Bob Lutz: The Valley, the Mountain West and WSU

03/20/2013 5:40 PM

03/21/2013 7:35 AM

Here’s what we know.Creighton is gone from the Missouri Valley Conference. Probably forever. My best to the Bluejays as they join the new Big East, a powerhouse basketball conference that will generate millions of dollars in television revenue.

Creighton had to take the leap, even if the Bluejays ultimately go splat on the pavement. Which could happen, unsavory as the depiction is. Villanova University President Rev. Peter Donohue, far left, Seton Hall University President A. Gabriel Esteban, second from left, Georgetown University President John DeGioia, third from left, St. Johns University President Donald Harrington, fourth from left, Creighton University President Rev. Timothy Lannon, fifth from left, Depaul University President Dennis Holtschneider, fifth from right, Providence University President Rev. Brian Shanley, fourth from right, Xavier University President Michael Graham, third from right, Butler University President Jim Danko, second from right, and Marquette University President Rev. Scott Pilarz, far right, assemble for a photo following a press conference on Wednesday, March 20, 2013 in New York. Big East athletic conference member schools gathered in New York to announce developments helping to shape the new basketball-focused conference. (AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews) Close So now what? Now what for Wichita State, which is left without its biggest rivalry and its basketball brother, really. Two teams in the Missouri Valley Conference rise among the rest – Wichita State and that other school that used to be in the Valley. Sorry, Creighton, you’re dead to me.

Bradley wants to get back to prominence, but Bradley has rarely been prominent over the past 15-20 years.

Southern Illinois might recapture some of its magic. Missouri State has been viable and could be again. Indiana State? Northern Iowa?

Creighton’s departure is a PR nightmare for the Valley, no matter how commissioner Doug Elgin tries to spin it. I’m as loyal to the Valley as anyone, but have felt for too many years the conference has been too passive about its future. And none of the potential choices to replace Creighton will come even close to replicating what Creighton has meant to the Valley over the years.

So, if I’m Wichita State president John Bardo or athletic director Eric Sexton, I’m checking my options. Even without football.

And I keep coming back to the Mountain West Conference, even after feeling earlier as if the notion of the Shockers in the MWC was a real stretch. Slowly, but surely, I’m coming around.

The Mountain West has been difficult to keep track of in the past couple of years. Boise State and San Diego State left for the Big East, then came crawling back after the Big East went wacko. But while Boise and San Diego were gone, the Mountain West plucked Utah State and San Jose State from the Western Athletic Conference.

So, as it stands now, the Mountain West is an 12-team football conference, with Hawaii. But for 2013-14, there are only 11 basketball members, without Hawaii.

Ask any conference commissioner what they hate and they’ll tell you it’s a nine- or 11-team league. It wreaks havoc with scheduling, which leads me to believe that MWC commissioner Craig Thompson, despite earlier assertions that further expansion isn’t on his table, would look at a basketball-only member to round out his conference.

Or maybe I’m completely crazy. That’s a possibility.

I am playing matchmaker here. But I’m not convinced either party is even looking at one another, let alone setting up a date.

And I do this with nothing against the Missouri Valley, which has served Wichita State well for nearly six decades. There’s tremendous history there.

I’m just not convinced other schools in the Valley are equipped to take the next step in basketball. Budget restrictions are a factor. I’m not sure how many MVC schools are serious about men’s basketball. And when I say “serious,” I’m talking about doing whatever is necessary to win, attract crowds and make it to the NCAA Tournament.

Creighton was one of those schools and it’s a big reason why the Bluejays are gone. Wichita State is definitely serious about hoops. After that it gets murky. Just check coaching salaries around the league. Check basketball budgets. Check non-conference schedules. Check all of the ways that tell you whether or not a school is doing everything it can to succeed.

The Mountain West has become one of the four best basketball conferences in the country. The Big East, Big 10 and ACC are probably better. With five teams in the NCAA Tournament, including two or three that could make a run, the MWC is feeling it. It’s a place to be and Wichita State should at least investigate trying to be there.

There are concerns. Travel is one; the MWC isn’t as easy to navigate. Would WSU fans be OK with later games in the Mountain and Pacific time zones? Wichita State would be the eastern outpost of this conference, by about 500 miles. So it’s a stretch.

But look around. Does geography really matter anymore? WSU’s athletic budget would have to increase, but added TV revenues would help.

I’ve gone so far as to draw up two six-team divisions for the new Mountain West. I’m a dreamer, but am I the only one?

West – San Jose State, Nevada, San Diego State, UNLV, Boise State, Fresno State.

East – Wyoming, Utah State, Colorado State, Air Force, New Mexico, Wichita State.

WSU would have to play three West road games a season. Traveling in the East would be a lot like traveling in the Missouri Valley, without Creighton.

So what am I missing other than any indication at all either side is taking a look at this?

I think it’s viable. I think it’s doable. With Creighton gone, WSU has to take a step back and look at possibilities.

I just spoke these words to my colleague, Paul Suellentrop: “I think this can work, but maybe I’m delusional.”

Maybe I am, but the more I think about this, the more I like it.

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