MU vows to leave Big 12 next year

2011-12-15T00:20:00Z 2011-12-15T13:32:10Z MU vows to leave Big 12 next yearBY VAHE GREGORIAN stltoday.com
December 15, 2011 12:20 am  • 

COLUMBIA, Mo. — Even as the Big 12 continues behind the scenes to resist Mizzou's move to the Southeastern Conference for next year, the SEC next week will announce its 2012 football schedule with MU as part of it, athletics director Mike Alden said Wednesday.

While MU still is negotiating exit fees and grappling over the timetable with the Big 12, Alden and Missouri Chancellor Brady Deaton said that MU is bent on a 2012 move despite the Big 12's concerns about whether West Virginia can replace MU by next year.

"We're going to the SEC (next year) regardless," said Deaton, who noted Mizzou's stated desire to move to the SEC in 2012 had come after "phone calls of assurance from the Big 12 commissioner and (chairman) of the board that it was OK to do that from their standpoint.

"We then later on got a call that said ... we're not sure about this, that, and the other, because we're not sure (about West Virginia's timetable)."

At which point Deaton recalled saying, "'Look, you've set things in motion, we've set things in motion. We're

continuing down this pathway, and we feel certainly within our rights to do that according to (Big 12) bylaws.' "

The final chapter reflects a broader disconnect with the Big 12 that drove MU out behind Colorado, Nebraska and Texas A&M.

In Deaton's first extensive explanation of the move and its implications since the announcement Nov. 6, he peeled back fresh details of the process that compelled Mizzou to break off from a core conference affiliation it's had for more than a century to join a league that has never lost a member and probably will distribute several million dollars more a year to MU athletics but be an enormous competitive challenge.

Speaking with a handful of reporters who had been requesting an interview, Deaton acknowledged that the tipping point for change was a Sept. 2 outburst by Oklahoma president David Boren about OU being active in realignment talks.

That came only days after Big 12 leaders had "re-upped" their affirmations to stay together in the wake of Texas A&M becoming the third school to announce its departure in just over a year, Deaton said.

And it was only days after Deaton, then chairman of the conference, traveled Aug. 28 with Boren to College Station to make a last stand to keep A&M.

On that trip, Deaton remembered thinking, "Hey, we can make this thing work out. We might even be able to talk A&M into coming back. We knew we had some other prospects (to join the Big 12), so everything was still gung-ho."

But Boren's statements, a precursor to OU and others flirting with the Pac-12, stunned Deaton.

If OU, Oklahoma State, Texas and Texas Tech, the others who became involved in trying to engage the Pac-12, left, the "Big 12" would have been down to five.

With a laugh, Deaton said, "I think there was some negative term that we'd been labeled at that time: 'The Forgotten Five,' I think it was."

So when Deaton and Alden met at Faurot Field during the Sept. 3 game between Missouri and Miami (Ohio), Deaton said the gist of the conversation was, "What in God's name are we going to do?"

To Deaton, the options were trying to repopulate the Big 12, joining a different conference with a few or all of the other "Forgotten Five" or finding a new home just for Mizzou.

One point soon was evident, though.

Even when the mass angling for the Pac-12 fell through on Sept. 20 when that league said it wouldn't expand, even as the Big 12 seemed to be enacting reforms that Mizzou would favor, MU simply had lost faith in its future.

"It was clear that every move we were making was a struggle, and an uncertain one, that was sowing potential seeds of dissension from school to school," Deaton said. "It was sort of like you were sitting there saying, 'OK, who's going to be the next one to say they're going here, there or elsewhere because of one of these little glitches that are occurring in the discussion process?' "

Asked about the perception of some that MU had helped destabilize the league in 2010 with its interest in the Big Ten, Deaton called that "a stretch" because the issues within ran much deeper than public comments.

With the spirits of cooperation, commitment and even honesty no longer assured by September in the Big 12, Deaton said, "So for us the question was do we continue to struggle? Do we continue to try to be the good citizens that we think we have tried to be all along, knowing that in spite of our absolute best efforts four institutions or more are willing to just fly off and try out something different?

"And it was clear, we thought, certainly, it was going to happen again at the next opportunity that arose."

Soon thereafter - the timeline remains fuzzy and not necessarily in the following order - Deaton resigned Oct. 4 as chairman of the Big 12 board after a meeting of the MU system Board of Curators in St. Louis.

"I could not continue," he said. "Up to that point, I had been absolutely committed and doing everything I knew to do to try to hold the Big 12 together."

At that meeting, Deaton also was empowered to explore options for MU and called Florida president Bernie Machen, chairman of the SEC board and a Webster Groves native.

"I called Bernie to ... try to get a sense of how they felt about the University of Missouri and told him that we were considering the possibility of applying," said Deaton, adding that he'd informally had "at least a years-long conversation with (Machen) about what was happening at Florida and the SEC. (And) he knew what was happening in the Big 12 and some other conferences."

In mid-October at the annual meetings of the distinguished Association of American Universities in Washington, Deaton and Machen made a point of sitting together during a group dinner and continued the discussion.

Machen, Deaton said, "made a point of emphasizing that no decision can be made until it's voted on by the members of the SEC, and they can only vote if there's an application in front of them. So there was never a promise made beyond that.

"And yet in talking to him and others, we had a sense that we were viewed as a very favorable candidate."

While Deaton said the impetus for making a change was multiple issues on the table "that weren't going to be resolved," he said the decision was in some ways head over heart and not a "sudden knee-jerk" move.

"You give that up," he said. "You give that up because you're looking 50 to 100 years down the road, you've got to make the kinds of decisions that will lead to strong foundations for this university."


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