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Murray State-to-MVC discussion comes with moving parts

By EDWARD MARLOWE emarlowe@paducahsun.com

The last six days have had both Missouri Valley Conference fans and the Murray State faithful in full frenzy.

Are the Racers truly considering a jump to "The Valley"? Could Murray State, a founder of the Ohio Valley Conference, really be off to greener pastures?

And the best answer I have at this point is: maybe. Or maybe not.

The only news that I and my fellow media members offer is that we don't know what is going to happen. And we don't know for several reasons -- most of them for good measure.

First, MVC Commissioner Doug Elgin has likely taken a page out of the Big 12's book on "what not to do" when it comes to courting potential conference affiliates, instead keeping things much more discreet, thorough and swift. And that's good. When this all blows over, schools that either did or did not make the cut (Valparaiso, MSU, Belmont, University of Missouri-Kansas City, et al.) will either be packing their bags for St. Louis or returning home by either declining an invitation or who were never invited to the party to begin with, and they will have to make nice with their current conference.

Second, the Missouri Valley already has a blueprint timetable in place from the last time it replaced a major member. When Creighton left for the Big East following the 2012-13 season, the MVC didn't announce the addition of Loyola until a full month had passed, and that was just one team. Many scenarios -- adding one team, adding two teams, adding three teams or just standing pat at nine teams -- have all been reportedly discussed within the ranks of Valley officials, and the different amalgams and permutations have to be deeply calculated for both fiscal and feasible standpoints.

And last, the schools constantly ensconced in this centrifuge of rumors have been eerily quiet about their supposed interest or lack thereof, and rightfully so.

Guys like MSU Athletic Director Allen Ward and his president, Dr. Bob Davies, have more people to answer to than a few hungry fans interested in the latest gossip. They have budgets to balance, alumni to support and coaching staffs who need to be in the loop if this thing does -- or does not -- happen. I am certain this is going on with the Crusaders, the Bruins, the Kangaroos and any other program the Missouri Valley deems fit for its conference.

The time for media knowing will come with due process.

What we do already know is this:

â ¢ Any moves made will have to be purely based on the trickle-down economics revolving men's basketball.

The departure of Wichita State -- a program that regularly drew more than 10,000 fans to home games last year -- leaves a considerable void in both revenue shares and potential television deals for the future of the conference. The Shockers happen to be one of the great college basketball storylines over the last few seasons, as long-time head coach Gregg Marshall has taken them from obscurity to prominence in relatively quick fashion. Elgin and his staff aren't going to be so quick to replace them, and will give due diligence to replace the money -- and interest -- they generated.

â ¢ According to OVC Bylaws on the Resignation of Membership (Section 4.5.3), "a member institution failing to provide the minimum two years required written notice shall pay the Conference a sum of $1 million in addition to forfeiting both its Conference year-end and OVC Basketball Pool distributions during the final year of OVC membership."

â ¢ As part of the NCAA's one-time revenue distribution plan totaling $200 million to Division I schools, Murray State is set to receive $588,597.

â ¢ A move to the Missouri Valley would naturally create new costs in travel for any interested school. The average one-way distance from the front door of the CFSB Center to a school in the OVC is 188.7 miles, while in the MVC it jumps to 329.5 miles. The number of road trips for men's and women's basketball also jumps from six in the OVC to nine in the Valley, potentially, though other sports such as baseball and softball fluctuate due to certain MVC schools not having those programs.

â ¢ Murray State currently has the second-largest budget in the Ohio Valley ($15,765,259 in total revenue and $15,139,758 in expense during 2014-15), but would be the second-smallest budget in the Valley in 2017-18.

â ¢ Since the 2003-04 season, the Racers men's basketball program owns a 10-10 record against Missouri Valley opponents.

â ¢ Though in a steady decline since the departure of Creighton, attendance for the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament is nearly ten-fold that of the Ohio Valley's annual bid to the NCAA Tournament. Hosted at the Scottrade Center in St. Louis and aptly dubbed as "Arch Madness," the five-session ordeal serviced just under 47,000 basketball fans this last season. Total attendance for the OVC's four sessions in 2017 was 5,702.

â ¢ According to MVC Joint Committee minutes from the June 2, 2016, session, the conference's 2017 Basketball Pool Distribution was expected to reach a record $6.1 million, with the fund projected to exceed $6 million in 2018 and 2019 assuming MVC teams "earn at least two units per year." The MVC received a payout of $5.73 million from the April 2016 NCAA Basketball Pool Distribution, based on the 21 units earned from MVC teams in the previous six NCAA Tournaments.

A definition of a "unit" by the NCAA: "One unit is awarded to each institution participating in each game, except first game played by automatic qualifiers and the championship game. Units are retained by the conference in which they are earned. All units earned by each conference within a six-year rolling period are included in the distribution calculation."

A "unit" is approximately worth $266,183 in 2017, with a total distribution equaling $160.5 million (~600 units) rolling out this month.

â ¢ From these same minutes, it was reported that the committee reviewed the 2015-16 findings of "The Valley on ESPN3," which will "continue to serve as a baseline for comparison in future years." The number of total productions from the Valley in Year One -- both linear and digital -- were 259 for men's programming and 251 for women's programming. The CFSB Center and other Murray State sporting venues, which regularly broadcast efficiently through the OVC Digital Network, are currently prepared for any switch to ESPN3. In comparison, the OVCDN reported more than 800 events were streamed live throughout the 2015-16 athletic season.

So then these are the questions that have precipitously formed in the echo chamber:

â ¢ While CBS's intrepid reporter Jon Rothstein first announced the Valley was interested in adding both Valpo and Murray State to the league, to what extent was/is this interest? Can we gauge it percentage-wise? And on the flip side, just how interested are Ward, Davies and the Board of Regents at Murray State? Was this even on the radar of Racer Athletics after an average year in basketball and the spring sports schedule firmly in focus?

â ¢ Where does a discussion for Murray State football fit into all of this?

The Missouri Valley Football Conference, largely considered one of the best FCS leagues in the country, operates closely within the MVC but is more like a first-cousin. It has a separate commissioner (Patty Viverito since 1982) and several notable members (North Dakota State, South Dakota State, Youngstown State) not currently affiliated with the MVC. And get rid of football? You must be kidding. The Racers, under the youthful tutelage of Mitch Stewart, have three major payouts lined up for the next three seasons in games at Louisville, Kentucky and Georgia. It's not happening.

â ¢ Furthermore, where do all of the other sports at Murray State fit, particularly on the women's side?

Soccer, tennis, softball, volleyball and golf have all seen considerable improvements that have led to deep postseason runs and OVC titles. What about rifle, perhaps on the brink of a national championship? Where do baseball, women's basketball and track and field fit in a move to the Missouri Valley? Does recruitment increase across the board because of an expanded footprint? Or does someone get left behind for the sake of basketball glory and prestige?

â ¢ I mentioned "greener pastures" earlier, and that brings up another major talking point. Is the MVC actually a better place for Murray State overall? Does the city of Murray -- with a population under 20,000 and a student body hovering around 11,000 -- fit into the mold of MVC schools that include small private programs like Drake and Evansville, as well as mammoth public schools like Loyola (16,437 enrolled in Chicago), Illinois State (20,706 enrolled in Normal) and Missouri State (24,116 enrolled in Springfield)?

It is these things -- and many, many more -- perhaps keeping the phones busy between Murray and St. Louis.

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