Image credit: Burl Carraway (Courtesy of Dallas Baptist Athletics)
Like so many other leagues across the country, the Missouri Valley Conference has dealt with shifting membership in recent years, albeit on a much smaller scale than some others.
Back in 2013, Creighton departed for the Big East as part of a seismic shift that changed the look of the Big East and Conference USA, forced the creation of the American Athletic Conference and had ripple effects up and down college athletics.
At the end of the 2017 season, the MVC lost its most historically successful baseball program, Wichita State, to the American. And yet, despite the losses of two of the most consistent winners in the league, the MVC keeps on rolling.
In the last five seasons, the MVC has been a one-bid league just once, in 2016, but it has been a three-bid league in that same timeframe just as often as it has been a two-bid league, as it got three teams into the field in 2015 and 2019.
Part of its continued success is thanks to recent improvement from teams like Missouri State, Indiana State and Bradley, all of which have put at-large-quality teams on the field at some point in the last five seasons. In 2019, the resurgence of Illinois State certainly helped as well. But the biggest catalyst for the league’s continued success might be the addition of Dallas Baptist, which has been in a regional each year it has been a member of the MVC.
Moving forward, the conference will continue to have a lot going for it. The conference has resisted growing the number of teams in the conference as a way to combat realignment, an approach some other leagues have taken that has also served, in some cases, to dilute quality from a baseball standpoint.
For the most part, teams in the conference are also very invested in baseball. Facility improvements have popped up all over the league, with most every member playing in a park that could theoretically host a regional.
Some of what would make the MVC a multi-bid league into perpetuity is out of the conference’s control. To a large degree, getting a bubble team into the field is based on how weak or strong the bubble is in a given year, and unfortunately for mid-major leagues, fewer and fewer of those bids are going to leagues like theirs.
But the raw materials are certainly in place for the MVC to continue to be a league that should expect to get multiple teams into regionals each year.
*2020 records not included
**Valparaiso’s conference record includes Horizon League results from 2015-2017
Over the last five seasons, Dallas Baptist and Missouri State really separated themselves from the pack in a profound way. DBU has been the more consistent of the two, winning 14, 15 or 16 league games each season. MSU has been more up and down, with two different seasons under .500 in MVC play in this data sample, but when it has been good, it has been extremely good. The three best conference records in the MVC in the last five seasons all belong to the Bears, with 18-3 marks in 2015 and 2018 and an 18-1 record in 2017. For context on Valparaiso, it spent 2015-2017 in the Horizon League and those records are rolled into this data set. The Horizon plays more conference games, so that explains why Valpo has more total games played than others, and it was quite competitive as a member of that league during the seasons in this data sample, so despite going 6-15 in both of its seasons in the Missouri Valley, it comes in fifth here.
Team-by-Team Five-Year Trends
The following are summations of how each Missouri Valley program performed over the last five full seasons. The arrow designation of up, down and to the side represent the results of the last five seasons, not a projection of the years to come.
The Patriots have really found their stride as members of the MVC, having made a regional appearance in each season of this data set, and fully, six seasons in a row. Along the way, DBU has also won 40 or more games six years in a row, and in 2015, set a Division I program record with 46 wins and hosted a regional for the first time in program history. With its year-to-year consistency and its pattern of developing players into pro prospects, DBU would seem to have a College World Series trip in its future as long as Dan Heefner is at the helm, but first, it will need to get back to the super regional round for the first time since 2011.
What a five years it was for Missouri State. In 2015, it hosted its first regional in program history, won a program record 49 games and advanced to its first super regional since it got to Omaha back in 2003. Perhaps that team would have gotten to the CWS, too, but it ran into a very good Arkansas club and MSU had to give up the right to host the super regional because the Springfield Cardinals, with whom it shares Hammons Field, were going to be playing at home that weekend. It backed up that outstanding season by winning the regular-season title in 2017 and 2018, and getting back to super regionals in 2017. Along the way, the Bears also produced two first-round picks in third baseman Jake Burger in 2017 and righthander Jon Harris in 2015. That will be a tough standard to live up to in the coming years.
Over the last five years, Mitch Hannahs has taken what current Washington and Iowa coaches Lindsey Meggs and Rick Heller did at Indiana State previously and has continued to run with it. After getting the Sycamores to a regional in his first year on the job in 2014, he has kept the standard high over the last five seasons, finishing over .500 in the MVC in four out of five years and putting perhaps his best team on the field in 2019. That group finished 43-18 and advanced to the final of the Nashville Regional before being eliminated by eventual national champion Vanderbilt. You always know what you’re going to get with the Sycamores. They’re always going to be competitive, they’re almost always going to be good, and when the stars align with a veteran club, as they did in 2019, they can make a splash nationally.
In 2015, Bradley enjoyed the best season in its recent history, going 36-21 and getting to the program’s first regional since 1968. It hasn’t reached those heights since then, but it has continued its best stretch of play since the mid-1990s. For example, it has finished over .500 in conference play in back-to-back seasons, which is the first time it has accomplished that since 1986-1987. It has also won 30 or more games in three of the last five seasons, which is the first time it has done so since doing it five seasons in a row between 1992-1996. Suffice it to say that the Braves are in a much better place the last five seasons than they were in the previous five, when they had a much tougher time staying competitive in the MVC.
Between 2010-2014, Valpo had a good run in the Horizon League, especially under Tracy Woodson, who is now the coach at Richmond. In 2012 and 2013, in fact, the Crusaders went to back-to-back regionals. For the three years in this five-year data sample that they were still in the Horizon, they remained competitive, but weren’t able to get back to the postseason before moving to the MVC. And they haven’t quite found their footing in the MVC yet, either, as they put up 6-15 seasons in 2018 and 2019. After a few more years in the league, we’ll have a much better idea of what to expect from Valpo year to year.
Given some of the excellent teams that have come out of the conference of late, it has been a tough time to be a Missouri Valley Conference program trying to break out of the middle of the pack, and that’s precisely what SIU has been attempting to do for more than a decade. The Salukis haven’t finished better than fourth in the league since 2007. In the last five years specifically, SIU was competitive more often than not, finishing right around .500 three out of five times, but it didn’t have any one season when it clearly established itself as a postseason contender. With a veteran group returning, there was optimism that the 2017 team could break through, but things never got on track and the team finished 27-30. Former Missouri assistant Lance Rhodes took over for the 2020 season and had the team off to a 12-6 start , so perhaps the tide is turning at SIU.
No program in the MVC changed its fortunes more sharply in 2019 than Illinois State, which went from four straight seasons of under .500 baseball in the MVC to finishing in a tie atop the standings and getting to a winner-take-all game 7 in the Louisville Regional. But there’s no way around the fact that things didn’t go as well between 2015-2018, and that’s why the arrow points down for this data sample. After Mark Kingston, now the coach at South Carolina, led the Redbirds to a regional in 2010 and to a regular-season title in 2013, it took until 2019 for ISU to finish better than fifth in the conference standings. With what the team accomplished in 2019, there’s optimism about much better days ahead.
In 2014, Evansville went 15-6 in the MVC to win the regular-season title, but it wasn’t able to replicate that success at any point over the last five seasons. Things bottomed out in 2018, when the injury bug bit an already young team particularly hard and the Aces fell to 3-18 in the MVC. The 2019 season signaled a bounce back for Evansville, as it started off strong and entered the last month of the season on the periphery of the at-large discussion before fading down the stretch.
Regional Recap by Year
2-2 in Louisville Regional
2-2 in Fayetteville Regional
3-1 in Fayetteville Regional, 0-2 in Fort Worth Super Regional
3-2 in Lubbock Regional
3-0 in Springfield Regional, 1-2 in Fayetteville Super Regional
The 2015 and 2019 postseasons were huge successes for the MVC. In the former, three teams got into the field of 64 and two MVC teams (Missouri State and Dallas Baptist) hosted regionals, with MSU advancing to the super regional round. Last season, three teams got in again, and all three advanced to the regional final, with Illinois State pushing Louisville to a deciding seventh game. Overall, the last five seasons’ worth of postseason results paint a clear picture of consistency, as the MVC has a cumulative 24-24 record, and in each of the last five seasons, it has gotten at least one team to a regional final or further. The conference is still looking for its first College World Series team since 2003, when Missouri State (then known as Southwest Missouri State) made the trip, but if it can keep pushing teams right to the precipice, you have to figure it will have one team, whether it’s Dallas Baptist, Missouri State or someone else, break through eventually.
Top Draft Selections
|Jake Burger, 3B, Missouri State
|Jon Harris, RHP, Missouri State
|Jameson Hannah, OF, Dallas Baptist
|Jeff Degano, LHP, Indiana State
|Jeremy Eierman, SS, Missouri State
It’s fitting that the top drafted players in the league all come from the three best teams in the conference over the last five seasons, and with three of the top five draft picks, this data sample captures how effective Missouri State was during this time in recruiting and developing top talent. What this data sample doesn’t capture, however, is the sheer volume of players Dallas Baptist puts into pro baseball each year. In each of the last five drafts, no fewer than five DBU players have been selected. It just so happens that it hasn’t had as many first or second-rounders. Overall, it has been a good five years for the MVC from a draft perspective, as an average of 19.6 players have had their names called each year. In the five drafts before that, the average was 16.8.
It was a relatively quiet five years on the coaching carousel in the MVC, which should be no great surprise when you consider the tenures of many of the current coaches in the league. Evansville’s Wes Carroll and Bradley’s Elvis Dominguez have both spent 12 seasons at the helm. It’s been 13 seasons for Dan Heefner at Dallas Baptist. Then, of course, there’s Missouri State’s Keith Guttin, who has been in Springfield for 38 seasons. Holm made an impact in year one at Illinois State, taking the Redbirds to their first regional in nearly a decade. While it was a small sample size, there is also evidence that Rhodes had SIU going in the right direction in 2020, as the Salukis were off to a 12-6 start.