The Loyola Ramblers are on the move.
The school made it official Friday and announced it will move from the Horizon League to the Missouri Valley Conference, changing affiliations for the first time since 1979. Loyola will replace Creighton, which announced a move to the Big East in March.
"I think our brand will raise the profile of the institution and the fact that we're in the Chicago market place is going to do wonders for the Missouri Valley," Missouri Valley Commissioner Doug Elgin said at Loyola.
Elgin called it a good marriage in terms of natural rivalries, pointing out Illinois State, Southern Illinois, Bradley and Indiana State all are in proximity.
"We have alumni fans up here who have been bugging me for years to bring in one of the local schools as a member," Elgin said. "We're going to help Loyola as much as Loyola is going to help us."
An original member of the Midwestern City Conference, forerunner of the Horizon League, Loyola last made the NCAA men's basketball tournament in 1985 and is the only Illinois school ever to win an NCAA tournament (1963). Its men's basketball team is coming off a 7-23 season under second-year coach Porter Moser, a Naperville native who coached in the MVC for Illinois State from 2003-2007.
Moser said there is no doubt a new affiliation with a conference that includes Final Four team Wichita State will help in recruiting.
"The Valley is just one more powerful brand that's behind us when we recruit," he said.
The school's emphasis will still be on recruiting in Chicago.
"There's been no secret since I took over here two years ago that the No. 1 priority is Chicago and ... surrounding areas of Illinois," Moser said.
Moser said next year's team will have its first Chicago Public School player in a decade, Milton Doyle, a redshirt transfer from Kansas who played high school ball at Chicago Marshall.
Elgin said he expects Loyola teams to initially have "tough sledding" against Missouri Valley competition. Chicago in particular is a recruiting hotbed not just for elite Division I programs but local universities like DePaul, Northwestern and University of Illinois-Chicago.
Two years ago, Loyola remodeled the Gentile Arena and other athletic facilities as part of a $300 million project to help address its image. Olympic gold medalist and three-time WNBA MVP Sheryl Swoopes was recently hired as the new women's basketball coach.
Athletic director Grace Calhoun said the challenge for the school in its continued renovations is fitting in practice facilities for other sports. The 10,000-student school located on Chicago's lakefront competes in golf, cross country, track, soccer, softball and volleyball.
"Of course, the challenge of being in Chicago, we're an urban, land-locked university so space is at a premium, but we're going to work those issues and get some great training spaces as well," she said.