Competitive Balance in Women's Basketball: The Gateway Collegiate Athletic Conference and Missouri Valley Conference Merger

Article excerpt


The purpose of this paper was to measure the change in competitive balance for women's basketball as a conference merges and changes its membership. Specifically, we surveyed the changes in competitive balance as the Gateway Collegiate Athletic Conference was merged into the Missouri Valley Conference (MVC). While competitive balance may not have been the primary reason for the merger, it tended to increase fan interest and was, therefore, considered desirable by member institutions. Three measures of competitive balance were used, producing mixed results. However, there was arguably a more competitive balance after the merger, because there tended to be more predictably perennial winners and losers in the Gateway than the MVC.


In competitive sports, it is considered mandatory that the outcome of any game or match needs to contain some degree of uncertainty. If this were not so, it is believed fans would lose interest (Depken & Wilson, 2005; El Hodiri & Quirk, 1971; Kesenne, 2006; Quirk & Fort, 1992; Sanderson & Siegfried, 2003), and, thus, there would be significantly lower attendance, empty arenas and stadiums, and, consequently, lower revenues. Stated somewhat differently, it is of vital importance that for any sports league or conference there must be some degree of competitive balance among the various teams.

At the college level, measures such as scholarship limits and prohibitions against extra benefits offered to student athletes have attempted to promote competitive balance (Rhoads, 2004). These regulations are commonly enforced by a national governing body (e.g., National Collegiate Athletic Association, National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics). However, college athletic conferences also play roles in promoting competitive balance. Indeed, Rhoads (2004) has argued that conference realignments are at least partially driven by competitive disparity among institutions.

The purpose of this paper was an attempt to measure the change in competitive balance as a conference merges and changes its membership. To shed light on this question, we surveyed the changes in competitive balance as the Gateway Collegiate Athletic Conference was merged into the Missouri Valley Conference (MVC). In this instance, a women's athletic conference was merged into a men's conference; some institutions were dropped and others added as the merger was completed.

In pursuing our goal, we measured competitive balance in women's basketball before and after the merger. More specifically, we measured the results from the 9 years the Gateway was in existence (1983-84 and 1991-92) and measured the first 9 years the MVC had a constant membership (1994-95 and 2002-03). Basketball is arguably the premier women's sport at many colleges; it was a particularly important consideration in the Gateway-MVC merger, as the Gateway's women's basketball championships had unprecedented success at the time of the change (Gateway Presidents Council, 1992).

Historical Background

The Gateway was established in 1982 as a women's sports-only league (Missouri Valley Conference, 2007a). The members of the Gateway were Bradley University (BU), Drake University (DU), Eastern Illinois University (EIU), Illinois State University (ILSU), Indiana State University (INSU), Southern Illinois University (SIU), Southwest Missouri State University (SMSU) now known as Missouri State University (MSU), the University of Northern Iowa (UNI), Western Illinois University (WIU), and Wichita State University (WSU). The conference sponsored championship competition in 10 sports, including basketball.

The Gateway ceased operations of its women's sports programs in July 1992, when its membership realigned with two other conferences (Gateway Presidents Council, 1991; Richardson, 2006). At that time, EIU and WIU shifted to the Mid-Continent Conference. The other Gateway members moved to the MVC, where they joined Creighton University (CU), Tulsa University, and the University of Evansville (UE). …


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