Alden ushers Missouri into SEC era with ceremonial flag-raising

The athletics director and football head coach Gary Pinkel took time to reflect on the end of a long process.
A Southeastern Conference flag flies beneath a Missouri Tigers flag in Walsworth Plaza outside the North entrance of Mizzou Arena on Monday. Athletics Director Mike Alden spoke to fans and the media during a ceremonial flag raising that morning.

Athletics Director Mike Alden played the host Monday, July 2, the day following Missouri’s official adoption into the Southeastern Conference.

There were coffee and big boxes of donuts inside Mizzou Arena’s main lobby for media members and fans before they were invited to gather outside in the heat around three flagpoles on Walsworth Plaza.

Alden, in a pale yellow Mizzou Golf polo, spoke to the crowd about the importance of symbolizing MU’s induction into the SEC with this ceremonial flag raise, about how it could have been difficult to rally fans the previous day before because it was Sunday, a day for church.

He encouraged all to think back to 1839, when MU was founded, and to think of the student athletes, coaches, chancellors and faculty throughout the past 173 years.

“(They) all worked together to be able to see Mizzou move forward,” he said. “And today gives us an opportunity to recognize another moment in time in our history where we’re going to have another chance to move forward.”

Athletics department staff members Gary Anders and Kathy Ungles rolled down the chain for the SEC flag. At points, the area became quiet, perhaps too quiet for what was intended to be a celebration. At times, there were only clicks from cameras. Someone provided three soft claps.

Alden made attempts to fill the silence.

“Gary, how you feeling about this? Feel confident?” he said as Anders arranged the chain, earning slight laughter from the audience. “No pressure on you, bud.”

On Nov. 6, 240 days before, Alden had welcomed SEC Commissioner Mike Slive to the MU Student Center, where a celebration took place following the league's acceptance of Missouri.

Alden had answered questions concerning the school’s ability to compete in the conference, the most lucrative and considered to be the most premier in the nation. He had heard fans’ concerns about the end of the Border Showdown, old as the Civil War.

“These types of decisions aren't things that stay in your head," he said following the July 2 ceremony. "It’s in your heart as well. I think, for the affection my family has for the rivalries we’ve had in the Big 12 Conference, the places that we’ve gone, the familiarities that we’ve had ... It’s going to be different.”

A week before the flag raise, Alden unveiled an anticipated master plan for facility upgrades to the UM System Board of Curators. They unanimously approved the project, worth no more than $200 million with a funding jump-start from a $30 million private donation from the Kansas City Sports Trust.

“I want to commend the leadership Athletics Director Mike Alden has provided throughout the time I’ve been chancellor,” Chancellor Brady Deaton said at the announcement. “We made a commitment early on to be the very best in all that we could be.”

Alden reflected the praise to football coach Gary Pinkel, pardoning himself at the podium for a brief moment in the middle of his statement.

“I remember 11 years ago, we looked at something and said, 'What could be?'” Alden said. “Because it wasn’t there when we got together 11 years ago. It wasn’t there when Gary Pinkel decided to come to the University of Missouri 11 years ago. But I think we saw something. We saw opportunity.”

Pinkel was asked if those visions were becoming realized with the facility changes.

“I mean, shoot, that was a long time ago,” he said. “I feel proud that (football has) made our contribution. But the most important thing is — what are you going to do with it now?”

People celebrated throughout Columbia when the clock struck midnight July 1. Alden said he was modestly celebrating with his wife, Rockie, and son, Jake, by watching a rerun of “Saturday Night Live” featuring Emma Stone and Coldplay.

“It has been a daily, every-single-day effort,” he said of the nearly 10-month-long conference transition process. “It’s been a daily effort to be able to do everything we can to cross our T’s and dot our I’s. (But) the work really begins today.”

Alden watched in silence with everyone else as the flag was being clipped onto the chain. Some adjustments needed to be made to the chain — some struggle, perhaps, along the way.

“I can guarantee you this,” he said. “Based upon what I’m seeing with that chain, that flag (isn’t) going anywhere.”

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