CARBONDALE — Valparaiso University made its move to the Missouri Valley Conference official on Thursday, announcing it will join the league as its 10th member July 1.
The private school of just over 4,000 students in northwest Indiana replaces Wichita State, which is leaving for the American Athletic Conference this summer. The Crusaders will begin competing in the Valley this fall in 17 sports, and remain in the Pioneer League for football. A rep from the university declined to comment on what exit fees Valparaiso's old conference, the Horizon League, charged, or what the Valley got in entrance fees.
"We are truly excited to welcome Valparaiso University to our Missouri Valley Conference family," MVC commissioner Doug Elgin said in a news release. "Valpo brings a combination of strong athletics tradition and academic excellence, and will be a great fit competing in our league."
Mark A. Heckler, Ph.D., the president of Valparaiso University, said the move will help the school's national profile.
"This is an exciting time for Valparaiso University and our athletics programs," he said. "We are fortunate to join the historic, tradition-rich Missouri Valley Conference. Membership in the Valley will increase the national profile of our institution and our athletics program, and we will undoubtedly contribute to the strength and character of the conference."
The Crusaders compete in 21 sports, four of which are outside the Valley (non-scholarship football, men's tennis, men's swimming and women's bowling). Valparaiso's men's basketball team, its marquee program, has been particularly strong the last six years, with six regular-season Horizon League titles, two NCAA Tournament appearances and three NIT bids.
SIU is 2-2 against Valparaiso in men's basketball, splitting all four games away and at home. The two will play for the first time since 1981 during the 2017-18 school year. Valley play is expected to begin Dec. 23.
"The Valley is renowned for the success of its schools and their student-athletes across all sports," said Mark LaBarbera, the Crusaders' athletic director. "During each chapter of Valpo athletics’ more than 100-year history — from our days in the Indiana Collegiate Conference, to the Mid-Continent Conference, and to the Horizon League — we have enjoyed quality competition and our teams have growing success. We are excited about this next chapter, renewing historic rivalries, creating new rivalries and continuing the forward momentum of Valpo athletics."
SIU athletic director Tommy Bell, a member of the Valley's search committee, said Valparaiso fit a lot of the criteria for the league's next addition.
"They have a great pedigree in men's basketball. They really match up with a lot of comprehensive athletic departments, and they really match up with Missouri Valley-sponsored sports," Bell said. "Those were all a positive. I think their location, in the footprint, was a positive. There are just so many little things, and what some of the people that had been on the site visit prior to me being here at SIU, when they first went there, they were really impressed with additional changes and the overall strength of their athletic program, with administration and staffing. They really took some of the information that was shared with them during the visit, and they improved to position themselves better this time around."
Valley officials visited Valparaiso in 2013 after Creighton left for the Big East Conference. The league later invited Loyola University in Chicago.
In baseball, Valparaiso has yielded a regular-season title, two tournament titles and two NCAA Tournament appearances in the past five years, while men’s golf, women’s soccer and softball have also competed in the NCAA Tournament at least once in the past five seasons.
President Dan Bradley, the chair of the MVC Presidents Council, said "Valparaiso University has very high academic standards, and will be a wonderful addition to the league. Valpo also has a strong, recognized athletics brand, and many Missouri Valley members are excited at the opportunity to renew old rivalries."
Valpo makes the move to the MVC after spending the last decade in the Horizon League. The Crusaders joined the Horizon League prior to the 2007–2008 academic year following a 25-year run as members of the Mid-Continent Conference, dating back to the conference’s inception in the 1982–1983 season.