Missouri has offer from SEC, but SEC willing to wait

By Mike DeArmond/Kansas City Star (MCT)

COLUMBIA, Mo. — The Southeastern Conference has an informal offer on the table for Missouri to join its league, a person with knowledge of the situation told The Kansas City Star on Tuesday, and SEC officials are willing to wait for an answer from Missouri until the future of the Big 12 is decided.

Word of the informal agreement came from a key Missouri booster who spoke directly to a Missouri official. Another source told The Star on Tuesday that an Oklahoma official said the SEC is interested in Missouri.

The Birmingham (Ala.) News reported later Tuesday that the SEC and Missouri have “informally agreed that, barring new developments, the school will join the league and that Auburn University will move to the SEC East Division.” The report cited two people familiar with the discussions, adding that, “(a) majority of presidents has endorsed the informal agreement.”

The additions of Missouri and Texas A&M, which has already stated its intention to leave for the SEC and been approved by the conference, would bring the number of SEC teams to 14.

The SEC shot down such talk Tuesday afternoon, with a statement saying the conference has not extended an invitation to any school other than Texas A&M since it extended invitations to Arkansas and South Carolina.

Chad Moller, Missouri’s assistant athletic director for media relations, issued a similar denial.

“We would echo what the SEC statement said,” Moller said. “We have not received an offer from any conference.”

The SEC went a step further Tuesday night, saying in a second statement that, “The Southeastern Conference has not agreed, formally or informally, to accept any institution other than Texas A&M and there have not been conference discussions regarding changes in divisional alignment.”

Considering the threat of legal action Baylor has raised against Texas A&M and the SEC, Missouri and SEC officials would likely prefer to keep any offer to Missouri under wraps until the Big 12 situation works itself out.

Missouri chancellor Brady Deaton has gone on record numerous times saying that, as chairman of the Big 12’s board of directors, he is working on keeping the Big 12 together. If the current members — minus Texas A&M — can work through their differences, any talk of Missouri’s southern migration probably becomes moot.

But the prospect of the Big 12’s survival has been cast in serious doubt this week, with Texas’ and Oklahoma’s boards of regents on Monday authorizing their respective school presidents to investigate alternative conference affiliations.

The Big 12’s continued existence in some form is certainly not out of the question. The Oklahoman newspaper, citing sources at Oklahoma, reported that the conference might be saved if Texas agrees to make changes to its Longhorn Network agreement with ESPN and Dan Beebe is removed as Big 12 commissioner.

Either way, Missouri appears to have some viable options. On Tuesday morning, the same Missouri booster who told The Star, “I’ve been told there is an (SEC) offer on the table,” said the SEC made an overture to Missouri last year.

“After the Big Ten thing started falling apart,” the source said of the summer of 2010, “they wanted to talk to us. We didn’t talk to them.”

The “legitimate interest” from the SEC, the booster said, came at a point when the remaining Big 12 members had agreed to stick together in spite of Nebraska’s defection to the Big Ten and Colorado’s departure for the Pac-10.

The Columbia Daily Tribune reported Tuesday afternoon that a Missouri source with knowledge of the process said there’s a “very real possibility” that Missouri could land in the SEC if the Big 12 continues to lose members. Another Missouri source, according to the Tribune, indicated the report of an actual offer from the SEC was “premature and not entirely accurate.”

It is unclear exactly who at Missouri would make the decision on Missouri joining the SEC. Some believe Deaton may be the decision maker, or that it could be interim University of Missouri system president Steve Owens.

Or, the issue could be brought before the University of Missouri system’s board of curators. After news broke regarding the SEC’s apparent interest, the curators on Tuesday announced an 8:30 a.m. meeting on Thursday in Columbia that is expected to include a closed-door executive session.