One of the worst-kept secrets in college sports is now official - the University of Missouri is leaving the Big 12 for the Southeastern Conference.
After weeks of rumors and very public flirtation, the school and the conference made it official on Sunday, as Mizzou leaves the conference it has been a part of for over a century for the promised riches of the SEC, officially starting on July 1, 2012.
“The Presidents and Chancellors of the Southeastern Conference are pleased to welcome the University of Missouri to the SEC,” said Dr. Bernie Machen, President of the SEC Presidents and Chancellors and president of the University of Florida in a statement. “The University of Missouri is a prestigious academic institution with a strong athletic tradition and a culture similar to our current institutions.”
"The decision by the University of Missouri to leave the Big 12 Conference is disappointing," said interim Big 12 Commissioner Chuck Neinas in a statement on Sunday. "I personally believe this
decision is a mistake and that Missouri is a better fit in the Big 12."
Late last month, a congratulatory announcement heralding Mizzou's move to the SEC was mistakenly posted on the SEC website. It was quickly taken down.
There is no word on how much the move to the SEC could cost the school in terms of a financial penalty for leaving the Big 12.
Mizzou had been a part of the Big 12, and previously the Big 8 and Big 6, since 1907. The move puts the school's annual rivalry with the University of Kansas in serious jeopardy. The rivalry, which has its roots in the border conflict of the Civil War, is the oldest football matchup west of the Mississippi River, starting in 1891.
“We’re sorry to see a century-old conference rivalry end," said KU chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little said in a statement on Sunday. "Missouri’s decision may have implications for fans and for the Kansas City area, but it won’t affect the long-term strength of the Big 12.”
The potential loss of the rivalry did not seem to bother some Mizzou fans on Sunday.
“It’s unfortunate but we are going to have a rivalry with teams like Alabama, Florida, Auburn so that will outweigh the KU eventually,” said MU grad Alex Nichols.
When the Missouri Board of Curators delegated authority to Chancellor Brady Deaton to explore the SEC deal, the board said it would like to have a game played at Arrowhead between the long-standing KU-MU rivals. However, some fans say that won’t happen because Mizzou dropped the ball by leaving the Big 12.
“They are games we look forward to every year and they’re just exciting to watch and it will really be sad to see it all go,” said sports fan Christina McDunnough.
The move could jeopardize the future of the Big 12 Basketball Tournament in Kansas City. The annual tournament brings in thousands of visitors each spring to games at the Sprint Center and Municipal Auditorium.
Rob Maloney, owner of The Brooksider - a popular hangout for metro Mizzou fans, says not having a basketball game at the Sprint Center may hurt businesses there, but he doesn’t believe the move to the SEC will be bad for business.
“We are not really going to be affected because we are a big Mizzou bar and even if they went to the Big East or the Big Ten we will still have the crowd that comes in here,” Maloney said.
Mizzou's move to the SEC comes after Texas A&M announced that they are bolting the Big 12 for the SEC earlier this summer. The move also comes a year after the University of Nebraska and the University of Colorado - both long-time Big 12 and Big 8 members - left the conference for the Big 10 and Pac-12 Conferences, respectively.
The Big 12 announced late last month that the University of West Virginia would be leaving the Big East Conference for the Big 12, giving the conference the necessary 10 teams needed to fulfill its television contract. However, the Big East is challenging the West Virginia move, leading to lawsuits by both the Big East and West Virginia.
There is no word on how that legal battle could affect the Big 12, or if it could impact MU's move to the SEC.