KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — The University of Missouri’s governing board opened a two-day meeting Thursday amid speculation that the university is close to leaving the Big 12 Conference for the SEC.
Conference affiliation wasn’t listed on the agenda, which includes closed sessions Thursday and Friday. University spokeswoman Jennifer Hollingshead said the curators do not plan to discuss the topic until at least Friday.
Steve Owens, acting president of the four-campus Missouri system, declined to comment about the curators’ possible discussions, and board Chairman Warren Erdman added: "I’m not going to talk about that."
Earlier this month, the curators gave Missouri Chancellor Brady Deaton authority to explore leaving the Big 12. Missouri officials are considering a move to the Southeastern Conference in hopes of getting greater television revenue.
An internal university document obtained recently by The Associated Press showed Missouri hopes to gain as much as $12 million annually in additional television and cable revenue in the SEC if other factors fall into place. But the school could also face a hefty exit fee from the Big 12.
The SEC has not commented publicly on Missouri’s interest. Adding a team would require approval by each member, which currently stands at 12 schools.
Missouri would be the fourth school to abandon the Big 12. Nebraska (Big Ten) and Colorado (Pac-12) left over the summer and Texas A&M will join the SEC next year. TCU will join the Big 12 next year, spurning a move from the Mountain West to the Big East.
The Big 12 wants to keep Missouri, and earlier this month endorsed a plan to potential stray members in the fold. It would require schools to give up their most lucrative TV rights to the league for six years in return for equal sharing of the revenue.
The plan would give each school an estimated $20 million in June. The figure is expected to grow by 2013 when the league’s new 13-year contract with Fox Sports kicks in and the Big 12’s television contract with ABC/ESPN expires in 2016 and could bring in additional money when renegotiated.
The SEC, by contrast, distributed $18.3 million in revenue to each of its 12 members this year. But that league can also expect more lucrative contracts when the next round of TV rights negotiations occur.
While Missouri is a charter member of the Big 12, founded in 1996 when the Big Eight schools added four members of the old Southwest Conference, dissatisfaction with the conference has grown. In the early ‘90s, with the Big Eight on the verge of collapse, Missouri pushed to join the Big Ten and a group of state business leaders even formed a lobbying group.
Its desires to leave the conference it helped shape grew stronger in recent years, with suggestions that Texas and its Longhorn television network would only entrench Texas’ power and create an uneven playing field for the rest of the conference, especially the northern schools.
Besides being a fresh blow to the Big 12, a Missouri departure could threaten the school’s long-standing rivalry with neighboring Kansas, one of the oldest in college sports, and could drain event revenues from Kansas City, a longtime host to Big 12 basketball tournaments and the now-scrapped conference championship football game.