When Loyola-Chicago leaves the Missouri Valley Conference for the Atlantic 10 following the completion of the 2021-22 academic year, it will signal the end of an era in the MVC. Albeit, an era that lasted only nine years, but an important one for the Valley in the grand scheme of things
The move wasn’t exactly shocking, as Loyola had reportedly been looking to move conferences since the summer, as seismic shifts in conference alignment continue to play out across the nation.
It’s no secret that there’s one reason behind Loyola’s move: men’s basketball. After head coach Porter Moser brought the Ramblers’ program from mediocrity in the early 2010s to two NCAA Tournament runs in 2018 and 2021, the school became a commodity and followed the money.
While the move doesn’t make sense to many, as Loyola will have to travel hundreds of additional miles for mid-major matchups similar to ones they would play in the Valley, the move makes dollars and cents. Especially in this day and age of college athletics, that’s all that matters — so you can’t really blame LUC.
With that being said, as somebody who has grown to embrace the MVC, its rivalries and traditions, the news came as a gut punch.
After Creighton departed in 2013 and Wichita State bolted in 2017, the Valley was in need of a boost in men’s basketball and got it. Loyola’s 2018 Final Four run felt like the ultimate stick-it-to-the-man moment, showing the nation that the conference didn’t need the Shockers to remain competitive and visible on a national level.
In a Bradley-specific lens, Loyola’s rise culminated with the Braves’, as many of the most memorable moments of the last five years have involved the rivals to the north.
In January 2018, Donte Thomas and Bradley handed Loyola its final loss before its Cinderella run in a 69-67 nailbiter.
In March 2019, the Braves lost to Loyola at Gentile Arena 81-68 in the final game of the regular season, allowing the Ramblers to capture their second straight regular season conference championship. A week later, Bradley punched back at Arch Madness, riding a 19-point outing from Nate Kennell to a gutsy 53-51 semifinal victory.
The following March, the Braves hosted Loyola for the final game of the regular season on national TV. The Peoria community came out in droves for Darrell Brown, Kennell and Koch Bar’s senior day. The contest itself turned out to be an all-timer, as Loyola escaped with a 67-66 win after Elijah Childs’ tip-in at the buzzer rimmed out.
The loss proved to be the fuel to Bradley’s fire, as the team ended the season with a second consecutive MVC Tournament title the next weekend.
Personally, I see many of those moments as defining ones of my time here at Bradley. I’ve spent a significant amount of time during winters and early springs taking in Bradley Basketball — first as a fan, and for the last three seasons as a reporter.
I’ll never forget the booming crowds in my annual trips to Gentile Arena, and I especially won’t forget taking in that matchup in March 2020 at Carver Arena with 8,000 of my closest friends — likely the largest and loudest crowd I’ll witness in my four years at BU.
Whether Braves fans want to admit it or not, Loyola quickly became Bradley’s second-fiercest rival. The games, crowds and borderline-unsportsmanlike Twitter trash talk (looking at you, Seghetti) were events to behold.
While the Braves have lost a great rival and the conference has lost its best media market, the Valley will be just fine.
Conference realignment giveth and taketh away. With Belmont joining the Valley next year, there’s still plenty to look forward to in MVC hoops, including trips to Nashville.
For now, though, we still get at least two more bouts between these in-state rivals. Let’s enjoy them together. I’ll see you at Carver Arena on Feb. 9.