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Missouri takes another step toward leaving Big 12

By John Hanna

Associated Press

Published: Friday, Oct. 21 2011 4:25 p.m. MDT

Warren Erdman, left, chairman of the University of Missouri system's Board of Curators, discusses the college's potential departure from the Big 12 Conference, as acting system president Steve Owens, right, listens, during a news conference, Friday, Oct 21, 2011, in Kansas City, Mo. The governing curators gave University of Missouri Chancellor Brady Deaton the authority Friday to move the school out of the Big 12 if he decides that is in the school's best interest.

John Hanna, Associated Press

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Missouri has taken another step toward leaving the Big 12 Conference and there is interest in the SEC in taking the Tigers.

The governing curators at Missouri unanimously gave Chancellor Brady Deaton the authority Friday to move the school out of the Big 12 if he decides that is in the school's best interest. Deaton, who had earlier been given the OK to explore options, gave no timeline for a decision but indicated that a move, if it happens, would not take much longer.

"We're not looking at a long time frame," Deaton said, adding that any move would anticipate playing in another conference beginning next season -- not in 2013 or farther out.

While Deaton avoided saying that he favors leaving the Big 12 or identifying the SEC as a potential landing spot, it was clear that the SEC is the target.

"We've provided information to the SEC," Deaton said at a news conference following a two-day curators' meeting, accompanied by athletic director Mike Alden and other school officials.

"Missouri has not applied, nor has an invitation been extended," SEC spokesman Charles Bloom said.

However, SEC school presidents have informally discussed Missouri, and there's "certainly talk and interest" in adding the school, according to a person familiar with the situation. The person spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because the SEC has not publicly talked about the discussions.

There has been no formal vote by the presidents and one was not immediately scheduled, the person said. Deaton said discussions about realignment are ongoing and a "decision will be undertaken expeditiously."

Chuck Neinas, the Big 12 interim commissioner, noted that its board of directors has a regularly scheduled meeting in Irving, Texas, on Monday and "conference membership will be thoroughly discussed at that time."

"We look forward to discussing Missouri's future with the Big 12 Conference," he said in a statement. He declined to comment further when reached by telephone.

The league already has lost Nebraska (Big Ten) and Colorado (Pac-12) and will lose Texas A&M to the SEC next year when TCU joins. Losing Missouri would leave the league with nine teams, while the SEC will have 13 once the Aggies join.

Deaton said the conference's stability has been a significant concern with the departures of the three schools.

"Those actions, I think, in a sense, speak for themselves," he said. "They're part of the environment that we're recognizing and evaluating as we go forward."

But a big concern for Missouri is broadcast and cable television dollars, and in exploring a move to the SEC, the university is hoping to boost its revenue. An internal university document obtained recently by The Associated Press showed Missouri hopes to gain as much as $12 million annually in additional revenue in the SEC if other factors fall into place. The school could also face a hefty exit fee from the Big 12.

Earlier this month, the Big 12 endorsed a plan 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, if approved, 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.

"This is a very complex transaction to consider," said curators Chairman Warren Erdman. "We are taking our time to analyze all of the issues."

Missouri also directed Deaton to try to set up a holiday basketball tournament and annual football game in Kansas City with an unidentified rival -- Kansas would fit the bill -- moves designed to answer critics who say departing the Big 12 will gut storied traditions that date back decades. Missouri and Kansas have played each other in football for 119 years.

The move also is designed to blunt concerns that the Big 12 won't have a reason to continue holding its basketball championship tournament in Kansas City or schedule a Kansas-Missouri football game there if Missouri bolts the Big 12.

Ed McKechnie, chairman of the Kansas Board of Regents, which governs both the University of Kansas and Kansas State, said Missouri's departure from the Big 12 would be "a massive blow" to the area. He said it would be difficult to keep the basketball tournament in Kansas City if Missouri left.

"The traditions surrounding the Big 12 tournament are a big deal," McKechnie said. "I believe the Big 12 is the right place for KU and K-State."

Just this week, Kansas basketball coaches Bill Self and Bonnie Henrickson both said they wouldn't be inclined to play Missouri if the Tigers go elsewhere.

Kansas athletic director Sheahon Zenger called Kansas-Missouri a great rivalry but didn't commit to any sort of plan for the future.

"The University of Kansas is a great Midwestern school, loyal to our Midwestern conference and to our Midwestern roots," Zenger said. "The KU-Missouri rivalry belongs in the Big 12 Conference. Should Missouri decide to leave the Big 12, we would wish them well."

Erdman insisted that if Missouri leaves the Big 12, the curators are "committed to doing what we can to preserve the rich tradition and heritage that is very important to us here."

Missouri basketball guard Kim English said players don't care about the university's conference and that he's not losing any sleep over the possibility of not playing Kansas every year.

"It has nothing to do with players in general," English said. "I didn't come here just because it was the Big 12."

AP Sports Writers David Brandt and John Zenor contributed to this report. Also contributing were John Milburn in Topeka, Kan., and freelance writer Doug Tucker in Kansas City, Mo.

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