Valparaiso University will join the Missouri Valley Conference (MVC) July 1 after accepting an invitation to replace Wichita State University May 25.
The MVC was tight-lipped throughout the process of replacing Wichita State. Now that the move to add Valparaiso is official, the MVC discussed the steps involved in choosing a new member school.
MVC Commissioner Doug Elgin said the departure of Wichita State wasn’t a surprise to anyone in the conference — it was a long time coming.
“We knew probably a year and a half in advance that Wichita State exiting our league was a distinct possibility,” Elgin said. “We knew informally that they were going to be leaving before it became public. We just had intelligence that got out that it was highly likely they were going to be announcing soon.”
Elgin said the conference was looking for three characteristics in a school to replace Wichita State: strength in men’s basketball, location and the institutional commitment to athletics.
Conference officials added Valparaiso in a process similar to when Loyola was added to the MVC in 2013, according to Elgin.
“It started with a meeting of presidents and athletics directors in St. Louis on a Sunday night in April,” said Elgin. “We went through a very broad list of institutions that we considered contacting for potential visits, and out of that meeting, we determined we would visit four institutions.”
While Elgin would not confirm the other three schools, Associate Commissioner Mike Kern said Valparaiso, University of Nebraska-Omaha, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and Murray State University were the four schools visited.
Elgin said the MVC brought one university president, four athletic directors and two faculty athletic representatives to each visit, while five or six more individuals went on some visits, but not all.
When officials arrived at the school, they met with campus administrators including presidents, athletics administrators and, on some visits, board of trustees members. After doing prior research, conference representatives would evaluate the school’s commitment to academics, budgets and athletic success. The latter included touring facilities to see what the athletes had at their disposal to prepare for their respective seasons.
One of the athletic directors present at all four campuses was Loyola Athletic Director Steve Watson. Watson said he had an idea of what the process was going to entail and commended the MVC for its efficiency.
“We had some preliminary discussions about how we would go about things based on some of the things we’d heard about Wichita State,” Watson said. “It wasn’t a surprise when they announced they were leaving. The leadership in The Valley … did a fantastic job organizing and getting everyone out on the road in a short time frame.”
Elgin added that while all of the visits went well, Valparaiso seemed to be a better fit for several reasons.
Valparaiso allows the total geographic footprint to be the tightest in the 111-year history of the MVC. The average distance from Valparaiso to the other nine MVC schools is 271 miles, which is more convenient than the 579 miles Wichita State was from the rest of the conference. The proximity of Valparaiso, in turn, allows the MVC to reconfigure travel partners.
The addition also lets some of the teams to revisit past rivalries. Valparaiso was with Loyola in the Horizon League from 2007 to 2013, Missouri State in the Association of Mid-Continent Universities — now known as the Summit League — from 1982 to 1990 and the University of Northern Iowa in the AMCU from 1982 to 1991.
Finally, Elgin said the sports Valparaiso offers are the icing on the cake.
“[Valparaiso sponsors] all 17 of the sports that we have in play in our league,” Elgin said. “So, in terms of a fit, we really thought Valparaiso was a great puzzle piece to fit into the Missouri Valley membership and family.”
Elgin confirmed the door is open for the MVC expanding to 12 schools in the future. He said a presidentially-led committee will be discussing the idea of further expansion.
“There’s not a sense of urgency at all, but it’s an ongoing process where we’re thinking outside the box and trying to determine what steps we can take as a league to strengthen our overall position,” Elgin said.
Valparaiso will officially join the MVC July 1.