Racers remaining in OVC for now
Following a crazy few weeks, the drama that surrounded Missouri Valley Conference expansion has subsided with the announcement that Valparaiso, and ONLY Valparaiso, would be invited into the MVC to replace Wichita State. Although media and blog speculation seemed to indicated that the MVC would go with two or three teams, the conference itself never indicated such. Despite MVC officials visiting four schools, there was never an indication that the conference would add more than one team, and as the process unfolded it seemed that would be the solution for now.
A Twitter post by MVC TV analyst Mark Adams seemed to confirm what fans of institutions not named Valparaiso did not want to hear. When it is May and your conference has one spot open, it makes perfect sense to simply replace one school for another. To add two schools at this point would have created a scheduling nightmare and added costs that MVC schools did not want or need. The easy solution, for now, was to plug Valpo into Wichita State’s spot in the schedules across the board and stand pat for the time being. But the MVC likely showed its hand when immediately after announcing the Valparaiso invitation, an MVC expansion committee spokesman indicated that committee would remain active for the next nine months.
What this means is that, while all will remain quiet for now, the Murray State to the Missouri Valley Conference chatter will heat up again at least by early 2018. I would expect the MVC still has its eye on Murray State, but wants to continue its search for a 12th team that would be a good fit. Delaying the move gives the MVC time to be certain a 12th team is the right fit for the league, and it also allows the league to have plenty of time to work out a 12-team scheduling scenario and decide on what to do about expanding Arch Madness another day, which would mean securing the venue for an extended period.
Why should Murray State even consider such a move? What’s wrong with the Ohio Valley Conference? After all, MSU is a charter member of the OVC and hardly anyone remembers much about MSU sports before the OVC came into existence in 1948. The league seems to be on solid footing for the moment with twelve teams and seems to fit the budget for all schools involved. So why consider a move?
In my opinion, the OVC could face some difficult times ahead.
In my opinion, the OVC could face some difficult times ahead. The question is when, and not if, Jacksonville State and Eastern Kentucky bolt the league. Both have FBS aspirations for their football programs and each will likely jump at the first opportunity to make that happen. I don’t blame them at all. Each school must always do what is in its best interests. I must admit, I thought Western Kentucky and Middle Tennessee were making huge mistakes in hanging their athletic fortunes on making the jump to FBS football conferences. As it happens, it has worked out quite well for both schools.
Should JSU and EKU leave, the OVC could opt to remain at ten teams and would do fine, but the hit would be on football with the league losing a traditional power in EKU, and its recent dominating team in JSU. This would leave the league with only seven teams playing OVC football, translating to six league games a year. If the FCS expands to a twelve-game schedule annually as expected, schools would have to schedule six out of conference games each year. Doable yes, but not desired. Should all of that happen, pressuring Morehead State to come back as a scholarship program seems to be the most workable solution. The other sports should be fine without additional expansion, but the OVC could also heavily court Lipscomb and Chattanooga as replacements, and if successful, would add an additional football school with the Mocs.
As you can see, Murray State can stay in the OVC and will likely be okay. But if they want to elevate the brand into other areas, which will likely increase enrollment, then a move to the Missouri Valley Conference must be strongly considered should an invitation be extended next year. From an RPI standpoint, the move would be an easy one to make, The MVC was 12th in RPI last year while the OVC was 24th. Granted, much of the MVC boost was provided by Wichita State, but traditionally, the MVC is far ahead of the OVC in conference RPI.
From an exposure standpoint, the MVC currently is far ahead of the OVC with its contracts with ESPN, ESPN3, the CBS Sports Network, and its conference championship game on CBS. Although the OVC does deserve immense credit for the OVC Digital Network, which gives fans extensive access to many OVC events in a variety of sports. With ESPN3, the contract specifies separate announcers which means potential for a pre-game and post-game show independent of the radio feed used by many OVC institutions, including Murray State. In fairness, that could change during the next ESPN/MVC contract given ESPN’s financial issues which led to massive high profile layoffs a few weeks ago.
The Arch Madness men’s basketball tournament in 2016 drew over 50,000 fans. That year, the OVC Tournament drew just over 6000 per NCAA.com. Having all games on the CBS Sports Network and then the championship game on CBS is a boost as well, at least for now. It remains to be seen if the MVC can continue that deal without a Creighton or Wichita State, but who knows, a new school could emerge as the next big thing in the MVC. While good for years, the Shockers have won only four MVC Tournament championships, meaning they have only been great recently.
Another reason to make a move to the MVC is the league’s treatment of women’s basketball. While the OVC relegates women’s programs to “friend of the conference” status during the OVC Tournament by playing Wednesday-Friday games during the afternoon, the MVC Women’s Basketball Tournament is played the week following the men’s tournament at its own venue with prime-time games. If it was my daughter or granddaughter playing, I would not be happy with weekday afternoon games while the men enjoyed primetime at the same venue. Even if Murray State remains in the OVC, the league must fix this injustice. In an era where fairness and equality are stressed, this is neither.
The elephant in the room for Murray State is what happens with football if the MVC comes calling. The ideal situation would be for the Missouri Valley Football Conference (a cousin, but separate entity) to extend an invitation. With North Dakota coming aboard in the 2019-2020 season as an 11th team, adding Murray State would be perfect and would allow a near perfect setup for a pair of six team divisions. Should that happen, the Racers would then be in the best FCS football league in the nation in my opinion and should that happen, they must be fully funded from a scholarship standpoint to have a chance to compete. If that happens, it would be a great move for football as well. If that does not happen, I can’t see the OVC allowing Murray State remain as a football-only school and playing as an independent is not desirable from a scheduling standpoint. Director of Athletics Alan Ward is a big football fan and I can’t see him making such a move without a desirable landing space for the football program.
In the end, each school, as well as each conference, must do what is best for them. For now, the goal is to pile up Ohio Valley Conference championships in a league that, while not perfect, certainly fits from a budget and travel standpoint. But should the opportunity arise to put Murray State in a better situation and grow the university, I certainly hope our administration will jump at the chance. As always, Go Racers, and May the Horse Be With You!