The New York Times is reporting that Missouri's application to the SEC is 'inevitable and imminent.' So that's it?
Probably. While there are some notable exceptions to this -- hello, West Virginia -- the general rule of thumb is that schools don't formally apply to a conference unless all the i's have been dotted and the t's have been crossed. At this point, it would be a massive shock if Missouri isn't announced as the SEC's 14th member sometime in the next few weeks.
Okay. When would they start playing as a member of the SEC?
The Times report indicates that could happen for the 2012-13 academic year. That would still be a heavy lift for the Tigers and the SEC. As we've found out from the conference's efforts to integrate Texas A&M, this isn't as simple as changing the logos on the field. (Though Missouri might have already taken care of that much.) Then again, TCU can tell you that being a lame duck in your current conference for more than a year is a really, really bad idea.
But consider that Missouri will at least have to alter its schedule for the 2012-13 conference games, home and away, and figure out a way to make all of that work with its nonconference schedule and the schedules of the other 13 teams. The Big 12 also currently has nine conference games in a year, which means that Missouri would have to find another nonconference foe. Or, and this is likely to happen anyway, the SEC would have to go to nine conference games, which would require all of the other SEC teams to shed a nonconference game.
Then again, it's a nightmare to try to schedule a 13-team conference, even if it's just a way to get by for a year. So there's not really an easy way to do this.
Missouri was, like a lot of Big 12 teams, blindsided both by the way Texas and the ESPN have operated the Longhorn Network and the fact that Texas A&M bolted for the SEC. (In fairness, almost everyone was blindsided by both of those events.) Contrary to what a lot of us would like, these decisions can't be made very quickly. You're talking about moving an entire athletics department to another league and the travel and television consequences for each of its teams. It takes some time to study that and figure out what you want to do, so Missouri has probably just now gotten to the point where it's ready to make the jump after looking at this since the summer.
So what about the issue with rivalry games like the Iron Bowl and the Third Saturday in October?
Buzz on the message boards and the like has indicated Missouri could move to the SEC East, because there's nothing that says east-southeastern United States like Missouri, and fix the problem that way. (The idea isn't new; at least one pro-SEC website has been floating it for a couple of months now.) That would actually head off the problem at the pass, because there's no need to find a way to preserve the rivalries if the Missouri Tigers join the East. In any case, the SEC is likely to find a way to accommodate both rivalries. It doesn't want another Nebraska-Oklahoma debacle on its hands -- the cancellation of that rivalry was one of the major steps in the Cornhuskers' long estrangement with the Big 12.
That's still going to be a lot of Tigers to keep straight, with LSU, Auburn and Missouri.
Details, details. There might be an NCAA rule against having three in the same conference, from what I've heard, but I can't find anything to actually back that up.
Why does everyone say that this is going to screw up the Big East's plans?
This is where you have to go with the domino theory of conference realignment. Unless the Big 12 decides to break up all over again (which is not impossible by any means), then there's talk that Louisville and West Virginia would be targets. (If TCU was bound for the Big East before its U-turn, and Missouri is headed to the SEC, then we're long past where expansion has to make any geographical sense.) So you then have an "AQ" conference that consists of South Florida, Rutgers, Cincinnati, UConn and Louisville or West Virginia if the Big 12 only takes one. At which point Air Force might wonder why it would join another version of the Mountain West that's farther away. And Navy might decide that independence isn't so bad after all. Boise State would be off the board. But UCF would likely still be willing to sign up, so there's that.
But, wait, didn't the Big East just say it was going to up its exit fees?
Yes, contingent upon Air Force and Navy joining the conference. (HT: Big East Coast Bias) Which they're unlikely to want to do unless there's a greater financial commitment from the current members of the Big East. Which the current members have now voted to do as long as Air Force and Navy join ... You can see how this could become a problem, right?