The Future of the MVC
By: Ethan Hennessy
Let’s talk about the Missouri Valley Conference. This is probably going to ruffle some feathers, but I think the MVC has hit its peak as a conference and will start a downhill turn.
Loyola Chicago and Porter Moser
One big part of why I think the Valley is in trouble is because Loyola Chicago is quickly outgrowing the conference. There are two ways this could go. Door number one: Porter Moser decides to leave for a high major job. Without the captain leading the ship Loyola Chicago falls back to earth after two deep NCAA Tournament runs and the Valley’s cash cow runs dry. Ever since Porter turned down Saint John’s and UNLV in recent years I was always of the mindset he could leave Loyola Chicago, but it would only be for DePaul or Northwestern. That could still happen; DePaul is open right now, and the Blue Demons who are perennial cellar dwellers in the Big East will surely throw all of the available money they have at him in hopes of landing the hometown coach that can take them back to national prominence. However, Moser is not just limited to the two terrible local programs sure it would mean leaving the Windy City. Jeff Goodman and Rob Dauster have reported that behind the scenes he has had at least some interest in the open Marquette job. Marquette is a rich man’s DePaul. They both play in the Big East, but MU spends more on basketball. Both play in new arenas, but Marquette’s is also an NBA arena, as someone who has been to both the on campus practice facilities Marquette is nicer than DePaul. Lastly, the competitiveness is no comparison since 2005-06 Marquette has made 10 NCAA Tournaments winning nine games. In that same time DePaul made an NIT quarterfinals in 2007 and a CBI Finals in 2019. Porter could still keep his Chicago recruiting connections being only 90 minutes up I-94. Marquette and DePaul are just two possible options though Indiana is surely looking at the 52 year old coach.
Door number two (what I believe will happen): Porter stays at Loyola Chicago. If this happens I think the Atlantic Ten will extend an invitation to Loyola Chicago to join their conference which Loyola Chicago will accept. I believe this move could happen as soon as summer of 2022. For the Atlantic Ten it just makes too much sense you get a team that made a final four in 2018 and at least a Sweet 16 (likely more) in 2021, you grab the third largest media market in the country strengthening your Midwest presence which is light with only Saint Louis, Dayton, and Duquesne. For Loyola Chicago it makes sense as well. Money always talks and the Atlantic Ten provides you the opportunity for not just a more lucrative TV deal, but more bids. Since Wichita left the Valley in 2017 the MVC has averaged 1.33 teams per tournament while the A-10 has averaged 2.33 teams per tournament. This extra bid gives good teams like Loyola Chicago a better chance to make the NCAA Tournament if they do not win their conference tournament, and provides more win shares to the league. Each NCAA Tournament win share is 1.68 million dollars for a conference. A lot of MVC fans like to talk a big game about the potential for multiple bids most years. I’ll admit I’ve only been a part of this conference for four years, but in my time in the league let’s be real the MVC has been a multi-bid league once. In 2020 there was a chance, but UNI probably would have gotten snubbed because their resume was not even as good as Drake of 2021 who got in as a bubble team. I’m glad the Bulldogs got in, but when you barely get a second team in once in four years you aren’t a multi-bid league. Its not all the Valley’s fault sure there has been some decline since Creighton and Wichita left, but also the committee is just generally less likely to give out extra bids to non high major conferences. The few they do give out are generally taken by teams from the American, A-10, Mountain West, and WCC leaving the Valley with a second bid once in a blue moon. Additionally, with a change in conferences Porter can get a challenge in increased competition, and there is more institutional alignment. In the Valley half of the schools are public state schools located in mostly small towns. In the Atlantic Ten much more of the schools are private religious affiliated schools in big cities which is similar to Loyola Chicago’s profile.
If Loyola Chicago gets lured out of the Valley by the Atlantic Ten the obvious replacement is Murray State. I have long been saying on multiple occasions throughout this season is it not a question of if the MVC adds Murray, but when the MVC adds Murray. The racers were among the finalists the last time the Missouri Valley Conference was looking to add a team, but they eventually lost out to my school Valpo. Murray State still seems eager to get into the MVC. They would be a solid add. The program has a long history of basketball success with many recent conference championships and NCAA Tournament appearances. Murray State does well in the regular non-conference games scheduled against MVC programs. I think Murray State would be a fine replacement who values basketball, but just like when Wichita State left it is very hard to replace a program of that type of caliber.
Is there a way out of this downward spiral?
The simplest answer is have Valley teams put together better schedules. In the current landscape the Valley is going to continue to get hurt from the top down. For the top two or three teams high majors will not want to schedule them because it could hurt their metrics. However, the Valley is also shooting itself in the foot from the bottom up because the typical Thursday and low budget teams do not spend enough money to buy games, I’m looking at you Valpo, Indiana State, and SIU in particular. These teams are forced to play home and home series with OVC and Horizon League teams and home games against non D1 teams because they do not spend the money to buy division one low major teams like Missouri State, Northern Iowa, and Drake do. Non D1 games don’t hurt you metrics wise, but fans do not like them. Playing homes and homes against teams from leagues like the Horizon or Ohio Valley provide greater chances for losses than paying 70-100K for teams from the MEAC, Summit, SWAC, Southland, and NEC to come to Valley arenas. It may not seem like a big difference, but say Valpo for example plays three home and home series games against: SIUE, @ UIC, and @ Green Bay. They could very conceivably lose two of those three. Now if they pay 275K to have UMES, Mississippi Valley State, and Western Illinois all come to the ARC they will likely go 3-0. This makes a difference in overall conference metrics if most of your 10 teams are 2 or 3 games better record wise. Why do you think the Big Ten and Big East teams play a half dozen mid majors at home every year because they have the money and it improves their record. If you want to be a better conference you have to spend like a better conference.
You can’t stop good leagues from poaching your rising star teams, you can’t stop your best coaches like Darien Devries, Porter Moser, or Ben Jacobson from leaving if they want to get a more high profile job and bigger paycheck, most of the time you can’t even stop your best players from transferring. What you can do though Missouri Valley is if that happens replace them with the next best team, coach, or player, and what you can do is spend like you want to be a multi-bid league. Loyola Chicago or Porter could very conceivably leave the conference once this tournament is over, but they have left us with what we need. $8.45 million and good press from the 2018 final four run, and now LUC and Drake have given us another at least $8.45 million and good press from the NCAA tournament take it and run with it!