Darren Hellwege, sports commentator
KBIA’s Darren Hellwege is still sad about the potential move of the Missouri Tigers to the Southeastern Conference, but today will stand up to those who think the potential move will be a disaster for MU football.
As Mizzou fans appear to be on the verge of wild celebration with the expected announcement that the Tigers are joining the Southeastern Conference, they should be aware of the feelings of much of the rest of the sporting world, especially in Big 12 Country. I heard this a lot last week at the Big 12 Media Days and it continues to pop up nearly everywhere I look. The basic upshot of their message?
Mizzou’s going to get creamed in the SEC. They won’t even be able to compete in football.
For example, The Daily Oklahoman’s Berry Tramel said Mizzou’s best days as a program have come in the Big 12 days. He implies that MU’s recent spate of football success has come only because they’ve played in the Big 12 North at a time when Nebraska went through their recent swoon.
The website MrSEC.com was more direct, saying, “many fans are bemoaning the fact that the SEC might be adding a team that they perceive to be a cupcake.” Many at Media Days feel the same way, that Missouri’s fine in comparison to Kansas and Iowa State, but not ready for the biggest stage in college football.
Now, there’s expected to be anger towards the decision at the curator’s meeting for two reasons. First off, the economy of Kansas City will lose millions of dollars, as the Big 12 basketball tournament will almost certainly be lost, probably to Dallas or Oklahoma City. Kansas City also loses the popular MU-KU football match up in Arrowhead Stadium. But of equal importance in Kansas City is that the region is almost equally divided between Mizzou fans and those who, because of allegiance to Kansas or Kansas State, really hate MU a lot. So, I wasn’t surprised to hear listeners on radio station 610Sports calling in, talking about how Mizzou was going to be “slaughtered” or “destroyed” or enter your own adjective implying road kill.
But whether it’s professional reporters like Tramel or talk radio knuckleheads, there is a lot of thought out there that Mizzou, in joining America’s best football conference, is getting in over its head.
I think they’re absolutely wrong.
Mizzou’s been very competitive in the Big 12. And whether SEC fans want to admit it or not the SEC, while better, is not that much better. This year, there are two teams in the top five out of the SEC. And two from the Big 12. Both leagues have very good teams at that next level, from Baylor to Kansas State on the one hand; Arkansas and South Carolina on the other. Texas Tech compares favorably to Kentucky, a pretty regular mid-level bowl team in recent years. Texas is one of those mid-range teams, but will probably be back in the top ten pretty soon. One imagines the same could be said of Florida. And then you have the dregs, whether Iowa State or Vanderbilt.
Actually there are no schools in the Big 12 historically as bad as Vanderbilt. How to measure historical greatness is a tricky thing. Vandy’s been to only four bowl games ever. But Mississippi State’s only been to 14, Kentucky to 15, and South Carolina just 16. Only Iowa State and Kansas have been to fewer than 14 among the teams of the Big 12, and the team that has just 14 bids in the Big 12 is Kansas State, which nobody’s thinking of as a bad program now.
Now, let’s look at the Tigers’ historical record against the SEC teams:
- Alabama: Missouri leads 2-1 including a 35-10 Tiger win in the 1968 Gator Bowl.
- Arkansas: Missouri leads 3-2 with the highlight being the Tigers waxing the Hogs in the 2008 Cotton Bowl.
- Auburn: Has only faced Mizzou once, Missouri’s 34-17 win in the ’73 Sun Bowl.
- Florida: Similarly, the only time the Tigers have played Florida was the ’66 Sugar Bowl, won by Missouri 20-18.
- Georgia: Ended MU’s 1959 season by beating the Tigers 14-0 in the 1960 Orange Bowl. (Mizzou would be undefeated the next year.)
- Kentucky: It might surprise you to learn that Kentucky has a winning record against Mizzou, 2-1. They last played in 1968 in Lexington.
- Louisiana State: LSU and Mizzou battled in the 1978 Liberty Bowl, a 20-15 Missouri win. The 15th ranked Tigers featured two all-time greats in QB Phil Bradley and tight end Kellen Winslow.
- Mississippi: The Tigers hold a 5-1 advantage over Ole Miss, beating the Rebels twice in recent years, 2006 in Columbia and ’07 in Oxford.
- Mississippi State : Missouri has beaten the Bulldogs both times the teams have played, both in the 1980s.
- South Carolina : The Tigers have a similar 2-0 lead over South Carolina, beating the Gamecocks in the ’79 Hall of Fame Bowl and that memorable 2005 Independence Bowl.
- Vanderbilt : Missouri has a 2-1-1 record against Vanderbilt, though with the two wins coming in 1895 and 1896 they’re not quite as well-remembered by fans. They tied 7-7 in Columbia during Frank Broyles one season at MU, 1957.
That makes the record versus current SEC teams 20-8-1. Not bad. And if you want to add the newest member to be of the SEC, Texas A&M, the record slips to 24-15-1, but that only shows the strength of the Big 12 Mizzou’s played in.
Now you might say, “yeah, but that’s the past, not the present,” and you’d be correct. What Missouri was able to do with the Commodores back in 1896 is about as relevant as which team has better looking uniforms. Yes, times do change. And that’s a point those on the “Mizzou can’t win in the SEC” bandwagon are ignoring. Don’t judge what Missouri is now against the SEC. Judge what Missouri will BECOME against the SEC.
This move will raise Missouri’s profile, lead to getting better recruits and it will add about $12 million in annual athletic revenue, according to a study reported by the Associated Press. The immediate result of which will have Mizzou still near the bottom of the SEC, but at least closer to the middle of the pack, quite a bit ahead of Vanderbilt and the schools in Mississippi.
But all of that will change and grow in time. With a tip of the cap to Joe Castiglione who laid the groundwork for the modern athletic department of MU, there’s no doubt Mike Alden’s led to remarkable growth at the school, growth it’s reasonable to expect will continue with this move. Indications are that the big-dollar donors overwhelmingly favor the move, and if it happens, it’s a safe bet they’re not going to allow Missouri to be a weak sister in the league. Upward momentum will continue.
Mizzou might not ever be in the same league with Alabama fiscally, but they’ll probably also not ever match up with Texas and Oklahoma. On the football field and in the financial ledger, there are plenty of reasons to think that Missouri can challenge in the SEC right now.
With continued growth, Missouri has every reason to expect real success in the Southeastern Conference. The Tigers are ready today to take on America’s greatest football conference, and tomorrow may be even more ready. The best attitude to take is the one that Berry Tramel used in his column: “Conference decisions can’t be made on short-term success or failure. A long view is required.”
In the long view, those thinking MU is in over its head in the Southeastern Conference are simply wrong. Bring on the SEC. Mizzou’s ready.