More Conference Realignment On Way: Why Belmont (And Others) Should Stay Put

Posted at 9:58 AM, Apr 06, 2017
and last updated 2017-04-06 10:58:44-04

The American Athletic Conference is expected to add Wichita State in a vote by league members on Friday. That will leave the Missouri Valley Conference without what has become it's flagship program, and undoubtedly start a new round of conference realignment.

This is nothing new for the MVC, which lost another league power in Creighton in 2013. The Shockers picked up the slack, reaching a Final Four, receiving a no. 1 seed and winning 10 games in the NCAA Tournament over the past five seasons.

But now the loss of Wichita State will be devastating to the highest profile sport of one of the country's best non-power five leagues. The question is where the league will turn next?

The MVC would love to re-admit former member St. Louis (which left in 1974), but that seems highly unlikely with the Billikens enjoying a spot in the more lucrative Atlantic-10.

Industry sources believe the pool of candidates the league will at least consider for expansion includes the likes of Belmont, Murray State, North Dakota State, Nebraska-Omaha, Northern Kentucky and Valparaiso.

My word of warning for any program considering a conference move: be careful what you wish for.

The Valley would be a step up in conference prestige for each of those institutions, but when it comes to basketball prestige is ultimately judged by tournament appearances. Try making the argument that MVC schools like Drake (one NCAA appearance since 1971) or Loyola of Chicago (none since 1985) are better basketball programs than Belmont (seven since 2006) or Valpo (nine appearances in 21 seasons).

College basketball seasons are judged in March and, especially for non-power five programs, you have to do everything in your power to protect your chances of making the Big Dance. A move to the Missouri Valley would increase the competition night in and night out for each of those schools, making it harder for them to get into the field of 68.

Think about it: Illinois State went 28-6 and tied Wichita State for the regular season Valley title this year and was left out of the NCAA Tournament.

And rule no. 1 for schools considering conference realignment is, "never leave a one-bid league for a more difficult one-bid league".

The offer may seem enticing and the money may be hard to pass up, but if it cuts down your chances of getting to the NCAA Tournament it's a bad move.

Now North Dakota State's powerful Championship Subdivision football program is already a Missouri Valley Conference member, so perhaps NDSU would prefer linking all it's other sports to the league where it's flagship program resides. And Omaha and Northern Kentucky are relative newcomers to big-time college basketball with no track record of success and may benefit from the increased clout that comes with a conference move.

But for schools like Belmont, Murray State and Valpo which are powers in their current leagues already consider that the hardwood isn't always shinier on the other side. Why would you move to a league that will make travel times and budgets more difficult if it won't definitively help your program become better than it already is?

The answer is simple: you shouldn't.

Those schools have been approached with opportunities to join other conferences in recent years and elected to stay put. If the Valley comes calling this time, they should make the same decision.