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The Scarlet & Black

The Scarlet & Black

Kramer on ’BAma-LSU and greener Pa$ture$

A rare regular season matchup between the best two teams in the nation looms this weekend as #1 LSU visits number two #2 Alabama in Tuscaloosa. Even rarer, both teams had a bye week to prepare for this momentous matchup, thereby giving this de facto SEC Championship a true bowl game (if not Super Bowl) atmosphere. These titans of the Southeastern Conference meet on the gridiron with the virtual assurance that the winner will play in New Orleans in January with a BCS Championship on the line (and will probably be the odds-on favorite). Yet amid all this drama organically created on the field of play through the heroics of young athletes, another topic receives just as much space in the sports press despite neither pertaining to the SEC nor another squad’s prospects for the national title.  The topic of which I write, of course, is the sweeping, money driven process of conference realignment which now threatens to send my beloved—and, at 3-4 on the season, beleaguered—Missouri Tigers away from their rivals of over 100 years to the football cult of people who would probably still vote for George Bush which is the “Ess! Eee! See!” (the SEC, for those fortunate souls who have never had to endure the infamous, arrogant chant of victorious SEC fans after a non-conference game).

The Tigers are the latest participants in the torrent of changes in conference affiliation that began when Big Ten Conference Commissioner Jim Delany announced the Big Ten was studying expansion in December 2009. I wrote a column not long after which explored the topic of conference realignment hopefully, imagining that it might just be a couple teams, probably my Tigers and, I supposed, the lowly Nebraska Cornhuskers, making quick, painless breaks away from the Big Twelve to the greener pa$ture$ of the equal revenue sharing in the Big Ten. I was mostly wrong. Missouri was widely seen as making quite open overtures toward the Big Ten, yet that league chose only to add Nebraska, surprising some pundits who saw super-conference Armageddon on the horizon and predicted an expansion to 14 or 16 including both Big Twelve and Big East programs. The Tigers were mocked for the perceived turn-down, but after Colorado (along with Utah of the Mountain West) left for the Pac-12 and NU for the Big Ten, I thought the cycle of tearing apart the centuries-old traditions of college football to forge new leagues bound only by the all-mighty dollar was over. I was dead wrong again.

Conference realignment has grown into a devouring monster, involving the athletic departments of nearly every program in the BCS conference, and plenty from non-AQ conferences as well. Texas A&M, as unhappy as everyone else in the Big Twelve with Texan dominance and ESPN’s support of unfair recruiting practices through the Longhorn Network, bolted for the SEC only a couple months ago. Next, the ACC stole away Syracuse and Pittsburgh from the Big East when the latter league seemed to be in a strong position to renegotiate its contract for money that would finally put it on a level-paying field with the other, clearly stronger conferences in the BCS. Losing those two members, tent-pole programs in both football and basketball, effectively killed the Big East. That set other conferences about raiding the dying league, while the Big East tried feverishly to find attractive candidates for expansion after being rebuked by TCU, which chose instead to become the 10th member of the Big Twelve in absence of the Aggies. So now the SEC, with an awkward 13 members, is apparently set on adding a 14th school to even out scheduling concerns and maintain two divisions and a lucrative conference championship game. The contenders seemed to be my Tigers and West Virginia’s couch burning Mountaineers—an obvious enough choice for any conference.

My feelings on conference realignment have vacillated wildly with Mizzou’s potential fate, shifting from thinking it might be cool to liking it to hating it to apathy, and now, to ambivalence. The SEC brings more money and prestige to the athletics department, but I don’t love the idea of Mizzou leaving the Big Twelve.  The nostalgic pull of the oldest rivalry west of the Mississippi, the Border “Showdown” (true fans still say “Border War”) between the Tigers and the Kansas Jayhawks, is still potent. For a few years at least it will be impossible for MU and KU to schedule each other, even if the Jayhawks, worthless to most conferences because of their football futility and basketball-crazed fan-base, hold no sour grapes.  It saddens me further to lose the opportunity to stomp on the Kansas program while it is so clearly down in the next few years, as well. But I guess I’ll probably have to wryly smile at the news of Turner Gill’s firing from another league, as the move to the SEC appears all but final. Secondary rivalries like Kansas State, Oklahoma State, and Oklahoma would also be gone.

It’s certainly not that I don’t think the Tigers will be able to compete in their new league. Playing in the SEC East division in particular, with annual collisions with the likes of Vanderbilt, Kentucky, rebuilding powers in Tennessee and Florida, and inconsistent programs like Georgia and South Carolina. That’s not a division the Tigers can’t win every few years and compete for every year. The main bummer is just the uncertainty; we knew where we stood in the Big Twelve in every sport, and it was pretty good. Missouri’s been in the top tier of the league in pretty much every sport but women’s basketball for the last decade, and now I wonder how all that will change. Baseball and softball will be tougher; basketball will be easier. The SEC doesn’t even compete in wrestling, so that’s a wash. It’s just going to be weird to try to find different reasons to hate all my new southern rivals. Sure, they’re mostly going to be dumb, conservative rednecks whose lives are devoted to football and Jesus in that order, but what makes each one uniquely hateable? Which school is most historically more racist, Alabama or Mississippi? Whose undergrads perform worse on standardized tests, Mississippi State or Auburn? Whose Young Republicans group dominates campus more, South Carolina or LSU? These are questions I’m still waiting to figure out. One thing I do know is that I was called a “Yankee” for being from Missouri on an Alabama Crimson Tide message board. Yikes.

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