Gordon: New era dawns for Mizzou sports

2012-06-27T11:46:00Z 2012-07-23T20:05:34Z Gordon: New era dawns for Mizzou sportsBY JEFF GORDON stltoday.com
June 27, 2012 11:46 am  • 

The planned University of Missouri stadium renovations may not dazzle the average Southeastern Conference football fan.

Memorial Stadium is currently the 10th-largest stadium in the SEC. An upper deck on the stadium’s east side will add general admission and club seating, pushing the capacity to 77,000.

Congratulations MU! When completed, the expanded stadium would rank ninth among SEC schools in seating capacity.

It will still seem cozy compared to Bryant-Denny Stadium at Alabama and Neyland Stadium at Tennessee. Those gridiron monoliths accommodate six-figure crowds on Saturdays.

But this progress IS a big deal for Mizzou. The $102 million sports facilities upgrade announced Tuesday — Stage One of a plan that could spawn $200 million in improvements over the next decade — will move the athletic department forward into the SEC mainstream.

And the SEC sets the standard for all of college sports, not just football.

Many boosters digging deep to help fund these improvements remember the bad old days, when a Kansas game during the disastrous Bob Stull Era might draw 30,000 fans on a November afternoon.

Many fans can remember when the Tigers labored in the shadows of college football. They recall MU slogging to a 10-10 tie with a terrible SMU team on Faurot Field. Nightmares of the "Norman Conquest," the 77-0 beating at Oklahoma, still haunt them.

They remember when MU wasn’t competitive in many secondary sports. For the longest time, this was a basketball school and not much else. It's no wonder Norm Stewart had the run of the place.

As Missouri athletic director Mike Alden often notes, the school quit building and upgrading sports facilities for the better part of two decades. Mizzou had to start over, almost from scratch.

The football program was particularly dilapidated. Years of mediocrity triggered attendance decline and booster attrition.

The hiring of Gary Pinkel changed all that. He transformed Mizzou into a perennial bowl team and occasional Big 12 contender.

Now the Tigers are taking on a far greater challenge. This fall they begin playing in the nation's toughest college sports conference.

The SEC won the football and basketball national titles during the previous school year along with six other NCAA championships.

To prosper in this new setting, MU must dramatically increase its sports budget. The SEC move guarantees bigger conference revenue shares down the road, but Mizzou must expand its self-generated revenue significantly.

That means bigger facilities, bigger crowds, bigger donations . . . bigger everything, really.

Missouri’s $56.4 million athletic budget for 2011-12 paled in comparison to what SEC schools like Tennessee ($103 million) and Florida ($98 million) were spending.

When the university fled the unstable Big 12 for the greener grass of the SEC, administrators believed Mizzou boosters would respond to the challenges the move created.

The officials did their part. The coaches stand ready to do their part, too. But to compete, they need better resources to get on the SEC competitive plane.

Members of the Kansas City Sports Trust got this process rolling with an epic $30 million donation.

All of the major MU sports will benefit from the improvements to come, but football will get the most help. One of the near-term goals is building a new indoor football practice facility and an additional weight training facility.

Down the road, a second stage stadium expansion could push seating past 80,000. The goal is to start growing now and keep growing as the school adapts to its daunting new environment.

The process is underway. If you support the SEC shift and want to buy tickets or make donations, Mizzou would love to hear from you.

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Jeff Gordon

This is the new home for STLtoday.com sports columnist Jeff Gordon. Here you'll find his columns on the Cards, Rams, Blues and more, plus his daily "Tipsheet" blog about who's in and who's out in the world of sports.

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