Since Cuonzo Martin was hired as Missouri basketball coach, news has been flowing out of Columbia. Whether it’s landing another top recruit or hiring notable assistants, the Tigers expect to be nationally relevant next season.
But other than headlines from the spring game and a few commits, football has fallen to the sideline. It shouldn’t be a huge surprise. Mizzou threw more money at Martin than it paid football coach Barry Odom. Basketball is quietly becoming the priority sport.
Missouri went decades without being a football school, but former coach Gary Pinkel brought the program to the forefront. In 15 years, Pinkel led the Tigers to 10 bowl games and 5 division championships between the SEC East and Big 12 North.
But after student protests at the University of Missouri in 2015, the program struggled to rebound. Pinkel resigned because of cancer after a 5-7 season in 2015, and then Odom mucked to a 4-8 record and last-place finish in the SEC in 2016.
With a relatively undermanned roster and first-time head coach, Mizzou football was at a disadvantage relative to the rest of the SEC. Now, the sudden focus on basketball adds another level of confusion.
Supporting 2 sports is exceedingly difficult. Just look at the other notable basketball school in the conference — Kentucky had a bowl drought between 2010 and 2016. On the other end, Alabama basketball made the NCAA Tournament once since 2006. Florida was the only program to produce an 8-win football team and NCAA Tournament basketball team.
Putting major effort into basketball draws away from the football team in several ways. The most obvious is resources. Martin will almost certainly push for improved facilities and recruiting budget. Considering the Tigers rank top 10 in recruiting and Martin pursues top talent, the administration will likely acquiesce.
That leaves less opportunity for Odom to recruit at a high level. The Tigers brought in the No. 42 football recruiting class this season. Even at its peak, it’s unclear whether Odom would be able to compete with top schools in recruiting. Additionally, being a football player at Missouri becomes less attractive if a recruit believes he will be a second-class citizen to the basketball program.
There are schools that balance top football and basketball programs, but it comes down to making great coaching hires. Mark Dantonio and Tom Izzo at Michigan State ensure neither program falters. Back in the day, Billy Donovan and Urban Meyer gave Florida one of the most fearsome pairings in the college sports. It can be done.
Mizzou football help arrives
Missouri got good news this week in the football recruiting. Four-star defensive tackle Akial Byers signed on Wednesday to become the highest-rated recruit in the class of 2017. Three-star quarterback James Foster also spurned offers from top SEC schools to become the centerpiece of Mizzou’s 2018 class.
Keeping it up at Missouri — a school without the…