It's possible that Missouri will announce this very afternoon that they're leaving the Big 12, rendering these comments from Vanderbilt "vice chancellor of athletics" David Williams to the Tennessean irrelevant before you're done reading this post.
But if not, it's another warning shot that the Tigers may be the only school that could prevent the SEC from entering their 2012 season -- and possibly 2013 and 2014 seasons, too -- with just 13 teams. Assessing Missouri and the need for the SEC to go to 14, Williams had this to say (emphasis added):
Williams declined to mention any candidates other than Missouri specifically. If the Tigers do pledge their future to the Big 12 Tuesday, his comments would certainly suggest that if the door hasn't already been closed on a 14th team for the SEC's 2012 campaign, that would do it. And his comments hint that (hard as it may be to take at face value) the SEC legitimately does not know what course Missouri might take. (As for the official party line that the SEC hasn't actually entered into discussions with Tiger officials about a potential move, that we're not buying ... or else Missouri would have already sealed their spot in the Big 12, most likely.)
The factors to deal with that 14th team are well beyond anything that any one person could think about. There are so many things involved. ... People say, ‘Well, you’ve already got a 14th team (lined up).’ We don’t. I could see pros and cons on just about anything you suggest as another team. This is a process. That’s why I think we may be at 13 for a couple of years.
There are a lot of things that we don’t know or have control over. You asked the question about one university. Well, does that university even want to be part of it? You look into that conference … are they not sitting down, with the exception of Texas A&M, were they not sitting down saying that they’re (addressing) their TV rights for the next six years for the conference? So if that’s the case, you may not get anybody from their conference to go.
Past that, Williams has certainly left plenty of wiggle room for team No. 14 to show up at any point between now and 2013--saying the conference "may be" at 13 for longer than expected falls far short of declaring that he expects or predicts that to be the case. But by waffling on Missouri and issuing the "couple of years" warning shot for any other potential candidates, Williams is certainly suggesting the SEC's timetable for expansion may not be as short as many believe.
And that's what we'll go with, too ... for at least the next 30 to 45 minutes or so.
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