The press conference announcing what we have known for a while began with some really bad music, featured a commissioner who stumbled over himself trying to justify not including Larry Bird on a Power Point, and broke out into a forced attempt at a cheer with one one side of the room yelling "Loyola!" and the other side responding "Valley!" Awkwardness aside, the announcement that Loyola will be the newest member in the Missouri Valley should result in opportunities for the conference and optimism amongst its fans.
Coach Porter Moser, who is heading into his third season, does not think that it is going to take long for Loyola to compete in the Valley. Correct or not, his confidence was inspiring and his goals were clear. He told a story of when he was a student playing basketball at Creighton there was a buzz of excitement at the school. At the time they had not been to the Tournament in the last decade, but even so, there was a feeling that something "great" was going to happen. Over the next 24 years, Creighton would make 11 Tournament appearances, proving the students correct, and according to Moser that same "buzz" is on Loyola's campus now.
Of course, there is room for healthy skepticism, as Loyola hasn't been to the Tournament since their Sweet 16 appearance three years before Moser even began playing college ball. There is also the problem that Moser does not have a track record of much success, having only one winning season during his four seasons at Valley member Illinois State, and his first two seasons at Loyola have amassed a 22–39 combined record. While the Ramblers are expected to improve next season, as significant playing time was given by freshmen and sophomores last season, the increased competition in the Valley will not be conducive to a winning record renaissance.
So why should Valley fans believe in a losing coach of a losing program that likely will not finish outside the bottom three teams in the conference next season? The answer is a new found commitment to athletics that was previously not possible. Current president Father Michael Garanzini (or Father Mike for short) took over a university in 2001 that had a deficit of over $35 million and that had to take massive sums from its endowment to continue operations. After years of fixing problems on the financial, academic, and student life levels, it is finally "athletics' turn" according to Father Mike.
Part of Loyola's investment in athletics was a recent renovation of its basketball facilities and Gentile Arena. However, Valley fans had to feel a bit uncomfortable during the press conference when Commissioner Elgin showed pictures of other Valley basketball arenas and said that they take great pride in the facilities in the conference. While Gentile Arena may have been one of the premier basketball stadiums in the Horizon League, it is immediately the smallest in the Valley. The "Joe," as it has been called (after donor Joseph Gentile), has seating for only 4,963 fans and had an average attendance of 2,277 people last season. To put that in perspective, Loyola's stadium is barely larger than the smallest average attendance in the Valley (Drake's 4,488). Before Loyola's membership the smallest basketball stadium in the Valley was Northern Iowa's with a capacity of 7,018. Even with the hope that Loyola's move to the Valley will spur more attendance because of an increase in quality opponents and the large alumni bases other Valley schools have in Chicago, the ceiling on fan support seems relatively low.
There are many reasons to also be hesitant about a program that has not had much success in any of its sports in recent history, but there are also many reasons to be excited about Loyola's induction into the MVC, such as the conference now having a former National Champion in its ranks. Maybe if Father Mike and Porter Moser believe that something "great" will happen and that the Ramblers will compete for a Valley Championship soon, then maybe we can believe that too.