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The uncertainty of the NCAA appeal and why fans should buy in anyway

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Missouri continues to impress as it waits for word on the NCAA appeal, which puts fans in a kind of holding pattern.

NCAA Football: Mississippi at Missouri Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

Unless you count the emotional toll of having to tie yourself to something and watch it fail time and time again, there’s almost no risk involved with getting invested in sports!

This is only half of a joke. For some, their cross to bear is caring far too much about round and oblong balls being carried this way and that by men and women wearing garishly-colored clothing. Sports mean quite a bit to quite a few people, either as an academic or physical pursuit or just as an activity which encourages relaxation and community engagement. For these, the investment would seem to be worth it, regardless of the various outcomes (mostly failure) their teams will see come to pass over the years.

Within this group, however, there is a segment of fans who also like to see themselves as highly pragmatic, no matter whether their self-assessment is correct or not. For these, the emotional investment of sports is good and worthwhile, but only when it doesn’t come at the expense of something else.

For example, this writer — despite a lifelong commitment to St. Louis Cardinals baseball — decided not to watch his team’s inevitable loss in Game 3 of the 2019 National League Championship Series. Yes, watching a win could’ve lifted my spirits. But I also knew spending several hours watching a loss would’ve been detrimental to both my productivity and my emotional state for the evening. While my investment to the team and series continues (in a severely dampened state), my evening went just fine without watching my team fall flat on its face on a national stage.

Some Missouri fans — I won’t say all or even most, because it wouldn’t represent the majority of people we interact with at Rock M Nation — face this very predicament with the 2019 team. While the Tigers are largely considered one of the country’s premier outfits and continue to rise in estimation, there still seems to be a fog hanging over the season. It’s a fog that smells oddly like bureaucracy with trace whiffs of horse manure.

As Missouri has racked up wins in the past two months, various rumors have spread across the internet about Missouri’s appeal of its grossly unfair NCAA sanctions. Some say the ruling will come down in days. Others say their sources haven’t indicated any timeline. Some say the university is feeling pessimistic. Others say they feel quite confident.

The problem with this isn’t necessarily the final ruling itself. Missouri seems destined to have a good-at-worst season without the prospect of heading to a bowl. Instead, the NCAA appeal ruling creates an awkward situation for fans who want to invest, but have little desire to see their hopes for postseason play disappointed.

You, oh dedicated one, may feel that this is an unfair way to approach the very concept of fandom. “Back the boys!” “Support your school!” “Other alliterative phrases!” However, fair or not, the approach is understandable. No one likes to be disappointed, least of all when they can prepare themselves for the emotional blow beforehand. With the NCAA’s well-chronicled history of inconsistency in delivering penalties, why would a Missouri fan, hoping for a great record and a good bowl — and maybe even the possibility of an SEC Championship Game — throw themselves head over heels into hoping when the fat-cat overlords in Indianapolis could dash those hopes in a matter of days?

Again, this is a perfectly reasonable way to approach sports. You may be criticized if you’re a purveyor of the, “cup ready,” approach, but don’t let anyone make you feel like your fandom is less valid than theirs. You may cry fewer tears when Missouri blows a multiple-touchdown lead in an inevitable, Biblical storm of frogs, but you’ll experience just as much joy when they eventually hopefully maybe see their names on those College Football Playoff graphics someday.

However, take this season as an opportunity to get in on some risk-free emotional investment. Say you choose to throw your lot in with the 2019 Missouri Tigers. At this point, the default position is to believe that there’s no postseason coming. Sure, the technicality of the appeal process says Mizzou is eligible until ruled otherwise. But any person who carries a healthy amount of skepticism will tell you that the NCAA is likely to rule against Missouri (for whatever godforsaken reasons they can concoct). Most fans are already looking at this season within the scope of a 12-game schedule, hoping the Tigers can make the NCAA look silly in their attempts to punish a team that had nothing to do with a wrongdoing that happened years ago.

Even better yet, what if you chose to put your chips in the middle and the NCAA ruled in Missouri’s favor? Then you’ve decided to back a team with a renewed sense of purpose and energy — a team that faces a conveniently stacked schedule in an SEC East division that is suddenly ripe for the taking. Your investment, made on the premise of a season with no postseason football, has just been rewarded ten-fold.

On top of all that, this is just a really fun team to watch. Full of both young players and old, ridiculous athletes and meticulous scheme talents, the 2019 Missouri Tigers are a team built for success by a coach who has fought for three years to build a program of which fans can be proud. Their offense is exciting, the defense is upstart and the special teams... well, there’s always something to create narrative tension, right?

So cast your inhibitions aside and get in on these Missouri Tigers. Worst case scenario, you watch a fun team play out its 12-game schedule by fighting for respect it’ll earn from everyone but the NCAA. And best-case? Maybe let’s wait until the NCAA speaks before we start dreaming too big.