What’s Next On MVC Expansion?
(St. Louis, MO) – Expanding the Missouri Valley Conference is a must and the league should accomplish this bold move by next season. The ever-changing landscape of college basketball dictates the league not only strengthen its current membership, but should add two more high profile, mid-major programs.
As ‘money conferences’ are choosing to expand their already rigged schedules and to continually poach players, coaches and programs from ‘mid-major’ conferences, the Valley needs to move boldly to build a league that rivals the Mountain West, Conference USA and nips at the heels of both the A-Ten and American Athletic Conference.
This season the Valley has pulled off an unlikely feat. They finished the non-conference season eighth in conference RPI measurements and secured six ‘power five’ conference wins. In the first year after the departure of Wichita State, the MVC has exceeded all expectations.
But what about the future?
When the conference added Valparaiso to replace the Shockers, it was also announced that the ‘Presidents’ Council’ would create a working committee that would investigate future expansion and future improvements in the MVC. They have continued that work throughout this year and league officials are expecting a significant report at this springs’ Presidents’ Council meeting.
In speaking with people familiar with the situation, we’ve come to some conclusions about how league leadership leans on this subject. What are their priorities? How many teams should be added? Are institutions being courted as we speak?
I spent some time with Commissioner Doug Elgin and his quotes will be a part of this story, other individuals close to the situation didn’t want to be directly quoted. The 29-year veteran of directing all-things Missouri Valley, told me the conference has always been resilient in dealing with transition and the university Presidents have always been willing to make progressive decisions.
While I believe expansion is absolutely necessary, those with knowledge of the situation say the league brain trust doesn’t reject expansion as a viable option, but also aren’t married to the notion. Elgin, himself told me that he was formerly against adding more teams, he has softened on that position.
What would expansion add to the Valley, and what kind of programs are necessary for that to be a good move? I am told that basketball success is a primary requirement for any potential new member. Academic success is a must as the NCAA is scheduled to begin to paying NCAA Tournament-like financial ‘units’ related to certain academic measurements to conferences by the the 2019-20 season.
Basketball Success A Must
The MVC can’t afford to expand by adding a weaker basketball program. RPI, KenPom.com and other metric measurements do too much damage to your league’s image and ability to place multiple teams in the NCAA Tournament when ‘weak sister’ teams drag down the collective image and rankings.
So schools like Belmont, Murray State, South Dakota State, Oakland (Michigan), Northern Kentucky and UT Arlington could be of interest.
It isn’t a deal breaker, but it is very significant. Minimizing both the cost of travel and missing of class time is of significant importance to university Presidents. That could mean a school would have to fit in a certain geographic footprint, or at least have a relatively easy option for air travel.
Proximity to St. Louis as well as to Valley members matters. A fan base that has both the opportunity and likelihood to journey to St. Louis for Arch Madness is a significant issue.
So programs like Murray State, UW Milwaukee, Northern Kentucky, Southeast Missouri and Belmont would be appealing.
You have noticed by now that we don’t introduce Saint Louis University as a viable option. SLU hierarchy has never shown an interest in joining the Valley and I’m told there have been no substantive conversations between the highest ranking officials of MVC and SLU.
While I believe the expansion should happen sooner rather than later, Commissioner Elgin believes the process, should the Presidents’ Council recommend expansion, would take longer than immediately adding teams for 2018-19.
“I would doubt that we would move that quickly to expand to 12, although it is possible,” said Elgin. “When you consider our Presidents have expansion on the agenda on most of their meetings. My gut tells me that our expansion process will be very contemplative and intentional and those considerations will take place without a sense of urgency.”
Some sources close to the situation tell me that Murray State, a university that came close to joining the Valley last spring would certainly warrant another look. Elgin tells me that when league members investigated potential programs, Murray State felt like a Missouri Valley Conference institution and some of the MVC coaches favored bringing Murray into the fold.
Market Size Isn’t As Important As You Think
With the inception of ‘The Valley on ESPN’ market size, while still important, isn’t as important as one would think. The Valley’s games are already blasting into Chicago, St. Louis, Kansas City and Indianapolis. While admitting a successful MVC team in Milwaukee, or Tulsa, or Nashville, would certainly improve league ratings and thus advertising rates could be significant. A poor team in a major market, is almost a detrimental addition.
That said, I am told there is interest in programs like UT Arlington, the University of Denver and Grand Canyon (Phoenix) because they have some basketball success on their resume and the market size is appealing. Those programs would pose geographical problems, but easy access airports can minimize those obstacles.
An Even Number Is A Must
Multiple sources told me the league has absolutely no interest in adding only one team. If they expand at all, the good money is on a pair of teams joining the MVC. Obvious scheduling nightmares await an 11-team league. Thus Murray State was left in the cold in the last round of expansion.
What is Happening Now?
The Presidents’ Council, which is likely a subset of the university presidents and select MVC staff, are continuing to gather information on expansion possibilities. I’ve been led to believe that discreet conversations are currently taking place with more than one potential expansion target. Those conversations are more under wraps than Robert Mueller’s investigations into President Trump’s connection to Russia.
The full Presidents’ Council and university Athletic Directors will meet here in St. Louis, on March 1st. That will be the first time the Council will have the full conversation concerning expansion. On the heels of that meeting there could be cataclysmic change being heralded by league officials, or there could be nothing to report.
The ball is in their court.