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The Mythical “Midwestern Conference”

Every time conference expansion/movement comes up, inevitably a Creighton fan or two will post on a message board that they wish a league of Midwestern private and/or Jesuit basketball schools would form. In the midst of mountains and mountains (and months and months) of research for the “Great Teams” series, I found a couple of very interesting historical nuggets that I wasn’t previously aware of. Namely: such a league was pretty close to being a reality.

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In January of 1985, the Midwestern City Conference extended formal invitations to both Bradley and Creighton to jump from the Missouri Valley to the MCC. Bradley and Creighton were the only two MVC schools that did not play football at the time, making them prime candidates to leave for a league more focused on basketball. Both schools seriously deliberated the invite — Creighton took over three months to chew it over — and both schools took actual votes on leaving the MVC for the MCC. Both ultimately voted it down, declined the bid, and opted to stay put. Who were the other members of the MCC in 1985, you ask?

Butler, Detroit, Evansville, Loyola of Chicago, Oklahoma City, Oral Roberts, St. Louis and Xavier.

Throw Creighton and Bradley in there, and that would have been one HECKUVA basketball league, wouldn’t it? A mid-major powerhouse, with a presence in seven good-sized media markets (Indianapolis, Detroit, Chicago, Oklahoma City, St. Louis, Cincinnati and Omaha). Additionally, until 1995 Notre Dame competed in the MCC in all sports except for men’s basketball and football, giving them an additional marquee name to promote.

In announcing their decision to stay in the MVC, the Rev. Michael Morrison S.J., then Creighton’s President, said at a press conference on April 29, 1985:

“The Missouri Valley Conference is full of tradition, and we are proud to be part of that decision. The relationships and rivalries with other schools in the conference are important to us and were an important consideration throughout our decision making process.”

In a World-Herald article the next morning, head basketball coach Willis Reed told the paper’s Steve Sinclair that the decision was the right one. “I’ve thought all along that our best bet would be to stay in the MVC. The conference provides solid competition and has an outstanding reputation in basketball.”

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The saga wasn’t quite over yet. In 1990, St. Louis and Marquette — who had joined just a year prior — announced they were leaving the MCC to form the new Great Midwest Conference (the league that would later come to be known as Conference USA) along with DePaul, UAB, Memphis and others, and the MCC once again came calling. In an article published on November 21, 1990, the World-Herald reported:

“A published report in Chicago has linked Creighton University with the Midwestern Collegiate Conference, but Creighton Athletic Director Dick Myers said the league hasn’t contacted him about joining. ‘I’ve not talked to them at all,” he said. ‘It’s certainly within the realm of possibility that we would hear from them.’

The Chicago Tribune quoted Bradley Athletic Director Ron Ferguson as saying that the MCC has talked informally with Creighton and Drake about filling the spots left by St. Louis and Marquette.”

No formal offer came this time according to the World-Herald, though the Chicago Tribune indicated Creighton and Drake both were approached, albeit informally. According to the Tribune, in those informal discussions, Creighton and Drake both told the MCC they were not interested in leaving the Valley, and that’s why no formal bid was ever extended.

The MCC — the initials stood for Midwestern Collegiate Conference at that point — in 1990 consisted of Loyola of Chicago, Detroit, Evansville, Butler, Xavier and Dayton. Again, throw Creighton and Drake (and potentially, Bradley) in there, and that’s a HECKUVA basketball league. Maybe not quite as formidable as the 1985 version, but still awfully formidable, and with a presence in enough large media markets to have attracted the attention of cable TV networks.

Dayton left the MCC for the Atlantic 10 in 1993. In 1994, the MCC ultimately found their replacement for St. Louis and Marquette (and Dayton), taking in six former members of the Mid-Continent Conference. Xavier would follow Dayton to the A-10 a year later, and in 2001 the MCC changed its name to the Horizon League, leaving Butler as the lone marquee name in the conference.

As with most Creighton fans, I’m generally pretty happy to be in the MVC, but the scenario does raise a lot of interesting questions. Would St. Louis, Dayton and Xavier have stayed in the league had Creighton and Bradley come in? Would the MCC have become the seventh power conference? Would the schools that would have made up the league have been as successful together as they wound up being apart?

Hard to say, even with the benefit of hindsight. But its fun to think about, isn’t it?

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