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Relief reigns at Missouri with Big 12's survival
COLUMBIA, Mo. -- The historic rivalry with neighboring Kansas remains intact. Conference TV revenue is expected to soar. And the imminent departure of Nebraska and Colorado means a tougher basketball league top to bottom.
The Big 12's survival after its dance with dissolution would appear to be cause for celebration at Missouri, which was in danger of being an unwanted spectator in the high-stakes game of conference musical chairs.
But with Missouri's hopes to join the Big Ten seemingly foiled, the celebration in Columbia is both muted and tinged with a case of what-ifs.
"I think a lot of people were nervous about this process," said Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon, an avid Tigers fan. "We're in the process of landing in a very comfortable place in which we have traditional rivalries, a lot more money and opportunity for a national stage for our student-athletes."
Still, Nixon couldn't resist taking a shot at the two schools scheduled to leave the conference for the Big Ten (Nebraska) and Pac-10 (Colorado) over the next two years.
He called those schools the league's "two weakest basketball programs" while noting that the remaining Big 12 schools could have a better shot of making the NCAA basketball tournament. Nixon said poor win-loss records and weaker schedules by Nebraska and Colorado were dragging down the rankings of other Big 12 schools.
Nixon has been among the most vocal advocates for a Missouri move to the Big Ten, citing what he called its stronger academic profile while singling out several Big 12 schools by name.
Nebraska chancellor Harvey Perlman cited those comments (along with more diplomatic statements from school administrators that tacitly acknowledged interest in the Big Ten) as among the factors that left the Big 12 on the brink of collapse.
Public criticism toward Missouri continued to flow Tuesday, even as school officials released their latest statement of support for the conference, with chancellor Brady Deaton calling the Big 12 "rich with tradition and even greater promise" and comprised of "outstanding institutions, both academically and athletically."
Deaton elaborated on that commitment at a news conference later in the day, saying Missouri is committed to the Big 12 "for the foreseeable future."
"We're in this for the long haul," he said. "We're not anticipating any discussions with other conferences."
Oklahoma State alumnus and billionaire booster T. Boone Pickens -- who also is a generous Texas donor -- said that he'd "rather have Missouri if they want to be in the conference."
But he added, if school leaders "are going to complain all the time, they should go someplace else."
Deaton and Missouri athletics director Mike Alden regularly have raised concerns about a conference revenue-sharing formula that rewards more money to schools based on national TV appearances.
Losing two teams means fewer mouths to feed when it comes to splitting Big 12 television revenue, which for Missouri meant $12.25 million in 2008-09.
Big 12 commissioner Dan Beebe said that the conference has not reached a new TV deal but indicated that preliminary negotiations with both Fox Sports and ESPN could mean sizable increases for all Big 12 schools.
Beebe also said that Missouri, Kansas, Kansas State, Baylor and Iowa State agreed to abandon their stake in any buyout penalties paid by the two departing schools as incentive to keep Texas and four other Big 12 South schools from bolting for the Pac-10.
Both Alden and Deaton disputed that account, saying Missouri has not agreed to give up its share of the buyout penalties.
"There are no concessions," Alden said.
A 10-team Big 12 likely means football games every year against national powers Texas and Oklahoma rather than in alternate years.
Barring any changes, it also means an end to the Big 12 football championship game, since NCAA rules require a minimum of 12 teams for postseason contests.
Columbia pet store owner Chuck Everitt, a former president of the Tiger Quarterback Club, cares little about the financial ramifications of remaining in the Big 12.
He's just eager for Missouri sports to stick to generating headlines on the football field and basketball court, and thankful that an athletics rivalry with Kansas that dates to the 19th century and has roots in the Civil War will continue.
He even shared a bit of grudging respect toward the hated Jayhawks, comparing the potential loss of Missouri's foil to a death in the family or a traumatic divorce.
"It would have been like losing your best friend, or your wife," he said.