HOOVER, Ala. — Believe it or not, it's been almost 10 years since Mike Slive officially welcomed Mizzou to its new home in the Southeastern Conference during a reception at the student union on campus in CoMo.
The late SEC commissioner Slive, former Mizzou football coach Gary Pinkel, former Tigers athletics director Mike Alden, former Mizzou chancellor Brady Deaton, former SEC board of presidents chairman Bernie Machen and others intimately involved in the Tigers’ decision to depart the teetering Big 12 for the greener pastures of the SEC deserve a fresh round of applause right now.
If you were still wondering if Mizzou would ever come to regret, even just a little bit, its decision to hitch its wagon to the most powerful conference in college football, the answer arrived Wednesday afternoon in a report from the Houston Chronicle that shook college sports to its core. Conference realignment madness has returned. Now Texas and Oklahoma want to call the SEC home, too.
Cue groans. Understandably so. But don't tune out the sound the SEC is most likely to hear. It's a cash-register cha-ching. The SEC didn't become the richest by stiff-arming ways to get richer.
Texas A&M understandably hates the idea of sharing a conference with Texas again, and it had athletics director Ross Bjork working like heck to stop it here at SEC media days. The Aggies thought they were out from beneath the Longhorns once and for all. They probably thought wrong. Bjork's attempts to slow a fast-moving train were admirable, but don't just assume they will work.
Speaking of assumptions, I can't imagine everyone at Mizzou is thrilled with the development, but assumptions the Tigers will come out scratching and clawing are premature and perhaps inaccurate. Most of the prominent athletics department and academic leaders who were anti-Texas during the last great realignment debate have been replaced by newer hires who don't have nearly as much animosity toward the Longhorns. They're as likely to be good SEC soldiers as they are bitter Big 12 exes.
Second-year Tigers coach Eli Drinkwitz made the first public comments by a Mizzou representative on the matter late Wednesday night, shortly after arriving at the Wynfrey Hotel for SEC media days. He didn't protest. He turned it into a recruiting pitch, telling me he had been texting recruits he's competing with Texas and Oklahoma to sign, telling them even the Longhorns and Sooners want to come to the SEC. Drinkwitz continued that theme during his whirlwind of interviews Thursday, sounding open to the idea as long as the SEC wants to grow.
“I've been saying for years we’re the best conference in college football, and obviously those places want to join us," he said. "Maybe we were trendsetters, leaving the Big 12. And maybe that opened the door and gave them courage to try it, too. I don't know. But obviously, we’ve got a great commissioner, and I trust that he's going to do what's in the best interest of our conference. So, that's really up to him."
And then, a signature Drinkwitz zinger.
"I don't think it's going to change our schedule this year, but I am prepared for (executive associate commissioner) Mark Womack to put both Texas and OU on our schedule like he did last year with LSU and Alabama."
Even if Texas A&M and Mizzou did vote to block the addition of their old Big 12 foes, and again I'm not sure Mizzou would, there would still need to be two more "no" votes to stop the additions, according to SEC bylaws. Who else would say no? It takes 11 to say yes. Mizzou AD Jim Sterk declined to comment when reached by the Post-Dispatch on Thursday afternoon.
Common sense suggests that when two of the top college football brands in the nation tell a conference that does college football better than any other that they want to join the league, you figure out a way to make it happen and sort out the rest later. So, yes, I think there's a decent chance this goes down. For more evidence, see the fact that SEC Network, the league's official station, was cruising through potential divisions for the expanded SEC on Thursday morning. I would not be surprised if current SEC commissioner Greg Sankey and those making the decisions this time around make it happen with what turns out to be a near unanimous vote of the league’s current 14 teams.
None of the other stuff — such as the notion about an already established SEC school (like Texas A&M) being able to block a newcomer from the same state if it wishes, or the prediction of a political chess match designed to keep Oklahoma and Oklahoma State attached in a move — seems like enough to stop these wheels from turning if Texas and Oklahoma really want to join the SEC, and if the SEC really wants those big-splash additions along with the money created by becoming a 16-team super league.
If you are an Aggies fan grumbling over a potential reunion with Texas or a Mizzou fan sweating the Tigers' chances if the Longhorns and Sooners enter the league, take a moment to consider how bad of a spot your team would be in today if it did not take care of itself by leaving the Big 12 when it did.
Wondering how it might adjust to an oversized, even-more-competitive SEC is a spot West Virginia would love to be in today. Instead it is worrying about its league crumbling, wondering if another Power 5 conference might come calling, wondering what comes next.
Colorado, Nebraska, Texas A&M and Mizzou look brilliant for getting out of the Big 12 before the roof collapsed. If the Aggies and Tigers do have to once again become conference foes with the Longhorns and Sooners, it will now be as equals. No more Longhorn Network benefitting Texas at others' expense. No more unequal revenue splits. Heck, the Longhorns might even have to be called something other than "UT." In this league, that means Tennessee.
Maybe the Tigers, Longhorns, Sooners and Arkansas Razorbacks all wind up sharing a division. That's if the conference would even want to keep divisions. With the upcoming expansion of the College Football Playoff, that might not even be the best approach. It could be more valuable to pick a route that better highlights the league's top handful or so of teams instead of dividing the field in half with divisions.
These are the kind of discussions that will take place eventually if wheels keep turning, and that should be the expectation. But for now, how about taking a moment to assign a time of death on any what-if wonderings about the move Mizzou's leaders made to leave the Big 12 behind? As the 10-year anniversary approaches, switching to the SEC looks smarter by the day.