Sports reporter

Todd Hefferman has covered SIU athletics since 2008. A University of Iowa grad, he is a member of the U.S. Basketball Writers Association and a Heisman Trophy voter.

As the Missouri Valley Conference continues its search for Wichita State's successor, here is a peek inside the minds of the league's newspaper/online beat writers for how the Valley could proceed.

Murray State and Valparaiso were popular options — as several of us have reported earlier this week — but there were several good ideas.

Enjoy another MVC roundtable:

How should the Valley proceed after Wichita State left the league?

Dave Reynolds, Peoria Journal Star

I think the best solution would be to add two schools and have an 11-team, 20-game league schedule for now.

While this makes the MVC Tournament a little more unwieldy (you either leave the 11th-place team home or you give the No. 1 seed a bye to the semifinals), it accomplishes two things: improves everyone’s schedule by taking away two non-conference opponents the league teams have a hard time scheduling and it insulates the league if somebody else decides to leave in a couple of years.

In the latter case, then you’re back to 10 without having to go through this painful exercise (now twice in four years) of trying to find another member.

My top two candidates would be Murray State and Valparaiso. You get one public and one private, both with good men’s basketball that are good fits geographically. Both have their weaknesses, but they’re the best available right now. Once Saint Louis figures out how much better off it would be in the Valley, that’s an easy add later.

Todd Golden, Terre Haute (Ind.) Tribune Star

Gratuitous not-so-humble brag alert: I’m one of the oddballs in MVC media circles who has long thought the league should consider a 12-team format.

The last round of MVC realignment in 2013 was driven by market. It made a sort of sense at the time as the ravages of cord-cutting had not yet taken hold. With FS1 also starting at the time, the hope was that there would be competition for TV contracts as well a need for programming inventory. It’s not the only reason Loyola was added (that goes more to the MVC’s public-private structure), but it wasn’t insignificant.

Events since then have shown us that chasing TV markets probably isn’t the way for the MVC to go. The ESPN3 deal offers exposure, but no money, and as recent ESPN events have brutally amplified, the days of big college TV payouts are over … at least below the Power 5 level.

That actually makes the MVC’s decision relatively easy … get basketball inventory. It also alleviates the need to “chase markets” outside of the geographic footprint. It’s also why the perception that the MVC can’t do better than Loyola is false. Conditions are different.

Better to have multiple basketball programs on which to rely upon to build the brand, not one who was trying to spend their way out of the league, as it’s been since 2013. (Not WSU’s fault that it could spend, but it wasn’t healthy for the league as a whole.)

Add three programs to the inevitable reality that some existing MVC team is going to fill the vacuum of power. As of now, nearly every MVC basketball program is operating below historical norm, and frankly, below what they should based on what they spend. That isn’t going to last forever.

I think the MVC needs to go 12 now for two reasons. One is that 11 is a logistical nightmare for all sports. Second is that holding a candle out for someone better is not likely to pay off. Go to 12. If SLU wants in later, then break the league structure to make it work if that time comes.

Given these parameters, I think Valparaiso and Murray State are fine. Not great, there’s no home run addition, but they work fine given league politics.

The 12th school is a much tougher proposition. My vote is for North Dakota State, but for reasons that escape me (there are reasons, but they’re more excuses than reasons), there’s resistance to that in league circles.

Milwaukee makes sense geographically and has had basketball success, but also has athletic department turmoil. UIC fits the geography, but is the public version of Loyola in terms of interest inside Chicago, albeit with sports that better fit the MVC. Omaha has a new arena and there’s nostalgia for returning there, but they’re new to Division I and the unprofitable arena is hurting their bottom line.

Oral Roberts is a mess. Perception of UMKC is so low it would hurt league rep rather than add to it by “getting into KC.” Wright State has a good fan-base and some success, but is arguably too far afield. Same for Oakland. Belmont doesn’t seem to want in, and while they’ve been good recently, they’re hardly a school the MVC should be falling all over itself to try to get. They’re the Loyola of Nashville, too, in terms of actual butts in seats.

If NDSU is out, I’d go with Milwaukee. It’s a geographically friendly new market and one some MVC schools might covet to draw students from, which is important to league presidents who do the voting on these things. Plus, they’re a public, non-football school, which would be palatable for the private schools in the MVC who are paranoid about adding football schools.

Go to 12, play a 20-game schedule, where you play twice against all but two teams. I don’t care about the round-robin schedule. It is better for the league to maximize good in-conference home-and-home’s over obligatory home-and-home’s against the weaker sisters anyway.

Then the league can move on. It will be fine.

Jesse Kramer, thecatchandshoot.com

Losing Wichita State is of course a huge blow for the MVC's profile, but the opportunity for expansion gives the conference a chance to improve its ability to manipulate RPI for postseason selection and league reputation. But that's only if they go to 12 teams, ideally adding Murray State, Valpo and Milwaukee, and stick with an 18-game league schedule rather than moving to a 20-game slate.

With 18 games rather than 20, the MVC can try to manipulate its conference schedule based on preseason expectations to have the best teams play each twice while playing the worst teams only once. This is a strategy the 11-team MAAC will start using in the 2017-18 season largely as a response to Monmouth getting snubbed from the NCAA Tournament.

Here's an idea of how it could work in practice. (Of course the RPI numbers I'm about to use would change a bit based on Wichita State no longer being in the Valley, but let's roll with it.) Say this year's Illinois State team (No. 39 RPI) got to play Valpo (No. 78 RPI) twice and got rid of a game against Drake (No. 316 RPI). Maybe that schedule alteration gets them into the RPI Top 30 with two more "top 100 wins," and that could have been enough to get the Redbirds into the First Four instead of the NIT.

Preseason projections can be flawed so deciding who should have a home-and-home could backfire now and then, but generally they are pretty accurate.

And to be clear, the MVC should not have waited until Wichita State left to think about expanding to 12 teams. If they had tried earlier to strengthen the league and manipulate RPI to help postseason prospects for top teams, there's at least a chance that the Shockers would still be around.

Kirk Wessler, Peoria Journal Star

Deep concerns about most of these schools, but some … Omaha, which is a hockey school, needs to be off the table entirely.

Anybody who considers UMKC needs to be flogged. ORU, yikes. And I don’t want to see the Dakota schools for a very simple reason: Their addition would raise pressure within the MVC to become a football-centered league. Yeah, it’s “only” FCS, but it’s highest-level FCS, and it’s still football, the biggest contributing factor to the dismantling of sanity and equity in college basketball.

The Valley made a grave mistake in the 1960s and ’70s, chasing and catering to schools that yearned to be big-time in football. Louisville and Cincinnati eventually pulled off being solid (UL) to somewhat respectable (UC) FBS programs, but how many conference hops did they need to get there? Chasing Houston, North Texas State, New Mexico State and — seriously? — West Texas State did nothing for football and killed the basketball.

The Valley needs to re-establish its basketball brand. If some schools don’t like that, invite them to leave, because sure as hell, those schools will divert basketball resources to football if they get an excuse to do so. The MVFBC is close enough. The league doesn’t need to be a full-blown marriage.

I used to be a hard-core 10-team guy. The double round-robin is the best way to determine the champion. Sadly, that doesn’t matter anymore.

Hindsight being 20-20, I wish the league had been proactive 10 years ago, when it was riding high. The writing was on the wall with major realignment; the MVC should have expanded then to protect itself and likely could have landed a couple of really good programs. Would such moves have prevented the loss of Creighton and Wichita State? Impossible to say. But those moves wouldn’t have been such no-brainers, and the league would still be stronger than it is. Now, the ultimate goal has to be 12 teams.

But you gotta be damn careful whom to add and how you add.

I wouldn’t be in a rush.

Get back to 10 immediately (with Murray State, preferably, in my opinion — and yeah, I know they play football, but they actually seem to realize basketball is their brand). Then continue looking. Decide who the hell you really are, who you want to be and then map out a solid plan to get there. If it takes a year to woo the right schools, fine. But this needs to be done right. There’s no un-inviting a mistake (see Evansville — and I say that realizing at the time, Evansville appeared a slam-dunk great bet).

That’s the scary thing: How do you project 10-15 years out? I thought UNI was a mistake, but that turned out great.

My biggest fear stems from not trusting the leadership of Valley schools in general.

The crumbling of the schedule mandates and the play-for-wins instead of play-for-quality are the sole responsibility of the members. I don’t trust these people to protect and build the league’s basketball brand or to do much of anything in the best interests of the league and MVC basketball. I’m afraid some of these people view a 20-game league schedule as a way to eliminate the hassle of finding two-more non-con games. They won’t use that as an impetus to make the non-con games as strong as possible; they’re more likely to schedule even weaker.

If the MVC goes to a 20-game schedule, there needs to be a mandate: No non-DI games. And the hard scheduling mandate of the mid-’00s must return. No cupcakes in non-con. For somewhat the same reason, I don’t want to see a 16-game schedule, as it provides an excuse to schedule more crap non-con games. Ideally, I like a 12-team league, no divisions, where scheduling is done to fit provide the strongest programs with home-and-homes against the strongest programs and prevents the strong programs from having more than one game against anybody projected for the bottom four.

Back to the question: Who?

I say Murray State first; they’re a largely proven commodity over several decades. They had a nice program even back in the 1960s; this is no latecomer to playing competitive ball. They’ve done it through several coaching regimes. They’ve indicated a financial commitment that, I think, can be trusted. I’d take Murray right now and wait a year so as not to do something stupid. Barring that, go to 11 and hold one for the future. (I still think there are a couple of schools that could be lured if they had confidence the MVC really knows what it’s doing and is committed to strong hoops.)

Problem is, who is the 11th? Valpo seems the favorite, but I am concerned about their commitment to be better than they are. They’ve been pretty good for a while. But I want to see commitment to be better than pretty good. Milwaukee has potential. I’d probably risk upsetting the private-public balance and go that way instead of Valpo. More upside.

Bottom line, though: None of this will make a damn bit of difference if the existing Valley schools don’t change their mindset and truly re-commit to high-level hoops. What the league had a decade ago has been squandered by me-first, schedule-to-win, being-OK-is-good-enough mentalities. There has been some severe under-achieving, and it has to stop.

Paul Suellentrop, The Wichita Eagle (Ex-MVC beat writer)

I have been a rock-ribbed inhabitant of 10 Team Island for four reasons:

No. 1, the NCAA automatic bid is an asset better off divided 10 ways than 12; No. 2, the round robin schedule is worth preserving for the sake of rivalries and a true championship; No. 3, if Loyola was the best the MVC could get in 2013, there are no good candidates; No. 4, the MVC's problems are best solved by internal improvement by programs such as Bradley, Missouri State and Southern Illinois.

I'm more open to moving off that position now.

The MVC's smart play may be to weaken other conferences (such as the Horizon League) in an attempt to regain some of its stature. If that requires going to 11 or 12 to grab solid programs or schools with potential, perhaps that works. I would consider going to 20 MVC games with the hope that will increase schedule strength by encouraging members to use those two new games to replace bad RPI opponents or no-win road games.

I think the MVC can earn at-large bids, even without Wichita State around, but it will take significant improvement by programs outside of Northern Iowa and Illinois State. There are schools with the heft to do so, if they can get their coaching, administration and budget right.

If the MVC sees adding two or three members as the best way there, I would not be horrified.

I grab Murray State first. Valpo is my next choice. I’m intrigued by Omaha to a degree because it doesn’t have football, it’s in a good city and appears reasonably ambitious. All come with negatives, especially when asked to step up in competition and budget. Missouri State and Northern Iowa thrived when challenged by MVC membership; Evansville did not. We’ll see about Loyola.

Commissioner Doug Elgin knows how to return the MVC to a better place. He can’t, contrary to the belief of some fans, force schools to schedule, budget or drop out. The MVC won’t recover from the losses of Creighton and Wichita State, just as it never recovered from the exodus in the early 1970s. It can improve and it can continue to perform as a relevant and entertaining basketball conference.

Jim Connell, Springfield (Mo.) News-Leader

The worst thing the league could do is get locked into a mindset where it has to have 12 teams.

All reports are they have two strong candidates in Valparaiso and Murray State. If that’s the case and there’s not a “home run option” as a third, the Valley would be better off sticking at 11 and using the next year to make their case for a monster addition for No. 12.

It’s kind of like when the NFL had an open Los Angeles market that its teams could leverage for new stadiums in their home markets.

Let’s just hope the Valley can do better than getting the college version of the Rams to move in.

The league botched its previous move by adding Loyola, in the interests of “getting into the Chicago market,” and adding Wisconsin-Milwaukee or Nebraska-Omaha feels like a similar move.

If you add a 12th school that doesn’t upgrade the reputation of the Valley on a national level, don’t do it.

Daniel Allar, Evansville (Ind.) Courier & Press

There are only two schools being discussed right now that could upgrade the basketball profile of the Wichita State-less MVC.

Valparaiso and Murray State have proven through recent history they would both be top-half contenders in the league most years. I’m not sure that Milwaukee or Omaha would get to that point. It’s not worth splitting the (soon-to-be shrinking) NCAA tournament distribution money and other league revenues with an additional member if that member is mediocre at men’s basketball.

Getting to 11 teams would protect the MVC if another school decided to leave and it would leave open the possibility of adding a 12th member if a strong candidate were interested.

A 20-game, double round-robin schedule would cost flexibility with non-conference schedules, but with the multi-team events and the MVC/MWC Challenge already a staple, there would still be opportunities for quality non-conference wins. And adding two MVC games would strengthen the schedule for most programs; as much as the league has tried to incentivize boosting non-conference slates, the majority of the programs still schedule weaker competition than conference games would offer.

Todd Hefferman, The Southern Illinoisan

The Valley has a unique opportunity to strengthen its current geographic footprint and/or move out into new areas.

There is no Wichita State-caliber program out there to replace the Shockers, and Saint Louis is not coming, so the next best thing for the MVC is to add one or two teams that can challenge for an automatic bid to the NCAA men's basketball tournament and another one or two teams that could expand the league's market reach.

Adding Loyola was a swing-and-a-miss to get into the Chicago media market, but the Ramblers have become a competitive men's basketball program. Valley schools now have a bit more of an in recruiting in the Windy City, and it was able to stretch the league's geographic footprint north a bit.

Adding Valparaiso should be the MVC's top priority because it fits the footprint and the Crusaders have a pretty good program. After that, the league could either stay at 10 for 2017-18 and make a run at other schools next summer, or it could go a number of different ways. Murray State, Nebraska-Omaha and Milwaukee are all intriguing, but all three have major drawbacks. Missouri-Kansas City has potential, in both its programs and location, but it won't wow anybody.

In a sea of bad options, Valparaiso is the best. My guess is the MVC adds Valparaiso, and either stays put or adds two more out of a group that includes Murray State, Nebraska-Omaha, Milwaukee and UMKC.

todd.hefferman@thesouthern.com

618-351-5087

On Twitter: @THefferman

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