Valparaiso and the Missouri Valley Conference officially announced their union with a video release on Thursday morning, callously taking the spotlight away from the 9 a.m. elimination game at the baseball tournament.
The Crusaders are member No. 34 in the MVC’s long history.
The MVC included comments from commissioner Doug Elgin in its new release. He got right to the topic of the day by addressing the MVC’s decision to stay at 10 schools when replacing Wichita State.
“We looked at even numbers, and I really thought that it had to be an even number because when you talk about odd numbers you really create some issues with your scheduling structure,” Elgin said in the release. “You look at, in men’s basketball for instance, when you have 11 teams, 10 of those teams will be playing in five games and every scheduling window, whether it’s a mid-week Tuesday-Wednesday sequence or a Saturday-Sunday sequence every one of those windows throughout the season would have one team being idle.”
Twelve teams is on the table and the MVC seems leaning that way, according to Elgin’s comments. (No. 11 seems obvious with Murray State interested and a match geographically. No. 12 seems more of a mystery, especially if Belmont (Nashville) is not interested.)
“The Presidents Council is leaving the door open for that, and they are encouraging that, actually,” Elgin said. “And I think over the next year or so, I think we’ll continue to study expansion with the possibility that we might eventually within, I think, in the next 12 or 24 months go to a 12-team model.”
Elgin has long been a fan of the 10-team model (which I also love), but he and his member schools are apparently pushed into a different model by the recent departures of Creighton and Wichita State. I can see the logic of grabbing the strong similar programs to strengthen the MVC brand and weaken others.
The MVC won’t improve significantly until Bradley, Southern Illinois and Missouri State get back on track, regardless of how many schools are in the conference. Those three possess the history/resources to do much better and join Northern Iowa and Illinois State as schools that are usually in the top 100 of the RPI and in a position to compete for the NCAA/NIT many years.
Elgin also hit on non-conference scheduling in the release, no doubt hoping other member schools will get the hint. One of the Valley’s issues is that some schools got away from strong non-conference scheduling in recent years. It’s not easy to schedule. Coaches are always going to hunt wins and job security, and those are understandable positions.
However, the MVC won’t rebound without stronger non-conference schedules.
“One of the things that Mark LaBarbera, their athletic director, said on our visit was, ‘We’re just not trying to enter the Missouri Valley, we’re trying to enter as a leadership program, certainly in men’s basketball,’” Elgin said in the news release. “You look at who they played outside the league last year, Valparaiso beat Rhode Island for the second consecutive year. Rhode Island was ranked 21st in the country at the time. They also beat BYU and Alabama in a multi-team event. I think they are going to work very hard to upgrade their schedule and want to be in that at-large pool for consideration, as do other teams in the Missouri Valley.”
Valpo’s non-conference strength of schedule is mixed in recent years with high rankings of No. 59 in 2015-16 and No. 71 in 2010-11 (according to ESPN.com) and lows of No. 285 in 2014-15 and No. 225 in 2012-13.
Last season the Crusaders scheduled up with an experienced team and star Alec Peters in his senior season. They played Rhode Island at home and went to Oregon and Kentucky. They defeated BYU and Alabama in Las Vegas.
In 2015-16, they played at Rhode Island, Oregon and Oregon State and got Belmont at home. In other recent seasons, Valpo played New Mexico (at home), at Missouri, at Illinois, Saint Louis (at home), at Nebraska and at Ohio State.
The MVC needs ambitious teams to replace the Bluejays and Shockers. Valpo seems to be in that category.