12's inability to find room for Missouri's Homecoming game on the national Fox Sports Net instead of the regional Fox College Sports is inexplicable. The University of Missouri created the tradition of Homecoming, and is celebrating its 100th-ever Homecoming this year.
At such a sensitive time when Missouri holds the key to the entire Big 12's future, a conference that valued Missouri's membership would have done everything possible to accommodate such an enormous part of the school's history.
Interim Big 12 Commissioner Chuck Neinas has said the Big 12 wants to keep Missouri, but actions speak louder than words. If the Big 12 cannot even be bothered to televise the 100th anniversary of Missouri's first Homecoming, the conference doesn't want the Tigers' membership badly enough for Missouri to justify staying despite the turmoil.
The Big 12's failure to televise the 100th anniversary of Missouri's first Homecoming is exactly what Missouri football coach Gary Pinkel called the entire Big 12 realignment situation: embarrassing.
To stay in the Big 12 is to submit to embarrassment by association with a conference that cannot get its affairs in order. Deaton knows his school is better than that. It is time for Missouri to find a new conference.
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