In case anyone was secluded over the past week, the big college sports news in the Midwest area of the country was Wichita State leaving the Missouri Valley Conference for the seemingly more lucrative American Athletic Conference.
The Shockers join the 11 all sport members of the FBS football league and while Wichita State does not play football, the league has Navy as a football only member so now has 12 members for all major sports. Wichita State is wasting no time in joining the new league and will join the American starting this fall.
Wichita State is the second high profile school in the past four years to leave from the Missouri Valley in previously was deemed the highest mid-major basketball league up until that point. Creighton, another non-football playing school located in Omaha, Nebraska, joined the Big East Conference in 2013.
The Missouri Valley went to Loyola of Chicago, Illinois—yet another non-football playing school– to replace Creighton and now the question will be what the league does now to replace Wichita State, if anything.
My title question can be if football will play a role at all in the next expansion and I believe it will.
Why would I pose the football question if no prior, recent expansion involved football?
For FCS enthusiasts, most would say the Missouri Valley Football Conference is at least one of the top two current conferences in the country. Of the past six champions, five have been from the MVFC—albeit all were North Dakota State. And all of the last six national title game had at least one MVFC member in the game. Overall, seven finalists have been from the league including Youngstown State this past year and Illinois State three years ago to join the five appearances from NDSU.
While the MVFC is a separate entity from the Missouri Valley Conference, the Missouri Valley Conference manages the football conference and five of the current members in Missouri Valley Conference are also members of the MVFC including Illinois State, Indiana State, Northern Iowa, Missouri State, and Southern Illinois.
The four remaining Missouri Valley Conference schools in Bradley, Drake, Evansville, and Loyola do not play football at all or at least in the case of Drake plays football at the non-scholarship Pioneer League.
Of the five other MVFC members, four reside their other sports in the Summit League including North Dakota State, South Dakota, South Dakota State, and Western Illinois. The lone other member in Youngstown State has their other sports in the Horizon League.
However, the Summit League and Missouri Valley Football Conference announced earlier this year that North Dakota will join the two leagues starting in three years. UND currently resides all sports in the Big Sky Conference.
With that move, the Summit League members and Missouri Valley members will have equal numbers in the Missouri Valley Football Conference.
This is where I think the football playing schools are in situation where they are a little uneasy about what to do now moving forward for full Missouri Valley membership. I believe these schools will need to think about football in the next expansion. I think the full Missouri Valley Conference group wants the controlling interest for football so at least one school would need to be a full Missouri Valley member to get the majority back in this sport.
Who are the current targets for expansion?
The Missouri Valley Conference presidents and athletic directors met this past Sunday and have been rather noncommittal in any response from this meeting. But speculation by many other media outlets have the following schools listed as possible expansion candidates:
Belmont (current Ohio Valley Conference member located in Nashville, Tennessee)
Belmont currently does not play football at all.
Valparaiso (current Horizon League member located in Valparaiso, Indiana yet still in the Chicagoland area.)
Valparaiso currently plays football with Drake in the Pioneer Football League.
Murray State (current Ohio Valley Conference member located in Murray, Kentucky
Murray State currently plays football in the Ohio Valley Conference.
St. Louis (current Atlantic 10 member located in St. Louis, Missouri—which happens to be where the Missouri Valley Conference offices are located.)
St. Louis currently does not play football at all.
Northern Kentucky (current Horizon League member located in Newport, Kentucky—just south of Cincinnati, Ohio)
Northern Kentucky currently does not play football at all.
Wright State (current Horizon League member located in Dayton, Ohio)
Wright State currently does not play football at all.
Missouri-Kansas City (current Western Athletic Conference member located in Kansas City, Missouri)
UMKC currently does not play football at all.
Illinois-Chicago (current Horizon League member located in Chicago, Illinois)
UIC currently does not play football at all.
Milwaukee (current Horizon League member located in Milwaukee, Wisconsin)
Milwaukee currently does not play football at all.
Green Bay (current Horizon League member located in Green Bay, Wisconsin)
Green Bay currently does not play football at all.
Nebraska-Omaha (current Summit League member located in Omaha, Nebraska)
UNO currently does not play football at all.
Oral Roberts (current Summit League member located in Tulsa, Oklahoma)
ORU currently does not play football at all.
Indiana-Purdue-Indianapolis (current Summit League member located in Indianapolis, Indiana)
IUPUI currently does not play football at all.
Indiana-Purdue-Fort Wayne (current Summit League member located in Fort Wayne, Indiana)
IPFW currently does not play football at all.
Southeast Missouri State (current Ohio Valley Conference member located in Cape Girardeau, Missouri)
SEMO currently plays football in the Ohio Valley Conference.
Southern Illinois-Edwardsville (current Ohio Valley Conference member located in Edwardsville, Illinois—just outside of St. Louis, Missouri)
SIUE currently does not play football at all.
Western Illinois (current Summit League member located in Macomb, Illinois)
WIU currently plays football in the MVFC.
North Dakota (current Big Sky Conference member—but has accepted a Summit/MVFC membership—located in Grand Forks, North Dakota)
UND will join the Summit in 2018 and the MVFC in 2020 but currently plays football in the Big Sky.
North Dakota State (current Summit League member located in Fargo, North Dakota)
NDSU currently plays football in the MVFC.
South Dakota (current Summit League member located in Vermillion, South Dakota)
USD currently plays football in the MVFC.
South Dakota State (current Summit League member located in Brookings, South Dakota)
SDSU currently plays football in the MVFC.
Youngstown State (current Horizon League member located in Youngstown, Ohio)
YSU currently plays football in the MVFC.
Where do I think the Missouri Valley Conference will go with expansion?
Losing such a powerhouse like Wichita State and Creighton before them, really none of the schools listed above will directly fill in for what those schools provided the league. I think the strength may have to come in a number larger than one.
I think a 12-team league will be the direction of the league moving forward. And with my claim of football being a part of the equation, I think Murray State is at the top of the list. The Racers bring in a school that while has not been stellar, they do bring in that element and would easily then add a 12th school to the MVFC and allow the league to split into two divisions.
Murray State last made the FCS playoffs in 2002—a first round loss to former MVFC member Western Kentucky and have only made the playoffs a total five seasons with only one win (1996 over MVFC Western Illinois) ever. Murray State’s football facility of Stewart Stadium, however, fits well in the MVFC footprint with a 16,800 capacity.
I know schools like Indiana State were resistant to add the Dakota teams as it created a larger travel budget and adding Murray State could easily appease the football question for it and also Youngstown State as an East-West alignment would allow for only traveling to the West Division at most twice per year if the current 8-game conference schedule was maintained.
The following would then become the most likely East-West Divisions once North Dakota joins in 2020 (and should Murray State be also in the expansion).
North Dakota State
South Dakota State
The other two schools likely will be two non-scholarship or do not play football schools in my opinion to keep the non-football playing balance in the league with Valparaiso and UMKC. I see UMKC filling the void in the West to keep a travel partner potential with Missouri State and Valparaiso filling the Chicago area with another school to join Loyola as an ideal travel partner—that is if the Missouri Valley would start scheduling that way.
Today, there are real no travel partners like other mid-major conference as the league does not tend to send a road trip for two close teams—at least for basketball. But leaving this as possibility will only help if the league so chooses to schedule this way in the future.
I don’t believe the league wants to break-up the Summit League soon-to-be five schools as it needs these members for football. Adding any school, including the non-football playing members, will cause more dominos to fall in the conference expansion and could cause one or more of these schools to be forced into another conference including for football.
Also, adding just one school each from the Ohio Valley, Horizon, and WAC, will not cause major upheaval in the other conferences. Losing just one member, these leagues could choose to do nothing or look for a recent Division I move-up potentially.
I believe my scenario will be the best for that league and as a result will be the best for the near-by leagues as well.
But we will see what the Missouri Valley Conference will do. As we have learned over the past decade and a half on the expansion question, it many times does not go completely as scripted.