As the University of Missouri basketball team starts the SEC tournament today against Texas A&M in desperate need of some wins to salvage a bid in the NCAA Tournament, it’s an ironic reminder of a nugget from 75 years ago this month that I stumbled across doing research on another topic.
As well-chronicled by The Star’s Blair Kerkhoff in the Star-produced book “Tournament Town Kansas City,” Missouri actually declined an invitation to the inaugural NCAA event in 1939.
An act that would now be bewildering was more indicative of the times than it necessarily was particular to MU.
The school cited concern about lost class time for its players, who would have had to take a train to San Francisco. And the NIT, after all, was the preferred showcase at the time.
But maybe the most quaint element of the decision was the idea that the regular season was what counted.
MU had clobbered Kansas 54-30 in the season finale at Brewer Fieldhouse and was Big Six co-champion with Oklahoma, the first time the Tigers had claimed at least part of a title in 17 years.
“We feel that our basketball season is over,” faculty athletics director Sam Shirkey explained at the time, according to Michael Atchison’s book, “True Sons, A Century of Missouri Tigers Basketball.” “Our team reached its peak for the Kansas game, and another two weeks would carry on the season too far for our boys.”
Tigers coach George Edwards rued the decision, later writing a tournament representative to say MU’s faculty had “expressed to me a desire to work with the NCAA in the future providing the tournaments do not necessitate too much lost time from school.”
Trouble was, MU earned only one more invite (in 1944) until 1976, when coach Norm Stewart established the Tigers as a virtual tournament perennial.
His longest unbroken string was five straight NCAAs (1986-90), though he also was part of the start of another streak of five from his last season through Quin Snyder’s first four (1999-2003).
But between the tenures of Mike Anderson (three) and Frank Haith (two), the Tigers could set a school record sixth in a row if it can beat the Aggies and somehow get past top-ranked Florida.
This time around, they’d only be too grateful to “carry on the season” a little longer.