As rumored on Saturday, the University of Missouri was named the 14th member of the SEC on Sunday. Actually, rumors began to circulate when ESPN announced several weeks ago that the move of both Texas A&M and Missouri was ‘imminent.’
Over the past several weeks, there has been what I would characterize as a relatively tepid response to Mizzou’s inclusion into the SEC based on the articles, comments, and message boards that I’ve read recently.
Why the cold shoulder?
Perhaps it is because we already have two schools called ‘Tigers’ and one school in a town named Columbia.
More relevant, I would characterize the SEC’s fandom with a broad brush this way: We are probably the most provincial of all major conference fan bases.
Matt Hinton, better known as Dr Saturday, recently wrote that the SEC is “the most closely knit, self-reverential family in college sports.” You can decide whether that is a positive or negative.
Regardless, we are provincial, we are closely knit, and we are self-reverential. It explains a lot of the incredible traditions and atmosphere that infuse our football, which is second to none.
It also explains the wet rag of a response that we fans have offered our soon-to-be brethren.
Let’s have a look under the hood.
Geographical location seems to be a point of discussion and disdain. While defining the northwest corner of the new conference layout, Missouri isn’t all that ‘foreign.’ The state sits right on top of Arkansas and also borders Tennessee and Kentucky. And Columbia is further east than Fayetteville and College Station, and is essentially as far north as Lexington.
Now, if you want to play the Confederacy card, stop and have a read about Kentucky, one of the conference’s charter members. For that matter, a reading of the history of East Tennessee during the Civil War might surprise you.
Which brings up the ‘Southern-ness’ of our new family member. Missouri, as a product of its geographic location and history as a Border State, has both midwestern and southern cultural influences. The Ozarks aren’t southern-like? Barbeque, pie suppers, fiddle music, and (dare I bring it up) Branson?
Close enough. They’ll be just fine.
One overlooked advantage of having Mizzou is the town. With a population just barely over 100,000, Columbia doesn’t have the quaintness of some of the small SEC towns like Oxford and Auburn, but neither does Knoxville, Lexington, or the other Columbia. Nonetheless, Columbia-West is still is a ‘college town.’ It should be a helluva destination to visit for a game — the distance may be well worth it. A flourishing music scene, with some fine watering holes (including the now-famous Harpo’s Bar and Grill because of it’s receiving the uprooted goal posts after big victories), there will be plenty of amusements during the down time of waiting for game time.
Pretty girls? That will have to be settled in person.
How about tradition?
For starters, the University of Missouri was founded in 1839, making it the fifth oldest in the new 14-school SEC, behind Georgia, Tennessee, South Carolina, and Alabama (in chronological order). As an old school, they’ve been playing football for a very long time — since 1890. Their rivalry with Kansas, known as the Border War, is the second oldest rivalry in the nation, and the oldest west of the Mississippi. Of course, that cherished rivalry, at least in football, may be coming to a sad end. Look for Arkansas to be their new border war once Mizzou is placed in the same division as the Razorbacks (the Tigers are to be placed in the Eastern Division of the SEC for now).
But their most well-known source of tradition is that of homecoming — they invented it. Apparently, Mizzou in the very old days played Kansas on a neutral site. Their conference changed some rules, requiring games to be played on campus. Expecting low attendance, the Tigers coach appealed to the alumni to “come back home.” The huge response ushered in the Homecoming tradition to Missouri, which spread to other schools.
Regarding football, Missouri has been less than stellar in terms of conference championships. Their last was in 1969 (the old Big 8), and only 2 have been won since WWII. The Tigers recently lost to Oklahoma in the Big XII championship game (2007 and 2008).
The highest they’ve ever finished in the AP Poll was No. 4 in 2007, a year that saw the Tigers ranked No. 1 for a brief week or two, but fell short in November. In fact, Missouri claims only two team national titles — baseball in 1954 and indoor track and field in 1965. Of the 14 SEC schools, only Vandy (one) and Mississippi State (none) have less.
Missouri has been to 6 straight bowl games, and 28 overall. But perhaps most startling, Missouri is 20-8-1 all-time against current SEC teams (Tennessee and Mizzou have never played — 2012 will be the first-ever meeting between the Vols and the Tigers).
The Tigers play on campus at ‘Faurot Field at Memorial Stadium.’ It is a horseshoe-shaped stadium, with the horseshoe being completed by a grass berm upon which fans can sit with a general admission ticket. The famous block ‘M’ is in the middle of the berm, comprising painted white stones. Senior football players, after their final home game, take one of the rocks as a souvenir. Incoming freshman students, as part of welcoming activities, whitewash the rocks before every season.
The stadium has an official capacity of 71,004 making it the 10th largest in the 14-team SEC. Only Vandy, Mississippi State, Ole Miss, and Kentucky have stadiums of smaller capacity.
The future competitive health of Missouri will depend in large part on money. TV contract revenue sharing notwithstanding, there are many financial inequities in the SEC. Jon Solomon of the Birmingham News did a little research. His data are from 2009-10 information reported by universities to the U.S. Department of Education, as well as a USA Today analysis of NCAA financial reports for student fees. Here are the essentials.
In terms of endowments, the university is in pretty good standing. Missouri at present ranks 4th behind Texas A&M, Vandy, and Florida (Tennessee is 7th). With 32,415 students, it is also the 4th largest university in the SEC (only Texas A&M, Florida, and Georgia are larger).
Mizzou is ranked much lower in other financial metrics. They are 11th in the SEC for athletic department expenses ($53.2 million). Florida is 1st ($105.2 million), followed by LSU ($102.3 million) and Tennessee ($96.7 million).
They are 12th in athletic revenue ($55.7 million). Alabama is 1st ($129.3 million), followed by Florida ($116.5 million), LSU ($109.9 million), and Tennessee ($100.7 million).
They are similarly ranked 12th in the amount of athletic department expenses directly allocated to football ($13.8 million). Alabama ($31.1 million), Auburn ($27.9 million), LSU ($25.6 million), and Florida ($24.5 million) lead the way. Tennessee is ranked 8th ($17.4 million).
Missouri students contribute nothing to the athletic department revenue, the same as for Alabama, Arkansas, LSU, and Texas A&M. Tennessee students give a total of $1.0 million (7th in the SEC; 0.9% of the total athletic department revenue). That’s miniscule compared with the situation at Auburn ($5.3 million / 5.7%), Mississippi State ($4.0 million / 10.5%), and Georgia ($3.2 million / 3.6%). [NOTE: data are not available for Vandy because it is a private school.]
There will be many challenges for Missouri to be competitive in SEC football and other conference sports. Their current level of finances put them in the same realm as Vandy, Ole Miss, and Mississippi, which doesn’t bode well for their position in upcoming conference standings, especially football.
But with their traditions, quality of the university as an academic institution, and location/amenities, Ol’ Mizzou is a welcome addition to our little provincial club. In this era of inevitable conference growth by realignment, the SEC picked up what may some day be regarded as a gem.