Here are the highlights of our weekly chat with Post-Dispatch readers.
Q: Dave, so what would you say Jim Sterk's legacy will be from his time at Mizzou?
A: A mixed bag.
People were fond of Sterk and respected him, but I never got the sense they truly knew him well. He brought some stability after the tumultuous 2015 football season and quick exit from Mack Rhoades. I thought he had the right intentions at heart during the NCAA investigation for academic fraud, but in hindsight maybe MU should have played it differently in terms of cooperating with the NCAA on some of the allegations. The Dawn Staley flap was unfortunate, for sure. Along the way, a power struggle developed between Sterk and the university leaders - and it came to a head during the search for Odom's successor, when some Board members asked for a search reset once Sterk had narrowed his focus on some finalists. Some people in high places lost faith in his leadership and he was never able to restore that faith. Yes, he did a fine job raising money for some major projects, but depending on who you're talking to, some at MU will give Drinkwitz as much credit for the fundraising as they do Sterk. (Also, deputy AD Ryan Alpert deserves a lot of credit for igniting fundraising in the midst of a pandemic.) His regime made some good hires in Drinkwitz, Cuonzo Martin and Larissa Anderson.
College sports changed dramatically this summer with a lot of forces impacting the sport at once: name/image/likeness rules, the Alston case, football playoff expansion, SEC expansion, NCAA decentralization. Add it up and Mizzou's leaders - we're talking campus powers - saw that Sterk had two years left on his deal and rather than start looking for a new leader in two years and confront all these new challenges with a lame duck AD, it made more sense to cut ties now and offer the settlement package I reported Wednesday.
Q: Does Missouri want Oklahoma and Texas to join the SEC? I'm assuming it will mean more money for Mizzou, will it hurt them in recruiting and win totals? I feel the 11 votes needed will be reached today.
A: It will be a unanimous vote. That's how these decisions are made. The SEC doesn't go this far into the process without everyone being onboard. Texas A&M has come out in support of the additions, albeit begrudgingly, I'm sure. So if the Aggies are OK with the moves, Mizzou will certainly be OK with the move. We're talking about roughly $20 million more per school per year with these additions, per projections. Mizzou's annual revenue will still be in the lower tier of the SEC, but turning down that kind of cash would be institutional malpractice, regardless of the impact on the field or the recruiting trail.
Yes, adding two quality football programs makes it harder for programs like Mizzou or Mississippi State or Arkansas or South Carolina to win the SEC - but it's extremely hard for those programs to win the SEC anyway. We don't know how the divisions, pods or schedules will look just yet, but if Mizzou trades annual games against Florida and Georgia for annual games against Oklahoma and Texas, how is that much harder?
As for recruiting, I think adding these two programs is a net gain for Mizzou. Texas and OU can still only sign 25 players per year, but their additions should make the SEC more appealing to more prospects in Texas - and they can't all go to Texas and OU. There's an endless supply of players in the state.
Q: BenFred said if he were on the hiring committee he's make West Virginia's AD say no, then switch to Wren Baker if that didn't pan out. Would those two be at the top of your AD wish list or is there another candidate you'd like to see MU pursue?
A: Ben likes WVU’s Shane Lyons. He’s a WVU grad and West Virginia native, so it might be hard to pull him away from his alma mater. Plus, he’s 56. This hire is more about vision and energy than age, but is that too old?
If I'm making this hire, I call Ross Bjork and gauge his interest. (Ross is 48.) Yes, he's at Texas A&M, one of the most powerful programs in college sports with more resources than anyone. But there's a lot of drama on that campus and a lot of folks who want to be the boss. He's a Midwestern guy (from Kansas). His wife Sonya is from Dexter, Missouri. He learned the industry from Mike Alden. He knows the fan base. He knows the state. He's been at big-time schools: UCLA, Miami, Ole Miss, A&M. He also makes a lot of $. About $1.2 million.
Bjork would register as the big swing Mizzou wants to take.
I've poked around. There was a time when Bjork would have walked to Columbia to take over here. But in 2021, he's a long shot. It's hard to walk away from his situation at A&M. Plus, does Mizzou have the cash to essentially double what they were paying Sterk? There's more money on its way with SEC expansion, but keep in mind, if Drinkwitz is the guy you think/hope he is, at some point you'll have to pay him more than $4 million.
From there, there's a lot to like about Shane Lyons, BenFred's choice. Wren Baker would do an outstanding job at Mizzou. He'd supply the morale boost the department needs. He'd raise money and find ways to tap into new revenue sources. He's also paid highly enough, sharp enough and young enough (42) to be choosy with his next job.
Mark Alnutt would be a strong candidate - not based on his MU ties but based on the job he's done at Buffalo. He's going to have a good P5 job sooner than later.
Q: What if instead of the SEC expanding with Texas and OU, the SEC just accepts all the Big 12 teams and goes to 24 teams? No lawsuits, no pay outs, no upset university presidents or politicians, could start in 2022, and ESPN already has the TV contracts for both conferences. The SEC would divide into Four divisions: (Big 12) North, (Big 12) South, (SEC) East, and (SEC) West. There would be 11 conference games per season and one non-conference game or cross-division rivalry. Nearly all the rivalries remain intact, and some old ones are renewed (MU-KU).
A: I appreciate the novel approach, but the key to realignment is you have to add programs that enhance your value in the market, but with equal revenue sharing in the SEC, if you add too many programs that don't drive up the league's overall value, you're dividing your revenue into smaller slices for each member. Adding OU and Texas increases the size of each slice even though you're now feeding 16 mouths instead of 14. But adding Kansas, Kansas State, Baylor, etc., only increases the mouths without increasing the size of the slice. So in the end, your overall product is bigger but not necessarily better - and your revenue slice could be smaller. So, I would not expect the SEC to add programs that don't add value and instead dilute the brand and the product.
Q: With all the breaking news about Texas/OU blowing up the college football landscape, and the departure of MU's AD, what's this past week been like for you?
A: Monday night was a little hectic, but I'm coming off two weeks of vacation and a week in Alabama for media days, so my batteries have been fully charged. After 20 years covering Mizzou, I'm conditioned for all hell to break loose on this beat when you least expect it. No sweat.
As for SEC expansion, this round certainly impacts Mizzou, but with Mizzou being on the sidelines for all the action, the MU beat isn't as frantic as it was a decade ago. There's still plenty to write about and report, but not like there was in 2011 when Mizzou was one of the programs on the move and at the heart of all the uncertainty.
Q: Do you see any way Big 12 can survive as a conference? Are they done? If the Big 12 would've gotten its on TV network, none of this would be happening.
A: The accusations by Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby against ESPN seem to indicate the other eight teams in the Big 12 are going to stick together (for now) and try to make a go of it, perhaps by picking off the best available options. I don't believe they have an anchor strong enough to command the kind of TV money they're accustomed to making, so does that mean a Big 12 mash-up conference will no longer be considered part of the power conferences? Perhaps. I'm sure there are folks at each school that would prefer to break away and find the best landing spot, but from what's being reported around the country, there doesn't seem to be a really strong appetite in the Big Ten, ACC or Pac-12 to add pieces just for the sake of adding pieces.
Q: Dave, heard a sports analyst rank OU #3 and UTX #6 if they were in the SEC right now. What do you think?
A: Good question. Are we talking about overall strength of the football program or the 2021 season specifically?
I'll attempt to rank the 16 just in terms of the overall strength of their programs — not necessarily how they'll finish this season.
4. Texas A&M
8. Ole Miss
12. Mississippi State
15. South Carolina
I think you can easily mix up Nos. 8 through 11 in any order. I'm probably higher on Lane Kiffin than most. I give Auburn a slight edge over Missouri because Bryan Harsin is more proven as a head coach compared to Drinkwitz at this stage in their careers. Outside of the top three, LSU is probably the program with the most upside - as we saw two years ago - but could also free-fall if the Ed Orgeron experience backfires. The Vols have huge upside, too, but based on their roster situation and looming NCAA sanctions, that program probably has the lowest ceiling it's ever had moving forward.
Q: Dave, do you see any path where the Big Ten opens up Pandora on alignment and say Texas A&M and Missouri would get an invite to join along with say a couple of prime ACC members?
A: My email inbox gets this question about once every couple days and frankly I've run out of ways to answer it.
In a word, no. Mizzou isn't leaving the SEC. No, no, no.
MU has a football coach who was born and bred to coach in the SEC. Drinkwitz isn’t sticking around if MU should for some reason would want to leave the SEC for the Big Ten.
Where does this Big Ten yearning come from? Is it because a schedule of Iowa, Northwestern, Illinois, Wisconsin and Minnesota would be easier than Oklahoma, Texas, LSU and the Mississippi schools? Is this all about easier football schedules? Then why does everyone want to only play noncon games against Ohio State, Notre Dame, USC, etc? I can't keep up. Are easier schedules better or harder schedules?