ST. LOUIS (AP) - It wasn't too long ago Missouri chancellor Brady Deaton spoke of "working every day to hold the Big 12 together." Now he's been tasked with helping decide whether the Tigers are the latest program to leave a troubled conference fighting for its future.
University curators voted unanimously Tuesday night to consider leaving the Big 12 instead of committing to the league for the long term. The governing board's members agreed unanimously after a four-hour closed meeting at the system's St. Louis campus to give Deaton authority to look elsewhere, specifically "any and all actions necessary to fully explore options on conference affiliation ... which best serve the (school's) interest."
And Deaton, the conference's public face through its recent turmoil, is resigning as chairman of the Big 12's board of directors to avoid the obvious conflict of interest.
Just one day earlier, the conference announced presidents and chancellors of the remaining nine members - including Deaton - had agreed to equal revenue sharing and to seek approval from each university to hand over the most lucrative television rights to the conference for six years.
Now it looks as if the Big 12 might be losing two members for the second straight year.
"The University of Missouri is a member in good standing in the Big 12 Conference, and I anticipate the University will continue to be a member of the Big 12," interim Big 12 commissioner Chuck Neinas said in a statement released soon after Missouri announced its intentions.
One year ago, Nebraska defected from the Big 12 to the Big Ten, with Colorado also leaving for what is now the Pac-12.
"What brings us here tonight is that the Big 12 Conference is now requesting that its members make binding, long-term irrevocable commitments to the conference," said Steve Owens, interim president of the four-campus University of Missouri system. "We don't fault the Big 12 Conference. It is something it should be doing in order to promote stability."
Speculation has centered on a possible Missouri move to the Southeastern Conference, which recently agreed to accept Texas A&M from the Big 12 starting next year
Deaton declined to specifically answer a reporter's question about interest in the SEC on either the school's part or the other conference. He said there is no timetable for the decision, whether a self-imposed deadline or a Big 12 loyalty demand.
"We're going to be exploring options generally and will be making no comments about specific areas where we have begun to look at," he said.
Conceivably, Missouri could remain in the Big 12, Deaton said, but the Tigers are officially on the market now. And the SEC could use a 14th member to balance a league that now has an odd number of teams.
"We certainly are not ruling out continuing in the Big 12," he said. "But we want to be sure to do what is best for our university."
The Big 12 also announced Monday it had re-activated its expansion committee, but Neinas has said there was not yet a consensus on how many teams the league would like to ultimately end up with.
A Missouri move would mean the Big 12 is likely to add at least two teams and could put the Big East on guard again. That conference has already had two members - Pittsburgh and Syracuse - poached by the Atlantic Coast Conference and is trying to recruit new members.
If the Big 12 wanted to stretch farther east, Louisville, Cincinnati and West Virginia of the Big East could be targets. There has also been speculation the Big 12 could pursue BYU, TCU, SMU, and Houston.
Missouri has been a Big 12 member since the conference began 15 years ago and was a charter member of the Big Eight, the Big 12's predecessor. Its border contests with Kansas are part of one of the most storied- and oldest - rivalries in college sports, with conference affiliations that began more than a century ago.
Owens, Deaton and board chairman Warren Erdman kept their public remarks brief. Missouri athletics director Mike Alden, who joined the other three at a news conference announcing the decision, did not speak and declined comment afterward.
Other curators were escorted out of the building by campus police officers. Curator Wayne Goode, who left the meeting on his own, declined an Associated Press interview request.