What is now the Summit League started in 1982 as the Association of Mid-Continent Universities. You are probably thinking that doesn’t really roll off the toungue, which is likely why the name was changed to the Mid-Continent Conference in 1989. For the first 3 seasons of the conference there was not a Mid-Continent representative in the NCAA Tournament. In 1986 that all changed as Cleveland State Earned a 14 seed (at this point conferences did not automatically qualify). Not Only did Cleveland State make the tournament, but they beat 3 seed Indiana in the first round, 6 seed Saint Joseph’s in the 2nd round, before losing by 1 to Navy in the Sweet 16. This marked the first time that a Mid-Continent/Summit League team advanced that far in the NCAA Tournament. In 1998 Valparaiso made a run to the Sweet 16 that included one of the most memorable shots in NCAA tournament history with Bryce Drew’s hook and ladder 3 point game winner. Since that magical 1998 run there has only been one non-first four tournament victory in the league, and no sweet 16 appearances. The point of this is not to depress Summit League fans, in fact recent appearances are starting to show the conference to be far more competitive. The point is for Summit League fans to celebrate an opportunity not often seen. This is an opportunity to celebrate as a league, for the league to bask in a national spotlight that is not often seen. In 1998 I was a far more casual college basketball fan but I will never forget Bryce Drew and Valparaiso. There will be people 20 years from now that remember Kevin Obanor, Max Abmas and Oral Roberts run.
The greatest news is that Oral Roberts run isn’t over. Every year after this year a new Summit League team will be in a spot to make a similar run. It is one of the beautiful things about college basketball as unlikely as it is for many of the teams in the tournament, whether it’s a team from the Summit League or the Big 10, 6 wins and you will be crowned champion. There are recent signs that the Summit League is getting closer to making runs in the NCAA tournament. The most obvious is of course Oral Roberts run this year, but you also in the last 10 years have North Dakota State’s tournament victory and 5 losses by 10 points or less. Whether the next big tournament run happens next year or 10 years from now, the biggest takeaway for every Summit League fan is to hope on the Summit bandwagon, enjoy every victory from the conference. We will join you when it’s your team’s turn.