Loyola convinced skeptics, including Wichita State president John Bardo, that it belonged in the Missouri Valley Conference.
The MVC formally introduced the Chicago school as a member on Friday. Bardo said MVC presidents voted Loyola in unanimously to replace Creighton, which is joining the Big East. Loyola, a member of the Horizon League since 1979, will participate in MVC sports for the 2013-14 school year.
Loyola, a Catholic school with an enrollment of 16,040, didn’t earn votes from nine university presidents because of its recent success in men’s basketball or a wide-ranging dominance of the Horizon League. The Ramblers are in because of their potential to improve upon their largely mediocre history. Bardo started the campus visit unsure of Loyola’s assets and leaning toward another school. He departed impressed with Loyola president Rev. Michael Garanzini, the school’s resources, academics, campus and its future.
“If you had asked me before the trip, which one was likely to jump out, I would have picked a different school — based on where I saw their athletic programs today, the size of their school,” Bardo said. “But Loyola really was very positive. They’ve got great leadership on that campus. They’ve already started making investments in athletics, to move athletics up. When he sat in front of us and said ‘I’m committed to moving to the quality of play in the Valley,’ you’ve got to believe the guy. Just look at his track record of what he’s done.”
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Bardo also visited Illinois-Chicago, a public school with an enrollment of 27,512. WSU athletic director Eric Sexton visited UMKC and Valparaiso, located in northwest Indiana near Chicago. Bardo said those were the four schools he was aware of an MVC contingent visiting.
“In terms of potential, (Loyola) had the greatest upside,” Bardo said.
Missouri Valley Conference commissioner Doug Elgin said Loyola will provide natural rivalries, pointing out Illinois State, Southern Illinois, Bradley and Indiana State all are in proximity.
"We have alumni fans up here who have been bugging me for years to bring in one of the local schools as a member," Elgin said. "We're going to help Loyola as much as Loyola is going to help us."
Loyola last made the NCAA Tournament in 1985. Its men's basketball team is coming off a 15-16 season under second-year coach Porter Moser, who coached Illinois State from 2003-2007.
Moser said there is no doubt a new affiliation with a conference that includes Final Four will help in recruiting.
"The Valley is just one more powerful brand that's behind us when we recruit," he said.
Moser said next year's team will have its first Chicago Public School player in a decade, Milton Doyle, a redshirt transfer from Kansas who played high school ball at Chicago Marshall.
Two years ago, Loyola remodeled the Gentile Arena and other athletic facilities as part of a $300 million project to help address its image. Earlier this month, Olympic gold medalist and three-time WNBA MVP Sheryl Swoopes was hired as the women's basketball coach.
• Loyola’s addition doesn’t change Bardo’s satisfaction with WSU’s membership in the MVC. He does not see a better option among current conferences, although he realizes the situation could change quickly.
“We’ll just keep watching and see where we are,” he said. “We think the Valley is a good home and we think Loyola will do what they say they will do. We will always keep our eyes open for what is right for this school.”
• WSU pushed for the MVC to look at Oral Roberts, as well as other schools closer to Wichita.
“One of them expressed tremendous interest and we expressed tremendous interest in them, and in terms of immediate competitiveness, they would have been better,” Bardo said. “For the rest of the conference, the geography would not have been as good. So we ended up backing off of that, obviously, because we were one vote and that wasn’t going anywhere good.”
He declined to name specific schools, although he did say the University of Denver appealed to WSU.
“They are certainly somebody we would have had interest in, but there are others, too,” he said. “There were schools that we had great interest in that were not of interest to the other members of the Valley. You compromise on where you’re looking and what you’re looking at.”
• While the membership is likely set at 10 for the next year, Bardo said expansion may be considered again.
“There were schools that fit our footprint, but think they’re going to go into other settings,” he said. “They weren’t necessarily willing to talk with us, because they think that there are greater dollar values in other places. Maybe that will be true, maybe not. In a year, I guess we’ll look at it again and see where everybody has shaken out.”
• Expanding the MVC’s and WSU’s reach in Chicago, for enrollment, academic and athletic reasons, played an important role in the decision.
“When you take their alumni base and our alumni base, that becomes interesting,” Bardo said. “It opens up the Chicago market in ways that (the MVC) has not had, including the increased likelihood of sponsorships for the conferences to help defray the costs.”
Material from the Associated Press was used in this report.