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Missouri Valley Conference would survive, maybe grow, if Creighton leaves

9:13 PM, Mar 8, 2013   |    comments
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Bryce Miller, USA TODAY Sports

ST. LOUIS -- If there's Creighton-induced sweat forming on the brow of Missouri Valley Conference commissioner Doug Elgin, the evidence remains far from conclusive.

Chatter continued Friday that the Omaha-based program that is the current basketball jewel of the Valley would join the group called the Catholic 7.

The collection of fast-moving sneakers announced they are breaking away to create a hoops power conference that, according to a laptop-clogging number of reports, will latch onto an old name in new form - as a freshly minted Big East.

So, how's the Arch Madness hand-wringing?

Publicly, it's mostly a united MVC front, with the defense built around a history of surviving the losses of Cincinnati, Louisville, and Tulsa - the last change in membership, in 1996. The demise of the conference also was whispered when it dropped Division I-A football in the mid-1980s.

Elgin told the Des Moines Register at Scottrade Center: "We're not defined by one institution."

The Valley has been a survivor, true enough. Losing the current top dog in the premier sport, though, is akin to the SEC losing Alabama football.

Would the SEC survive? No doubt. Would it hurt, especially in the short term? No doubt.

Northern Iowa athletic director Troy Dannen said he's hoping Creighton remains, but is prepared for the Bluejays to take flight.

"I can read enough to tell there's a lot of smoke," Dannen said. "When I see smoke, I anticipate fire. So I'm anticipating fire. If it turns out there's no fire, then no harm done.

"But there's so much smoke, you almost have to anticipate there's some fire out there."

The programs tagged with Catholic 7 label - DePaul, Georgetown, Marquette, Providence, Seton Hall, St. John's and Villanova - already are officially gone from the Big East of old. To become a 10-team league, most expected Butler and Xavier to latch on, with Creighton the most likely deal-maker.

Creighton, though, also is the most legitimate remaining question mark.

"It's undeniable it's a remarkable program," said Mitch Holthus, who is handling some on-air TV coverage of the tournament and the voice of the NFL's Kansas City Chiefs. "You can't ignore that they're sixth in the nation in attendance - in the nation. They've meant a lot to the Valley, and they mean a lot to this tournament.

"It's impactful, but the Valley always finds a way - not just to survive, but thrive."

If the tournament's No. 1 seed left the conference, it would leave the Valley feeling Creighton blue.
Tulsa, though, rushed for the exits after a third straight NCAA Tournament dotted with two Sweet 16 finishes. In that moment, the world was ending - likely in ways that felt bigger and more profound because of the consistent, deep bracket runs.

Things change, though. Today's ups are tomorrow's downs - and vice meets versa.

"They are the flavor of the day in the Valley right now - no question about it," Dannen said of Creighton. "We were the flavor of the day, and we will be again. Drake was the flavor of the day (in 2008). It's cyclical.
"With the timing, everybody associates that Creighton is the Missouri Valley Conference. If you take a 10,000-foot view and add some perspective, when Tulsa left it was, 'Woe is us,' but the Valley came back and is stronger yet.

"It's that perspective that keeps you more rational, from jumping off the cliff. Because we've been there, done that. And we'll do that again."

Another consideration: The Valley is ranked most consistently by a range of experts, including recently by ESPN.com, as the ninth-best conference among the 32 splashed from coast to coast.

Dannen said he would be surprised if the league stayed at nine teams, even if Creighton danced off. In fact, he feels the door to a 10- or 12-team league could be shoved open.

"I would echo that," said Elgin, in a newsy moment of a thumbs-down on nine and thumbs-up on an even bigger league. "People are constantly reaching out because of the strength of our brand."

As the world of college athletics has been thrown into the tsunami-meets-hurricane-meets-tornado of realignment comings and goings in recent years, only two - the Valley and Ivy League - avoided the dents and disruptions.

Ask yourself: Did the Big 12 unravel when Nebraska football bolted for the Big Ten?

OK, it felt like it could. But, it didn't.

A chip in the Valley's corner, thanks to Elgin's blueprint, is the Arch Madness tournament itself. It's a model for a neutral-court, ticket-selling, fan-energizing event.

"This is a top 10 league in the country," Dannen said. "If somebody gives up a spot in our league, it is a cherished spot by many."

Radar watchers wonder where the Valley might lean if Creighton leaves (though it feels more like "when").

Some names that sound like the right fit in size, focus and geography: Belmont and Saint Louis (both ahead of Creighton this season in RPI) - or maybe Valparaiso, with a nod to the heart of big-market Chicago via Loyola or Illinois-Chicago.

In this day and age, the raided quickly become the raiders, meaning Bluejay ripples could extend to the Ohio Valley, Horizon, or even the WAC and Summit.

"The immediate, short-term reaction is that it's going to be a loss," Dannen said of a possible Creighton departure. "The Valley has shown that every time it's had a short-term loss, the league has prospered long-term. I have no doubt that will happen again."

The saying must be true. In the case of Dannen, Holthus and Elgin - never let them see you sweat.

Bryce Miller writes for the Des Moines Register. Follow him on Twitter: @Bryce_A_Miller

 

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