Columbia, Mo. Missouri curators met behind closed doors Sunday night for the fourth time in as many days as the school turns its attention to saving the Big 12 Conference after its apparent bid to join the Big Ten failed.
The meeting followed two days of discussions in Columbia amid a shifting landscape that saw fellow Big 12 members Colorado and Nebraska bolt for the Pac-10 and Big Ten, respectively.
Missouri was considered one of the top prospects for an expanded Big Ten, and the school could still wind up there as conference realignment continues to unfold.
For now, school officials are publicly pledging their loyalty to a 10-team Big 12 — even as their counterparts in Texas and Oklahoma prepare for their own private meetings this week that could result in an exodus from the conference, with as many as five Big 12 teams possibly headed to the Pac-10.
Chancellor Brady Deaton told alumni in an e-mail he "will do everything possible to assure the success of the conference." He offered similar assurances Sunday night at a crowded news briefing on the steps of University Hall after the one-hour curator meeting, which resulted in no action.
He noted Missouri's century-old history with the schools that form the core of the Big 12 and its predecessors — institutions such as Kansas, Kansas State and Iowa State that are also faced with trying to save the conference.
"We have been a proud member of the Big Six, Big Seven and Big Eight, and we continue to take great pride in the accomplishments of the Big 12," Deaton wrote while noting Missouri's role in forming the Missouri Valley Intercollegiate Athletic Association in 1907. "Our position as a member for more than 100 years gives us a great appreciation for the tremendous value of our conference and a vital stake in its future."
Those words represent a sharp turn from Missouri's previously stated interest in exploring all its options with conference realignment.
But those earlier flirtations came before Nebraska's departure and assertions from both Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany and Big 12 leader Dan Beebe that the oldest conference in Division I sports was not targeting any other Big 12 schools — at least for the time being.
Missouri's interest in joining a bigger and broader Big Ten was met with criticism Friday from Nebraska Chancellor Harvey Perlman, who cited public comments by Deaton, Athletics director Mike Alden and Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon as fodder for the 14-year-old Big 12's possible collapse.
Alden responded by calling such assertions "silly" and "ridiculous." And University of Missouri system President Gary Forsee said the school bears no blame for simply protecting its self-interest.
"We were only doing what you would expect any institution, whether you're sitting here or in Lawrence, Kan., or Waco, Texas," Forsee said. "Did we contribute more or less than any other institution in the Big 12 or nationally? No. I think we've all been caught up in now this national discussion that certainly has spread beyond the Big Ten, and the Big 12 is certainly in the middle of that."
That would be the 10-team Big 12, as Deaton pointed out after struggling to differentiate Missouri's current home with the now 12-team Big Ten and 11-member Pac-10.
"We're working hard to strengthen the Big 12, or the Big Ten as it is right now. In other words,the 10 institutions left in the Big 12.
"Nomenclature is very difficult in this process," Deaton said.