Wichita State has outgrown the Missouri Valley Conference, a conference of which they have been a member since 1945. We’ve seen other programs move up in class as the basketball improves. UNLV moving up from the Big West, Virginia Commonwealth moving to Atlantic-10, and several of the programs now in the Big East (Butler, Creighton) come to mind.
In the wake of the latest Selection Committee snub, where Wichita State (ranked in the top 20) wound up as a 10 seed because they don’t play many big games and have an opportunity for top wins after December, it’s time to seriously consider moving to the American Conference. We don’t know if the Committee would have kept the Shockers out of the tournament entirely had they lost the MVC Final to Illinois State but, at minimum, they would have been playing in Dayton again.
Earlier this month, there was a report that American Conference presidents were discussing Wichita State as a basketball member. It’s seems like a natural and logical fit if the Shockers are ready to move, and it might be something they need to do long-term.
Geographically, the Missouri Valley isn’t that great a fit anymore. Eight of the 10 members are located in Illinois, Iowa, and Indiana. The only school within 400 miles of Wichita is Missouri State in Springfield. It’s not like they’d be leaving a bunch of one-hour road trips for a much bigger travel budget.
The American has several teams that are at least as good a geographic fit, particularly if it adopts an East/West format. Tulsa (who used to be in the Missouri Valley) would be a natural geographic rival, and would be the closest opponent. Games against SMU (Dallas), Houston, Memphis, and Tulane (New Orleans) would be better destinations — and not further on average — than travel for the Shockers in the current MVC. The difference would be going to those cities rather than Peoria, Carbondale, or Cedar Falls.
The impact both financially and in terms of tournament seeding would be significant. The American Conference basketball television deal is up after the 2019-2020 season, and Wichita State could be part of the next package, getting more television revenue and exposure.
Meanwhile, one of the biggest issues for Wichita State is repeatedly getting seeded down for a lack of top wins. The Shockers are a college basketball power, garnered a No. 1 seed the year they went undefeated, have reached a Final Four, and have advanced to the second round or further for five straight years. In most cases, though, they have not been seeded like one.
Yes, Wichita State won’t be as dominant in-conference in the American, but that barely matters to the Selection Committee. The Shockers may not have been in as an at-large this year despite 30-plus wins. If they had played SMU and Cincinnati twice, and then had an opportunity to play them again in the conference tourney, they would have had more Top 50 win opportunities.
The Selection Committee is biased in seeding in favor of Top 50 wins. Being in a conference where multiple programs could get there in a given year, with programs used to appearing in March would help. Meanwhile, adding a team like Wichita State (and maybe Dayton and VCU) would put the American as the clear 7th-best conference in college basketball, with a chance to move past the Big 6 in a given year.
Gregg Marshall has so far spurned any advances from schools in bigger conferences. The best chance to retain him, and continue the momentum as a national program, though, is to move on. Wichita State has outgrown the Valley.