The worst part about the college basketball season being over is that, well, it’s over. No more games. No more debates about rankings, or teams, or players, or conferences. The day-to-day fun is gone.
That’s bad. What pops up in its place is worse. In recent years, the absence has been filled with endless offseason news of players transferring, and schools too, and neither is remotely satisfying. The former is often the result of poaching and tampering, whether it be by schools, coaches, handlers or family members. The latter only contributes to a culture of instability around college sports, where schools and conferences now feel like they always need to be on the lookout for their next opportunity, and constant discussion of it only fans the flames.
The 2017 national title game wasn’t even 12 hours old yet when news about conference realignment started spreading again, the latest involving Wichita State. It’s been hardly a secret that the Shockers are on their way to the American Athletic Conference, the only question has been how soon it would happen, and reports yesterday were that AAC schools were clearing space for WSU on their 2017-18 schedules.
Maybe Wichita State has outgrown the ancient Missouri Valley Conference, though it’s kind of hard to buy that argument just yet for a school that has won exactly three of the last 31 MVC basketball tournaments, Regardless, with the Shockers all but out the door, the musings on social media and message boards has been about how the MVC has to make another move. Or, if the Valley has fallen behind leagues like the Horizon or the Summit, and whether one needs to start poaching the others.
Here’s the thing: the Missouri Valley doesn’t “have” to do anything, and neither does any other conference. Unless they are kicked out for not maintaining league standards, not a single school has to move to another conference-ever. As simple as this sounds, it’s something that seems to get regularly forgotten even by administrators these days.
The MVC, in particular, still has a much stronger group of schools than it seems to be getting credit for. Illinois State should’ve been in the NCAA Tournament this year. Northern Iowa made the round of 32 in the NCAAs each of the two previous years (and was an all-time collapse away from the Sweet 16 last year). UNI, Bradley and Southern Illinois all have made Sweet 16 appearances in the last 11 years. UNI, SIU and even Drake, as well as Wichita State, have been a 5 seed or better in the NCAAs in the last 10 years. Even with the departure of Creighton a few years ago and Wichita State soon, the Valley is still the best basketball-first conference in the Midwest.
Forget about that success, though, and the MVC is still a league that makes sense, its somewhat delicate public/private school makeup notwithstanding. Valley schools are traditionally well-supported, and most are located in good-sized cities where they are the biggest game in town. The league tourney is top-notch, and the conference also is competitive nationally in a number of other sports besides basketball.
A lot of other conferences make sense, too, and that’s the point: the idea that every conference departure needs to result in a predatory game is one that needs to stop in college sports, at all levels-from fans all the way up to administrators. The big TV conferences do it; that doesn’t mean everyone else must, too, when adding a team or two doens’t have financial stakes a fraction of what they are for those conferences. What schools in leagues like the MVC-and Horizon League, Summit League, Colonial Athletic Association and others-must do is spend less time worrying about whether their league is the problem, and more time getting innovative in their scheduling.
It’s become abundantly clear in hindsight that the end of the BracketBusters event four years ago was one of the worst things that could’ve happened to leagues like these, and it’s time that these conferences partner together again and get to work on something similar. The fear of teams having something to lose from the games must go; with the way the NCAA selection committee clearly has not respected these teams in recent years, it’s time to take some chances and try to find a way to get those magic top 50 wins that the committee conveniently has made its current top measurement.
Maybe it’s not on TV. Maybe it’s simply top teams from one league eying up the top teams from another to play home and home. However it’s done, it needs to be done. It’s time that these teams get to work. And they’d be best if they do it together, not as adversaries.
- A note we missed from Monday, Austin Peay officially named Matt Figger as its new head coach. Figger was an assistant to Frank Martin at both Kansas State and South Carolina, including the last four years as associate head coach. A Kentucky native who also spent a number of years as an assistant at the junior college level, he’s the Governors’ first new coach since 1990, as that’s when Dave Loos began his 27-year run before retiring after this season.
- Also, UNC Wilmington formalized its hiring of North Carolina assistant C.B. McGrath as its new coach. McGrath obviously comes highly recommended from the new national champions, and the name he goes by is only slightly less cool than, say, 1970s trucking songs maestro C.W. McCall.
- The NCAA announced on Tuesday that it will once again host championship events in North Carolina, after the state repealed its HB2 law, or so-called ‘bathroom bill.’ Quite simply, this was one the NCAA never should’ve been involved with in the first place. It’s a slippery slope taking sides on political issues, and the NCAA isn’t in much of a position to be doing so credibly, not when the governing body has never thought once about taking a stance on leagues like the Pac-12 actively placing games in places like China, a country with infinitely far more human rights issues than Carolina.
Have a terrific Wednesday.