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Quick note on something you may have missed:  Missouri opens the football season in 11 days.

You would think it would be the biggest headline you could find.  It isn’t.  It’s more than a note on the back page, but it’s hardly above the fold, to use a newspaper term.

To be fair, I’ve been perhaps as guilty as anyone in burying the lede.  My job—and that of anyone else who covers a college program—is to write about what interests people, what the fans are talking about.  And, at this point, the 2011 football season ranks no higher than third on the list of many people.

However, it’s the ONLY story which we know will have a definitive answer by the time the calendar flips to 2012.

On Twitter last night, I sent out a question to Mizzou fans (follow me @GabeDeArmond if you so desire).  I asked what would occur first:  The football game against Miami (OH), a coaching change in basketball or a jump to a new conference.

I got 31 responses.  Fourteen voted the Tigers and Redhawks would play football.  Fourteen voted that Frank Haith would be out as Missouri’s coach.  Only three voted that the conference dominoes would fall first (and I think they were either voting with their hearts or misunderstood the question and were saying that Texas A&M would decide to leave the Big 12 before the other two occurred).

I think everyone realizes that conference realignment isn’t going to be done soon.  There are multiple reports that the Aggies will jump to the SEC by the time the football season kicks off.  That’s what I’m expecting.  However, I don’t think the SEC then makes a move for its 14th team hours later.  It’s going to be a little bit of a process.  It won’t happen immediately.  I do think the league will add a 14th team—and I do think there’s a chance Missouri is that team—but if you think it’s going to happen by Friday, I don’t think you have a good grasp on how these things develop.  It will take a while.  Maybe weeks, maybe months, maybe even a couple of years.

On the basketball front, I do believe Missouri has to do something rather quickly.  By the time the Tigers kick off the football season, I think we need to have heard one of two things from Mike Alden and Brady Deaton:

“We have discussed the allegations with Frank Haith and believe there is nothing to this issue.  We stand behind coach Haith 100% as the leader of our basketball program.  This is a Miami investigation and has no impact whatsoever on us here at Mizzou.”

Or, “Due to our investigation since the release of the story from Yahoo! Sports last week, we have come to a mutual agreement with Frank Haith that he will resign as head basketball coach.  We regret that it has come to this, but for the sake of both parties, everyone feels this is a move that must be made.”

That’s it.  Only two options. And one of them has to be stated in the next ten days.  Of course, neither statement completely shuts down this story. 

If Haith stays and Missouri backs him, is it possible to wash the stench of Nevin Shapiro off of him?  Perhaps Haith did nothing wrong and is 100% innocent.  I don’t know.  Perhaps Roger Clemens never took steroids.  I’m not being sarcastic here.  Maybe the Rocket really is innocent.  But he’s been accused.  And in the court of public opinion, he’s been convicted.  So often in stories like this, the reverse of justice is true.  The accused are guilty until proven innocent.  And proving innocence is virtually impossible to do.  You know other coaches will use this against Haith on the recruiting trail.  A fan base that was already fractured by the hire becomes more so.  What is the long term impact on the basketball program if Haith stays?

What if Haith goes?  Who do you put in place?  Do you turn it over to Ernie Nestor, a man who had a losing record in 11 seasons as a low-major head coach?  Do you go with Tim Fuller, a man who has never been a coach and who has spent more time in the last five years working for Nike than on a college sideline?  Do you look outside the program and hire an assistant (because no head coach in the country is going to leave his team two months before the start of the season—at least not one I’d want to hire)?  Do you dare tell the entire country you are going with an interim coach and you’ll re-visit things in eight months?  Can any of those paths lead to good recruiting in a two-year period in which you have to add seven more scholarship players (assuming no one transfers and your commitments stay on board)?  What is the long term impact on the basketball program if Haith goes?

So, bottom line, you may have an initial resolution to the Haith saga in the next few days.  But you won’t have an answer on what it does to Missouri basketball for at least a few months…and more likely a few years.

That leaves us with the 2011 football season.  One way or another, 13 weeks from now, we’ll know what the outcome is.  I’ve seen a lot of Internet posts, a few blogs and some columns over the last week praising Gary Pinkel for the way he runs his program and the fact that some of the headlines surrounding Mizzou would never involve the football team.  And he deserves that praise.

But more so, he deserves the spotlight.  So do his players.  When local media assembles to talk to Pinkel and his players about
Miami (OH—that’s an important distinction these days) on Monday, the story should be the Tigers and Redhawks.  It should be James Franklin’s first start.  It should be a defense focused on backing up a big-time showing from last season.

I’m not saying Pinkel or his players are distracted by this other stuff.  They’re not…or at least they shouldn’t be.  And I’m not saying people should write or post about those other stories.  They’re interesting.  And from a big picture point of view, both have a much bigger impact on Tiger sports than how many games Missouri wins this season.

The questions will continue and the speculation will not subside.  But Missouri’s leadership owes it to this football team—to this football coach—to answer the questions it can in short order.  I’m not here to tell anyone what those answers should be.  That’s not my job and I don’t get paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to give those answers.  How Missouri answers is far less important than that it simply answers at all. 

In six days, it’s game week.  Hopefully at that point, we’re all ready for some football.

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Gabe DeArmond is the publisher of PowerMizzou.com, the Missouri site on the Rivals.com network.  You can read his daily coverage of the Tigers online at http://missouri.rivals.com.

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