After 72 years in the Missouri Valley Conference (MVC), Wichita State University announced April 7 it will leave the conference for the higher profile American Athletic Conference (AAC) after the AAC board of directors unanimously voted to extend an invitation to the Shockers.
While the Shockers will take all 15 of their teams when they join the AAC July 1, the conference is best known for the strength of its men’s basketball teams — Wichita State will become the 12th member with a men’s basketball program.
For Loyola, the move could be a welcome one.
Loyola’s men’s basketball team didn’t beat the Shockers in the four seasons since it joined the MVC in 2013. Those losses included a near-win against Wichita State in the quarterfinals of the 2016 MVC Championship.
Last season the Ramblers were swept by the Shockers, losing both games by double digits.
Wichita leaves the MVC as the only team Loyola failed to beat in men’s basketball. The Shockers’ departure could make the Ramblers’ road to a conference championship — and first NCAA national tournament appearance since 1985 — a little easier.
The move leaves a hole at the top of the conference. MVC teams will be looking to replace the Shockers in that spot, and Loyola will be part of that fight. The Ramblers will have three starters and the MVC sixth man of the year returning for next season.
Wichita has won four of its 11 MVC regular season championship titles since 2014. Most recently, the Wichita State men’s basketball team finished the 2016-17 season as co-champion with Illinois State University.
Wichita, which has developed a nationally ranked basketball program over the past five years, has earned a bid to the NCAA tournament every year since 2012.
The Shockers are four-time MVC men’s basketball tournament champions, winning the title in 2014 and 2017. They also made two Final Four appearances during their time in the MVC, in 1965 and 2013.
While Wichita state has dominated the MVC in recent years, the move comes in the wake of the program’s stunningly low 10 seed in the NCAA tournament. The Shockers lost only one conference game all season, yet didn’t get enough national respect to earn a seed that matched its record.
“It became clear to us that The American offered the best combination of universities that share our academic and cultural values and research focus,” Wichita State president John Bardo said in a statement on the school’s athletics website.
The AAC is perceived as a stronger conference than the MVC, creating the potential for more national attention for the Shockers. The AAC usually receives two or more bids to the NCAA men’s basketball tournament, including four in 2016 and two in 2017. The conference includes perennial tournament teams such as the University of Cincinnati and the University of Connecticut, which is a four-time national champion.
AAC Commissioner Mike Aresco said he’s pleased with the addiiton.
“This is a university with a strong athletic and academic heritage which shares our conference’s commitment to excellence, and we look forward to having them as a member,” Aresco said in an official statement.
While the Shockers have beaten up on MVC teams in recent years, members of the MVC said they didn’t want Wichita State to leave the conference. Watson said Wichita has a give-and-take relationship with the MVC — the conference brings as much to the Shockers as they bring to the MVC.
“I was just talking to our volleyball coach…he told me ‘we don’t want Wichita State to go, that’s a really good program,’ but you can say that about all their teams,” Watson said. “It [will] be really hard to replace a school like Wichita State and maintain that same level of competitiveness.”
Watson wasn’t the only MVC athletic director to come out against the move. Missouri State Athletic Director Kyle Moats told Ozarksportszone.com that losing Wichita State would be “a hit for the conference.”
One possible outcome of Wichita State leaving the MVC could be the impact it has on recruiting. Potential recruits might be less likely to go to an MVC school because they won’t have the opportunity to play against a powerhouse like the Shockers. Loyola Athletic Director Steve Watson said the Ramblers have never used the chance to play against Wichita State as a recruiting tool, so the school’s departure won’t change how Loyola recruits.
“I wouldn’t say we necessarily recruit to an individual school as we do to the conference as a whole,” said Watson. “It’s all cyclical…three years from now it might be Bradley [at the top.] So we recruit to the conference.”
The Shockers have been in the MVC longer than all but one school, Drake University, which has played in the conference since 1907.