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.