TERRE HAUTE —
Loyola University and the Missouri Valley Conference took their first steps together Friday and the MVC is hoping the Ramblers don’t have to take too many baby steps before they become a competitive part of the conference.
Loyola officially became part of the MVC on Friday in an on-campus ceremony. MVC commissioner Doug Elgin, Loyola men’s basketball coach Porter Moser, Loyola athletic director Grace Calhoun and Loyola President Father Michael Garanzini all spoke at an introductory press conference inside Loyola’s newly remodeled Gentile Center.
Loyola has promised to make significant upgrades to its budgets to make its athletic programs competitive within the MVC. Given Loyola’s endowment ($430 million) and its presence in the No. 3 television market in the nation, the Ramblers’ competitiveness is the only question they face as they enter the MVC’s fray.
Moser knows this as well as anyone. He played in the MVC at Creighton and coached Illinois State from 2003-07.
Moser was asked whether Loyola’s current level corresponds with the competitive jump observers perceive the program needs to make.
“There’s a definite level where it’s true. I have a lot of respect for the Valley. I have a lot of respect for the atmospheres in the Valley. Winning on the road is amped up,” Moser said.
“When you recruit, you recruit with that brand around you, so it’s going to take time. In the last two years, I’ve brought in 10 freshmen and sophomores. That’s a lot of young guys. You have to develop those guys and enhance your recruiting.”
Moser noted that his players were ready for the MVC, but were also cognizant of the challenge ahead.
“There was a lot of excitement. A lot of our kids were recruited by Valley schools or live in Valley areas. It was excitement, but it wasn’t a cocky excitement. We know we have to ratchet it up,” Moser said.
One of the Ramblers from a “Valley area” is Terre Haute’s own Matt O’Leary. The former North High School standout will embark on his sophomore season with the Ramblers and is now a MVC player.
O’Leary could not be at the introduction ceremony because he had class, but he emailed his thoughts.
“Going to the Missouri Valley is a great move for all of our sports, and also for our men’s basketball team. We have three guys that get to play in their hometown now, and personally, I am excited to get to come home and play in Hulman Center every year,” O’Leary said.
As for the whys and wherefores of how and why Loyola came to the MVC, the MVC’s presidents voted on and approved Loyola unanimously April 12. Elgin said there are still financial details to iron out, but Loyola will join the MVC on July 1.
Elgin singled out Wichita State’s administrators for their help in the process. WSU administrators participated in the search process despite the Shockers’ NCAA Tournament Final Four run.
Identifications of possible candidates began last fall, before it became a distinct possibility that Creighton might leave the MVC for the Big East Conference. The process accelerated when Creighton’s move became a possibility.
Elgin noted that Loyola’s presence in a large market mattered to the league’s presidents.
“We had a membership survey of our presidents, faculty reps, senior women’s administrators and athletic directors. They identified as the most important criteria was market, then geography, basketball tradition and current strength of program,” Elgin said.
“Every one of the institutions we visited surprised us. We had good choices. But what tilted it to Loyola Chicago was their leadership, commitment, their plans for athletics — they spent $40 million on Gentile Center and its new athletic center. They showed us the ability to make progress.”
Loyola replaced Creighton as the 10th member of the conference. Speculation remains that the MVC could add more teams.
“I think we’re done for the time being, although we’re working on another strategic plan. It could take about a year. If we determine it’s in our interest to go beyond 10, I think we would,” Elgin said.
Elgin did express his feelings on the potential advantage of a 10-team set-up.
“My take — I’ve been on the [NCAA Tournament selection] committee, I focus on RPI and what the optimal conditions for maximizing RPI. I think you lose a little bit when you don’t have schools playing each other twice,” Elgin said.
Loyola brings with it a NCAA Tournament-winning tradition no school in the MVC can replicate. Loyola won the NCAA title in 1963. It hasn’t had a winning season, however, since 2007.
In men’s basketball, Loyola is 77-103 all-time against the MVC’s 2012-13 membership. The Ramblers have beaten their last two MVC foes.
ISU leads the all-time series 8-7. Loyola won the last meeting 86-74 in 2010 when ISU participated in Loyola’s Nick Kladis Classic.