TERRE HAUTE —
For the first time in its history, the Missouri Valley Conference will have a home in the Second City.
The Chicago Tribune confirmed Saturday via a Loyola University source that the Ramblers will replace Creighton as the MVC’s 10th team. Loyola — a member of the Horizon League — will join the MVC effective July 1.
Indiana State Director of Athletics Ron Prettyman — who was part of the MVC search committee that scouted potential replacements for Creighton — confirmed Sunday that the Ramblers were in the MVC loop.
“It’s a real deal and it’s happening,” Prettyman said.
“The details are being worked out, but Loyola has accepted an invitation to join the Missouri Valley Conference. Most of the members are excited about that,” he said.
“I think they’ll be a good member. It opens us up to the Chicago market. They have a very nice campus. There’s a strong financial commitment to improve their programs,” Prettyman added.
No official announcement has been made. Loyola and the MVC are expected to have a joint announcement later this week.
Prettyman said the MVC presidents voted to approve Loyola on Friday morning. Prettyman was unaware of what the vote breakdown was, but to secure admission to the league, at least seven of the nine MVC schools had to vote for Loyola.
Efforts to reach MVC commissioner Doug Elgin were unsuccessful.
There has been media speculation that Loyola’s Horizon League Chicago cohorts — Illinois-Chicago — could be joining the MVC with the Ramblers.
“I think this is it for ’13-’14. I think there’s some interest in discussing expansion of the conference in the future, but at best, it’s discussion at this point. No decisions have been made on that,” Prettyman said.
At various stages of its 105-year history, the MVC has had teams in cities and states ranging from New Mexico to Houston to Detroit, but it has never included a Chicago-based school.
Loyola is a Jesuit university located in Chicago’s north side on the shore of Lake Michigan.
In a day and age where television markets matter when securing advantageous TV deals, having the third-largest television market in the fold is important, even if Loyola is ranked several notches below Chicago’s professional sports in the Windy City’s sports pecking order.
It is also an attractive factor for ISU, which has always recruited Chicago heavily both in athletic and academic circles.
“The Chicago market is certainly attractive to us with our alumni base there. We recruit there, not just for athletics, but as a university as a whole out of the Chicago basin,” Prettyman said.
In men’s basketball — the MVC’s signature sport — Loyola has a proud history, but an unimpressive recent record. The Ramblers won the 1963 NCAA Championship in an iconic upset over Cincinnati.
But Loyola has had just one 20-win season (21-11 in 2007) in the last 10 years and has had just six winning campaigns since the 64-team NCAA Tournament era began in 1985.
The concerns about Loyola’s lack of on-court success are real, but Prettyman said the university is committed to making the financial investment to bring its programs in line with those in the MVC.
“There’s certainly some concern about their current strength of program, but with the commitment they’ve made financially and with a new, strong administration, I feel confident their programs will improve and they’ll contribute to the strength of the Valley,” said Prettyman, who noted that Loyola shared its five- and 10-year plan with the search committee.
“The [MVC] presidents, after consulting with their AD’s, their FAR’s [faculty athletic representatives] and senior women administrators who were on the visits feel strongly that Loyola is going to step up their program and contribute significantly,” Prettyman added.
Loyola defeated ISU in a 2010 visit. Terre Haute native Matt O’Leary currently plays for the Ramblers.
Loyola doesn’t have a baseball program, a sport that the MVC puts a heavy emphasis on during its spring season.
“They have a beautiful campus, their facilities are decent, but they’re a little bit landlocked. When we talked baseball, they didn’t say, ‘No, we’re not going to do it.’ But they weren’t sure about the logistics of it,” Prettyman said.
Loyola becomes the first team added to the MVC since Evansville joined the conference for the 1994-95 season.