While the Big 12 enters another tumultuous realignment, should Missouri have stayed in the Big 12?
Short answer? No.
Longer answer? If Texas and Oklahoma left the Big 12 in 2010, instead of Colorado and Nebraska, the 2021 Big 12 might be a good situation for Missouri.
The saga of the Big 12 realignment in the 2010s is one many fans would love to know every last detail. In less than two years, Colorado, Nebraska, Texas A&M, and Missouri left the Big 12. The latter both left for the greener pastures of the SEC while Colorado joined the Pac-10 and Nebraska joined the Big 10.
Why did this happen?
The details are long in length, but short in point; several former and current officials point to favoritism towards Texas as a catalyst for all four schools leaving. Oklahoma’s poor leadership was another contributing factor.
That is certainly a story for another time.
Today, the focus is on the hypothetical of should Missouri have stayed in the Big 12? As the conference stands right now, no. Missouri might be considered the first domino to fall in 2010. When the Big 10 announced to the college athletics world that they were looking to expand over time, Missouri was amongst the first schools to say that they would listen to an invite.
"“The University of Missouri has not been contacted by the Big Ten. Should there be an official inquiry or invitation, we would evaluate it based upon what would be in the best interest of MU athletically and academically.” – Brady Deaton, Chacellor, Univerity of Missouri to the Kansas City Star, 2009"
While this is hardly a statement of intent to join the conference, an original Big 8 school opening the door for realignment shook the Big 12’s foundations.
"I think the reason people have said that (Missouri is to blame) is because of the Big Ten thing, not the timeline of when they left for the SEC. They said they wanted out and once Missouri’s like, ‘Hey we’ll go to the Big Ten,’ now all of a sudden all bets are off and now Nebraska just starts fighting to get in line and everybody else started following suit.” – Doug Gottilieb"
Thus, the first domino.
Between that statement from the Big 10, nearly every conference in the country jockeyed for one or more Big 12 members to join their conference. In the beginning, the craziest realignment was reported by orangebloods.com, saying the Pac-10 would invite Texas, Texas A&M, Texas Tech, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, and Colorado to join the conference.
All in all, the realignment process was a whirlwind, one that saw Missouri being the last to leave for the SEC. While you can argue the last rivalry games outweigh the superior competition, there are some hard numbers you can not argue.
Missouri football: There’s more money in the SEC
Even in college sports, money talks.
The 2019 fiscal year was the last normal year of sports operations before the pandemic shut down live events and hindered the money-making aspect of college sports. That year, Missouri’s current conference generated $720.6 million, split amongst 13 schools. Mississippi did not receive a full revenue share due to its postseason ban.
An average school’s share of the revenue is more than $45.3 million. That share does not take into account several other forms of income, including ticket sales, merchandising, and individual schools’ marketing. In 2019, USA Today had Missouri as the poorest SEC athletics program, ranking 37th in the nation.
They still made nearly $107 million; an increase from the $91 million reported in 2017.
For a gauge, Mississippi was the next highest earner in the SEC, with more than $108 million. Missouri is not lagging too far behind the rest of the SEC, but few schools are catching financial powerhouse Texas A&M. Despite the on-field performance, the athletic program still raked in nearly $213 million.
Looking at the Big 12 in 2019, there is a huge difference. The Big 12 generated $439 million in revenue, resulting in an average share of $40.1 million. While the average share may not be a drastic difference, the bigger picture tells a different story.
If Missouri, with its current financials, was in the Big 12, it would be the fourth richest athletic program. The top three are Kansas (#29), Oklahoma (#8), and Texas (#1). The last place in the SEC still makes nearly $20 million more than the last place in the Big 12, which is Kansas State.
While the Big 12 stagnates financially and relies on big-name schools, like Texas and Oklahoma, to bring in the money, Missouri is sitting pretty in the SEC. The growth of nearly $20 million in two years is telling of the rocketing financial potential in SEC.
Missouri is better financially set in the SEC. In the present and in the future, the situation is a no-brainer.
Missouri football: Things are more competitive in the SEC
This point may be the hardest to quantify and one of the most hotly debated topics.
Since the BCS era ended and the playoff format began, a team’s competition is a major part of the case to make the playoffs. For example, the 2017 UCF Knights were undefeated yet received little attention as serious contenders. They may have proved their detractors wrong, going on the beat the Auburn Tigers in the Peach Bowl, but the championship shot as an undefeated team was already gone.
Going undefeated in a Power Five conference is more impressive than doing so in a Group of Five conferences. It is simply a fact.
Thus, competing in a better conference gets more eyes on you nationally and makes a team’s success all the more impressive. For example, compare the Big 12 to the SEC. The last football national champion from the Big 12 was Texas in 2005. Since then, an SEC school has won the national championship 11 times. That is a 73% clip, while the Big 12 has not won any since 2005. Missouri’s win in 2020 over then-defending champion LSU was the brightest spot in an otherwise mediocre year. When you are guaranteed to play against top teams, people are going to watch whether you win or lose.
While Missouri’s average SEC finish is a mediocre 7th, they did win the SEC Eastern Division in 2013 and 2014. Those mark the highest point of head coach Gary Pinkel’s SEC tenure, winning the Cotton Bowl in 2013 and then the Citrus Bowl in 2014.
While their strength of schedule is similar to their time in the Big 12, Missouri is in a better competitive conference with the SEC.
Who doesn’t like Southern hospitality?
Really though, many of the Big 12’s issues prior to Nebraska leaving were due to select schools trying to get more than others.
From a school like Texas or Oklahoma, it does make sense; they bring in the viewers and sell the most tickets, why shouldn’t they get a bigger piece of the pie? More than financials, having the championship games locations favor the Southern teams consistently showed favoritism towards select schools.
Following the controversial 2009 Big 12 Championship game between Nebraska and Texas, that opened the floodgates of bad blood and rifts between conference leaders. Greed and whispers could be to blame for the four schools leaving the Big 12.
While these feelings brewed, former Athletics Director Mike Alden described the mood within the SEC.
"“We were on a team that everybody was treated the same. We deserved that. Mizzou deserved that. That was not the case in the Big 12 and I would guess it’s still not the case…..Bernie Machen at Florida and, at the time, Mal Moore and everybody at Alabama, could they have dictated things? Absolutely. As big as they are? They’re saying we treat everybody, Vanderbilt, Arkansas, Mizzou, we treat everyone the same. So when you guys are in, full share. Even if that meant that other schools were going to take a little bit of a haircut, that didn’t matter. If we’re going to lose a million because we’ve got to cut Mizzou in and A&M full share the first year, got it. No problem. No problem Commissioner. I remember them saying that.”"
At the end of the day, for Missouri and Texas A&M, the SEC offered them a fair shake and an opportunity to leave a sinking ship. Both schools are better for it now.
The Big 12 and Missouri needed to break up. There was too much ill will between the two and the SEC offered Missouri a fresh start and fair shake.
The Missouri Tigers have nothing to regret about leaving the Big 12. Having the Border Wars with Kansas would be nice, or the palpable animosity whenever Missouri faced Oklahoma. Those wants are as a fan. As a school official or member of the program, the Tiers made the right move. That decision looks even better as Texas and Oklahoma formally look to join the SEC. Under head coach Eliah Drinkwitz, this program is heading in the right direction and they have little drama to worry about. It is all about football and all about the Tigers.