On Thursday morning, PowerMizzou’s Gabe Dearmond published a massive oral history of Missouri’s move from the Big 12 to the SEC. The tale begins in December 2009 (with the Big Ten announcing that it intended to expand) and finishes in the present day. It was a roller coaster ride for fans — as exemplified by plenty of Rock M Nation’s writing during MIZZOUEXPANSIONAPALOOZA™ 2010 and MIZZOUEXPANSIONAPALOOZA™ 2011 — and as this piece illustrates, it was no different for Mizzou administrators.
Dearmond spoke with former Mizzou chancellors Brady Deaton and R. Bowen Loftin, former athletic director Mike Alden, former head football coach Gary Pinkel, and plenty of others. This is a lengthy (and free!) read, and it is absolutely worth your attention. Once you’ve read it, come back here and we’ll talk about it.
Here are my five key takeaways from the piece:
1. “Texas” is a bad word. “DeLoss” is even worse.
ALDEN: “We were at one of these meetings and Dan Beebe was running it, there was all this tension in the room and Coach (Tom) Osborne was just so, he was always so class, I just loved being in meetings with him. He was very thoughtful. When all this was going on, there was one athletic director in particular, I can’t remember what school it was, but it’s in Austin. Anyhow, I heard a guy in that chair, he just started flipping out—flipping out is probably too strong a term, but he got pretty agitated, this person—and started dropping expletives about this and firing them kind of at us, at Mizzou, because Mizzou was rumored maybe the Big Ten is looking. And I was trying to be very professional. You know who stood up for me? For us? Tom Osborne.”
One running theme to basically every isolated interview was that Missouri administrators really, really didn’t like the way Texas attempting to run both the conference and the proceedings. It appears the Pac-10’s Larry Scott began to move on his “Pac-16” vision a while before the public caught on. It also appeared that Texas was making it known how interested it was in the idea, too.
This was the part of the narrative that always frustrated me the most at the time. Yes, governor Jay Nixon shot his mouth off about Big Ten academics (insulting a couple of Big 12 mates in the process), and yes, that was a silly thing to do.
(In this piece, he tries to justify it by saying that he was frustrated by Don Beebe’s attempts to tell him what he should say. I’m sure that was annoying. But Nixon still did not either help the process along or help Mizzou’s own public perceptions.)
But no actual Mizzou administrator did anything in public but toe the party line. Yes, fans (like Nixon, in this instance) were gung-ho in wanting to leave. So were some Nebraska fans. And Oklahoma fans. And Texas fans. And Texas A&M fans. And Colorado fans. But Nixon’s comments kicked off the narrative that “Mizzou started all of this.” Mizzou started nothing.
Behind closed doors, however, Deaton, Alden, and others were seething at the way leaders from “I can’t remember what school it was, but it’s in Austin” (of all of Alden’s strengths, sarcasm is not even slightly one of them) were trying to dominate the proceedings. And nearly seven years later, the annoyance from that has not completely dissipated.
2. OU president David Boren doesn’t have many fans either.
DEATON: “My governing was aggressive and positive and supportive of the Big 12 until we made the decision. We had had a board meeting and pledged support for the Big 12 across the board and then that evening [when Boren said that OU wasn’t “going to be a wallflower” in future realignment scenarios]…That really caught us by surprise. That was the turning point. Mike Alden and I got together and we said, ‘That’s enough.’ We then moved in the other direction. I immediately resigned as chair of the Big 12 so I could devote myself fully to the exploration...It was a very deliberate moment. Literally the next day I offered my resignation.”
After the first round of realignment ran its course in 2010, there was a bit of a tentative peace in place. Administrators from basically every school had looked around and weighed their options, but after Colorado and Nebraska left, the 10 others seemed to be convincing themselves that staying in a 10-team Big 12 was fine.
After the announced creation of the Longhorn Network, Texas A&M officially went into overdrive in its efforts to gather support for departure. (Plenty of admins and fans were frustrated long before then, but that seemed to be the official catalyst.) Deaton was among the Big 12ers who went to College Station to talk Loftin out of the move in August 2011.
A few weeks later, Mizzou was talking to the SEC itself. And Boren’s comments to the press seemed to crystallize a fear that Deaton and others already had.
3. The SEC does the dance.
The pieces about the SEC not wanting to look like a predator were pretty funny. “We’re happy to talk to you, but we can’t approach you. You have to approach us. But if you ask if we’re interested, we’ll probably say we are.” Reminds me of dating in high school.
4. The Big 12 Network was seen as a non-starter.
GOTTLIEB: “This kind of goes back to when the Big Ten Network was formed. The Big 12 did their own research and the research said the Longhorn Network might work, the Longhorn and Aggie Network will probably work, the Big 12 Network, there’s no appetite for it. Texas was not only always powerful, but became even more emboldened at that point. They were a dominant football program, they’re a dominant basketball program, at the time they were a dominant baseball program and at the time they were the only ones that could use their third tier rights and make more money than everybody else. Then everybody got jealous of the Big Ten Network, knowing the dollar figures that were being tossed around for what the Big Ten was supposed to make. That’s how a lot of this started. It’s like the secret that every Big 12 school has been told by the commissioner’s office, this is going back ten years ago or more, was there’s no appetite for a Big 12 Network.”
When these conversations come up, and fans from any number of schools go into “Blame Texas” mode, Texas fans/alums will respond by pointing out how hypocritical it was for people to complain about the creation of the Longhorn Network when explorations into a Big 12 Network weren’t very well-received. It’s a fair retort.
Granted, Doug Gottlieb’s quotes make it sound more like it was the Big 12 office tamping down any B12N thoughts, not the other schools themselves, but in 2007-08, nobody really knew if conference-specific networks would work. And by the time 2009-10 rolled around, apparently everybody had moved on. Still, if you’re a Texas fan, you probably have at least a little bit of reason to be miffed by this narrative.
5. No regrets.
No. Damn. Regrets. Whatsoever.
Seriously, go read the piece. It’s worth your time.