SEC competition may cost Missouri

COLUMBIA, Mo. -- The celebration of Missouri's move to the Southeastern Conference was still in high gear when athletic director Mike Alden acknowledged what until then had largely been unspoken.

Hanging with college sports' big dogs might earn the Tigers some extra cash, but it also likely will require the departing Big 12 member -- and its boosters -- to spend significantly more money to compete with Florida, LSU and other SEC heavyweights.

"We're known as the Show-Me State," he said at a Nov. 6 pep rally where the conference move was announced. "It's time for us to step up and show other people who we are.

"This is our opportunity to do that, to step up, to support our program and our institution unlike any time we've ever been able to do so in the history of Tiger athletics," Alden added in an appeal he hoped would resonate with deep-pocket donors and blue-collar ticket holders as well as campus leaders.

Whether it's the eight SEC football stadiums that seat more than 80,000 (including two with 100,000-plus capacities) or the outdoor tennis arenas at Florida and Tennessee, the monetary bar is now considerably higher for Mizzou.

U.S. Department of Education financial reports show 10 other schools in what will eventually be a 14-team SEC, after the addition of Missouri and Texas A&M, spend more on intercollegiate athletics than Missouri does. Florida tops the list, spending nearly $113 million in the most recent academic year. That's nearly double Missouri's $58.9 million athletics' budget.

Missouri also ranks 11th among current and future SEC schools in overall athletics revenue, bringing in $59 million in the 2010-11 academic year. Only Mississippi, Mississippi State and Vanderbilt earned less.

And Missouri's $861,859 annual recruiting budget is 12th among the 14 SEC schools. Tennessee tops that list at more than $2.29 million, while both Florida and Georgia exceed $1.5 million.

Missouri already was planning a modest football stadium expansion, likely adding between 1,200 and 2,500 premium outdoor club seats to Memorial Stadium, capacity 71,004. That would move the school just past Arkansas' Razorback Stadium into ninth place in the conference. Also planned are facility improvements for Missouri's baseball, softball and women's tennis teams.

Alden said Missouri chancellor Brady Deaton and the school's Board of Curators realize the expectations, both competitive and financial, of moving into the SEC. And that applies not just in men's basketball and football, but also in non-revenue sports ranging from baseball and women's basketball to swimming and track and field.

"We may need to continue to turn that up even another notch," Alden said, alluding to Missouri's decade-long investment in NCAA sports under his watch, from improved facilities to coaches' salaries to recruiting budgets. "This is a great conference in our country. I certainly am very confident knowing that we have a commitment going forward to continue in the direction of improvement in all areas of our athletic department."

The move also will displace Missouri's wrestling team, a perennial national power in a sport fighting for its survival. With no SEC teams competing in the sport, the Tigers expect to turn to the opposite coast, potentially joining Big 12 holdovers Iowa State, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State in an expanded Western Wrestling Conference -- a league whose members now hail from Colorado, North and South Dakota, Utah and Wyoming

Missouri, which expects to join the SEC on July 1, 2012, still has to negotiate its exit fees for leaving the Big 12. Initial projections outlined in a confidential document previously provided to The Associated Press suggested a possible penalty of as much as $23.3 million, an amount that represents 90 percent of the school's projected conference TV revenue over the next two years. The Big 12 bylaws call for such a penalty for schools that give between six and 12 months' notice.

But Missouri expects to pay the conference between $10 and $12 million, the report suggested, noting that both Colorado ($6.86 million) and Nebraska ($9.26 million) negotiated early departure penalties worth between 40 and 50 percent of their expected television revenue when leaving the conference earlier this year for the Pac-12 and Big 10, respectively.

Late last month, Texas A&M president R. Bowen Loftin suggested that his school and Missouri could negotiate together with the Big 12 in a bid to smooth their departures. The Aggies now plan to go it alone, a school spokesman said, mindful that Missouri's departure could be delayed depending on legal maneuvers surrounding West Virginia's move from the Big East Conference to the Big 12.

"Those have not come to fruition at this time," said Texas A&M spokesman Jason Cook. "At this point, we're on different paths."

Cook said the school has received an "initial letter" from the Big 12 outlining the conference's proposed penalty. He declined to provide a copy of the letter or say how much the conference was demanding.

Although football and TV contracts are the driving forces behind conference realignment, perhaps no better example of Missouri's promotion to a top-tier league can be found than by looking at women's tennis.

At Florida, the reigning NCAA champion and a five-time title winner since 1992, players compete in the 1,000-seat Scott Linder Stadium's 15 courts and enjoy a 5,620-square-foot building with male and female locker rooms, coaches' offices for both the men's and women's teams and a palm tree-lined outdoor courtyard. Tennessee boasts a 2,000-seat stadium that's within walking distance of campus dorms.

As for Missouri? There is no men's team, but the women's team played its home matches at city of Columbia park three miles from campus -- and shared those courts with a local high school squad -- due to drainage problems at their campus courts.

While the school is building new outdoor courts as part of a $900,000 improvement project, much work remains beyond that initial effort, said new coach Sasha Schmid.

But Missouri's announced move already is paying dividends, Schmid said, as prospective recruits flooded her email inbox with letters of interest after learning that a Midwest school soon will compete in the warm-weather, talent-rich SEC.

"The interest we got from five-star recruits was more than I've ever seen," she said. "There are kids that want to play in the SEC. Not everybody can go to Florida and Georgia."