Neinas took office too late to talk Texas A&M out of its plan to leave the Big 12 for the SEC. So he devoted considerable energy to retaining the Tigers. But on Nov. 6 the school made it official. One hundred and four years after it became a charter member of the Missouri Valley Intercollegiate Athletic Association, which became the Big Six, which morphed into the Big Eight, which evolved into the Big 12, Missouri was filing for divorce.
One of the draws of the SEC was its stability, says Tigers athletic director Mike Alden—an eminently reasonable explanation that Neinas dismisses as "so much poppycock."
"They wanted the grant of rights"—which ties much of the school's television revenue to the conference for six years—"so we get the grant of rights," Neinas growls. Missouri wanted equal revenue sharing, he adds, and the Big 12 members agreed to it. "Now they gotta find another excuse" for bailing, says Neinas.
More overtly bitter to Missouri's move than Neinas was the initial reaction from the University of Kansas, whose public relations office tweeted, "Missouri forfeits a century-old rivalry. We win."
"We're sorry to see a century-old conference rivalry end," said Kansas chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little. "Missouri's decision may have implications for fans and for the Kansas City area, but it won't affect the long-term strength of the Big 12."
But those who accuse the Tigers of casually discarding the rivalry overlook the fact that despite Missouri's imminent departure, the Border War need not die. There are plenty of ancient, spicy, interconference rivalries: Clemson--South Carolina, Georgia--Georgia Tech and Florida--Florida State, to name a few.
"We're really happy to be in the SEC," says Alden, "but we also want to continue playing Kansas for another 119 years, in all of our sports. To say it can't happen because we're not in the same conference? It doesn't hold water."
Alden spoke at halftime last Saturday, his high energy level belying the eventful workweek he'd put in. Three days earlier coach Gary Pinkel had been arrested on suspicion of driving while intoxicated. Alden suspended the coach without pay for one game (at least), and the day before the game Pinkel pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of DWI.
In compiling an 83--54 record in Columbia, Pinkel has never been accused of being risk-averse. He was a behind-the-scenes force in Missouri's jump to the rugged SEC and is one of many Tigers who would love to keep Kansas on the schedule. But the feeling isn't mutual.
"We feel that the rivalry belongs in the Big 12," says Kansas wide receiver A.J. Steward, echoing the company line laid down by coach Turner Gill and athletic director Sheahon Zenger. The latter prefaced that opinion with a description of Kansas as "a great Midwestern school, loyal to our Midwestern conference and to our Midwestern roots."