UNI Panthers

Retiring MVC commissioner Doug Elgin pushed conference to new heights

Missouri Valley Conference Commissioner Doug Elgin. (Courtesy MVC)
Missouri Valley Conference Commissioner Doug Elgin. (Courtesy MVC)

CEDAR FALLS — After 33 years as the Missouri Valley Conference’s commissioner. Doug Elgin announced his retirement last week.

Elgin, Division I’s longest tenured multisport conference commissioner, will retire at the end of the 2020-21 academic year and told The Gazette now is the right time for him to move on.

“Announcing it now is to give our presidents council the opportunity to do the search for the next conference commissioner,” Elgin said. “I’ll be 70, believe it or not, I was a young man when I (started) at 37 back in 1988. It was time. We have six daughters between us here in St. Louis and eight grandchildren and I need to reconnect with the family a little bit. It’s been a wonderful run for me.”

Faced with its first search for a commissioner since 1988, the MVC will partner with Atlanta-based Parker Executive Search to find Elgin’s successor.

“Under Doug’s leadership, the MVC blossomed into a national brand and a key player on the NCAA stage,” UNI Athletics Director David Harris told The Gazette. “He was a big part of UNI joining the league shortly after he took the reins and was a driver in the unification of the men’s and women’s leagues under one umbrella. He is well respected throughout the NCAA and his time serving on national committees is indicative of that. We will miss his leadership, but we wish him, Melanie and their family all the best in retirement.”

Harris wasn’t the only member of Northern Iowa’s athletics department with praise for Elgin’s work.

Men’s basketball coach Ben Jacobson, who’s been coaching in the MVC since 2001, has been witness to Elgin’s work to replace the departures of Creighton and Wichita State with Loyola-Chicago and Valparaiso. Those departures left large voids, but Wichita State making the Final Four a year after Creighton’s departure and Loyola-Chicago doing the same after the Shockers left in 2017 largely preserved the conference’s national brand.

Beyond the big, headline-grabbing decisions Elgin was confronted with while Jacobson has been at UNI, he also made a point to be in the Panthers’ locker room in 2010 after their upset win over top-seed Kansas in the NCAA tournament — a gesture not lost on Jacobson.

“For me, it’s been great to see our relationship change and evolve from me being an assistant coach to today,” Jacobson said. “From the time I was an assistant coach to now I have seen him treat me and everyone from our director of basketball operations to my father with respect. He enjoys being around people, loves building relationships (and) really cares about what everybody thinks.

“Second, he has invested a tremendous amount in making Valley basketball a national player. Now, Doug has a chance to enjoy retirement and I wish him the best and we all wish the best here from Northern Iowa and everything (he’s) done for us. One of the things I think about is now he’s not going to have to hear me gripe about this, that and the other things. I hope he doesn’t mind if I call him up someday just to get into another argument for old times sake.”

Ten years before Jacobson’s arrival at UNI, MVC men’s basketball took a leap forward when Elgin moved the conference tournament to its first ever neutral site in St. Louis.

He then got CBS on board to televise the men’s conference tournament championship game in 2005 and partnered the league with ESPN3 and ESPN+ over the past decade to stream hundreds of sporting events each year.

“I really think what enabled (the CBS deal) to happen was the quality of our head coaches,” Elgin said. “You can look across the United States now at coaching alums. You can look at what we’ve got in the league, Ben Jacobson and others. They recruited a caliber of student-athlete that have done some incredible, remarkable things.

“Since the mid-1990s our league is 3-0 against Kansas, we’re 4-0 against Tennessee, we’ve beaten Florida, Georgia, Oklahoma, UCLA. I just think it’s the quality and caliber of play and the character of coaches and student-athletes in our league. And not only in men’s basketball. You look at the caliber of our women’s basketball in recent years and they’re playing high-major basketball right now.”

A native of Hagerstown, Md., Elgin is a 1973 graduate of Lafayette College. He earned a Master’s degree in Sports Administration from Ohio University in 1975.

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Before becoming MVC commissioner, he worked as a sports information director at Frostburg State University (1975-76), Miami-Dade Community College South (1976-77), Lafayette College (1977-80) and the University of Virginia (1980-83). Elgin was then able to position himself for the MVC commissioner job while serving as assistant commissioner of the Sun Belt Conference from 1983 to 1988.

“I helped to run championships. I would move into the tournament city in mid-January and stay there, literally, (then) go home every other weekend just to visit home and my family,” Elgin said. “(The Sun Belt) gave me the opportunity to get involved in television. We were early on in getting involved with ESPN. My big break in terms of contacts (was) when I was the sports information director at Virginia when Ralph Sampson was (there) — 7-foot-4 center, three-time player of the year — that really gave me the kind of connections with national media and the basketball industry to really come to St. Louis understanding what needed to be done here to elevate the (MVC).”

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