DESTIN, Fla. — Somewhere between Destin and St. Louis, the mans mind started to wander. The last several months had been a blur for Missouri athletic director Mike Alden, and as he sat on a plane Monday, flying toward the Southeastern Conferences spring meetings for the very first time, the reality of it all hit him like a ton of bricks:
By TEREZ A. PAYLOR
The Kansas City Star
Starting now, sports at the University of Missouri will never be the same.
It all became clear, Alden said. I dont know why, but on that flight from St. Louis to Atlanta and from Atlanta to here, it did.
And with that realization came another one that has steadily come into focus for Alden since he and chancellor Brady Deaton officially announced Missouris defection from the Big 12 to the SEC last November: There are some significant differences between how the two conferences handle internal business.
These schools, they dont talk about just living in the moment; they talk about whats good for the league a decade from now, 20 years from now, 30 years from now, Alden said, shortly after his meeting with the other SEC athletic directors ended Tuesday. Im not used to that.
Instead, Alden said, hes used to attending these meetings and watching everyone be in reactive mode instead of proactive mode.
I dont say that negatively thats a fact, Alden said. And thats not all that impressed Alden on Tuesday, either. Less than a day into the sessions, he was struck by how willing the leaders of the SECs power schools were to side with issues that might not be in their own individual interest, but were in the best interest of the league as a whole and hes not alone.
They automatically come from that perspective of whats best for the league, said senior associate athletic director Tim Hickman.
Alden even identified some of the schools that have displayed that shared, unselfish mind-set.
Weve heard that from Florida, weve heard that from Alabama, weve heard that from Georgia, weve heard that from Kentucky, Alden said. Now that doesnt mean Alabama isnt going to try to beat your brains out when you play, but when theyre in that meeting and theyre saying Were willing to take less than maybe well be able to earn on our own because its good for the league, its (something thats) been built over time.
Some of this, Alden said, has to do with the leadership of SEC commissioner Mike Slive, who by all accounts, is renowned for his ability to get everyone on the same page. Alden said some of this also has to do with Roy Kramer, the man who preceded Slive as league commissioner.
But most of it, Alden said, has to do with the schools and individuals, all of whom have realized that by doing whats best for the league, in the long run theyre also doing whats best for themselves.
Its about the reality of those very successful, longtime institutions being prepared to say look, were only as strong as our weakest link, our least-resourced institution in our league, Alden said. The Big Ten has same model. Ohio State, Penn State and Michigan talk the same way they do in the SEC, and I think thats a culture, (one) thats been built.
And while Alden said its a culture vastly different from the one in the Big 12 the last several years, he had no intentions of bashing his schools former conference. In fact, Alden credited the Big 12 with raising Missouris national profile, even saying that without the fruits of that partnership, the school wouldnt be where it is today.
Fifteen to sixteen years ago when we went into the Big 12, we were ill-prepared to compete academically, competitively, facilitywise, recruitingwise everything, Alden said.
Thats hardly the case anymore, as Missouri is competitive in several sports and has raised its national profile in practically every way.
But to compete in the super-competitive SEC, he says, it will require a continued commitment toward investing in athletics. Thats just part of the culture down here, one Missouri will continue to adjust to going forward.
This week of meetings will certainly help.
Alden and several of Missouris top staffers entered the week with the goal of gaining a better understanding of what it means to be a good neighbor in the SEC, he said.
But even though they are the new kids on the block (along with Texas A&M), Alden insists they have already been made to feel welcome. While MU and A&M officials have repeatedly indicated a desire to be seen and not heard you dont want to come right in pounding the table, joked A&M coach Kevin Sumlin Alden says hes already been asked his opinions on certain matters.
(They) might turn and say Mike, what are your thoughts, what did you experience in the Big 12 that can help us here? Alden said.
And while some of that surely has to do with the fact Alden has been around a while and worked with several SEC administrators for years you get to know people if you chair the right committees, he said theres one thing about it that gives him faith, that lets him know Missouris new conference experience will be a good one, perhaps better than its last.
That stuff, Alden said, happens all the time.