Paul Suellentrop

Wichita State finds a new home without putting on pads

Wichita State guard Fred VanVleet steals the ball from Indiana State guard Devonte Brown during the 2014-15 season.
Wichita State guard Fred VanVleet steals the ball from Indiana State guard Devonte Brown during the 2014-15 season. The Wichita Eagle

This is Fred VanVleet using his magic hands to take the basketball from a slow-witted post player. This is Billy Hall dancing off first base and the crowd chanting “Double, double.”

This is Gregg Marshall convincing Ron Baker to walk on.

This is a steal for Wichita State, a heist, a life-changing deal that even if it goes moderately bad is a great one for the Shockers.

Wichita State is joining the American Athletic Conference under the best possible circumstances; under circumstances that should worry men’s basketball coaches at the 11 other AAC schools.

Under circumstances that should make you wonder if some of those 11 coaches are paying attention.

The Shockers are upgrading their conference schedule, their TV exposure, and their neighborhood.

They’re doing it without football.

The Shockers are sucking up the benefits of association with a better class of basketball schools. Connecticut, Cincinnati, Memphis, SMU, Temple, Houston and old rival Tulsa.

They’re doing it without the burden of trying to compete in football.

They don’t need to worry about paying a defensive coordinator $500,000 or building a $40 million football complex. They don’t worry about selling 40,000 tickets on a snowy November day, Title IX, discipline problems or playing on Tuesday nights to please ESPN.

Wichita State is all about basketball and it stays all about basketball.

The 11 other AAC basketball schools know this and still gifted Wichita State with membership.

A strong conference is good for everyone. Sure, those 11 schools get something out of the deal.

Not as much as Wichita State, however, which outgrew the Missouri Valley Conference and is ready for mates with more resources and ambition.

As we speak, Marshall and his assistant coaches are recruiting under more favorable circumstances than they did for the past 10 seasons. They are no longer burdened with trying to sell their program without mentioning games they play in January and February.

They can tell a recruit and his family about 13 regular-season conference games on ESPN or ESPN2 (four in the MVC), 25 on ESPNU (six in the MVC) and two on CBS (none in the MVC).

They can tell a recruit about playing at UConn, at Cincinnati, at Memphis and about trips to Florida and New Orleans.

The Shockers will take their show to major metro areas such as Dallas, Houston and Philadelphia. Families and AAU coaches want to see their athletes play, and more of those people live in Memphis than in any five MVC cities outside Chicago.

For months, recruits and their people heard the rumors about the American and Wichita State and asked the questions. They’re excited. WSU coaches are excited.

Recruits who loved the coaches, loved the Koch Arena atmosphere and loved the Baker and VanVleet story, but didn’t love Evansville and Drake in January, will hear a new pitch.

It’s not playing North Carolina, Kansas or UCLA, but it’s closer. Wichita State hasn’t told recruiting tales like this one since the 1960s.

The point, if you’re a coach at SMU, Memphis, Tulsa or Houston, is that you recruit against the Shockers and you know what that program is about.

You just gave them a boost. And you might move the conference tournament to Tulsa, just in case Wichita State needed more incentive.

The Shockers won’t run this new conference. This is a fair fight against schools in bigger cities, better basketball tradition and equal or better resources.

There will be tough adjustments, bad breaks and disappointments ahead. That happens in most conferences. Over the long haul, the Shockers should profit in basketball from their single-minded focus on that sport and their decision not to pursue money- and time-sucking football.

Wichita State made this move on the strength of basketball, thought to be impossible in these days of football dominance. Football moves schools, ruins rivalries, pays bills and draws eyeballs to the TV, tablet and smart phone.

Basketball is nice, not necessary.

The power of Wichita State basketball changed that script in a way that might be unprecedented in modern college athletics.

The Big East prioritized basketball and added basketball schools. Schools such as VCU, Richmond and Davidson moved from long-time homes because of basketball. They joined basketball conferences.

The American is a football conference with schools that played in the Orange and Sugar bowls in recent seasons.

The American doesn’t need help with football. It wants help with basketball and it chose Wichita State.

It chose Wichita State because Wichita State is all about basketball. Wichita State stays all about basketball and it’s OK to wonder if the American knows what it did. 

Paul Suellentrop: 316-269-6760, @paulsuellentrop 

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