For Greg Lansing, Creighton's departure from the Missouri Valley Conference is as much a personal loss as a professional one.
The Indiana State basketball coach grew up in Harlan, Iowa. He remembers the trips he made to Omaha with his father, legendary Iowa high school coach Dave Lansing, to watch Creighton play at the Civic Auditorium.
“I remember seeing all those great Creighton teams play in the Civic and Billy Bluejay running up and climbing in the stands,” Lansing said. “And the students in the end zone picking up chairs and holding them over their heads.”
Creighton no longer plays its games at the Civic, and after Wednesday, the Bluejays will no longer be a member of the Missouri Valley. The school will announce it is moving to the new Big East at a 10 a.m. gathering at D.J. Sokol Arena.
Lansing and several other Valley coaches called Creighton's departure a loss for the league, as the Bluejays have been one of the conference's flagship programs.
“Creighton is a household name, a great program and a great ambassador for our league,” Bradley coach Geno Ford said. “Their fan following is top-notch, as good as you'll see anywhere in the country.
“It would be a great loss, no question about it.”
Lansing echoed Ford's comment, saying the Valley is losing a “tremendous basketball program.”
“I don't think you can replace them,” he said. “You're not going to get someone the caliber of Creighton and their facilities and a program that does things the right way.
“It's a first-class program, with Bruce Rasmussen as the athletic director and one of the best coaches in the country. The Missouri Valley is a tremendous brand and Creighton has a lot to do with that.”
Creighton has been a member of the Valley for 54 seasons, with the first 18 coming from 1928 to '48. The Bluejays then became an independent until rejoining the Valley during the 1977-78 season.
No school has been as successful over the years as has Creighton, which is tied with Oklahoma State for the most regular-season titles (15). The Bluejays also have won the conference tournament a dozen times, including the past two seasons.
“Year in and year out, they're one of the best teams in our league and they do things the right way,” Evansville coach Marty Simmons said. “It's a first-class basketball program, and it's certainly been a lot of fun to compete against a program of that caliber, with what they represent.”
What the Bluejays have represented since Dana Altman orchestrated a Creighton basketball resurgence in the late 1990s is a standard that every other team in the league strived to match. Since taking over three seasons ago, Greg McDermott arguably has pushed the program to even greater heights.
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McDermott coached five seasons at Northern Iowa, where his top assistant was current Panthers' coach Ben Jacobson.
“When we got here 12 years ago, it was Creighton and Southern Illinois, the two teams that we wanted to find a way to get in the mix with,” Jacobson said. “We wanted to get to where we were doing things to be competitive with those two schools.
“I think that part of the rivalry and that part of their being in our conference is something that we're all going to miss from a competitive standpoint.”
Creighton's move to the new conference has been rumored for months, but Valley Commissioner Doug Elgin has steered clear of speculating in what direction the league would look if it had to replace the Bluejays.
It will now be Elgin's charge to find a replacement. Schools such as Denver, Belmont and Wisconsin-Milwaukee have been reported as possible candidates.
The coaches generally begged off the question of what direction the league should go in trying to replace Creighton.
“I don't want to say that's one beyond my pay grade,” Wichita State coach Gregg Marshall said, “but it's out of my realm of control.”
Lansing said it's important not to rush into any decisions.
“We need to be very selective in who we try to bring in,” he said. “We don't want to just bring someone in just to be bringing them in. I'm sure Doug Elgin and his staff have been thinking about this and working on it.
“We need to do what's best for the conference and the schools involved. I have complete faith in our administration to do that.”
The Valley has maintained a stable membership at 10 since Tulsa left the league after the 1995-96 season. Bradley's Ford pointed out that the Valley has lost other schools over the years but has continued to thrive as a basketball league.
“The Valley has survived the loss of other great programs over the years,” he said.
Lansing said that when news broke last week that Creighton had received an invitation to the new league and intended to accept it that he sent McDermott a text message wishing the Bluejays the best.
“And I said let's continue to play home and home if you're going to be leaving us,” he said.
Wichita State's Marshall publicly lobbied for the schools to continue playing after losing to Creighton in Omaha on March 2. Asked Monday what he'll miss about competing against the Bluejays, Marshall replied, “Hopefully, I don't miss anything.
“I hope I still get to play there and they get the chance to come down here,” Marshall said. “Greg McDermott is a great coach and they have a really fine program. It's been a wonderful rivalry and I'd love it to continue.”
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