Conference realignment is finally affecting The Valley.
Last week, as many have been speculating for months, Creighton announced its decision to leave the Valley and join the “Catholic 7” in the revamped Big East.
For Creighton, the opportunity to house its athletic programs in such a marquee conference is something that couldn’t be passed up.
However, the Valley is now in a dilemma; who is the school selected to replace the Blue Jays?
Obviously, there has been a variety of names thrown around as potential replacements. From Oral Roberts, to Belmont, to MVC-Football members North Dakota State; everyone seems to have a favorite they would like to see join the Valley.
But, is one school really the option?
As we’ve seen conference realignment play itself out, we’ve been exposed to the true greed of the “big business” that is college sports, with the motivation behind conference swapping primarily being money.
Tradition, loyalty, rivalries, and proximity haven’t been able to keep Maryland from jumping ship to the Big 10 (I think our friends to the North have forgotten how to count to 10), original Big East members Syracuse and Pitt from running to the ACC, and Tulsa from joining the “new” Big East (which may be the most overrated conference in America.
For a mid-major conference it will always be hard to hold on to its members, as anytime a big dog comes calling the upgrade in name recognition and money is tough to turn down.
With that being said, there are a few keys to keeping current Valley members together.
First and foremost, you have to make sure the biggest media markets in your region are fulfilled.
Bigger markets equal more eyes, more eyes mean more TV money, and more TV money translates to happy ADs and Deans.
Second, you have to make sure your league is competitive as possible.
The easiest way to land yourself on the national map is to win games, especially in March. We’ve seen recent runs by VCU and Florida Golf Coast result in notoriety and buzz that has helped the university and athletic program alike.
Lastly, you must offer stability to member institutions.
Consistent unrest makes people nervous. Nervous people do irrational things (like invite Boise State and San Diego State to join the Big East). The stability of the conference is not only important for administrators, but is also imperative in the recruiting process for coaches.
The loss of Creighton takes a major blow to all three tenants. The addition of any one mid-major school, with the exception of Saint Louis (which is NOT happening), will not replace the void left by Creighton.
So why stop at one?
We have seen conferences go to the McDonald’s model and start supersizing, and it has been effective to say the least.
The Big East was the first to make the move in 2005, adding five Conference USA teams (Louisville, Marquette, Cincinnati, South Florida, DePaul). In its first season with 15 members the conference received a record eight NCAA Tournament bids (men’s basketball). In 2009 the Big East became the first league to ever land three teams an No. 1 seeds. Since then, the league has perennially led the nation in terms of teams participating in the tournament, including an NCAA record 11 back in 2011. I
The Atlantic 10 was also successful on a smaller scale by making a similar move.
This summer the conference added Butler and VCU, bringing its total membership to 16. Earlier this month, the A-10 received five bids to the NCAA Tournament; beating out the likes of the SEC, Pac-12 and ACC.
The Valley should take a similar approach. With the right additions, we could see the formation of the nation’s most premier mid-major league.
Who should these additions be?
First, the most palpable (and likely) choice would be Oral Roberts. The Golden Eagles bring a major market (Tulsa, No. 61 according Nielsen ratings) as well as a quality basketball team. Under Scott Sutton ORU went to three straight NCAA Tournaments from 2006-2008.
Also, Denver out of the WAC would be a great addition. Although the Pioneers have just recently enjoyed success in basketball (back-to-back 20+ win seasons), their location and potential growth make them a very attractive addition.
Belmont University would also be a great addition to the “new” Valley. Belmont not only brings one of the country’s biggest media markets (No. 29 according to Nielsen), the Bruins have been one of the country’s top non-BCS teams. Belmont has been to six tournaments since 2006, and currently is on its second streak of three straight tournament appearances.
Other potential schools I would like to see considered, with two of which being added, would be Nebraska-Omaha, UMKC, North Dakota State, South Dakota State, Illinois-Chicago, Valparaiso, SIU-Edwardsville, Murray State, and Western Illinois.
The move would bring conference membership to 14 teams. The league would split into a pair of seven team divisions. You would play a home-away game with each team in your division as well as four rotating games against the opposite division.
Yes, this does result in an unbalanced conference schedule, thus causing the conference champion not to be a true conference champion, but does that matter?
Because the regular season champion does not get an automatic bid or home court advantage in the tournament the regular season championship in less important. In fact, in years where a team’s cross division games were against tougher teams, they will actually be more likely to make the tournament field.
I’m sure you’ve noted none of these teams play major college football, making it less likely for them to bolt in pursuit of football dollar signs.
Also, these moves are motivated by basketball. The new arrangement of teams would increase the basketball profile of the conference, giving the potential of 3-5 tournament teams a season.
The expansion of the Valley is necessary and imminent. As the landscape of college athletics changes, so too must the thinking of the powers that be.
I agree with you 100
I agree with you 100%. The conference is not a football school orientated sports conference. The schools you have mentioned depend on consistent basketball strength. I would like to see Valpo,Belmont,Oral Roberts,Murray State,Denver,Ill-Chicago, Loyola. 2 divisions play each twice in your division and 1 game against each team in the other division. 19 league game schedule would produce a fair and balanced approach. I do think you are right on with the expansion.