18 May 2010
Mizzou fans old and young have discussed at length what we think of the Big Ten. It’s been debated what switching conferences would do financially, academically, and even how it would affect recruiting. But what does the Big Ten think of Missouri? After spending some time in Big Ten territory, I realized there is a wide range of views.
Before I dive in, let me preface it with this: It doesn’t really matter what they, those scholarly northerners with boring football and slow-paced basketball teams think of Mizzou. If they want Missouri, great. If they don’t, well, Mizzou will crawl back to the awful TV deals and poor revenue sharing of the Big 12 and pretend like they didn’t really want the Big Ten all along. But if (or when) a move comes, the Tigers respect will have to be earned, not given from the folks “up there.”
I’m from Big Ten country. I was born and raised in Minneapolis and lived there for the first 18 years of my life. I watched as Minnesota football, much like Missouri, fought an upward battle toward respectability, and then transitioned from hoping to make bowl games to battling to earn their place among the conference’s elite (Granted, Minnesota has since taken a step backward). In basketball, I watched as the Gophers, much like the Tigers, had a rich history tarnished by NCAA violations, fell to all-time lows, only to rebound in recent years under the leadership of a good head coach.
Mike Anderson has Mizzou pointed in the right direction in the Big 12. Would that continue in the Big Ten?
A few weeks ago I returned home to the Twin Cities. Knowing I’m now a “Mizzou guy,” many friends, co-workers and family members were eager to discuss Missouri’s potential move to “their,” conference with me.
It quickly became apparent that people there fell into two groups regarding Big Ten expansion. The first is the casual fan. These people get their sports news from jottings in the newspaper and the occasional Sportscenter episode. They don’t subscribe to message boards, they don’t search for every article on the internet, and they don’t really grasp the entire issue. These casual fans understand that the move is driven by money but beyond that they don’t really get it.
These fans immediately question Missouri. “Huh? Why Missouri?” These fans don’t know, nor care about Mizzou’s back-to-back Big 12 North Titles, five straight bowl appearances, or the basketball team’s Big 12 tournament championship in 2009. They might be aware of the Tigers’ Elite Eight run. They view Missouri as a school from “the South.” They’re likely to throw out stereotypes like hillbillies or, “jort wearing methheads,” as one person so eloquently stated. They won’t look at a future football schedule and say, “Oh Missouri, that could be a good game.” To these fans, Missouri is nothing more than the new kid on the block – they’re from somewhere far away, they’re different, and until proven otherwise, they are upsetting the status quo.
The other category of fans I ran into, are the fans that know what they’re talking about. They might subscribe to a site like rivals or at least they’ve read a thing or two before forming an opinion. These fans are cautiously optimistic about Mizzou’s move. They’re cautious because they like the way things are. However, they’re optimistic because they think Missouri could add some excitement to their historic conference. They’re aware of Mizzou’s recent athletic success and they’re aware that Mizzou fits academically and geographically. They know the names of “Chase Daniels,” Jeremy Maclin, and “Sean Witherspoon.” (Hey, they’re not perfect). It is these fans that know Missouri will be an intriguing addition to the Big Ten. They’re interested to see how Gary Pinkel’s spread will do against defenses like Iowa or Ohio State’s. They’re interested to see how Mike Anderson’s “Fastest 40 Minutes,” will fare against Bo Ryan’s “Good Lord Somebody Please Score Already,” style. It is these fans who will buy a ticket to see Missouri play, or at the very least give us a chance before writing off the entire state as hillbillies.
Like I said, it doesn’t really matter what they think. Do Big Ten fans have to be pumped about the prospects of a road game in Columbia, “Misery?” Absolutely not. But if Mizzou can continue to improve in football and basketball and maybe even knock off a top dog or two in the conference, it won’t be long before the new kid on the block is the most popular kid in school.
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