The Missouri Valley is ambitiously pursuing a plan to add multiple schools, sources told CBS Sports. The three schools in the mix are Murray State, UT Arlington and Kansas City. At this stage, it is expected they will eventually receive invites to join the Valley, with sources telling CBS Sports that Murray State and UT Arlington are considered the two strongest candidates.
There are some lingering questions with Kansas City's (formerly UMKC) facilities that need to be ironed out in the coming months to firm up its status as a legitimate candidate. Missouri Valley commissioner Jeff Jackson has toured all three campuses in recent weeks, according to sources, and there is a presentation tentatively scheduled for MVC presidents the week before Christmas, on Dec. 19.
The invites aren't imminent -- meaning they won't officially happen in the next few weeks -- but there is clear progress being made toward expansion. It's not yet determined, should any of those schools be formally accepted, if they would join in 2022 or 2023. Murray State is a member of the Ohio Valley Conference. UT Arlington is in the Sun Belt. In 2020, Kansas City rejoined the Summit League (where it was a member from 2007-2013) after leaving an ill-fated residency in the WAC.
In September, the Valley announced Belmont as a future member, beginning in July of 2022, a move that was glowingly received.
The news coincides with Tuesday's headline that Loyola Chicago will be leaving the Missouri Valley after nine seasons to join the Atlantic 10 in 2022. One source told CBS Sports that Loyola Chicago had been privately making its pitch to join the Atlantic 10 since the early summer. While it wasn't a deciding factor, one source said the trio of schools the MVC is currently considering weren't nearly enticing enough to make Loyola Chicago hesitate with its decision to jump to the A-10.
Sources also said the A-10 is not in danger of losing any of its 14 members, meaning that conference will enlarge to 15 starting next July. Loyola Chicago will be holding a press conference at 2 p.m. ET on Wednesday.
As for the Missouri Valley's potential new members, the appeal for Murray State is clear and most obvious. It's one of the most accomplished mid-major programs in men's basketball, with 17 NCAA Tournament appearances to its name. The school previously failed to win its campaign to join the Valley in 2017, when league presidents picked Valparaiso over the Racers. Since then, Murray State has gone 92-33 under Matt McMahon, won an NCAA Tournament game, made two NCAA Tournaments and produced the No. 2 overall pick in the 2019 NBA Draft, Ja Morant. The only thing holding back Murray State was its remote location and lack of being in a metropolitan area. That appears to no longer be a sticking point for MVC presidents.
UT Arlington and Kansas City are candidates for one huge reason: their proximity to major media markets. Arlington is in the greater Dallas area, which is by far its greatest selling point and the thing that entices the MVC's presidents as they look to expand the conference's appeal geographically. UT Arlington is not storied, however; it has one NCAA Tournament appearance (2008). Kansas City, which is in the heart of MVC territory, has vowed a return to play at Municipal Auditorium. The historic arena has hosted more NCAA Tournament championship games (nine) than any other venue. In order for Kansas City to be a viable candidate, per one source, there needs to be "shovels in the ground" on new facilities as quickly as possible.
Another reason there is optimism within Kansas City's athletic department: former Missouri athletic director Mike Alden -- who got Missouri out of the Big 12 and into the SEC nearly a decade ago -- is said to be heavily involved in the school's pitch. Powers-that-be at that school remain highly optimistic as of now about joining the Valley, also due in part to the fact that Kansas City as a metropolitan area is one of the more robust college basketball media markets in the country.
One source told CBS Sports that there remains a possibility for another school beyond the three favorites for the MVC right now, but at this stage it's those three that are in the best position. If all were to join, it would bring the Valley to 13 teams -- the most in its 114-year history.