MU, Illini extend deal for Braggin' Rights game

2012-10-19T00:10:00Z 2012-10-21T01:02:34Z MU, Illini extend deal for Braggin' Rights gameBY STU DURANDO • sdurando@post-dispatch.com > 314-340-8232 stltoday.com

Mizzou and Illinois officials were aware that last year's Braggin' Rights game marked the final year of the contract between the schools and Scottrade Center, but somehow discussion of renewing the series lapsed until the spring.

It wasn't a pressing concern largely because no one thought for a moment the two schools would end the relationship.

A few phone calls and a get-together in St. Louis assured that the Tigers and Illini will meet on the basketball court through at least 2017.

"I looked around in the spring and said, 'Oh, seriously, we just need to renew it,' " Mizzou athletics director Mike Alden said. "We'd done it for 31 years, and everyone just assumed it's been here so long it would continue to be here."

The schools and Scottrade announced Thursday a six-year deal that will maintain one of the country's most intense interconference rivalries.

The game has been played every year but one since 1980, with Illinois holding a 20-11 lead but with Mizzou riding a three-game winning streak entering this year's meeting Dec. 22.

"In an era of significant conference realignment, there is stability that this game will continue," Illinois athletics director Mike Thomas said. "There are examples out there where schools are being pulled apart. I don't think that's a concern or worry of ours."

The game has become noteworthy as a matchup that is televised by ESPN and typically includes at least one ranked team, if not two. Eight games have been played with both teams in the top 25, including the last two, and 16 have been played with one in the rankings.

Attendance has generally been strong with crowds of more than 22,000 from 1997 to 2006. A slight lull saw crowds dip to 19,586 in 2008, 20,497 in 2009 and 21,906 in 2010.

Some theories included an Illinois winning streak that reached nine games and poor economic conditions.

"My experience showed that for a couple of years the enthusiasm had waned," Alden said. "The building wasn't as energetic and we weren't seeing all the seats filled. Then, at whatever juncture, we saw it ratchet up again."

Both teams have been ranked for the last two meetings, and the games have gone down to the final minute.

Besides Alden, this year's game will feature relative newcomers as far as administrators and coaches. Thomas is in his second year overseeing athletics at Illinois. Mizzou coach Frank Haith has witnessed one Braggin' Rights game, and Illinois coach John Groce has only seen them on TV.

"I had a talk with Kim English before I got the job, and he talked about this game," Haith said. "It is one of the great events in terms of experiences for me in all of college basketball."

Contracts for the series have typically run for five years, Alden said, adding that six years seemed right this time.

"For us, it could have been 60," he said.

Thomas concurred. As athletics director at Cincinnati for several years, he was involved in an intense cross-city rivalry with Xavier. He understands the value of such games.

"This is the best thing I've observed or been a part of in college basketball from a rivalry standpoint," he said.

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