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MU's decision on SEC looms

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Missouri Board of Curators authorizes chancellor to shop conferences

University of Missouri Chancellor Brady Deaton speaks at a news conference Oct. 4 as Athletics Director Mike Alden listens at right. (Robert Cohen /

When the University of Missouri Board of Curators convenes today and Friday in Kansas City, it almost certainly will be deliberating and probably voting about whether MU should pursue membership in the perennially powerful Southeastern Conference or stay put in a Big 12 of indeterminate long-term prospects.

The Board's actions probably will be done after feedback from Mizzou chancellor Brady Deaton And it's not just Mizzou's future that's in the balance.

Not since climatologist Iben Browning predicted a major earthquake in New Madrid in 1990 has the state of Missouri stood as the potential epicenter of such far-flung proportions.

If MU ultimately opts to apply for membership in the SEC, a move it logically would make only with behind-the-scenes assurances in the affirmative, it instantly transforms the SEC and the Big 12, which would seek to add at least one more school and possibly three.

One or more of those could come from the beleaguered Big East, which in turn could try to make even more sweeping moves to expand, or repopulate, as the case may be.

And on the ripples would flow, with no clear line of demarcation.

If Mizzou does stay, it would at least momentarily stabilize the trembling landscape. But whether it would stabilize Mizzou's future is the crux of the matter in this intercollegiate version of risk assessment:

Is the apparent peace and progress of the moment in the Big 12 to be counted on this time, or just another lull before an inevitable eruption?

That question goes beyond the measures put to votes in recent weeks, votes from which MU abstained as it sought to keep its options open, to a core issue.

Can MU count on Texas and ESPN to not keep trying to pull fast ones at every turn, as they have with the Longhorn Network before being forced to back down?

Will Oklahoma president David Boren again spontaneously feel the need to thump his chest about OU's options, and then seek to explore them, just as things are settling down?

All precedent suggests there is no logical way to consistently count on those two most influential Big 12 members to look out for the greater good unless they are forced to without attractive alternatives.

The SEC, meanwhile, appears to offer just the opposite, a league whose members seem to fall in behind its trusted commissioner, Mike Slive, a league that will stand the test of time and figures to be better rewarded in future television contracts than others for its greatest asset: dominant football.

The conference has produced the last five national champions and the two teams atop the BCS standings now, both a point of attraction and concern for MU.

The Tigers would be in the bottom third of the conference in terms of budget and facilities and, it might follow, in the standings.

It's tantamount to treason to some MU fans to even suggest that would be a concern.

But if MU officials don't have a plan for how to enhance fundraising for adding seats and amenities to Faurot Field or ways in mind to raise the recruiting budget dramatically — among many other increased investments it would need to compete — such a move could prove regrettable.

All of this and more is for the curators to process and reconcile, and to some degree they already have by empowering Deaton two weeks ago to explore options. "Options" was singular: the SEC.

Two days later, Mizzou abstained from voting on adding Texas Christian as a Big 12 member and on a measure that would kick in equal revenue sharing for television and cable rights with a severe punishment for any school that leaves in the next six years, perhaps longer.

It's been believed since early last week that MU was on a 10-day to two-week time frame to take the next step, and the curators meetings fall just under that.

The New York Times this week quoted a source with direct knowledge of the situation as saying MU's decision to apply for membership in the SEC is "inevitable and imminent."

Two closed sessions are scheduled, one at 3:45 p.m. today and another at 10 a.m. Friday.

While it's widely thought that one or both will involve discussion about realignment, university officials are giving no such signals.

"I have no official information that athletic conference realignment will be discussed this week, nor do I have any information concerning a possible announcement or of the time frame for any announcement," said Mary Jo Banken, executive director of the MU news bureau. "If and when any such announcement would be made, our office would release the official information."

Multiple sources have indicated for weeks that if MU moves in that direction, it would follow the template used by Texas A&M.

A&M moved in stages, first announcing it would explore options, then seeking a clarification of the process to be followed it if chooses to leave, and so forth.

Legal complications and concerns held up A&M's move, which took about six weeks from start to finish. The SEC still remains concerned about such wrangling, but no stop signs have emerged to thwart MU's candidacy, either.

Perhaps conveniently for announcement purposes, if all moves that way, Mizzou plays at Texas A&M next week.

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