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March 15, 2013

MVC can't wait on Crieghton to move forward

TERRE HAUTE — Will they go or not? That’s been the question that the Missouri Valley Conference and Creighton have been faced with since rumors of the Bluejays’ potential exit went public in December.

It’s been an on-again, off-again cliffhanger with seemingly every national outlet adding their own “will they or won’t they?” wrinkle with every article/blog written on the topic.

The latest came this week when the New York Post reported that Creighton might leave the MVC for the new Big East Conference for the 2014-15 season rather than next season, as has also been reported, and which was thought of as a fait accompli by many at last week’s Missouri Valley Conference Tournament.

Either way, the long wait on pins and needles continues. I’m not a fan of that.

I realize that conference realignment is chess not checkers. I understand that making a move for a move’s sake can be bad business.

But I also understand that Creighton is likely to move and will move if invited by the new-look Big East Conference. The MVC isn’t likely dealing so much with a what if when it comes to the Bluejays? It’s dealing with a when?

The league has shown Creighton respect by waiting to make any moves until a conference move announcement is or isn’t made. But as the wait continues — it could be over within the span of a week or could stretch out over another season or more — the league runs the risk of letting the agenda be set for them instead of being agenda-setters.

The MVC needs to grab this situation by the scruff of the neck and control the when … whether Creighton is still in the fold or not.

How does the MVC control the “when”? Expand. Add two schools right now … break the shackles of being controlled by the Creighton/Big East courting. If Creighton leaves for the 2013-14 season, add three schools.

Up until December, I wouldn’t have advocated 12 teams in the MVC for the sake of having 12 teams, but times have changed.

It has to accepted that there is no adequate replacement for Creighton. Its departure is not a fatal blow, and the league will continue to be strong, but there’s no 17,000-attendance, NBA-caliber arena bell cow out there for the taking.

Lack of an alpha dog notwithstanding, there are schools that are MVC-worthy or that can be grown into MVC-caliber. The opportunity is there to draw together the region’s basketball-focused schools into the region’s best basketball-focused conference, especially some schools that open the MVC up to new television markets.

This is probably the part where MVC traditionalists are pulling their heads out of the trash can. Won’t a 12-team league mean divisional play? What about the league’s much-loved round-robin league format? Most important, who’s out there for the taking?

I don’t think a 12-team league automatically creates a divisions and a 16-game schedule. The Big Ten Conference has 12 teams and no divisions for basketball. What’s important is protecting the league’s 18-game schedule. Scheduling is already going to be a nightmare for MVC teams next season with the demise of the Mountain West-MVC Challenge and BracketBusters.

Notice I said the 18-game schedule is important … not the round-robin schedule. Swords are drawn when that topic comes up in MVC circles. The MVC has long valued — and for good reason — its round-robin format. The league is one of the few top 10 conferences that has a “true” regular season champion.

I get the sentiment for it, but protecting the round-robin format puts the cart before the horse. The sanctity of the round-robin shouldn’t stand in the way of change that could protect the MVC or even make it stronger. The round-robin is expendable. Regrettable, but the whole business of conference realignment is regrettable.

So who gets invited? Given that the league likely wants to maintain a public-private split, the northern option might be Milwaukee and Loyola of Chicago. A southern option is Belmont and Murray State. A southwestern option might be Oral Roberts and Arkansas-Little Rock or even Denver. If three teams needed to be added, you could take one of the above groups plus one school from another.

Then create six travel partner groups. Indiana State could be partnered with Evansville. Illinois State and Bradley, etc. You play three other travel partner groups and your own travel partner home-and-home and play the other two travel partner groups once. It’s not round-robin, but it is 18 games.

I’ve had it put to me that travel partners are beneath the MVC. Nonsense. The Pac-12 Conference has done it for time immemorial. The MVC women do it now. It would just have to be tweaked from time-to-time for television. Play Thursday-Saturday games as a default … with flexibility to play TV games on Wednesday’s or Sunday’s.

Those are just my ideas. You might have better ones, but whatever ideas might come to the fore, I just want the MVC to act. There’s no sense in waiting for Creighton to make its move before the MVC does.

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