Bob Lutz

All American: A Shocker move worthy of a party

Wichita State center Shaquille Morris cuts a piece of net after the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament championship game in St. Louis last month.
Wichita State center Shaquille Morris cuts a piece of net after the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament championship game in St. Louis last month. The Wichita Eagle

Congratulations to Wichita State for looking past the sentiment and the memories and doing what is right.

The Shockers are headed to the American Athletic Conference and while there are many unknowns, there is this fact: It’s time.

Wichita State has grown out of the Missouri Valley Conference just like your first-grader has grown out of the pants you bought him in August. That’s no knock on the Valley, it’s a testament to the success of WSU athletics and in particular its men’s basketball program.

Shocker basketball is a money maker, but any dividends it was creating in the Valley were being split in too many directions. Wichita State has been to six consecutive NCAA Tournaments while the rest of the MVC, outside of an occasional rise from Northern Iowa or Illinois State, has wallowed.

This is the right move at the right time.

Don’t interpret that as saying this move to the AAC is risk-free. It’s not.

The membership of the AAC is bubbling beneath the surface. Some of its most basketball-friendly schools — Connecticut, Cincinnati, Memphis, Houston — would love to be elsewhere. The commissioner of the conference, Mike Aresco has his hands full with a bunch of schools who feel like they haven’t been invited to the prom.

UConn would much prefer being in the ACC or Big Ten. Cincinnati and Houston thought they were headed to the Big 12 a year ago, until the Big 12 decided to stay with 10 teams, an affront to mathematicians everywhere. Memphis is only in the AAC because it’s stuck in the AAC.

The addition of Wichita State, though, could calm the waters. At least temporarily while Aresco goes about building solidarity.

First and foremost, the AAC is about football. And Wichita State has no football.

So, in some ways, the Shockers will enter their new conference as an afterthought while Navy continues to provide the AAC with its 12th football-playing member.

It’s up to Wichita State, then, to flex its basketball muscle and to also do well in the Olympic sports that will also be moving. Shocker volleyball, women’s basketball, track and field, golf, tennis, cross country and softball will face new, exciting challenges. And more travel.

But isn’t an hour more on a plane worth it when you know that plane will be landing in Orlando and not Cedar Falls?

The Valley was a good home for the Shockers for decades. But while Wichita State has upped its athletic department ante over the past 15 years, the Valley has gone the other way. Financial issues plague many colleges now, but they’re stark for many of the schools in the MVC, forcing them to cut athletic budgets and pay coaches as little as they can possibly pay them.

WSU, meanwhile, pays basketball coach Gregg Marshall like he’s going out of style. When the Shockers pack their vans and head to the AAC, it’ll be Marshall in the lead van, waving black and yellow.

There are AAC schools in Philadelphia, Memphis, Cincinnati, Orlando, Tampa, New Orleans, Dallas and Houston, some of the country’s biggest and most vital markets. And WSU can resurrect its rivalry with Tulsa.

The 12 AAC presidents unanimously voted for Wichita State to come on board. In a day in which fractures are common and bipartisanship rare, that vote says a lot. The AAC loves it some WSU.

Shocker basketball fuels this move. And there will be more pressure than ever for basketball to remain strong. Of course, that’s almost a given as long as Marshall is in charge. But what about the post-Marshall era, which will someday arrive? I know, I know, you’re all hoping he lives and coaches forever.

Wichita State is in position to remain basketball strong as long as the school’s administration makes solid hires and the support of donors remains strong. College basketball is the biggest thing going in Wichita, athletics wise, and there’s no reason now to be haunted by the 1990s, when the Shockers were a Valley bottom dweller and attendance waned.

Even then, though, 6,000 fans showed up for home games.

Sellouts of Koch Arena now are routine. The Shockers are a huge hit, destined to begin the 2017-18 season in the preseason top 10 of thereabouts with every key player returning from a team that won 31 games.

The Shockers are going to hit the AAC running and likely will be the preseason pick to win the conference. Cincinnati and SMU should also be strong, while Central Florida looks to be rising.

This is an exciting day for Wichita State and its fans in all sports. After 72 years, the Shockers are changing conferences. Pop the champagne and drop the confetti. It’s time for a party.