Conference Changes: Missouri Valley Flashback

As the University of Louisville makes the move to the ACC, Cardinal Authority provides a glimpse into conference past. The first of the four part series takes a quick look at the successes enjoyed in the Missouri Valley Conference from 1963-1974.

It was the era, to many, that saw the University of Louisville solidify itself as one of the nation's annual elites in college basketball. The more than a decade time spent in the Missouri Valley Conference saw the Cardinals basketball team make repeat trips to the Final Four, hire one of the nation's brightest young minds and be home to some of the games best players.

Upon entry in the Missouri Valley Conference, Louisville joined Bradley, Cincinnati, Drake, North Texas State, Saint Louis, Tulsa and Wichita State. Memphis State followed two years later and New Mexico State, among others, also joined the MVC during Louisville's run with the league.

First under the direction of Bernard 'Peck' Hickman, then John Dromo and eventually Denny Crum, the Cardinals won at least a share of the MVC regular season crown 6 times and enjoyed victory more than any other in MVC history. The Cardinals .766 winning percentage versus league opponents remains as the best ever in the conference. Kansas, a member from 1907-28, trails with a .717 winning percentage and Cincinnati (1957-80) is third with a .711 mark.

Crum, who was hired from John Wooden's bench at UCLA in 1971, led the school to a pair of Final Fours in 1972 and 1975. The Hall of Fame coach guided Louisville to a 46-8 in-conference record and three league titles during his four years in the league.

One of the program's all-time greats Wes Unseld dominated the league from 1965-68. Unseld, who is one of four players to have his number retired by U of L, helped the Cardinals reach No. 2 in the polls as a junior. The two-time All-American remains the league's all-time career rebounding leader with 1,551 - a list that includes Oscar Robinson and Larry Bird among the top five.

Four other Cardinals greats from the MVC era have had their jerseys honored by the school: Butch Beard, Junior Bridgeman, Allen Murphy and Jim Price.

Maybe somewhat of an undervalued era for Louisville football, the Cardinals had some mild success during their days in the Missouri Valley Conference. During its tenure in the league, Louisville posted an overall record of 63-58-2, including a 28-25 mark in league play. T.W. Alley, Frank Camp and Lee Corso served as head coaches during the MVC era.

Tom Jackson
Tom Jackson earned MVC Player of the Year honors in 1970 & 1972 (UofL SID)
Under the leadership of Lee Corso, Louisville won the MVC title in 1970 and 1972. Following an undefeated conference slate and an overall 8-3 record, the program was invited to just its second ever bowl game. Louisville faced Long Beach State in the Pasadena Bowl, where the two played to a 24-24 tie. The team missed out on bowl season in 1972, despite achieving an impressive 9-1 record.

The titles and bowl appearance coincided with linebacker Tom Jackson being named MVC Player of the Year. Jackson helped the Cardinals to a 23-7-2 record during his three seasons at U of L. Louisville also had plenty of help on the offensive side of the ball where running back Howard Stevens was busy setting new school records. He ranks among the school's best in multiple categories and still holds the single-season mark with 1,429 yards in 1971.

Jackson, Stevens and linebacker Doug Buffone all had their jerseys honored by the school. Buffone and Jackson are just one of four (Tyrus McCloud, Mark Sander) players to lead the Cardinals in tackles for three consecutive seasons.

The dozen years spent in the Missouri Valley Conference helped the University of Louisville begin to grow as an athletic department. With the school reaching for new heights, the Cardinals departed the MVC to help create a new league called the Metro Conference.

The school's first NCAA championship, football independence and more would await the Cardinals as they begin their next era of conference membership.

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