Wichita State Shockers

WSU notes: Football’s power started the MVC on this path in the early 1970s

Cessna Stadium hasn’t been the site of a Wichita State football game since 1986. The Valley’s emphasis on football in the 1970s changed the face of the conference.
Cessna Stadium hasn’t been the site of a Wichita State football game since 1986. The Valley’s emphasis on football in the 1970s changed the face of the conference. File photo

Wichita State’s dissatisfaction with the Missouri Valley Conference peaked in recent seasons. The divide started in the early 1970s, when change left the Shockers behind and permanently changed the Valley’s reputation.

Cincinnati departed after the 1970 season, starting an exodus that included Memphis (1973), Saint Louis (1974) and Louisville (1975). The MVC soldiered on and enjoyed some great moments with its basketball.

It never regained its national stature.

WSU supplied some of those great moments. It also spent much of the 1970s and almost all of the 1990s in the bottom half of the MVC. When feeling chesty as they are recently, Shocker fans looked at those expats with regret and envy.

Here’s the part of the story largely forgotten — football played a large role in tearing apart a great basketball conference.

Football. Missouri Valley Conference football.

The gist of it is this: In an attempt to strengthen football, the MVC added New Mexico State and West Texas State (to a lineup that also included North Texas State) and tied itself to the Pasadena Bowl. As expenses grew in the late 1960s, basketball program no longer made enough money to support football programs. The MVC looked west to find football and alienated its basketball powers.

Cincinnati, Louisville and Memphis complained about travel costs. Memphis didn’t want to play a full MVC schedule because it limited its options to play closer rivals. North Texas State also wanted more scheduling flexibility for football and went independent in 1975.

“We sort of pushed Memphis out,” Bradley athletic director Chuck Orsborn said during the time of withdrawals. “They didn’t want to play everybody in football and we said that they must.”

The emphasis on football gave Saint Louis reason to exit.

“Our interest is in playing more midwestern urban basketball schools rather than state schools in the southwest,” Saint Louis basketball coach Randy Albrecht said in 1974.

The turnover set off a wild few years in which the conference considered expanding to 12 schools for divisional play, fought off a rumored merger with the Southland Conference and briefly called itself “The Valley Conference.”

The MVC responded to those departures by adding Southern Illinois (1974) and Indiana State (1976). Both schools made sense geographically and provided outstanding basketball in stretches. They did not help the MVC keep pace with Cincinnati, Louisville, Saint Louis and Memphis, who reunited in the Metro Conference in 1975.

The drive for football relevance fizzled.

New Mexico State left the MVC in 1983. West Texas State departed three years later and is now an NCAA Division II school. The MVC moved its football to NCAA Division I-AA (now Football Championship Series), a decision that contributed to WSU dropping the sport in 1986. Schools such as SIU and Indiana State play in the Missouri Valley Football Conference, one of the best in the FCS.

Almost 50 years later, football still drives conference membership and still pays most of the bills. If reports are accurate, however, Wichita State is on the verge of rejoining former MVC members Memphis, Cincinnati, Tulsa and Houston, mostly because it concentrated its efforts on basketball.

Change of heart — Boise (Idaho) Centennial girls basketball player Lauren Brocke will play for Colorado State, she announced on Twitter on Friday.

Brocke signed with WSU in November. After the departure of coach Jody Adams-Birch, Brocke requested a release from WSU, according to the Idaho Statesman.

Brocke, a 6-foot-3 forward, averaged 9.8 points and 6.5 rebounds as a senior.

Marshall auction set — The Gregg Marshall Shocker Basketball Auction is May 6 at Koch Arena.

The Marshall golf tournament is on May 15 at Wichita Country Club.

Tickets to the auction are $75 and $150. Individual entries for the golf tournament are $425, a team of four is $1,500.

For information, call (316) 978-5499.

Paul Suellentrop: 316-269-6760, @paulsuellentrop