COLUMBIA, Mo. (AP) - After weeks of waiting, Missouri's move to the Southeastern Conference became official on Sunday.
The SEC released a statement saying the conference's presidents and chancellors unanimously agreed to welcome Missouri into the league effective July 1, 2012.
"The presidents and chancellors of the Southeastern Conference are pleased to welcome the University of Missouri to the SEC," said Florida President Bernie Machen, who is scheduled to join Missouri chancellor Brady Deaton and SEC commissioner Mike Slive at a campus news conference and public celebration of the move later Sunday. "The University of Missouri is a prestigious academic institution with a strong athletic tradition and a culture similar to our current institutions."
Missouri will be leaving the Big 12, a conference it has been a part of since 1907, including its days as the Big Eight and earlier incarnations such as the Big Six. The school could also face the end of annual athletic contests with neighboring Kansas, a rivalry with roots in the Civil War. The teams first met on the football field in 1891, the sport's oldest traditional matchup west of the Mississippi River.
The Big 12's uncertain future drove the move, said Missouri Chancellor Brady Deaton, who until last month was the conference's chairman - and public face of the league's battle for survival after losing Nebraska and Colorado last year and Texas A&M, which will join Missouri in a 14-team SEC.
"The Southeastern Conference is a highly successful, stable, premier athletic conference that offers exciting opportunities for the University of Missouri," Deaton said. "In joining the SEC, MU partners with universities distinguished for their academic programs and their emphasis on student success. The SEC will provide our student-athletes with top flight competition and unparalleled visibility. We came to this decision after careful consideration of the long term best interests of our university.
"We believe the Southeastern Conference is an outstanding home for the Mizzou Tigers, and we take great pride in our association with this distinguished league."
The announcement came as no surprise after Missouri's governing board gave Deaton the permission to change leagues in early October and then granted him broad authority two weeks later to negotiate directly with the SEC. From that point on, it seemed only a matter of time before the Tigers said goodbye to the Big 12 - especially after an SEC vendor mistakenly posted a congratulatory press release on the conference website welcoming Missouri before its hasty removal.
The delay was likely to due to concerns over the timing of Missouri's departure as well as the amount of the financial penalty the school must pay the Big 12 for breaking its contract. A confidential report provided to The Associated Press suggested the school could owe the Big 12 as much as $26 million, though both Nebraska and Colorado negotiated significantly lower exit fees than what they were legally obligated to return.
The Big 12 first needed to have a replacement for Missouri lined up, because the conference needs 10 schools to fulfill its TV contracts. The conference took care of that and bid farewell to Missouri 10 days ago, when it invited West Virginia from the Big East to join. The league did not even list Missouri among the schools it anticipated would be competing in the Big 12 next year.
"The decision by the University of Missouri to leave the Big 12 Conference is disappointing," interim Big 12 Commissioner Chuck Neinas said in a statement Sunday. "Mizzou has been a valuable member, with a Conference connection to schools in the Big 12 that dates back to 1907. I personally believe this decision is a mistake and that Missouri is a better fit in the Big 12."
Despite what the SEC and Big 12 plan, the Big East still will have a say in when Missouri and West Virginia will be allowed to start competing in their new conference homes.
Big East Commissioner John Marinatto has been adamant about enforcing the league's 27-month notification period and holding West Virginia in the conference for the next two years. West Virginia filed a lawsuit challenging that rule and the Big East countered with a lawsuit asking the courts to make the school abide by its contract.
The Big East is in rebuilding mode now and is expected to start adding new members in the next few days. The league last week approved inviting Boise State, Navy and Air Force for football only and SMU, Houston and Central Florida for all sports.
Its goal is to form a 12-team football league, but even if all the schools its targeting accept invitations, there are various hurdles that would have to be cleared - including waiting periods and exit fees - to have them in the Big East by 2012. So it's possible Missouri could be stuck in the Big 12 until West Virginia can depart from the Big East.
Missouri will likely compete in the SEC's East division, according to Arkansas Athletic Director Jeff Long, who suggested such a move his Twitter account. The other East schools are Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, South Carolina, Tennessee and Vanderbilt
Deaton's counterpart at Kansas released a statement decrying the "century-old conference rivalry('s) end." Like her men's basketball coach Bill Self, Kansas chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little suggested the Jayhawks' disappointment - and Missouri's unspoken betrayal - could scuttle the border showdowns.
"Missouri's decision may have implications for fans and for the Kansas City area, but it won't affect the long-term strength of the Big 12," she said.
The SEC announcement, by contrast, highlighted Missouri's affinities with its new conference home, noting that Missouri borders three SEC states: Tennessee, Kentucky and Arkansas, and also brings along an existing rivalry with Texas A&M.
That carry-over rivalry can only help Missouri's football recruiting efforts in Texas, which has become a top target for coach Gary Pinkel and his staff over the past decade.
In basketball, Arkansas will likely become Missouri's top SEC rivalry, with former Tigers coach Mike Anderson taking over the program this year after a successful stint in Columbia.
Vanderbilt vice chancellor David Williams, who oversees athletics, said he doesn't expect further SEC expansion- for now, at least.
"I think we're set at 14," Williams said. "Our thoughts were we need to go to 14 (after adding Texas A&M) for balance and scheduling."
Associated Press sports writer Teresa Walker in Nashville, Tenn. contributed to this report.