Nobody said switching conferences would be easy. After guiding Missouri’s transition from the Big 12 to the Southeastern Conference over the last few years, athletic director Mike Alden understands this better than most.
That’s why, in the aftermath of the announcement of the SEC Network, Alden found himself in front of a group of reporters on Friday morning, trumpeting not only the potential impact of the deal — which could be a cash-cow for the Southeastern Conference’s 14 schools — but also the importance of staying the course as his school fights through growing pains (e.g. a 5-7 football record in 2012) in its new conference.
“When you move to the strongest conference in America … there will continue to be challenges,” Alden said. “But over the course of time, with the move to the SEC and the statement that happened yesterday with the SEC Network, we know what it will do for the University of Missouri as a whole and its athletic program.”
Alden said the athletic department expects to receive about $20.7 million from the Southeastern Conference for the 2012-13 financial year. The money reflects Missouri’s share of the SEC’s TV revenue, NCAA Tournament and bowl money. In comparison, Alden said Missouri stood to receive roughly $19 million during its last year in the Big 12.
Alden was confident the SEC Network would increase the school’s annual payout.
“You’re conservatively looking at — with very conservative growth — a couple million in additional revenue in 2015,” Alden said. “But that’s very conservative.”
Industry analysts have concluded the conference will be in a position to distribute as much as $35 million per school in two years once new television deals are cemented, money that Alden says Missouri will pour back into the athletic department as it pursues its mission of contending for national titles in every sport.
Thing is, while Missouri stands to gain on non-SEC schools in terms of revenue, the creation of the network will do little to change its spending compared to other conference schools, which will surely spend the extra money the same way.
According to the most recent statistics provided by the U.S. Department of Education, Missouri brought in $64 million in revenue in fiscal year 2011, which would have ranked 11th out of the 14 teams in the SEC. That figure is roughly $10 million less than Texas A&M, which would have ranked 10th in the SEC that year.
“In order for us to gain on South Carolina, Arkansas, Tennessee and Kentucky — those schools that are in that next tier — we’ve got to sell more tickets, raise more money in our capital gifts, corporate sponsorships and on and on,” Alden said. “It’s still an uphill battle.”
Alden conceded that the football team’s struggles last season won’t help those efforts, especially after fans helped Missouri sell out its season-ticket allotment for the first time in history and boosters stepped up by pledging nearly $45 million to the athletic department since the move.
“There’s no question a lot of people will say ‘Wait a minute, I did this and you didn’t do this, so what the heck?’” Alden said. “And that’s (why) we’ve tried to communicate that this is a long-term play, no different than when we first went into the Big 12. People forget about that, but there’s no way — no way — Mizzou was prepared to go into the Big 12. (Former athletic director) Joe Castiglione will tell you that.”
Alden, who came to Missouri in 1998, noted that at the time of the Big 12’s creation in the mid-90s, Missouri had some of the worst facilities in Division 1, and people were wondering how the school would compete with the likes of Nebraska, Oklahoma, Texas and Texas A&M, much like they are currently wondering how Missouri can stack up against the likes of Alabama, LSU, Florida and South Carolina on a yearly basis.
“We knew it was going to take time, but slowly and surely, Mizzou worked its way up in the Big 12,” Alden said. “We became respectable, the facilities got better and we started winning.”
Now, Alden seeks to duplicate that process, albeit in a tougher conference with higher stakes. And while the perks that come with joining the SEC — like its brand-new network — figure to help along the way, he is asking Missouri fans to believe in the process, have a little patience and do their part just one more time.
“When we were No. 1 in the country (in 2007) and when we were playing Oklahoma — and I know we lost the Big 12 championship game, I’ve got it — nobody in the world would have thought Mizzou would compete for a national championship 10 years before that,” Alden said. “People would laugh at you.
“But we, the institution, had a vision. And the institution has a vision that this move to the SEC is absolutely going to propel us to the highest levels in college sports.
“But we know it’s going to be painful getting there; there’s going to be a lot of challenges ahead. But it’s great to have yourself in a position (to do it), it’s great to be wanted and it’s great to be part of it. And as a competitor, you want to be.”