I have a lot of feelings about the whole Big 12/Big 10/Pac 10/SEC/Mountain West debacle. These thoughts fall into three overall themes, which I’ll preface with the following thoughts:
I don’t really follow sports all that closely. I have teams I like, and I watch games and go to sporting events, but I’m not a junkie that crunches statistics and leaves ESPN on in the background. I’m no expert on how all this stuff works. Like most people, the teams I like and choose to follow are mostly based on where I grew up and where I live.
Given those things, I found it interesting to follow the whole realignment thing just as an interested bystander. I had a horse in the race being a Mizzou student/alum/fan and having followed some of the rumors about MU and the Big 10, but like I said before, I don’t really follow this stuff that closely. There were a couple things that upset me over the past week or so though.
One thing was the negativity and pessimism about the quality of the package the University of Missouri offers – not just to an athletic conference, but apparently to society. Over Twitter and on message boards, there was an overwhelming rift between a camp of people, myself included, who took a wait-and-see approach to the whole thing based on a more positive view of the university and of the state and a more negative view of “of course Mizzou will end up out in the cold. It has nothing to offer.” And it wasn’t just people from out of state being ignorant. People who expressed the fact that they live in Missouri were expressing that side of the debate.
Again, I’m biased. I have two Mizzou degrees on the wall and I’m working on a third. But to say that Mizzou has nothing to offer is, like I said before, ignorant. From the athletic perspective, our teams – across the board, not just in football and basketball – are strong and competitive, especially in the last couple years. Missouri offers two media markets in the top-50 in the nation, and others in the top-100, all of which have major MU fan bases.
But it goes deeper than that. Academically, the university is a member of the AAU, a university consortium of the top research institutions in the country. The research that comes out of Columbia – and the other three UM system campuses, for that matter – is really world-changing stuff. The university has taken a vested interest in economic development in the state and has been a leader in small-business and entrepreneurial incubation.
On top of all of that, a huge percentage of the state’s doctors, lawyers, business owners, and other economic drivers are alumni of the University of Missouri. To say that the university has nothing to offer, in athletics or otherwise, is a terrible argument. That people are making it shows that there is a real disconnect between what the university does and what people in the state perceive. In the interest of full disclosure, I work for the UM System Department of Strategic Communication, and our office is working on a campaign to help close that gap. I think this situation has shown that it’s really important that they succeed.
Another troubling thing that this situation showed was the role the media can play in inducing panic and frenzy when things start moving quickly, especially in the world of Twitter, blogs and other new-media tools.
A lot of the pessimism and negativity that I talked about before was fueled, I think, by the media-stoked frenzy that erupted over the situation as it unfolded. Reporters and bloggers were churning out stories based on anonymous, dubious sourcing. They were tweeting things before they were verified, and those tweets were retweeted over and over again, sometimes hours and days after the fact, when the context had completely changed and the “facts” in the tweet could be construed to mean something completely different.
The University of Colorado seems to be the worst victim of all of this. In the frenzy of the moment, when it seemed like it was Pac 10 or nothing for them, they made a gamble on leaving the Big 12 and hoping that the conference would disband so they wouldn’t have to pay the penalty for leaving. Now the financially troubled CU is stuck paying nearly $10 million to the remaining schools (well, mainly Texas, but that’s for later).
People here at Mizzou went into uber-defense mode at a time when just sitting back and waiting to see what happened would have made a lot more sense. Things happened a lot more quickly than anyone anticipated, and as things started moving, the media seemed to push the snowball along. As much as I disdain Texas, thank God they stepped in and basically shouted “STOP.”
It’s exemplary of the new media environment we live in and the new considerations that reporters have to make when they go to get stories out faster and faster and faster. There are implications to how they do so and what they put out there into the public conversation. In this case, I think it will be a while before we know just how it affected this situation.
Lastly, I don’t want it to seem like I absolve MU and the university administration in this whole thing. But I also think it would be hypocritical of me to analyze their actions before we know all the facts of what’s gone on when I just spent 400+ words lecturing the news media for doing just that. But there are real issues to be raised here about what our administration did to promote and defend our institutional interests, what we had to give up to keep the conference together, and how this whole thing was handled from a publicity standpoint.
Hopefully it all gets straightened out before another situation like this unfolds just as quickly and unexpectedly as this one did.