In its first season of membership in the American Athletic Conference, Wichita State fans will trade a trip to St. Louis for a trip to Orlando for the men’s basketball conference tournament.
The geography might even out for Shocker fans as soon as 2019.
Wichita State athletic Darron Boatright said the American is considering awarding the tournament to a Midwest site in the future. Oklahoma City’s Chesapeake Energy Arena emerged as a topic of informal talks last week at conference meetings in Florida. Tulsa’s BOK Center was also mentioned as a possible home.
“There was very positive discussion about giving it a test run for a year or two where it’s more accessible for institutions to drive,” Boatright said. “There was nothing voted on, nothing specific. Oklahoma City was discussed directly. Tulsa came up a time or two.”
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Five schools are within 500 miles of Oklahoma City or Tulsa — Wichita State, Tulsa, SMU, Memphis and Houston.
The American held its first tournament in Memphis. It alternated between Hartford, Conn., and Orlando since and is scheduled for Orlando’s Amway Center in March.
The 2017 championship game between SMU and Cincinnati in Hartford drew a crowd of 6,856 fans. The tournament largest crowd was 8,117 for a Connecticut-Cincinnati semifinal. Quarterfinals involving Memphis, Central Florida, SMU and East Carolina drew 1,844 fans. In 2016 in Orlando, tournament attendance averaged 7,774 fans.
“The attendance has been a concern and remains a concern,” Boatright said. “If we’re going to brand ourselves as a ‘Power 6’ conference then every aspect of our conference needs to look like it.”
The tournament’s Sunday time slot on CBS leads into the NCAA selection show in 2018. Some of the audience tuning in for the bracket reveal will watch the final minutes of the American championship game. A half-full arena is not a good impression.
“We’re going to get a lot of unintended eyes that will be focused on the championship game of our tournament,” Boatright said.
University president John Bardo, senior associate athletic director Becky Endicott, faculty athletic representative Julie Scherz, men’s basketball coach Gregg Marshall and women’s basketball coach Keitha Adams also attended three days of meetings in Key Biscayne.
▪ The American is looking at its multi-media options in advance of 2020, when its TV contract with ESPN ends. It appears all options are on the table, including digital companies such as Amazon or Netflix, should they decide live sports makes sense.
“The commissioner (Mike Aresco) is being thorough in looking at all aspects before making a decision on anything, or even a decision on a direction,” Boatright said. “His focus on going to be on that piece for the next couple years.”
▪ Bardo and Boatright discussed a support swap, perhaps a marketing push or social media campaign, with the Navy administrators.
Navy plays football in the American and WSU fills the role of 12th member in other sports. Navy’s other sports compete in the Patriot League.
“I think it could be a great outreach for both and a fantastic gesture for supporting the Naval Academy,” Boatright said.
In April, Navy welcomed the Shockers to the American with a Twitter message reading: #WelcomeWichita to the AAC! We can be your football team!
▪ The American adopted a graduate transfer policy that allows an athlete to start a career at an AAC school, transfer out of the conference and return to another conference school as a graduate transfer.
For example, an athlete could start at Tulsa, transfer to Oregon and graduate, and transfer to Wichita State without sitting out a year or losing a year of eligibility.
▪ Jerry Palm of CBSSports.com told the athletic directors and coaches that the American’s 18-game schedule for men’s basketball and 16 for women’s basketball makes sense for RPI rankings.
The women’s schedule allows top American teams to schedule two more helpful non-conference games. The men’s schedule will provide home-and-home series against seven teams ranked similarly in strength and four single games against other conference schools, two at home and two on the road.
“When you’re talking about getting multiple (NCAA) bids (in women’s basketball), it could really affect that third and fourth opportunity to get in,” Boatright said.
Perhaps the biggest scheduling question is whether or not Wichita State will get a visit from the Connecticut women’s team in its first American season. Boatright declined to reveal that information, but did say he expects WSU’s home and road partners to be announced soon.