Amid reports of Wichita State University planning to leave the Missouri Valley Conference (MVC) to join a conference with a bigger national spotlight, Loyola Athletic Director Steve Watson thinks that move will be a mistake for the Shockers and the MVC.
Wichita State lost just one MVC game last season, yet was only a No. 10 seed in the NCAA tournament.
Across college basketball, people thought Wichita State had been snubbed with an unfair seed in the tournament. That belief also came from Watson, who said the entire conference felt disrespected by the ranking, especially after the Shockers were ranked the No. 8 best team in the country in the KenPom rankings — a prominent national ranking determined using key statistical calculations.
After the Shockers were eliminated by No. 2 seed University of Kentucky in the second round of the NCAA tournament, speculation started about Wichita State ditching the MVC for what it likely considered the more highly respected American Athletic Conference (AAC).
On March 31, Pete Thamel of Sports Illustrated reported that Wichita State was in talks with the AAC to join the conference as early as the 2017-18 season.
Representatives from both Wichita State and the MVC denied to comment on the potential move.
An AAC spokesperson said the conference doesn’t comment on internal matters.
While the move hasn’t been confirmed, Watson said he doesn’t want the Shockers to leave because of the high level of competition in the MVC.
“I think the Valley is the best fit for [Wichita State] to be honest with you,” said Watson. “It’s not about what they bring to the Valley; it’s what the Valley brings to them. The Valley is a strong league, and historically we’ve had some really good basketball. It’s known as a basketball conference.”
This season, Wichita State was the only MVC team to receive a bid to the NCAA tournament; but in past years the MVC has been a two- or three-bid conference.
The NCAA tournament provides a majority of the MVC’s revenue. Historically, 70 percent of the conference’s revenue has come from the NCAA basketball pool, according to the 2016 MVC Commissioner’s Report.
The league divides its revenue among its 10 member schools. Each tournament win from a member school earns the conference more money from the NCAA pool. In the 2016 men’s basketball tournament, Wichita State and the University of Northern Iowa combined for three wins. Those wins gave the conference $6.1 million in April 2017, according to the Commissioner’s Report. The report also projected $6.2 million in revenue from the NCAA in 2018 and 2019.
By leaving the MVC, Wichita State will be giving up its share of the revenue for its tournament win against Dayton this year. The Shockers also wouldn’t receive a share of the AAC’s revenue from the University of Cincinnati and Southern Methodist University’s appearance in this year’s tournament.
But the AAC has historically received two or more bids to the NCAA tournament, and Wichita State will receive a share in the future.
Watson said that recently there hasn’t been a lot of parity in the league, with the top teams blowing away the rest of the conference. But based on the history of the league, Watson said that isn’t permanent.
“We’ve had some really strong basketball,” Watson said. “Over the last couple years there’s been a gap between the top two or three teams and the rest of the league, but I think what you’ll find is that is cyclical. That gap is not always going to be there.”
Watson said while teams such as Bradley, Drake and Southern Illinois are at the bottom of the conference right now, they’ve had strong teams in the past and will work their way back up.
The MVC spreads over five states — Kansas, Iowa, Missouri, Illinois and Indiana — all in the midwest. The AAC covers nine states — Texas, Oklahoma, Louisiana, Florida, Tennessee, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Connecticut — a stretch of the country that spans over 1,700 miles. Watson said he thinks the MVC makes much more sense geographically than the AAC.
“[The distance] would be a challenge for them. To travel your basketball with 12-15 guys and coaches is one thing. But when you’re talking about travelling your soccer team, baseball team or softball team … geographically it has a very large footprint,” Watson said. “Not just the cost of that travel but the missed class time and how that impacts the student-athlete experience.”
The AAC has also been reported as a conference teams have been looking to leave. The University of Connecticut, University of Cincinnati and University of Houston have all recently been connected to talks with the Big 12. Watson thinks that’s a reason Wichita State should stay put.
“The Valley is more of a destination conference than a lot of these other leagues. You look at the schools in the American, when the Big 12 was looking at expansion, basically the candidates were the American,” Watson said. “Those schools are dying to get out of the league. Do you want to go somewhere where nobody wants to be?”
Wichita State leaving the MVC would leave a spot open for a 10th member. There are schools in the region that would be “naturals” as the 10th member of the MVC, Watson said. He suggested the University of Illinois at Chicago and Valparaiso University as potential replacements because of their geographical fit in the conference.
Despite the strengths of the AAC, Watson said he thinks the AAC is a young league and the history of the MVC is one of its selling points.