Tag Archives: MVC

Loyola Joins the Atlantic 10 Conference July 1

Loyola’s move to the Atlantic 10 Conference– announced suddenly on the afternoon of Nov. 16, 2021– came as a surprise to almost everyone. Even many A-10 insiders said it was a thing of wonder to have it announced as a near total surprise, without any scuttlebutt or leaks.  It took me so much by surprise that I had to verify it three times over before I believed it myself.

The Ramblers had experienced some impressive success in the MVC, and the conference had already announced the addition of a respected program– Belmont– to next year’s lineup.  This might seem like a time where the MVC is on the move upwards, especially considering the addition of Murray State, another perennial tournament-level team.  Many Loyola fans from downstate and neighboring rural areas were initially disappointed.  Frankly, I initially thought it was something of a lateral move with worse travel.  But after some investigation it makes a whole lot of sense– even considering the MVC had been a positive, healthy home for the Ramblers for nine years, and the road trips were nearby and fun.

Over on the East Coast, the decision immediately made perfect sense to A-10 fans.  Rambler fans– after getting over the “out of the blue” surprise of the announcement– were mostly in favor of the decision, but there were a few (mostly location-related) reservations.  Here’s why Loyola’ move to the A-10 make a whole lot of sense:

Loyola’s move to the Atlantic 10 matches up the largest Jesuit school in the nation with many peer schools and former conference rivals.  Although the other schools in the A-10 are primarily on the east coast and will require more travel time and expense, A-10 schools have a markedly higher academic reputation, most of the schools have endowments that promise consistency in their academic and athletic investments, and the yearly funding levels for athletics more closely matches what the Ramblers have been spending in the MVC.

At the beginning of the 2021-22 basketball season, the MVC’s 10 member schools (including Loyola) had an average men’s basketball budget of $2,917,454, while the average of the 14 Atlantic 10 schools was $4,991,756 (Note: These are 2020 numbers, the latest numbers available).  But Loyola was far and away the leader in men’s basketball expenditures with $4,348,837– more than $570k above the second leading team (Bradley) in the MVC, and $1.4 million more than the average budget.  In the Atlantic 10, Loyola’s 2020 budget would rank 9th among the 15 schools as of 2020.

Loyola was also far-and-away the leader in university endowments as the MVC was composed at the start of the 2021-22 season: $1.072 billion.  The league average was $269 million. Without Loyola, the other nine schools averaged an endowment of only $180 million.  Belmont and Murray State were both below the average MVC endowment when Loyola was factored in.  Meanwhile, over in the A-10, Loyola’s endowment is just a few million more than the average A-10 endowment, and quite a bit more than the median endowment of $610 million.

Saint Louis University and Fordham are fellow Big City Jesuit schools, with similar enrollment, endowment, and academic reputation profiles.  St. Joseph’s is also an urban area Jesuit school with a fine basketball tradition.  Loyola was briefly conference mates with La Salle, Duquesne, and Dayton–three private schools with rich basketball histories.

The Ramblers have a 24-22 all time record against St. Louis, a former MCC conference mate in the late 1980s and early 1990s.  Dayton was also in the MCC from 1988 to 1993, and Loyola is 15-33 all time against the Flyers.  Loyola is 3-2 all time against St. Bonaventure, 0-5 against La Salle, 6-11 against Duquesne, 3-2 against George Washington, 1-1 against Fordham, 2-1 against St. Joseph’s, 1-1 against Richmond, and 0-2 against Davidson.  The Ramblers have never played Rhode Island, UMass, George Mason, or VCU– which are the public schools in the A-10.

Through its history, the A-10 has had some legendary tournament success.  As a member of the A-10, Temple University went to the tournament 17 out of 18 years from 1984 to 2001, getting to the Elite Eight five times in that stretch.  Xavier left the MCC for the A-10 in the 1995-96 season, and reached the NCAA Tournament in 13 of 18 years in the A-10 before joining the Big East.  Butler– who missed out on the tournament their last year in the Horizon League– played one year in the A-10 before the formation of the new Big East, and their only year in the A-10 they got an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament with an 11-5 conference record (tied for third place).

Having closely watched the quality of basketball in the MVC over the past nine-plus years, it might seem like the there’s not such a big difference between the two conferences.  After all, Loyola and Wichita State both made the Final Four in the past decade, and both the Ramblers and Shockers added another Sweet 16 besides their Final Four finishes.  UNI has a Sweet 16 and two first round wins since 2010. 

Nevertheless, the A-10 has had 45 NCAA Tournament bids since 2007-08, while the MVC has had 19.  That’s 3.2 bids per year for the A-10 and 1.35 per year for the MVC.  Since Temple, Butler and Xavier left the conference in 2013, the A-10 has had 24 bids while the MVC has had 11.  Saint Louis had three first-round wins in a row from 2012 to 2014; LaSalle had a Sweet 16 in 2013; VCU has made the NCAA Tournament seven of nine opportunities since it joined the A10 in 2013 (and notched two first round wins); Rhode Island had consecutive first-round wins in 2017 and 2018; and Dayton has had an Elite Eight and two first-round wins since 2009.  Add up the A10’s tournament wins on top of their 45 bids since 2008, and the A10 has had a record of success that spreads across the conference and improves the reputation of the league. 

The A-10 has had five at-large bids in the past four tournaments, while the MVC has had one.  From 2008 to 2018, the A-10 never had fewer than three bids to the tournament and had four, five, and six bids from 2012 to 2014.  Meanwhile, the MVC hasn’t had three bids in a single year since 2006. 

And here’s something really, really important– what if you win the league, but don’t win the tournament?  Over the past nine years in the MVC (since Loyola joined), the regular season conference champion has missed the tournament 5 times (UNI in 2022, UNI 2020, Drake and Loyola 2019, and Illinois State 2017).  No regular season champion has missed the NCAA Tournament in the A10 since St. Joseph’s in 2005 (when the conference had uneven East and West divisions). 

We all know AP rankings are very subjective, but no one can deny that they’re an important benchmark of recognition of a college basketball program.  Wichita State made it to a #2 national ranking (and a #1 seed in the NCAA Tournament) in 2013-14 as a member of the MVC.  The Shockers made it into the AP Top 25 each of their next three years in the MVC before leaving for the American Athletic Conference.  But since then, the only MVC members  to crack the AP Top 25 in the past five years are Loyola (six weeks in 2021, one week in 2022) and Drake (one week in 2021). 

Meanwhile, in the last three years, six different A-10 teams have made it into the AP Top 25 rankings.  And seven different A-10 teams (Davidson, St. Bonaventure, Saint Louis, Richmond, VCU, Dayton, and Rhode Island) have been ranked in the past five years.  Since joining the A10 in 1995, Dayton has appeared in the AP Top 25 rankings ten times, culminating in a #3 ranking to end the season in 2020.

But Loyola is not just recruiting for men’s basketball players and other student-athletes through their A-10 affiliation– Loyola is looking to expand their academic recruiting and national profile by playing in New York City, New England, Philadelphia, Washington, St. Louis, Charlotte, Richmond, Dayton, and Pittsburgh.   Almost 50% of Americans (47.6%) live in the Eastern time zone as opposed to 29% in the Central.  And the A-10 has a presence in four of the top 10, and seven of the top 26 US television markets– with multiple schools in the DC and Philly metros.  Add the Buffalo area with many St. Bonaventure fans (#53), Richmond (#56), and Dayton (#65), and the A-10 has a massive potential audience compared to the MVC.  The Missouri Valley has UIC/Valpo in the Chicago metro (#3), Belmont in Nashville (#29), and Drake in Des Moines (#68).

On the academic and reputation side, US News ranks eight of the 14 A-10 member schools entering the 2021-22 season as among the top 170 National Universities.  Not only that, but the University of Richmond (with its $3.3 billion endowment) and Davidson College (with its $1.3 billion endowment) were ranked #22 and #13 nationally among the 2000+ Liberal Arts colleges in that category.  That makes 10 of the 14 A-10 schools ranking among the top national colleges and universities, with four schools in the top 103– even before adding Loyola.  The MVC had two schools in the top 170, Loyola at 103 and Drake at 136.  UIC (tied with Loyola at #103) and Belmont (at #162) will help bump up the MVC’s academic reputation, but it’s a far cry from the A-10 profile.

In 2013, when Loyola had the chance to get out of the mismanaged, oppressive Horizon League– a conference that literally changed its conference tournament format as punishment for Loyola reaching the final instead of Butler– the Ramblers had corrected their anemic financial position of the 1990s, bolstered their endowment, and opened a quality on-campus facility. The MVC was a very good regional match for Loyola, and the Ramblers gave the MVC a large market for their broadcast marketing.  But Loyola’s Jesuit educational focus and urban megalopolis setting didn’t always fit well with the other schools in the league.  Loyola’s welcome to the conference was– er, tepid.  If you read the Wichita State message board, Loyola was the worst thing that ever happened to the MVC, and many Shocker fans used Loyola’s admission as a reason for jumping to the AAC.

In contrast to the MVC, Loyola’s move to the A-10 has been perfect.  No one has asked if The Pope is going to coach the basketball team, or if we approve of everything Lori Lightfoot says.  No one has come after us for the capacity of our arena, the liberalism (or conservatism) of the city we happened to be located in, whether our new coach is a capable, or whether we’ll add baseball to make them happy.  No one (that I know of) has posted an irate screed demanding that people in the A-10 head office be fired for even considering us as a member while the University of Nebraska-Omaha is out there.

Let us all appreciate this.

Onward!

2013-2022: Looking Back on Loyola’s Time in the Missouri Valley Conference

As Loyola leaves the Missouri Valley Conference for the Atlantic 10 on July 1, 2022, it’s a good time to reflect on the Ramblers in the MVC. Loyola sports teams have had phenomenal success since joining the MVC and reversed a lot of negative opinions about Loyola sports both locally and nationally. Even within the Loyola community and the surrounding Rogers Park area, people have started to see Loyola as a more well-rounded school with some viable collegiate sports opportunities and sports as a local entertainment option. The impending move to the A-10 promises to be an even better match for the university both academically and in athletics.

In 1979, Loyola was one of the six founding members of the Midwestern City/Midwestern Collegiate/Horizon League. The other schools were Butler, Evansville, Oklahoma City, Oral Roberts, and Xavier. At various times in the 1980s and early 1990s, the MCC had the makings of a power basketball conference, with Marquette, St. Louis, Dayton, Detroit, La Salle, and Duquesne filtering in and out of the league. But by 1995, all those schools besides Butler and Detroit were gone, and the departures meant the league had lost its auto bid to the NCAA Tournament for the 1992-93 season. To keep afloat, the conference raided the Mid-Continent Conference of six lower-budget public schools that had recently gained Division I status: Cleveland State, UIC, Northern Illinois, UW-Green Bay, UW-Milwaukee, and Wright State.

With six public schools added to Butler, Detroit, and Loyola, the quality of the league, the academics, and the athletic department resources of peer institutions changed in an instant. Loyola suddenly had a fierce league rival in their own media market/recruiting area, peer institutions in their league with Tier III academics, conference rivals who had larger assistant coaching staffs (paid as state employees), and new facilities of competitors constructed/funded by state government. It didn’t help much that Loyola was going through a really bad stretch of men’s basketball in the early 1990s. The university was running a huge deficit while painfully re-organizing their financial structure, and the facilities for athletics were terrible. With sub-par facilities, a tight budget, and little success on the playing field, Loyola remained mired (er, you could say stuck)in the Horizon League for 20 years.

By 2012, Butler also bailed out of the Horizon League, leaving for the A-10 and making Loyola the lone original member of the conference. But by the early 2010s, Loyola had upgraded or improved facilities, set their financial house in order, added coaching staff positions (especially with low-revenue sports), and started to achieve some success on the field. The following year, 2013, saw enormous conference re-alignment; approximately one third of Division I schools changed conferences in one year. And when the Missouri Valley Conference had a spot to fill, Loyola had their bags packed and sitting next to the door.

Since July 1, 2013, when the Ramblers officially joined the MVC, Loyola has had fantastic success in men’s basketball. Three trips to the NCAA Tournament (2018, 2021, 2022), an NCAA Final Four (2018), two NCAA Sweet 16s (2018, 2021), one trip to the NIT (2019), a CBI Championship (2015), three MVC tournament titles (2018, 2021, 2022), and three MVC regular-season championships (2018, 2019, 2021). The Ramblers had three different MVC Player of the Year recipients (Clayton Cuter, Marques Townes, Cameron Krutwig).

In the nine seasons Loyola had in the MVC, men’s basketball compiled a 191-110 (.635) overall record and 96-66 (.593) in conference. The Ramblers were 13-6 (.684) at Arch Madness, and had an 11-4 (.733) record in five postseason tournaments. The men’s squad captured trophies for winning the MVC tournament in 2018, 2021, and 2022, and got a giant NCAA trophy for winning the South Region in the 2018 NCAA Tournament.

Women’s basketball changed coaches a few weeks before it was announced Loyola was headed for the MVC. Incoming head coach Sheryl Swoopes had a Hall of Fame playing resume, but her leadership style turned sour as her teams struggled. She drove away some of her best players before she was replaced, and Kate Achter did a good, but slow, job of rebuilding the program. Loyola was 98-172 (.363) overall and 55-107 (.340) in conference in the MVC. The Ramblers finished over .500 in conference twice, in 2016 and 2022.

Despite some struggles in women’s basketball, Loyola athletics had some great success in other women’s sports. Women’s soccer won their last four straight MVC Championships. Loyola’s women’s cross country ended their time in the MVC with three straight championships. Women’s volleyball reached the MVC Championship game in the 2020 and 2021 seasons.

In nine years in the MVC, men’s soccer had an 84-54-28 overall record, ranking as one of the two best programs in the league over that time. In five of their nine years in the MVC, the men’s soccer squad earned a top-two finish in the conference. The men’s soccer program won the regular season title and secured their first NCAA tournament win in program history in 2016, and the Ramblers played in three consecutive Missouri Valley Conference championship games from 2018-2021, upsetting #9 Missouri State in 2019 to reach the NCAA Tournament for a second time representing the MVC.

After finishing in the bottom two places in five out of their first six years in the conference, men’s golf won the MVC Championship in 2021. Women’s golf finished last their first year in the league, but placed in the middle of the standings most other years.

And lastly but not least, although they don’t play in the MVC, men’s volleyball has had stunning success since Loyola joined the MVC. Only a week or so after Loyola’s move to the MVC was official, men’s volleyball won its first MIVA championship and first trip to the NCAA Tournament. The following two years, Loyola won the National Championship. In the past nine years, Loyola men’s volleyball has finished first or second in the MIVA standings six times out of eight.

Loyola’s time in the MVC was really astoundingly successful. Given where Loyola was in April 2013, it would be hard to rationally imagine the men’s basketball program being any more successful than it has over the past five years. The Ramblers knocked out a #1 seed in the NCAA Tournament (bonus points– it was the Fighting Illini) en route to a second Sweet 16 appearance in four years. Think about this– Loyola had a double-digit lead in the National Semifinal game– in real life…. seriously! It’s still hard to process, even after subsequent success and five consecutive seasons of 20+ wins.

The astounding success in the MVC years has completely, absolutely, 100% obliterated almost all of the “yeah, you’ve got a National Championship, but what have you done lately?” talk that many Loyola fans had to listen to for decades. Moreover, the proud past of Loyola basketball has had a renaissance with newfound appreciation for the school’s role in civil rights, integration, and college basketball history.

Onward!

A Season of Dreams Come True

The Chicago skyline lit in maroon and gold supporting Loyola in the NCAA Final Four.

The Chicago skyline lit in maroon and gold supporting Loyola in the NCAA Final Four. @zoegalland/via Twitter

This is the column I’ve been dreading having to write since a day or two before Loyola’s first NCAA Tournament game, nearly three weeks ago. Yes, of course I enjoyed every game, and most of the time between the games in Loyola’s amazing 2018 NCAA Tournament run. But I knew there was something like a 99-point-something chance the Ramblers would lose at some point in the 2018 NCAA tournament. And that it would be the end of a dream-come-true season for me, the most enjoyable season by far in my nearly 30 years of following Loyola hoops. And I would have to write about it.

The dreaded task of writing the obituary of the season; it would mean saying farewell to some great players, with endearing personalities I’ve come to know and admire. It would mean acknowledging the end of a season of wonder that smashed so many stubborn negative streaks and stereotypes that have held Loyola basketball back. Now I would have to instead wonder if Loyola could build on success, and how to help bring the conference up as well. And having it end suddenly, with an ignominious loss to an over-seeded Power Five program in the first or second round was going to be hard.

But time after time, the Ramblers pulled out inspiring victories against teams few thought they could beat, putting off the inevitable task until Loyola was in the Final Four. THE FINAL FOUR!

Put it in perspective… Loyola was picked to finish third in the MVC, a conference that almost everyone agreed would likely be a one-bid league after Wichita State’s exit. And even that seemed like a stretch for a lot of observers; this was a team that had never finished above .500 in the MVC, hadn’t had a winning conference season since 2007, and was 64 games under .500 in conference play over the past 10 years. Coach Porter Moser hadn’t had a winning season in conference as a head coach since guiding Arkansas-Little Rock to an 8-6 mark in 2003.

Even after the season got rolling and the Ramblers beat #5 Florida on the road, there were still question marks and setbacks. A blowout loss at Boise State was ugly and sobering. Custer and Richardson were lost to injury for a combined 15 games. A loss at Milwaukee and a home loss to Indiana State all but assured Loyola would have to win the MVC Tournament to get to the Big Dance.

On the morning of January 4, 2018, Loyola was 11-4 overall, and 1-2 in conference—with the next two games on the road against the two most recently successful programs in the MVC. Yes, there was the win at Florida, but the Gators had dropped out of the AP Top 25 by New Year’s Day. And Loyola’s second-best win at that point was a home W over Wright State.

The next game against UNI was the return of Clayton Custer from his ankle injury suffered against Florida. And from there, Loyola won 14 of their next 15 games to finish the regular season at 15-3. It was their first regular season conference championship since 1987. After beating UNI, Bradley, and Illinois State to win Arch Madness, the Ramblers won their first conference tournament title and secured their first NCAA Tournament bid since 1985.

And the “first since” and other milestones just kept coming: first Loyola tournament win since 1985, longest Loyola winning streak since 1985, first Sweet 16 by a team from Illinois since 2006, longest active winning streak in college basketball, first Elite Eight appearance for Loyola since 1963, first Elite Eight appearance by a team from Illinois since 2005, etc.

One other “first since” was Loyola’s first appearance on the national stage since the social media age began. And the stories and videos and memes of Sister Jean, Custer and Richardson’s friendship, the Wall of Culture, and Chicago latching on to the Ramblers as a feel-good story was made to blow up social media. Sometimes inspiring eye-rolls, and sometimes inspiring tears, Loyola also had a Final Four level Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, Soundcloud and media game.

I knew there had to be a season-ending piece, but I had no idea it would take so long. Loyola blew past my main goal for the season, an NCAA Tournament appearance, with Donte Ingram’s beautiful three-point shot splashing at the buzzer against Miami. At that point I was more than satisfied. Then came Custer’s miracle, off-balance, running 20-foot jumper against #3 seed Tennessee that hit rim, bounced high off glass, and through. Then the Townes three against #7 Nevada. And a relative blowout against K-State. But that time, I was hoping against hope that I’d never have to write that column that ended with a loss.

Success always plays with your mind. And as Loyola had a 10-point lead midway in the second half against Michigan, it played hard. “Are we going to win this? I think we can win this! We’re going to win this! We are going to the National Championship Final!” It played so hard that the shift in the pace of the game being dictated by Michigan, and the slowly tightening noose of the Michigan defense were barely noticeable. Until the lead was down to 3. Then nothing. Then negative three. And negative six. Finally, 57-69.

I felt bad for the Loyola players who were taking it so hard, in large part because I wasn’t taking it so hard. I felt bad for the students on TV who went down to San Antonio and looked crushed when Loyola lost. I knew that the day would come to write the column that marked the end. But the players didn’t have any concept of an end to the season until it finally arrived, sudden and severe. That sincere #NoFinishLine belief by both players and fans was probably a big part of why they were in San Antonio on the last weekend of the college basketball season.

I remember watching Donte Ingram and Ben Richardson play in their first game as Ramblers, November 11, 2014. That was the year Loyola went to their first post-season tournament in 30 years, when Loyola won the CBI in Richardson and Ingram’s freshman year, part of Loyola’s first recruiting class as members of the MVC. Both of them took steps forward year by year, adding or improving a new facet to their game each off season. And they became steeped in the emerging Loyola culture, helping to integrate players like Lucas Williamson, Aundre Jackson, and Clayton Custer into the philosophy behind Loyola basketball.

As their college basketball careers end in the 2018 Final Four in San Antonio, Richardson and Ingram have been a part of 89 wins against 50 losses in their Loyola careers—the most wins for four-year players since—- EVER, for Loyola. Donte Ingram finishes his career with 1235 points, 688 rebounds, and 175 three-pointers. Ben Richardson ends with 761 points, 306 assists, and 302 rebounds. Both won prestigious league awards—Donte Ingram with the 2018 Second Team recognition and 2018 Arch Madness Most Outstanding Player, and Ben Richardson with the 2018 MVC Defensive Player of the Year award. Donte and Ben—and fellow seniors Aundre Jackson, Nick DiNardi and Carson Shanks– leave Loyola and their fans with banners, trophies, and memories. And most important, they’ve established a new sense of pride, and a culture of success in the program.

Thank you to everyone in the Loyola community—players, coaches, administrators, trainers, sports information, fans, students, and friends—who helped make this fantastic season happen.