|A Kansas fan holds up a sign about Missouri leaving the Big 12 conference for the SEC. (AP)|
"S-E-C, S-E-C, S-E-C"
Welcome, Tigers. Don't let the door hit you in the backside.
Following the last game, for now, of the nation's second-longest major-college football rivalry fans inside Arrowhead Stadium were conflicted. Missouri is either a traitor to its Midwestern roots or getting out while the getting is good from the fractured Big 12.
It depended on what side of wind-whipped Arrowhead you were sitting on Saturday. Missouri's 24-10 win wasn't a great, or even good, football game. But it is over, for the moment and maybe forever. The next regular-season game the Tigers play will be as proud members of the SEC.
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"They're just a little bitter," Missouri receiver T.J. Moe said. "If they had the same opportunity we had, they would have done the same thing."
Moe was speaking specifically of Kansas but he could have been speaking to the entire Big 12. His school's intention to leave at this late date and start play down South in 2012 has left the Big 12 in a minor tizzy. Texas A&M was one thing. That's a process that started in the summer and was completed in September.
Missouri officially left on Nov. 6, leaving the Big 12 uncertain how it would schedule games next season. Predictably, there wasn't a conference official to be found at the game. Asked about his team's bowl prospects going forward, Tigers coach Gary Pinkel said, "We may not be their highest priority."
So that's how a once-glorious rivalry goes out, with the usual rancor but with no future. That's why Missouri figures on keeping the Indian War Drum that goes to each year's winner.
"I'm not giving the drum back," said Moe who helped teammates parade it around Arrowhead for a (final?) victory lap.
A rivalry that has spanned 12 decades ended quietly. Only 47,509 bothered to show up in 76,416-seat Arrowhead. Kansas students reportedly bought less than 1,000 tickets. It's been that kind of season. The Jayhawks finished 2-10. Coach Turner Gill is expected to be fired any day, being owed $6 million for the last three years of his contract.
Missouri will go bowling at 7-5. But its season was darkened by coach Gary Pinkel's arrest for DWI on Nov. 16. The school acted -- perhaps too harshly -- suspending Pinkel for one game and docking him bonuses and salary that cost him more than $300,000. Pinkel returned Saturday, not the conquering hero, but the humble servant.
Pinkel eventually pleaded guilty. Everyone has been willing to move on. Saturday's win over Kansas was his seventh in 11 meetings.
"Without question, it can continue," Pinkel said of the series, "if both schools decide they want to. It's not real complex."
Actually, it is. Feelings are hurt. Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon paraded through the press box reiterating the stance that his alma mater wants to keep the series going. Kansas' view is opposite: If you're not in the conference, you're not one of us. Never mind there are scores of inter-conference rivalries that thrive -- Georgia-Georgia Tech, Clemson-South Carolina, etc.
For Missouri, it was easy to give up 120 years of history. In the space of 45 days this season Missouri went from loyal Big 12 member to bolting for the SEC.
It had good reason. With Oklahoma's bat-spit crazy David Boren and Texas' gentleman king DeLoss Dodds running things, the Big 12 is as stable as Lindsay Lohan on dollar-beer night. The SEC provides a lifelong financial and athletic foundation.
The school also had a right. If this latest round conference realignment was a draft, Missouri happened to be the best name left on the board. That state happens to be blessed with 2½ million cable television homes and two top 30 markets (St. Louis, Kansas City). That counts as currency with television consultants when they recommend how to reshape conferences.
Kansas isn't even close, even with a top-five basketball program. In realignment, football rules.
So they will move on without each other, this dysfunctional couple. Missouri will play Gators, Commodores, Volunteers and Bulldogs. Kansas will wait for the next bomb to drop in the Big 12. The only real differences in their futures are slight -- the quality of football, revenue and degree of twang in one's voice.
It is a sad reminder that traditional rivalries have become the first casualty of conference gerrymandering. Texas beat Texas A&M in the schools' last meeting as conference rivals Thursday night. The Texas band took the high road, spelling out "Thanks aTm" at halftime. Texas safety Blake Gideon vowed to "send them [A&M] off the right way." And so they did. The Longhorns won 27-25.
"These rivalries," Nixon said somberly, "transcend generations, quite frankly."
Not here. Not anymore. Kansas and Missouri can't even agree on how the series ends. Missouri claims a 57-54-9 advantage. Kansas says it is 55-56-9 against the Tigers. The disagreement goes back more than 50 years. KU's Bert Coan played in a 23-7 win that ruined then-No. 1 Missouri's chances at a national championship. The NCAA ruled Coan ineligible because of a recruiting violation and made Kansas forfeit the game. Except that Kansas never forfeited the game when it came to listing the Missouri series.
It seems laughable that some marketing goof decided to rename it the "Border Showdown" a few years ago. It took the edge off, made it palatable for the populous. Bad move because this will always be the Border War. State Line Road runs down the middle of Kansas City, literally dividing two states and their loyalties.
There are Tigers in this town who have children attending Kansas and Jayhawks whose offspring go to Missouri, but you never forget where you came from. Where they came from at Kansas is Don Fambrough, the crusty two-time former coach who was cursing Missouri's very existence until his death in September.
Where they came from is history. That's where former Kansas coach Pepper Rodgers will forever be immortalized for reportedly giving Missouri's Dan Devine "half a peace sign" following a 69-21 loss to the Tigers in 1969.
Where they came from is Florida. That was the native state of Kansas' Tony Sands who slammed into Tigers 58 times for a then-NCAA record 396 rushing yards in 1991. Where they came from is Shelbyville, Mo. That's the birthplace of Missouri basketball coaching legend Norm Stewart who once vowed never to spend a dime in the state of Kansas. So he didn't. His basketball teams would go in and out of Lawrence on the same day in order to support the local economy as little as possible.
Where they came from is the distant past. In this case, March 11, 1961. That's the day Jayhawks and Tigers brawled in Missouri's old Brewer Fieldhouse in basketball. Where they came from is the stands. Some idiot Missouri fan who once carried a sign referencing Roy Williams' just-deceased grandmother at a game in Columbia. Williams practically had to be restrained from going into the stands.
Yes, it's a Border War.
And now it's over, at least in football. The schools will meet at least twice more in basketball this season. KU coach Bill Self has already dismissed playing the Tigers. Self says his school can make more by bringing in a random non-conference opponent to Allen Fieldhouse than play Missouri in a neutral-site game.
"Anytime you're in a situation like this where there is a shift, a quick shift, there are emotions involved," Nixon said. "We're going to do everything we can to kindly, coolly and calmly get this series to continue."
There is a feeling that once administrators and coaches do calm down, the Border War will continue. At the tail end of a rivalry that started in 1891, the last five years at Arrowhead have been, at times, spectacular. When No. 4 Missouri played No. 2 Kansas in 2007 it was arguably the high point of each program. Kansas came back in 2008 and won in the snow and freezing rain. But attendance has dwindled, Kansas switched coaches and Missouri switched leagues.
It just isn't in the same anymore because it just isn't anymore.