Dallas Baptist signed a six-year deal in 2012 to join the Missouri Valley Conference, beginning in the 2013-14 school year.
A longtime NAIA program that went to that level's World Series 10 times between 1984-2002, the Patriots finished second in the country twice. They moved up to Division I in baseball only in 2006, and earned an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament in 2008 as an independent. Dallas Baptist has won 30 or more games in eight of coach Dan Heefner's nine seasons, and made six NCAA regional appearances.
When the Patriots agreed to join the Valley, they hoped to be in a nine-team league in 2014 that would feature two other nationally-known baseball powerhouses in Creighton and Wichita State. Then Creighton bolted for the Big East Conference in 2013. With the Shockers departing for the American Athletic Conference in all sports but football, which they don't compete in, with all due respect to Missouri State, Dallas Baptist now becomes the league's best-known baseball program.
"It's a hit to lose Wichita State. They're kind of the name recognition that we have in the league, just with the success they've had for a long time," Heefner said. "Missouri State's got a great program. It's good baseball in the league. It's been a really good situation for us. There's a lot of unknowns right now, about who the new teams are that are coming in, and that'll kind of dictate a lot of what the league looks like, too."
Missouri State (30-13, 11-0 MVC) has won its last 15 Valley games, the fourth-best streak in league history, and came in at No. 16 in the NCAA's RPI Sunday. The Bears are ranked 16th by Collegiate Baseball and 24th in the latest USA Today coaches poll.
Second-place Dallas Baptist (27-16, 8-4), which took two of three from SIU (23-22, 6-6) last weekend, has an RPI of 48. No one else in the league is in the top 140 of the RPI, and Evansville and Illinois State, Nos. 265 and 277, are in the late 200s.
Wichita State (21-22, 6-6) has uncharacteristically struggled the last two seasons, and has an RPI of 146 this season. The Shockers have finished first or second in the league 21 times since 1990, and have 20 regular-season Valley titles.
"You lose Wichita State, but, what are we going to replace with? Can we replace with somebody comparable, or, what will that be like?" Heefner said. "I think that's what we're all kind of waiting to find out."
Men's basketball will drive the MVC's search for its new addition, or additions, depending on how it goes. Multiple reports had the league's search committee, which has at least one member from each league school, visiting Murray State, Valparaiso, Nebraska-Omaha and Milwaukee last week.
It is not clear if the committee plans to go on more site visits, will decide between those four, or will choose to have nine teams in 2017-18.
Without Wichita State, the MVC currently has seven teams for the 2017 season. The tournament currently offers slots for eight, so you would think the Valley would have to add at least one school into the mix. Which one of the four candidates could be the best in baseball? Find out for yourselves:
Murray State Racers
Location: Murray, Kentucky
Current conference: Ohio Valley Conference
Facility: Reagan Field (800), natural grass
Coach: Kevin Moulder, third season, 65-91 at MSU, 65-91 career
NCAA Tournament appearances: 3 (1975, 1979, 2003)
Current conference: Horizon League
Facility: Henry Aaron Field (500), artifical turf infield, grass outfield
Coach: Scott Doffek, 10th season, 290-273-1 at UM, 290-273-1 career
NCAA Tournament appearances: 4 (1999, 2001, 2002, 2010)
Current conference: Summit League
Facility: Isaacson Field at Seymour Smith Park, natural grass
Coach: Evan Porter, first season, 10-31 at UNO, 10-31 career
NCAA Tournament appearances: 0 (Moved to Division I in 2011)
Location: Valparaiso, Indiana
Current conference: Horizon League
Facility: Bauer Field (500), natural grass
Coach: Brian Schmack, fourth season, 94-112 at VU, 94-112 career
NCAA Tournament appearances: 7 (1958, 1963, 1966, 1967, 1968, 2012, 2013)