KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Meanwhile, back in Big 12 country, Mike Alden was knocking ’em dead at Country Club Plaza.
“I’ve never seen Kansas City as a Big 12 town as much as I’ve seen it as a great SPORTS town,” Missouri’s athletic director countered Tuesday night, coming just short of wagging a tut-tut finger. “A great COLLEGE sports town.”
Well, all righty then.
Now, where were we?
Oh, yes. While Tigers football coach Gary Pinkel was talking tough with the new media hordes at the first day of Southeastern Conference Football Media Days in Birmingham (“I’ll be disappointed if we’re intimidated,” he declared), and his players were busy noting how the girls were prettier and the toilet paper thicker down south (thank you very much, T.J. Moe, you salty dog), Alden was back in Big — err, sorry, college sports — territory, rousing the troops, shaking the trees, and passing ’round the offering plate.
Verne Lundquist doesn’t do this for free, you know.
“Thought about that,” Alden told FOXSports.com before addressing a few hundred Mizzou fans and alums as the featured guest of an “SEC Summit” — you know, the kind Steve Spurrier and Phil Fulmer used to have — hosted by the Tiger Club of Kansas City. “Normally, I would be with Gary (in Alabama).
“(Tuesday), we’d already had this scheduled, and it worked the best for Kansas City. Gary and the other team are doing a great job of educating the (southern) media about Mizzou in Birmingham. And we have a different team, that’s here, just doing it simultaneously.”
The lesson presented to Kansas City, in CliffsNotes form: Right now, the Tigers would rank second in the SEC in overall APR and graduation rates (CROWD: YAY!). They’d also check in at 11th out of 14 schools in terms of overall athletic budget (CROWD: AWKWARD SILENCE!).
Annnnd — cue the offering plate.
“You need to be patient,” Alden continued. “You need to keep educating your people and you need to keep focused on those things that are a priority. And (those are): How are you continuing to build your staff? How are you expanding your recruiting base? What are you doing about your facilities? And how are you going to continue to grow your budget?”
Those last two, in particular, are the tricky ones. If you thought Oklahoma State’s giant checks from Boone Pickens were annoying, Mizzou fans, y’all better brace yourselves — because in the SEC, just about everybody at the party has a Sugar Daddy they can run to in a pinch. Arkansas is dripping with Wal-Mart money. Auburn alum Bobby Lowder, a former banking mogul, has been accused for years of being the man pulling the strings behind the scenes on the Plains.
To that end, Mizzou is in the teeth of a $200-million campaign earmarked for upgrading facilities across the board, and buoyed by a $30-million pledge from the Kansas City Sports Trust.
That’s a heck of a start, but the need never stops. The SEC does not do small well. Small or modest.
“I mean, they issued 1,100 media credentials,” Alden said of SEC Media Days, adding that he believed the Big 12 throngs to be roughly a third of that, by and large. “So what Coach (Pinkel) and the student-athletes were saying is, ‘The exposure, the intensity of this is really exciting, but it’s something overwhelming to us, that we hadn’t recognized that it was going to be that strong — in a positive way.'”
Alden’s “team” in the Plaza kept the positive vibes rolling back in Big — err, sorry, college sports — country, too. The Tigers administrator admitted that he’d turned to former Big Eight/Big 12 icon Tom Osborne, now the athletic director at Nebraska, for advice (‘Don’t think (acclimation) is going to happen overnight,’ the old coach said) and that he’s actually starting to warm up to the finer points of SEC culture. To say nothing of SEC cuisine.
“I’ve learned that Dreamland and Full Moon are really good barbecue places, and they compete against each other in Alabama,” Alden said with a grin. “I’ve learned that I really do enjoy country music — even moreso, now that I’ve spent some time in Nashville. And I’ve learned that Columbia, South Carolina, and Columbia, Missouri, while they share the same name, they’re just different types of cities.”
It’s different these days in Kansas City, too — the metro has gone from the epicenter of the old Big Eight to the epicenter of the not-as-old Big 12 North to the Nome, Alaska of the SEC. At present, it reminds one of Iron-Curtain Era East Berlin, with Kansas, Kansas State and Iowa State glowering at this giant wall where Truman the Tiger used to be.
“I think it’s going to be difficult for anybody to draw a line,” Alden said, “because the fact of the matter is, this is Kansas City, MISSOURI. We’re the University of MISSOURI. And you know, regardless of people’s desire to be able to do different types of things, nobody can negate the fact that this is part of the state of Missouri.”
Alden stressed that he wants to throw Kansas City — and the Tigers’ large cadre of Kansas City alums — a bone with a neutral-site football game at Arrowhead Stadium, as well as men’s basketball tilts at the Sprint Center on an annual or semi-annual basis. And as to the SEC moving one of its marquee postseason events this far north, well …
“Maybe,” Alden replied. “I don’t see football (moving). Football is Atlanta-based, and that is a huge success in Atlanta. But I do think with the SEC men’s basketball tournament and the SEC women’s basketball tournament, (there are) some other opportunities. But that’s all going to depend, as you know, (on) the community. The communities are what have to step up and say, ‘We want it, this is what we want to do.’ And our hope would be that Kansas City is one of those that wants to be a player in that type of setting.”
In the meantime, the acclimation rolls on. So does the offering plate.
“I think it’s going to take a little time,” Alden said.
A little time and a lot of dough. Them rolls of fancy toilet paper don’t come cheap.