Missouri Valley Eyes Conference Expansion Candidates

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Copyright 2017 The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
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The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel


UW-Milwaukee is engaged in discussions about joining the Missouri Valley Conference, sources confirmed to the Journal Sentinel on Wednesday.

Additionally, the sources confirmed that officials from the Missouri Valley are scheduled to visit UWM's campus and meet with school administrators later this week.

UWM has been a member of the Horizon League since the 2001-'02 season.

The Missouri Valley is seeking to add at least one member school beginning in the 2017-'18 academic year with Wichita State leaving to join the American Athletic Conference. It is believed to be considering adding as many as three teams, which would increase its membership from 10 to 12.

According to various reports, fellow Horizon League member Valparaiso also is under consideration, along with Murray State of the Ohio Valley Conference and Nebraska Omaha of the Summit League. Those schools have either already hosted Missouri Valley officials or are scheduled to do so.

It's unclear at this point how a potential move would shake out. One possible scenario would be the Missouri Valley adding one school for the 2017-'18 academic year and then two more for 2018-'19. If that were the case, it's likely UWM would be part of that second round of expansion in 2018-'19 should it get the nod.

UWM athletic director Amanda Braun referred all questions regarding a potential move to Missouri Valley Conference commissioner Doug Elgin.

"The Valley has always been resilient and progressive in the face of these changes, and we have never been defined by a single institution," the league said in a statement earlier this month after it was announced Wichita State would be leaving.

UWM has won four Horizon League regular-season men's basketball championships (2004-'06 and 2011) and four tournament championships (2003, 2005-'06 and 2014). All four of its NCAA Tournament appearances (2003, 2005-'06 and 2014) have come as a member of the Horizon League.

The Missouri Valley finished the season 12th among conferences in the RPI this past season, compared to 17th for the Horizon. It would be a more competitive conference from top to bottom, which would figure to help the Panthers with both recruiting and attendance.

The Missouri Valley is in the midst of a 10-year media rights agreement with ESPN that will run through the 2023-'24 season, and also has a deal through 2019-'20 with CBS Sports. That would figure to afford UWM the potential for much more exposure than it currently has in the Horizon League.

Additional travel costs for UWM in the new league would be negligible. But the school would figure to be penalized financially by the Horizon League if it left, although the exact dollar amount is unknown.

A move would apply to all sports except men's swimming and diving, because the Missouri Valley doesn't sponsor that sport. Several other Missouri Valley schools that offer the sport compete in the Mid-American Conference.

The league has a strong Midwestern footprint with Illinois State, Southern Illinois and Bradley joining Loyola as members from the state of Illinois; Northern Iowa and Drake from the state of Iowa; Evansville and Indiana State from the state of Indiana; and Missouri State.

Wichita State had won or shared the last four regular-season Missouri Valley titles, and the league has sent multiple teams to the NCAA Tournament in four of the last six years. The Horizon League hasn't sent multiple teams to the tournament since 2009.

The conference tournament is played each March in St. Louis.

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April 27, 2017


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