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Around the Columns

Settling into the SEC

In July 2012, the University of Missouri joins the Southeastern Conference, ending 105 years of membership in the Big 12 and its previous permutations. The conference switch is a first in Mizzou’s 122-year intercollegiate athletic history.

Since 2010, the Big 12 has seen Colorado, Nebraska and Texas A&M depart, while Texas, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Texas Tech have also investigated other conference options. Although the full ramifications of Mizzou’s realignment remain unknown, Chancellor Brady J. Deaton, Director of Athletics Mike Alden and the University of Missouri Board of Curators say they are confident they have made a solid, long-term decision for Mizzou.

 

sec conference map

Mizzou begins play in the East Division of the Southeastern Conference beginning July 2012.

The Southeastern Conference’s football prowess is legendary. On Jan. 9, 2012, Alabama beat division foe Louisiana State for the Bowl Championship Series title, marking the first time two teams from the same conference competed for the crown. When the Crimson Tide rolls into Columbia Oct. 13, Mizzou fans can expect a raucous, packed visitors section at Memorial Stadium.

For Missouri, the SEC gauntlet begins when Georgia visits Sept. 8. Alden has challenged Tiger fans to travel to away games, sell-out home games and make a good first impression to the visiting institutions.

“We are the Show-Me State,” says Alden, referring to the relationship between fan support and winning. “Our fan base has consistently said you have to show us that Mizzou is going to have an opportunity for success. Frankly, we have shown our fans an ability to do that in football, basketball, softball, volleyball, swimming and diving, wrestling and on and on. So this is an opportunity. We need to be going out and showing our new conference members who we are.”

Mizzou also will face increased recruiting competition, which has prompted plans to upgrade the sports complex. Alden has targeted the baseball, golf, football, softball and tennis facilities for improvements.

Deaton says the conference move is primarily athletic, though it could bring benefits beyond the playing field.

“As we associate with new people and new regions, faculty interaction feeds off that and can find new opportunities,” says Deaton. As examples, he points out expertise in marine biology at Florida and agriculture at Mississippi and Arkansas. “The Southeastern Conference is probably the most diverse in the nation. Not just language and people, but biological diversity. When you see that and you’re exposed to it, new things kick into motion.”

Deaton is also encouraged by Mizzou’s increased exposure in a thriving region of the country. Since the 2000 census, 13 southern states (Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia and West Virginia) accounted for nearly half of the nation’s population growth.

“I would expect that the visibility of the SEC would make Mizzou more attractive to students in the southeast,” he says. “I don’t think we lose anything from where we have traditionally been recruiting strongly in Texas or Chicago or Minneapolis; we recruit out of the Big Ten Conference very actively, and we’re not in the Big Ten.”

Alumni opposed to the move have bemoaned losing the football and basketball rivalry with Kansas. But MU administrators say Mizzou wants to forge a nonconference relationship with the longtime rival, despite KU’s reluctance.

“You give up [conference competition with the Jayhawks] because you’re looking 50 to 100 years down the road,” Deaton says. “You’ve got to make the kind of decisions that will lead to strong foundations for this university.”

For Alden, the move to the SEC means the bar has been raised.

“I like addressing challenges and seeing how we respond so that we can become an even stronger athletic program,” he says. “And, shoot, I’m looking forward to going to Gainesville and Tuscaloosa or Auburn or Columbia, South Carolina.”