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Missouri plans to listen hard if Big Ten expansion comes calling

COLUMBIA, Mo. — From geographic proximity to its membership in the prestigious Association of American Universities, Missouri in many ways is a natural fit for an expanded Big Ten.

Need another reason? Try 13 million — that’s about how many extra dollars Missouri could expect to earn annually from a conference with its own television network and a revenue sharing model that distributes equal payments to all 11 members.

The Big Ten insists that no decisions have been made on expansion — and no offers extended, contrary to a Kansas City radio station’s report earlier this week. But Missouri isn’t waiting idly for its prospective suitor to make up its mind.

The Kansas City Star reported that athletics director Mike Alden, Missouri system president Gary Forsee and Columbia campus chancellor Brady Deaton met last week to discuss the school’s potential interest in leaving the Big 12 Conference. A campus spokeswoman declined to confirm the meeting, referring to a previously issued statement that the school “will not respond to speculation about conference realignment.”

At the same time, school leaders have never outright rejected the notion of Big Ten membership, offering public statements with plenty of room for conjecture.

On Tuesday, Deaton told The Associated Press that Missouri will “always do what is best for the university.”

“You’ve got every major conference looking at how they should reposition, or if they should reposition,” Deaton said. “I don’t think all the benefits and costs are known.”

Sports economist Andrew Zimbalist suggested that expansion by the Big Ten or other power conferences is a near certainty.

“There’s going to be some merger and acquisition activity,” said Zimbalist, a Smith College economics professor. “That’s a done deal … The dominant conferences would like to aggregate.”

To that end, the Big 12 and other major conferences are not waiting for the Big Ten decision, which commissioner Jim Delany has suggested could still be another year away.