Lack of Big Ten invite worries Missouri
COLUMBIA, Mo. — A University of Missouri curator said Thursday that the school has not been invited to join the Big Ten Conference, an acknowledgment made as the school's conference fights for its survival.
Curator Warren Erdman told The Associated Press that Missouri had not been asked to join the Big Ten. Erdman noted that he had been out of state the past week but wasn't aware of any change in the situation. He said the curators did not discuss conference affiliation during a closed-door morning meeting.
The Board of Curators meeting, which continues Friday, comes amid reports that Nebraska will leave the Big 12 and announce its move to the Big Ten on Friday. And the Pac-10 announced Thursday that Colorado, like Missouri and Nebraska a member of the Big 12 North division, is leaving to join the West Coast-based league.
The loss of those two schools — and possibly more as the Pac-10 reportedly considers taking five of the six Big 12 South members — could spell the end of the 14-year-old league.
That would leave Missouri joining Baylor, Iowa State, Kansas and Kansas State on the sidelines, scrambling to salvage a process that school leaders hoped would result in an upgrade rather than awaiting an invitation that may never come.
Such a scenario seemed unlikely as recently as several weeks ago, when Missouri supporters proudly touted the school's academic strength, geographic proximity and existing rivalry with Big Ten member Illinois as obvious draws.
"Anything could happen, but we're working hard to stay together," said Missouri chancellor Brady Deaton, who added that he had called Texas president William Powers to discuss the conference's future after learning of Colorado's exodus.
Judy Haggard, chairwoman of the Missouri governing board, suggested that Missouri's fate remains unclear.
"It's too soon to say," she said before the closed meeting. "We're going to be getting a lot of information these next two days."
Despite repeated references by school officials to a carefully crafted statement pledging loyalty to the Big 12, Missouri seemed more than ready to join an expanded Big Ten should an offer have been made.
Missouri now finds itself on the outside looking in — and Tiger fans are starting to worry.
"There's a lot of concern among alumni about what happens to Mizzou and how this works out," said Todd McCubbin, executive director of the Missouri Alumni Association.
Quinn Schortal, a 28-year old project engineer and a 2005 Missouri graduate, said he would welcome a move to the Big Ten.
"The way this is being reported now I'm afraid they're going to be left out in the cold," he said. "They might have burned their bridges (with the Big 12)."
Missouri curators were scheduled to meet in additional closed-door sessions on Thursday and Friday afternoon. Haggard confirmed that the 10 curators, who are political appointees, plan to discuss conference affiliation at some point.
The Big Ten announced late last year it is considering adding at least one school, and possibly more, to add a league championship game in football and broaden the reach of its cable television network.
Commissioner Jim Delany has said the conference planned to wait until later this year or even 2011 before deciding whether to add more schools. That timetable may have been accelerated, though, with Missouri and Nebraska reportedly facing an imminent deadline to affirm their commitment to the Big 12.
Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon, who has previously suggested that a move to the Big Ten would benefit Missouri, on Thursday urged school leaders and fans to remain calm.
"This is not something we should be operating for an ultimatum or some really short timeframe," he said. "It's a big decision, and if the Big 10 wants to begin these discussions with the university then the university should listen."
Earlier in the week, University of Missouri system President Gary Forsee said that he and curators would not publicly discuss the fate of Tiger athletics at the board meeting.
Asked Thursday afternoon if that stance would change, Forsee shook his head vigorously and said, "No."