Wow, what a notable day in St. Louis sports history. Mizzou’s move to the SEC, the Rams loss to Arizona, and Sunday night’s Blues firing of Davis Payne and hiring of Ken Hitchcock were all, in their own way, earth-shaking changes on the STL sports scene.
We got the word Sunday morning that Missouri’s athletics programs would transfer to the SEC in July of next year. The prevailing line of thought I hear is that Mizzou won’t be able to handle the competition in their new conference, but I think it’s a positive move on multiple fronts.
Financially, the Tigers will be on equal footing with the rest of the conference’s members. Whether you’re Alabama or LSU, or Vanderbilt or South Carolina, you earn the same amount. For years in the Big XII, Texas made the most, and then television income gradually diminished from there. Even though Texas and Oklahoma have agreed to share revenue from TV contracts, they haven’t agreed to share revenue from their own networks. The Longhorn Network earns UT an extra $15 million a year, and the other schools won’t see a dime of that. If Oklahoma starts a network, it’ll be the same thing. So schools like Mizzou, Iowa State, Kansas State and Kansas will always take a back seat to them.
I go back to 2007, when Missouri beat Kansas and was ranked higher than KU at the end of the season, but lost the Big XII championship game to Oklahoma. Simply because they beat Kansas and played another game that they lost, Mizzou wasn’t awarded a spot in a BCS game, and Kansas was. Regardless of TV revenue, it’s hard to imagine that sort of treatment of the Tigers changing. The football and basketball championships have been moved permanently to Texas. It’s a Texas conference, and it’s going to be.
One other point about the Big XII. In September, if the Pac-12 had decided to expand, Texas, Texas Tech, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State were going there. And once the Pac-12 decides it wants to go to 16 teams, those teams are bolting. Once that happens, the Big XII is done anyway. Does it do Mizzou any good to stay in a conference that’s likely to blow up in the next five years? I don’t think so.
In regards to Mizzou’s ability to compete in the SEC, I’ve made the point before and I will again. This is an off year, but in the five years before this one, do you really think that the football programs at Vanderbilt, Kentucky, Arkansas, South Carolina, Georgia, Mississippi State, Mississippi and Tennessee were clearly better than Mizzou’s? I don’t think so. Auburn has had one great year, when they had Cam Newton last season. Sure, the Tigers won’t beat LSU or Alabama often, but they didn’t beat Oklahoma or Texas often, either. I look at Mizzou’s recent history of winning and turning out top picks in the NFL draft (more than any school except Alabama in the last five years), and I believe they’ll compete. In basketball, Mizzou was an elite-eight program three years ago. Sure, Kentucky and Florida are dominant programs. But there isn’t another school in the SEC that Mizzou won’t compete with on a regular basis.
The Rams game was a disaster. In overtime and afterward, I received texts from friends suggesting the loss to Arizona was embarrassing, mortifying, horrific, brutal and horrendous. All of those adjectives are 100 percent accurate. In Sam Bradford’s six starts, the Rams have scored four touchdowns, including none in his last two starts. The Rams were deficient on offense, where they only scored three field goals; on defense, where, despite two safeties, they couldn’t stop the immortal John Skelton in the fourth quarter; and on special teams, where they had a field goal blocked and allowed Patrick Peterson to return a punt 99 yards in overtime for the winning score.
As much as I like Steve Spagnuolo and his lieutenants, I can’t say this is anything but an issue that falls at his feet. He chooses the assistants. He chooses the 53-man roster. He signs off on game plans and ideas. If I were owner Stan Kroenke watching this train wreck, I would be making calls to determine who the guy running the show next year will be.
Sunday night, the Blues made the stunning announcement that they had fired coach Davis Payne and replaced him with former Stanley Cup winner Ken Hitchcock. Payne had time to grow into the job, and in his defense the club suffered some debilitating injuries. However, like the Rams, young players just didn’t get better and in most cases regressed. Hitchcock is a no-nonsense taskmaster who may get the most out of these players.
We should note, however, that Hitchcock will be the third coach to work with this group. They didn’t want to play for Andy Murray because he pushed them too hard and demanded too much excellence. Payne treated them like grown-ups and tried to coax them into improving, and they didn’t.
At some point, perhaps the Blues will have to come to grips with the idea that guys like T.J. Oshie and Patrik Berglund aren’t going to be superstars, that Andy McDonald is going to be hurt all the time, and that Barret Jackman is simply a sixth or seventh defenseman. It’s been the coaches twice now. It has to be the players at some point.
It was a dramatic weekend in St. Louis sports. What an amazing 10 days, from the Cardinals world championship to Mizzou’s win over Texas A&M to Tony La Russa’s retirement, and then this Sunday. It’s an amazing time, and a great time, to observe the St. Louis sports scene.