Losing Wichita State a real problem for Missouri Valley Conference

Where does the league turn now?

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CEDAR RAPIDS — Trivia question time. Name the five original members of the Missouri Valley Conference.

According to its website, administrators from Iowa, Missouri, Kansas, Nebraska and Washington University of St. Louis gathered January 12, 1907 to form the Missouri Valley Intercollegiate Athletic Association. Two months later, Drake and Iowa State were admitted.

The first sport sponsored was men’s basketball.

Look at the list of schools there, and you’ll notice only Drake remains in the second-oldest conference in NCAA Division I. Heck, Wash U. competes in Division III now, and Grinnell was once a member.

There has been a ton of change over the years, including more last week when Wichita State, a member since 1945, was unanimously voted as the 12th school in the American Athletic Conference. This is a step up for the Shockers, playing in a better league against the likes of UConn and Cincinnati.

It’s also another significant blow for the MVC, which lost traditional power Creighton to the Big East in 2013. Massive conference realignment has not been the Missouri Valley’s friend.

League presidents and athletics directors reportedly had an emergency meeting with commissioner Doug Elgin over the weekend to discuss Wichita’s departure and how to move forward. No one is talking about it publicly.

Northern Iowa AD David Harris was asked by The Gazette for comment but declined. Elgin released a statement last week.

“The Missouri Valley Conference has undergone many changes in membership throughout our 110-year history, and the news of Wichita State University’s departure brings us to another stage in the evolution of our league,” the statement said. “The Valley has always been resilient and progressive in the face of these changes, and we have never been defined by a single institution.

“We now have an opportunity to reaffirm our commitment to competitive excellence and to a continuing investment in athletics.”

Loyola was chosen as Creighton’s replacement, which, quite frankly, hasn’t done much for the MVC. The Ramblers have a middling men’s program and are an afterthought on the crowded Windy City sports scene.

The other finalists considered in 2013 reportedly were Illinois-Chicago, Missouri-Kansas City and Valparaiso. Speculation has Valpo and UMKC as possibilities again this time: Valparaiso for the strength of its men’s program and UMKC to reach into the Kansas City market.

Belmont and St. Louis also have been mentioned prominently, though St. Louis leaving the Atlantic 10 Conference seems a longshot. Belmont has a strong men’s program and would expand the league into the Nashville market.

Other schools being thrown around in various discussion forums are Murray State, Nebraska-Omaha, North Dakota, North Dakota State, South Dakota and South Dakota State. NDSU, SDSU and South Dakota are members of the Missouri Valley Football Conference, but that’s an entirely separate entity.

The MVC first must decide if it wants to simply fill Wichita State’s spot or expand to 12 schools. Right now, the membership is UNI, Drake, Indiana State, Missouri State, Illinois State, Southern Illinois, Bradley, Loyola and Evansville.

Expansion certainly would create two divisions and a 16-game conference schedule instead of 18. That would cut down on travel costs.

Money is an overriding factor here, as schools not from the power-five conferences try to make ends meet in their overall athletics budgets. Television rights deals are huge, as is plain old success.

The NCAA pays conferences according to the number of games its schools play in the men’s tournament each season. We’re talking $1 million-plus over a six-year cycle.

More bids equals more games equals more cash. The MVC placed three teams in the Big Dance in 2005, four the next year and has been a two-bid league in 2007, 2012, 2013, 2015 and 2016.

Losing two of its bellcows in Creighton and now Wichita State (UNI being the other) is huge. Wichita State has been a NCAA tournament team the past six years.

How to make up for their absences and prevent the MVC from being a consistent one-bid NCAA tournament league is a problem that must be solved, for the sake of the schools. Needless to say, it won’t be easy.

l Comments: (319) 398-8259; jeff.johnson@thegazette.com

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