Wichita State Shockers

On the market: Wichita State is researching conference options and these homes might listen

UNLV forward Stephen Zimmerman dunks against WSU last season. The Runnin’ Rebels are a member of the Mountain West Conference, a logical destination conference for Wichita State to pursue.
UNLV forward Stephen Zimmerman dunks against WSU last season. The Runnin’ Rebels are a member of the Mountain West Conference, a logical destination conference for Wichita State to pursue. The Wichita Eagle

Wichita State’s athletic future is due for its assessment soon.

A report from College Sports Solutions is due in the next few days. The report will assess Wichita State’s options for conferences and adding sports. WSU is upfront about its desire to see if it can find a new conference with stronger basketball and schools similar in educational and research mission.

President John Bardo sees this process as part of a larger quest to raise enrollment and improve the profile and reputation of WSU by associating with schools he sees as peers.

The CSS report won’t include recommendations or conclusions. Interim athletic director Darron Boatright, earlier this month, said he expects reports on discussions with conferences and cost estimates for adding sports. WSU, a member of the Missouri Valley Conference since 1945, views the report as a marker in the process of evaluating the athletic department. In December, Bardo said the evaluation of the athletic department could last a year.

“We didn’t ask them to make specific recommendations,” Boatright said. “We asked them to assist us in gathering factual, actual information and numbers. It’s where we can really start looking at the impact and the possibilities on the community, as well as on our campus.”

What did the consultants hear? Conferences won’t reveal contact with Wichita State, in part because they don’t want to be seen as raiding the MVC. Here is an attempt to look at the conferences that might make sense for inquiries:

Mountain West Conference

Members: San Diego State, Fresno State, Boise State, New Mexico, Nevada, UNLV, Colorado State, Utah State, Wyoming, Air Force, San Jose State, Hawaii (football only)

2015-16 basketball RPI rank: No. 11

Closest school to Wichita State: Air Force, 490 miles

Why it works for Wichita State: The Mountain West represents an improvement in men’s basketball, although perhaps not as much as assumed. Since hitting No. 3 in the conference RPI rankings in 2013, the MWC hasn’t ranked higher than No. 10 the past three seasons.

Stability would be attractive. It doesn’t appear MWC schools are in danger of moving to other conferences. It’s an upgrade for road trips, if you like sun, oceans, gambling or mountains.

Why it doesn’t work for Wichita State: The time zone and travel is a challenge for TV viewers and athletes. Outside of a few athletes from California and Colorado, current WSU coaches rarely seem to recruit in MWC states.

Not to pretend baseball matters in these decisions, but the MWC is a step down from the MVC.

What would Wichita State add: A 12th basketball member to create divisions and make scheduling uniform. MWC schools play an 18-game schedule with eight home-and-home series and two single games.

The MWC’s basketball rep has taken a hit in recent seasons. WSU helps.

Why not the Shockers? It’s all about football and revenue distribution. Why add a bad geographic fit, in a low-population state?

Schools that pour money into football aren’t likely to give WSU a tilted playing field in basketball. In recent seasons, WSU paid Nevada, Southern Mississippi and Alabama-Birmingham to play guarantee men’s basketball games in Wichita. Those are the demands put on some basketball schools when football is part of the athletic department.

The MWC gives no indication it’s interested in a non-football member. If it does want to expand, Texas-El Paso, a former Western Athletic Conference mate with the MWC schools, or Rice may be the first options. The lure of BYU will always be strong. All play football.

Even if WSU would add football, it will be years before it can be expected to help the MWC gain ground on Power 5 conferences.

What the MWC says: Commissioner Craig Thompson declined an interview request. His statement:

“As the Mountain West soon completes its third season of play under the current league configuration, our membership is committed to building those relationships and rivalries and does not have any specific plans for expansion at the current time. While two members, Hawaii (football) and Colorado College (women’s soccer), are single sport specific, there is no further intention to deviate from all-sport participation, including Football Bowl Subdivision sponsorship.”

American Athletic Conference

Members: Houston, Memphis, Tulsa, Tulane, SMU, Temple, South Florida, Cincinnati, Connecticut, East Carolina, Central Florida, Navy (football only)

2015-16 basketball RPI rank: No. 8

Closest school to Wichita State: Tulsa, 176 miles

Why it works for Wichita State: It’s all there. Strong basketball. Old rivals in Tulsa, Memphis and Cincinnati. Similar institutions. Good time zones for TV games.

Why it doesn’t work for Wichita State: The downside to the AAC is a lack of stability. Its top schools want to move on. Playing East Carolina and Central Florida loses its allure if not partnered with Memphis and Cincinnati.

What would Wichita State add? A 12th basketball-playing member. While the AAC isn’t looking now, it might change its outlook if the Big 12 pilfers members. WSU is positioning itself for the future and the AAC might look much different in five years.

Why not the Shockers? Football, football, football. And if WSU adds football, it would likely stand in line behind established programs in Conference USA.

It seems inevitable this conference will lean south for members when needed. Schools such as Southern Mississippi enjoy a head-start in football and past association with members of Conference USA.

What the AAC says: “We’re happy with 12,” commissioner Mike Aresco said. “We are not interested in expanding at this point. Eleven (basketball schools) worked out fine.”

Big East Conference

Members: Creighton, Butler, Marquette, Georgetown, Seton Hall, Saint John’s, Villanova, DePaul, Xavier, Providence

2015-16 basketball RPI rank: No. 4

Closest school to Wichita: Creighton, 302 miles

Why it works for Wichita State: Basketball-focused schools. It seems so perfect. The geography isn’t great, but not much worse than other options.

A reunion with Creighton, WSU’s top rival for years in the Valley, is worth a lot to fans.

Why it doesn’t work for Wichita State: Joining 10 private schools doesn’t help WSU’s goal of associating with like-minded research institutions or adding football to drive enrollment. It’s great for basketball and might push WSU to add soccer, but accomplishes little else.

What would Wichita State add? Another basketball-crazy member and a travel partner for Creighton.

Why not the Shockers? These decisions are driven by institutional desires, at least in part, and the leaders of the East Coast schools don’t covet the Wichita market for students. WSU doesn’t fit the Big East and that isn’t likely to change without major upheaval. While Creighton athletic director Bruce Rasmussen backs WSU, his fondness can’t carry the day without allies.

What the Big East says: Commissioner Val Ackerman declined an interview request. The conference’s stance is that it is not considering expansion.

In February, she told the Cincinnati Enquirer just that, saying “I think it would really have to check a lot of boxes in terms of the basketball piece, the kind of school that it is, the geography. So at this point there’s nothing on the front burner.”

Atlantic 10 Conference

Members: Davidson, Dayton, Duquesne, Fordham, George Mason, George Washington, La Salle, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Richmond, St. Bonaventure, St. Joseph’s, Saint Louis, Virginia Commonwealth

2015-16 basketball RPI rank: No. 7

Closest school to Wichita State: Saint Louis, 441 miles

Why it works for Wichita State: Basketball-focused schools with a history of landing at-large NCAA bids. Private-public mix.

The A-10 is enough of an underdog it just might consider something crazy. Probably not. Maybe.

Why it doesn’t work for Wichita State: Bad geography and 10 private schools. Saint Louis and Dayton are the prime schools that would make the A-10 attractive. They are also likely targets should the Big East expand. Nobody in Wichita wants to wake up in 2020 in a conference with Fordham and not Saint Louis.

What would Wichita State add?: Another basketball-crazy member. Charles Koch has strong ties to WSU and George Mason.

Why not the Shockers? The A-10 has 14 members. Does it make sense to get bigger? The same institutional questions that loom over the Big East are in play.

What the A-10 says: Commissioner Bernadette V. McGlade declined a request for an interview. Her statement:

“The Conference constantly monitors the D-I landscape of membership realignment. Currently the Atlantic 10 is in a great position as a basketball-centric conference with 14 strong members. We are in a geographic footprint that covers approximately 30 percent of the U.S. media markets, which is excellent for the recruitment of student-athletes and undergraduates. However, if there is a compelling reason to realign our A-10 membership to protect or enhance the conference, the Presidents’ Council have stated a commitment to engage in that analysis and/or decision.”

Conference USA

Members: Charlotte, Florida Atlantic, Florida International, Louisiana Tech, Marshall, Middle Tennessee State, North Texas, Old Dominion, Rice, Southern Mississippi, Alabama-Birmingham, Texas-El Paso, Texas-San Antonio, Western Kentucky

2015-16 basketball RPI rank: No. 21

Closest school to Wichita State: North Texas, 326 miles

Why it works for Wichita State: Serious about the Football Bowl Subdivision, marching bands and tailgate parties? Prove it.

Why it doesn’t work for Wichita State: People who think Missouri Valley Conference schools aren’t serious about basketball will enjoy Florida Atlantic’s average attendance of 872. If the consultants pitch C-USA as a possible home, WSU should demand a refund and beg Gregg Marshall to hold off speed-dialing his agent.

What would Wichita State add? Strong basketball.

Why not the Shockers?: With 14 schools, C-USA doesn’t need any members, with or without football. If it expands, watch out Sun Belt.

What C-USA says: Commissioner Judy MacLeod declined an interview. Conference bylaws require schools to be an FBS member, or apply for FBS status.

Missouri Valley Football Conference

Members: North Dakota State, Illinois State, South Dakota State, Northern Iowa, Western Illinois, Indiana State, South Dakota, Youngstown State, Southern Illinois, Missouri State

2015-16 basketball RPI rank: The MVFC is a separate entity, but five of its schools are Missouri Valley Conference members with WSU. The MVC ranked No. 13.

Closest school to Wichita State: Missouri State, 247 miles

Why it works for Wichita State: The easiest avenue to football, since it presumably requires no changes for other sports.

And it’s good football, the best in the Football Championship Series. Since 2010, MVFC schools defeated Kansas (twice), Minnesota, Colorado State, Eastern Michigan, Kansas State, Ball State and Iowa State (twice).

Do it right and it’s no different than the version of football Wichita State played for most of its history.

Schools such as Old Dominion, South Alabama and Charlotte used FCS membership as a transition to FBS. The same option would exist for WSU.

Why it doesn’t work for Wichita State: It’s football, which essentially means adding another athletic department — staff, scholarships, buildings — to the one already running. At some point – maybe not in five years, maybe not in 10 years – a president and athletic director will prioritize football and other sports will suffer.

That’s the way football works at most schools.

Shockers fans flock to basketball, volleyball and baseball because those sports win and because they believe WSU can compete with higher-profile schools. If that is off the table, will they pay for FCS football?

What would Wichita State add? Better weather for November road trips. A familiar name, one with value generated by other sports.

Why not the Shockers? MVFC presidents must vote on accepting WSU, should the Shockers apply for membership. Seems like a no-brainer, but who knows how Youngstown State feels?

What the MVFC says: The conference last expanded in 2010 when it added South Dakota to get to 10 members. Commissioner Patty Viverito said in an email she did not know if members are interested in expansion.

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