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Pondering MVC expansion

  • Shockwaves
  • Published Sunday, Oct. 9, 2011, at 8:05 p.m.

It appears there is reason to think the MVC and Air Force are checking credentials. I would think Air Force athletic director Hans Mueh is a serious man, and he is speaking openly about joining the Valley for sports other than its football team.

In the Colorado Springs Gazette, he says the Academy is “strongly leaning” toward the MVC. In the Denver Post, the move is treated as close to inevitable. I don’t believe it’s a done deal, but it appears to be an issue that is a possibility. It seems reasonable to say Air Force sees the Valley as a good fit. We don’t know the MVC’s level of interest. Nothing is hurt by listening, especially when a school of Air Force’s stature  wants to talk.

Maybe this premature, but here goes on pros and cons of Air Force as an MVC member:

Pros

It’s the Air Force Academy. I would think there is something valuable in being associated with a service academy and competing against the athletes who choose that life. Let’s be frank – Notre Dame isn’t walking through that door. So if a good school wants to join the MVC, it’s worth looking at. Air Force could also be seen as a hedge against another school leaving. These are uncertain times, and the MVC can’t be blamed for covering all bases. Eleven schools seems unwieldy, unless you’re tired of games against teams in the 300s of the RPI. A 20-game MVC basketball schedule is tough. Coaches probably would hate it. But it does make non-conference scheduling easier and it might help RPIs if it serves to eliminate games against Division II refugees. Twelve teams seems more likely. It doesn’t make much sense to ask Bradley or Evansville to travel to Colorado regularly. Things make a little more sense if the MVC groups AFA, Creighton, Wichita State, Missouri State, Drake and Oral Roberts in a West Division. Oral Roberts is also on the prowl, considering leaving the Summit for the Southland. There is no doubt ORU would jump on an invitation to the MVC. I’ve seen no indication St. Louis or Butler – schools often on MVC fan wish lists – are interested. A division setup with AFA and ORU would appear to cut travel costs. Separating Drake and Nothern Iowa doesn’t make sense, but perhaps there’s a way to deal with that and keep our Iowans happy. As a possible bonus, it would neatly separate the better baseball programs from the weaker ones, and that could help RPI. We’re getting into blue-sky territory here, but perhaps these kinds of moves are more likely now. Air Force men’s basketball isn’t a sexy name, but the Falcons are more solid than you might think. They went to the NCAA Tournament in 2004 and 2006 (both times as at-large picks). In 2007, Air Force played in the NIT semifinals. After two miserable seasons (1-31 in the Mountain West), it rebounded to go 16-16 and play in the CollegeInsider.com Tournament last season. AFA has been .500 or better in six of the past eight seasons. With Joe Scott, Jeff Bzdelik and Chris Mooney, it’s shown an ability to hire good coaches. Men’s basketball, while not a move that dramatically elevates the MVC, appears to be a solid addition. With its academic restrictions and service requirement, Air Force is a program that could sink without the right leadership. But it’s shown this decade it can be a consistent winner. Air Force sponsors 27 men’s and women’s sports (including some such as boxing and hockey that would not compete in the MVC). In a time when many schools are cutting sports, it’s nice to add a member that will compete across the board – men’s and women’s soccer, men’s and women’s track and field and swimming. Air Force does not compete in softball or women’s golf. When a conference expands, it helps it if the new addition doesn’t rob the old members of resources. That’s why Florida doesn’t want Florida State in the SEC, and why the Big 12 waited so long to add TCU. Air Force recruits nationally. It would probably most often directly compete with the MVC’s private schools for recruits, but not to any greater degree than it does now. It’s from a different geographic area, so it may add to the MVC’s recruiting area (slightly) rather than adding another competitor in already established areas. I don’ t know if having Colorado Springs as an MVC television market is a big bonus, but it seems like the kind of thing the MVC office would love to be able to sell.

Cons

The 10-team conference is hard to beat for basketball scheduling. The round-robin format creates a true champion and allows rivalries to develop. I would be very careful about giving that up. Adding more competition for the NCAA automatic bid (in all sports) is risky. There doesn’t seem to be much point to adding schools unless they are capable of helping the MVC get more at-large bids. A few weeks ago, Valley baseball coaches heard an RPI analyst tell them to avoid scheduling games against the bottom of the RPI – teams in the 250s and below. That’s Air Force, which has been 280 or worse five times in the past seven seasons. Air Force is bad in almost all the Olympic sports, so bad it wants out of the Mountain West. That can be seen as a slap at the Valley, yes indeed. Air Force thinks it can win more tennis matches and baseball games in the MVC. Ouch. The Air Force baseball team hasn’t had a winning season since 1995. Neither has women’s basketball. The volleyball team went winless in Mountain West play in 2000, 2001, 2004, 2006, 2007, 2008 and 2009. I guess Air Force looks at the MVC’s four private schools and believes it can compete with them better than it can large state schools such as New Mexico and San Diego State. Travel. If MVC schools didn’t want to travel to Dallas Baptist once every other year for baseball, why do we think they want to make frequent trips to Colorado Springs?

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