From a Wichita State perspective, the empty spot in the Missouri Valley Conference offered a chance for geographic relief.
Shocker teams suffer the biggest travel disadvantage in the MVC and it gets worse with Creighton’s departure. WSU will have seven trips of 500 miles or more with the addition of Loyola. It is a competitive and budget hit that the Shockers deal with well enough to field the MVC’s strongest athletic program.
So did WSU push for Oral Roberts and the comfy-sounding road road trip of 177 miles to Tulsa? As much as is possible when you’re talking about a nine-school decision-making team. MVC presidents vote on additions, with seven votes needed.
“We have always communicated that geography was important to us and Oral Roberts clearly would have been a great addition,” WSU athletic director Eric Sexton said. “That didn’t play out, but that’s the process we have in the conference. Loyola was at the top from the president’s perspective. We have what appears to be a great potential partner (in Loyola).”
Sexton said WSU remains vigilant during this time of conference realignment. Are there better options for WSU? Nothing imminent.
“Conference realignment is as dynamic as the day as long,” he said. “We will continue to evaluate what we need to do, continue to evaluate that we are always in the right place for the long-term interests of Wichita State University.”
Oral Roberts offers a strong men’s basketball program, with three NCAA berths recently. Its baseball program is an NCAA regular. Tulsa is an attractive market, one with a long MVC history. The location is helpful for Missouri State and WSU. Why not ORU? If you think like a university president, ORU’s recent flirtation with financial issues is likely a deal-breaker. This story from the Tulsa World details the problems. Given a choice between a school apparently on the verge of bankruptcy a few years ago and one in good health (Loyola’s endowment is reported at around $600 million), university presidents are going to choose the school rolling in dough, and for good reason.
“Potential” is the key word in this saga. Loyola convinced school presidents it is serious about spending more money on athletics and that it has the money to spend. The MVC clearly was not worried about winning Friday’s news conference. It is already losing the PR battle this week as fans take a look at Loyola’s track record in men’s basketball, its odd hiring of Sheryl Swoopes to coach women’s basketball (she has no college coaching experience) and its lack of a baseball program.
The Ramblers will enter the MVC facing legions of skeptics who are fearful that they will drag down the conference’s basketball stature. Folks on the banks of Lake Michigan must believe they can compete and they are on the clock to prove themselves.