What once were murmurs of University of Missouri interest in
joining the Big Ten Conference have grown distinctly audible.
A dozen prominent businessmen statewide have filed
incorporation papers to create, "MU - A National Asset."
Ostensibly, the non-profit organization aspires "to publicize the
role of the University of Missouri-Columbia as a national asset."
But the group - which includes non-MU graduates and, in
advisory roles, MU curators and administrators - are clear about a
more tangible immediate goal: To gain membership in the Big Ten.
"We want to be in a position to be prepared if the opportunity
arises," said Rich Carver, president of the Missouri Quarterback
Getting into position has meant gathering documentation of MU's
academic standing; commissioning a film touting MU's virtues;
informal discussions between Mizzou officials and officials at
various Big Ten schools; and attempting to arrange a luncheon with
Illinois president Stan Ikenberry on Sept. 11, the morning of MU's
opening football game with the Illini. Ikenberry, an associate of
MU president George Russell, played an instrumental role in Penn
State joining the Big Ten. He is unable to attend the game.
"All we're trying to do is protect ourselves for the future,"
said MU athletic director Dan Devine, who has attended several of
the group's four meetings in an ex-officio capacity. "We have to
protect Missouri first."
To protect Mizzou, then, chancellor Charles Kiesler rejected
last winter a Big Eight Conference suggestion that member schools
sign an agreement not to entertain proposals from other conferences.
"That would have violated the due diligence aspect of my job,"
Kiesler said, adding that it would have been irresponsible to
reduce MU's flexibility.
The signature solicitation was dropped, Kiesler said, when
several schools - believed to be Colorado and Nebraska - also
refused to sign.
The influential group is fascinated with the Big Ten because of
its academic prestige and its lucrative payouts from television and
Rose Bowl revenues. Members cite MU's geographical and
philosophical harmony with the conference, noting various academic
indexes and a report by The New York Times calling MU "a public
Ivy" League school.
But the reason most commonly given for the attraction is fear
of being left in the lurch by a domino effect should another school
leave the Big Eight.
Specifically, there are concerns that Colorado is pursuing
membership in the Pacific 10 Conference. And if Nebraska left,
perhaps for the Big Ten, some feel the Big Eight would be compelled
to align with a Southwest Conference, presumably diluted by the
loss of Texas, also to the Pac-10.
That set-up "would make you sick to your stomach," one member
Contrary to the group's perception, though, Colorado is
unlikely to be the first domino. After examining the Pac-10 last
year, CU officials determined that travel expenses and logistical
considerations made for a poor fit.
"That's been a dead issue for at least nine months," Colorado
spokesman Dave Plati said. …