Blue Valley Northwest graduates Clayton Custer and Ben Richardson helped Loyola Chicago through their bracket-busting run in the NCAA men’s basketball tournament last year.
They also helped revive the Missouri Valley Conference, a mid-major that relies on men’s tournament money, often from a lone team.
“It’s become almost impossible for many conferences to get a second bid,” said MVC commissioner Doug Elgin, a former member of the NCAA men’s basketball selection committee.
Now-senior Clayton Custer and Ben Richardson started for Loyola Chicago last year and commanded postseason honors. Custer was named the MVC Player of the Year. Richardson, who is playing in Europe this season, was the 2018 MVC Defensive Player of the Year.
“Everybody thought this conference was going to go down when Wichita State left (in 2017) and, the first year they left, we go to the Final Four,” Custer said. “Hopefully, we keep that visibility in the Missouri Valley.”
Only the Big Ten has been around longer than the Missouri Valley, which was founded 1907 in Kansas City but now is based in St. Louis.
But the MVC won’t land more than one team in the 68-team NCAA tournament this year. Even though Loyola earned the No. 1 seed in the conference tournament as a regular season co-champion with Drake University, it lost in the semifinals to Bradley.
Compare the plight of the mid-majors – that includes UMKC in the Western Athletic Conference -- with the Big 12 Tournament that takes place this week at Sprint Center in Kansas City. There’s talk of possibly seven Big 12 teams getting at-large bids.
Why is that important? As a mid-major conference, 60 percent of the Missouri Valley’s revenue comes from the success of its teams in the NCAA men’s basketball tournament, revenues that Elgin said are “much more critical to our institutions than to a Power 5 (conference).”
The Valley will get a record $7.5 million this spring based on the performance of its teams in the NCAA tournament, mostly because of Wichita State’s 2013 Final Four run.
But the conference lost Wichita State to the American Athletic Conference in 2017, and Creighton six years ago to the Big East.
“We knew that it was simply going to be, ‘Who’s next?’ Who was going to step up as that next power?’” Elgin said.
By winning the MVC conference tournament last weekend, Bradley captured the automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament. So, Loyola and the other MVC teams have become Bradley’s biggest fans.
Greg Echlin is a freelance sports reporter for KCUR 89.3.