CARBONDALE — Pundits around the country have centered their arguments about who the Missouri Valley Conference will ask to be its next member around men's basketball, for good reason.
Without football, which the Valley treats as a separate entity, distributions from the NCAA men's basketball tournament serve as the league's chief financial engine. Each unit from the 2016 event equated to more than $260,000, according to the NCAA, which meant more than $5.4 million distributed to the league's 10 schools in 2016.
When Creighton University elected to leave the league in 2013 for the Big East Conference, most of the discussion about its successor was largely about the strength of the prospects' men's programs. According to a source heavily involved with the recommendation to select Loyola University, Valley officials and campus reps also talked about population bases, media markets, alumni bases of league schools in prospective cities, and, for an extended amount of time, the public/private debate.
"At the end of the day, it's a presidential decision," the source said. "The academic component is certainly part of it."
Did it play a big part of picking Loyola, a private school with a small following in Chicago? Perhaps, according to the source.
Four private schools were in the mix after Creighton left — Loyola, Valparaiso, Belmont and Oral Roberts — with Illinois-Chicago, a public university, also in the discussion. The search committee, according to the source, did not believe Belmont wanted to change leagues for the second time in two years after it left the Atlantic Sun to join the Ohio Valley Conference in 2012.
Oral Roberts was discussed, but didn't get a lot of traction in expansion talks.
League officials and campus reps ultimately voted to invite Loyola to get into the Chicago market. They are currently considering four schools, according to multiple reports: Valparaiso, Murray State, Omaha and Milwaukee.
Creighton's departure left the Valley with six public schools and three private ones. Without Wichita State, it's now 5-4 in favor of the public shools. Valparaiso, a private school of just over 4,000 students in northwest Indiana, could even the score. Murray State, Omaha and Milwaukee are all public schools.