TERRE HAUTE —
Take a look around the Missouri Valley Conference landscape and it would be easy to assume that a significant portion of the league membership is searching for perceived greener pastures.
Creighton was named in a CBS blog as a possible candidate to be plucked by the Atlantic-10 Conference. Evansville put out a press release last week refuting rumors that it was interested in the Horizon League.
Within the last year, Missouri State was (erroneously) rumored to be headed to Conference USA and FBS-level football. Illinois State is the only school to make a public declaration as it signaled its long-term intent to move to FBS-level football, a move that would likely see the Redbirds exit the MVC as it’s presently constituted.
All the while, fans from some of these schools get fired up and even excited about their potential exit from the MVC. Despite the growth of the MVC in the last decade, and the fact that many of these schools have achieved individually because of their collective link to a strong conference, there’s a sense among some of them that the grass is greener elsewhere.
Meanwhile, Indiana State has not been mentioned as one of the conference movers.
However, realignment is a tricky business. Even if a school has no intent to move, the sands could move underneath them and force change. That’s essentially what happened to several Big 12 and Big East schools, which is one reason why once-unheard of moves like Missouri to the SEC and West Virginia to the Big 12 came about.
So where does ISU stand? ISU Director of Athletics Ron Prettyman said earlier this week that realignment has never been discussed internally.
“Not one time. We’ve got our ear to the ground and the [MVC] fills me in on things here and there, where the rumors are, but we’ve never been mentioned, nor have we shown any interest or done any research to make a change,” Prettyman said.
Prettyman championed the stability of the MVC in comparison to other conferences. The MVC has not had a membership change since 1997 when Tulsa left.
Prettyman also knows that stability doesn’t insulate the conference from possible change.
“We’re setting ourselves as a conference to deal with change. The conference administrators probably have a short list of schools that have either shown interest in coming to the Missouri Valley Conference or schools we’d like to pursue. But we haven’t spent any time on it because our conference has been extremely stable,” Prettyman said. “I don’t want to say we’re sitting on our hands on this. We’re not. We have our ear to the ground, but there’s been no action to this point.”
One of the factors that some surmise might lead to the MVC’s downfall is the diversity in terms of the school’s individual missions (six public schools and four private institutions), the varying degrees of state money each public school depends on and disparity in athletic budgets.
To wit, according to USA Today’s numbers for the 2009-10 athletic year, Southern Illinois’ athletic budget was $22.3 million, while ISU’s was a low among MVC public schools at $10.6 million. (Data for private schools is not available).
Prettyman takes a dim view to the idea that there are pre-disposed factors that could create fissures in the MVC membership.
“It’s overblown a bit. You have schools like Creighton and Wichita that spend loads of money on their basketball programs, but if you look at overall budgets, there might be three or four million dollars worth of difference, but there’s not 20 million dollars worth of difference,” Prettyman said.
“Some of those schools don’t fund some of their other sports as we fund ours. We’ve made the commitment to support the other sports. I don’t think our schools are all that different and I think we’ve proven we can compete with schools that spend a lot on basketball,” he added.
There are factors unique to the MVC that would serve to keep it intact and which make it an attractive destination for other schools.
No comparable conference plays its conference tournament at a long-established, well-attended neutral site as the MVC does in St. Louis. Nor is there any non-BCS conference that plays its conference championship game on network television.
The athletic missions of the schools vary — with some schools playing varying levels of football or not at all, for example — but there are other sports of emphasis unique to the MVC in the Midwest — such as its historical success in baseball — that serve to unify it.
“[The conference members] don’t spend a lot of time discussing [realignment]. We spend a lot of time discussing how we can make our conference dynamic and solid,” Prettyman said. “There’s great loyalty and camaraderie. The league is viewed as a league of strength and consistency. We’re always in the seven-to-nine range in league RPI. People think it’s a quality thing we have. There’s a lot to be said for that.”
Prettyman cited one effort that is being explored between the MVC and other upper tier mid-major conferences to create a “scheduling consortium” to ease the problem every MVC school has to get quality home games on their schedule, in particular, for men’s basketball. Prettyman cited possible involvement of the Horizon League and West Coast Conference in this endeavor.
Prettyman said that if change did come to the MVC, he believes that any new members would be a good fit based on philosophical and financial compatibility, a level of commitment to the current membership and “regionality.”
But when asked whether he sees the conference in its present form in two or five years, Prettyman said he expects the status quo to prevail.
“I have heard nothing that would lead me to believe otherwise. I believe there are schools that are very attractive to other leagues. I think Creighton is attractive. I think Wichita is attractive. I think there’s a few others who are attractive in some sports, but not all sports., but I really don’t think there’s a whole lot of action going on,” Prettyman said.
Todd Golden is sports editor of the Tribune-Star. He can be reached at (812) 231-4272 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Golden on Twitter @TribStarTodd.