Mizzou AD: “We’ll be competitive” in SEC
By Matt Smith
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Missouri expects both athletic and financial success as it begins life in its new league.
Sept. 8 will be a landmark day in the long, storied history of SEC football. For the first time since 1992, the conference has new members. Both Missouri and Texas A&M open their SEC schedules on September’s second Saturday, with traditional powers Georgia and Florida making the long trips to Columbia and College Station, respectively.
For the sake of the Tigers and Aggies, and the league as whole, it will hopefully go better than in 1992 when South Carolina and Arkansas made their SEC debuts. South Carolina welcomed Georgia to Williams-Brice Stadium in the season opener, and the Bulldogs routed Sparky Woods’ Gamecocks, 28-6.
A week later, the Razorbacks, having just fired head coach Jack Crowe following a loss to The Citadel, traveled to South Carolina for their first SEC game. The Gamecocks took out their frustrations from the previous week on Arkansas with a 45-7 pasting.
20 years later, Georgia will again be the opponent for a new SEC East member. Missouri athletic director Mike Alden spoke last week during the SEC Spring Meetings in Destin, Fla. about a variety of topics, including the significance of their conference opener on not just the university, but the entire Show Me State.
“The atmosphere around our entire community and around mid-Missouri and the state of Missouri is just going to be electric,” Alden said. “Mark Richt has done such a great job with that program. In Columbia, the atmosphere around football Saturdays over the past 5-6 years has been awesome. All these Georgia fans are coming to our game and then driving down the road to Kansas City to see the Falcons play [the following day at the Chiefs]. That energy goes beyond just our first SEC contest. It’s a statewide impact.”
While the Tigers are certain to generate buzz around the SEC, will they be able to generate the same on-field success that they did in the Big 12? Missouri has not finished with a losing record in conference play since 2004. Alden expects similar results.
“I think we’ll be competitive,” he said. “I say that with humility. Our programs and our coaches and our kids have done a great job of being very competitive. We recognize that the SEC is recognized as the premier conference in the country.”
By the standards of most, continuing their streak of non-losing conference records in 2012 would be considered a major success for the Tigers in their first season in the SEC. In addition to hosting Georgia, Alabama also comes to Columbia. The road schedule sends the Tigers to Florida, South Carolina, Tennessee and Texas A&M.
One team the Tigers do not face is the school located only an hour from the Missouri border: Arkansas. That will change in 2013, when the Razorbacks become Missouri’s permanent rivalry game. Texas A&M was initially the Tigers’ permanent rival. Alden thinks the switch is positive for Missouri and its fanbase.
“I think that there’s a natural affinity for our fans with Arkansas,” Alden said. “If you’re south of I-70, you’re primarily Tigers fans. But in a lot of areas in our state, there are Razorback fans. There’s a natural feel. Our matchups with Texas A&M have been terrific. We have a good footprint in the state of Texas. But what would our fans more naturally see as a fit? Arkansas would be my guess.”
The two border programs have met only twice since 1970, both in bowl games. Arkansas won in the 2003 Independence Bowl, while Missouri claimed the 2008 Cotton Bowl. The No. 1 recruit in the 2012 class, wide receiver Dorial Green-Beckham, had the Tigers and Razorbacks as his two finalists before ultimately signing with Missouri.
A step-up in competition is not the only reason for Missouri jumping to the SEC. The financial impact, which is the primary driver in almost all conference changes, is immense. Alden discussed how the Tigers are already reaping the benefits of their new affiliation.
“When we applied to be members of the SEC and were accepted [last November], we believed that it was going to be important for us to try and step up in a lot of ways, including ticket pricing,” Alden acknowledged. “We needed to provide greater revenue teams. We increased our season ticket prices 20% except for faculty, staff and students. They’re as high as they’ve ever been in our history. Our waiting list is around 4,000-5,000 people.”
Faurot Field holds approximately 71,000 fans, tenth-largest of the 14 teams in the SEC. The stadium is due for approximately $1.5 million of renovations as part of the move to the SEC, including additional premium seating in the south end zone. In addition, visiting teams’ allotments will increase from 3,800 to 6,000 to become more aligned with other SEC schools.
In regards to scheduling, Alden expects Missouri to keep the same philosophy it did in the Big 12 prior to the league going to a nine-game schedule in 2011. That philosophy includes an annual game with a BCS opponent. Mississippi State and Texas A&M are the only two SEC teams not to play a non-conference game against a BCS opponent this season.
“It [moving back to an eight-game schedule] gave us quite a bit more flexibility,” Alden said. “Our philosophy had always been we’re going to do one from a BCS conference, and a home-and-home or 2-for-1 with maybe a Mountain West or a Conference USA team.”
Missouri hosts BCS opponents Arizona State and Syracuse and travels to UCF this season. The game with the Orange was a late addition upon the need for an additional non-conference game after leaving the Big 12. Indiana, in 2013 and 2014, is the only BCS opponent the Tigers have on their future schedules.
Although Missouri’s 2012 season technically begins on Sept. 1 with a visit from FCS member Southeastern Louisiana, SEC fans won’t truly christen the Tigers as a league member until a week later when Georgia visits. With the eyes of the South squarely on Columbia (the other Columbia) for the first time ever, Alden believes Missouri will shine both on and off the field.