Thursday is reportedly the day Missouri begins the process of applying for membership in the SEC, an application that virtually no one expects to be rejected--even if the last we heard from the Tigers' conference-of-choice, Mizzou didn't yet have the nine positive votes to join.
The major sticking point for alleged Mizzou-opponent Alabama? The Crimson Tide's cherished "Third Saturday in October" rivalry with Tennessee, which could become a non-annual game if Missouri is added to the (geographically sensible) West division. And with former Alabama athletic staffer Dave Hart now the AD in Knoxville, the Tigers won't get the Volunteers' support, either, if their admission puts the Third Saturday in jeopardy.
Though Hart doesn't spell that out specifically, it doesn't take a lot of reading between the lines in his Thursday interview with the Birmingham News to see that's the case:
Hart arrived from Alabama as Tennessee's new AD knowing the obvious: Alabama and Tennessee must continue playing football every year.
"The history that rivalry has produced is unparalleled in my mind," Hart said. "I know [Tide AD] Mal [Moore] feels exactly as I do. I feel strongly we can keep it and hope it can go back to the Third Saturday of October where it belongs. It would be a nice cherry on the top if all that would unfold."
By which Hart means returning the game to its rightful place on the calendar on the actual third Saturday in October; the game is currently played on that exact date occasionally (and falls on the fourth Saturday this season).
But first and foremost, the game has to be played at all. If Missouri is added to the West division, one current West team will have to move to the East--and the far-and-away most logical candidate is Auburn, whose president has already stated publicly his Tigers would be happy to make the switch. But that would put Alabama in the position of having both their major annual rivals in the opposite division, with only of those rivalries "protected" as an annual game.
As the News's Jon Solomon points out, the SEC has two options for preserving Vols-Tide: either assign Missouri to the East and keep Auburn in the West (keeping the Vols as the Tide's lone cross-divisional rival), or expand the SEC schedule to nine games and give each team an extra cross-division rival.
Since the latter means unbalanced home-away schedules and a maximum seven home games every other year, don't expect it to get much in the way of support (even if it works for the Pac-12, Big 12, etc.). At this point, the most sensible approach for including Mizzou seems to be to toss the Tigers in with Florida, Georgia and South Carolina, as little geographical sense as that makes.
Because as Hart's comments illustrate, adding the Tigers to the West means push would have to come to shove somewhere--and that somewhere might be Missouri not getting added to the SEC at all.