As part of the university's outreach program, Missouri athletic director Mike Alden spent a portion of the afternoon Wednesday in Maryville—the final stop on a four-town tour through northwest Missouri.
Alden visited with members of Northwest Missouri State's athletic department before holding an open forum on the third floor of the J.W. Jones Student Union.
After Northwest Missouri State athletic director Wren Baker gave an introductory address, Alden spoke for 10 minutes, detailing the principles he's built Missouri's athletic department on over the last 14 years.
He then fielded 15 minutes worth of questions covering a wide-range of issues pertaining to college athletics and the University of Missouri.
The first question of the session came from Baker and had to do with the hot-button issue of college realignment.
Alden, who helped spearhead Missouri's move to the SEC, made it clear that he thinks there's still more movement ahead in Division I.
"Missouri is in a tremendously stable place an institution in the SEC, but I do not think conference realignment is over," said Alden. "Absolutely not. There is is more coming."
Alden envisions a future in which "60-70" BCS schools make up their own classification in Division I, separating themselves from less prominent schools that don't generate as much revenue.
"They dominate the revenue generations coming in," said Alden of the top 60-70 schools. "You would see these schools make a completely different move so that they're going to be able to manage themselves. There's no competitive equity anymore. When the rest of these TV contracts come out, it's just going to drive an even bigger wedge and you're going to have 60-70 schools that command the lion's share of the revenue in Division I athletics. At some point, they're not going to allow Quinnipiac, Missouri State and Eastern Michigan to dictate how much money is being spent."
Asked later to elaborate on how such an arrangement would work, Alden said he thought there would "four or five" super-conferences," consisting mostly of teams from the SEC, Big 10, Big 12, ACC and Pac 12.
Talk of Missouri and its move to the SEC, which became official on July 1, dominated the rest of session.
Asked what he enjoyed most about being part of the nation's premiere football conference, Alden pointed first to the cooperative relationships that exist between the 14 member schools.
"The opportunities for us to go to meetings in the conference and know that everybody is treated exactly the same, everybody shares money the same way, everybody is collegial in what they're doing," said Alden. "I was not used to that from a personal standpoint. When you're running an organization, even though they want to beat your brains in when you play them on Saturday, as competitors we want that. To me that's the most satisfying situation."
Page 2 of 3 - During a small gathering with reporters later on, Alden noted that the "SEC is more proactive. We were in a reactive mode in the previous league."
Alden also says being part of the SEC has generated a tremendous amount of excitement for the football program.
Tickets sales, donations and enrollment applications have all gone up dramatically since the move made.
Recently, Missouri received a $30 million donation, the second-largest in school history, that will be used toward a number of renovations to their athletic facilities over the next 24-30 months.
One of those is Faurot Field, Missouri's football stadium, where seats are being added on both sides that will increase the capacity from 71,400 to 75,000.
"It's been tremendous for the state of Missouri, particularly in Mid-Missouri," said Alden.
While beneficial in most respects, Missouri's venture to the SEC has created its share of challenges.
Alden says the most difficult one is trying to temper expectations from a fan base that expects to still win at a high level.
"I think many people believed once July 1 hit and the switch was flipped that said Missouri was in the SEC, everything is going to be exactly the same," said Alden. "I took us 100 years to build things in the Big 6, the Big 8 and the Big 12. Just by shifting here. I think it's going to take us at least a few years to understand things and get our feet on the ground."
Missouri's disappointing 4-4 start in football has added to the consternation among fans, some of which wonder whether the Tigers can compete in the SEC.
Not one to panic, Alden believes it's only a matter of time before the Tigers hold their own with the likes of Alabama and Florida.
"Implementing and expanding the recruiting base, the facility improvements and things like that, we have the ability to make an immediate impact against teams like that," said Alden. "I believe that. I know we can in all our sports. The SEC, in baseball is the strongest conference bar-none and in football. From the football side, we'll be ready to roll on that right away. We just got to keep shifting our recruiting focus."
Alden was asked a follow-up question about whether he had any doubts or second-thoughts about going to the SEC at this point.
He answered no and recounted the incident that prompted Missouri to be done with the Big 12.
"On Sept. 2, 2011, everything in the world was great in college athletics," said Alden. "We just had come out of a board meeting in the Big 12 where everybody had just looked at each other and pledged their allegiance to the Big 12. On Sept. 3, a comment came out of Norman that said "we will not be wallflowers and we're going to do what's best for us." You know what broke loose. All of us—interim president Steve Owens, our general counsel and my boss Brady Deaton—are standing on the roof of the press box and we're going 'holy cow.' If that happens, what about us?' It was that time Brady said we're going to do what's best for Mizzou. That's when everything shifted for us. Ever since that point the decision was made, I don't think anyone from a leadership standpoint has ever looked back."
Page 3 of 3 - Alden concluded his remarks by praising Baker for his willingness to "network" and exchange ideas with other athletic departments.
"You got a heck of a CEO right here," said Alden.
Baker and Alden have formed a close relationship in the past two years that developed through a mutual contact, Northwest's associate AD Scott Nielson.
A former Mizzou employee, Nielson used Alden as a reference on his resume that he sent to Northwest, prompting a call from Baker.
A meeting between the two in Columbia evolved from there in which they spent part of the day together discussing various topics related to college athletics.
Later on, Alden agreed to stop by Northwest on his way through northwest Missouri.
"I've actually gotten a call from several athletic directors that are like 'how did you get this pulled off'?" said Baker. "It's a great deal. Mike called us and we set up a schedule for him. It's a very unique and special opportunity. I'm privileged and honored to consider him kind of a mentor and an advisor."
It turns out Alden has had a huge influence on Northwest's success in football over the last decade-plus.
Back when he was still the AD at Texas State in the mid 90's, Alden chose Bob DeBesse as the head football coach over Mel Tjeerdsma who had just completed his third season at Northwest.
Tjeerdsma went on to win three national championships over the next 14 seasons, creating a dynasty that remains in place.
"Northwest Missouri State should be thinking me," said Alden. "I went with Bob DeBesse and Mel stayed right here and won all those games. There should be some kind of letter of thanks I get for something like that."