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Knock-on Effect: What UTA to the Missouri Valley could mean down the line

After falling into Sun Belt mediocrity, the Mavericks could look to a new conference to change their fortunes, and set off a string of activity in the process.

NCAA Basketball: Texas-Arlington at Gonzaga James Snook-USA TODAY Sports

It wasn’t too long ago that the NCAA was radically altered by conference realignment. From 2010-14, realignment brought extensive changes to college athletics. While the shifting has calmed down temporarily, new rumors have surfaced that the next round of conference realignment could be in the works.

A couple of weeks ago, Matt Brown of Extra Points reported that the Missouri Valley Conference has, at a minimum, reached out to UT Arlington to gauge their interest in potentially joining the conference.

While it is obviously very early in this process, UTA athletic director Jim Baker has not shut the door on the possibility. Regarding the rumors, Baker stated:

It really isn’t difficult to see why this could be an intriguing proposition both for the MVC and the Mavericks. UTA is a basketball-driven school playing in the Sun Belt, a conference that prioritizes football. The MVC is unquestionably a better basketball conference than the Sun Belt. Warren Nolan’s RPI rankings ranked the Valley as the 11th best conference in college basketball last season; the Sun Belt finished 15th.

UTA has changed conferences three times in the past decade, so the program has also shown it wouldn’t necessarily be hesitant to make a change if it feel it would be beneficial.

In all likelihood, UTA would have been the worst team in the MVC last year. The program has only made the NCAA Tournament once, and that was back in 2008 when it was still a part of the Southland Conference. So what do the Mavericks bring to an MVC that features hot programs such as Drake and Loyola Chicago?

Put bluntly, the league is surely smitten with UTA geographic location. While the addition of a Texas school could be burdensome for the travel costs of some of the other MVC schools, Arlington would bring a significant new market to the conference. The Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex is the fourth largest metropolitan area in the country, so the MVC would be tapping into an enormous new market. UTAn would also be the conference’s first Texas school, which could be meaningful for establishing recruiting pipelines in a state that is plush with talent.

It is also fascinating to consider the aftershock a potential move like this. The COVID-19 pandemic displayed how fragile athletic budgets truly are, as programs all across the country had to cut sports programs to save costs. The pandemic has athletic departments rethinking their business models, and schools are starting to get creative looking for ways to save money.

One of the most plausible strategies is to reduce the geographic footprint. If teams can find ways to cut their travel costs, that could go a long way to getting schools in healthier financial situations.

Fans of the Sun Belt and Conference USA alike over recent years have theorized that a merger between the two conferences could make a lot of sense. For just one example, it doesn’t seem very logical for a program like Texas State to be making multiple trips to Boone, N.C. every year when it could be playing regional programs such as Rice, UTEP and UTSA, while, on the flip side, Appalachian State could be competing against the likes of Western Kentucky and Marshall.

If UTA were to join a new conference, that could make the logistics for such a merger a little bit easier. If the Sun Belt’s only other non-football school — Little Rock — could also find a new home, then the Sun Belt and Conference USA theoretically could split into two new geographically aligned 12-team conferences.

These are all purely hypothetical scenarios, but we all saw how quickly the dominos fell during the last wave of conference realignment. If UTA is serious about growing its basketball program, the MVC has to be a tempting possibility.