Wichita State set to depart Missouri Valley for American Athletic Conference


Two Missouri Valley Conference Player of the Year candidates, Anthony Beane, left, and Ron Baker stand on the court Saturday during SIU’s loss to Wichita State. (Luke Nozicka | @LukeNozicka)

By Sean Carley

Arguably the prime athletic school in the Missouri Valley Conference is leaving for a new home.

Wichita State will leave the MVC at the end of this academic year to join the American Athletic Conference as a non-football member in 2017-18, as first reported by Pete Thamel of Sports Illustrated.

The AAC board of directors voted unanimously Friday morning to admit the Shockers into the conference.


“It became clear to us that The American offered the best combination of universities that share our academic and cultural values and research focus,” said WSU President John Bardo during the school’s introductory press conference. “The University of Tulsa, Southern Methodist University (in Dallas) and the University of Houston are located in areas of Oklahoma and Texas that make up part of the prime areas where we want to recruit students.

“In addition to those cities, Cincinnati, New Orleans, Orlando, Tampa, Memphis, Philadelphia, Storrs/Hartford, and Greenville, North Carolina, are all cities that our athletes, alumni and fans will enjoy visiting, and we’re looking forward to welcoming them to Wichita,” Bardo said.

MVC officials are holding an emergency meeting on Sunday in St. Louis to discuss WSU’s departure and possible schools to replace the Shockers, who had been in the conference since 1945. Valley commissioner Doug Elgin said in a statement that “the MVC and our campus personnel will not be discussing our plans or our intentions until we have made important decisions and have taken steps to address our current membership issues.”

This will be the second time in five years that the Missouri Valley will be losing a top school to a bigger conference, also driven by the power of its basketball team. In 2013, Creighton left the Valley in the peak of its Doug McDermott-fueled rise to join the Big East after it initially split from the schools that eventually formed the AAC.

“The Missouri Valley Conference has undergone many changes in membership throughout our 110-year history, and the news today of Wichita State University’s departure brings us to another stage in the evolution of our league,” Elgin said in a statement. “The Valley has always been resilient and progressive in the face of these changes, and we have never been defined by a single institution.”

The AAC makes a natural fit for Wichita State, as the conference currently sits at 11 members — Houston, Memphis, Tulsa, Tulane, SMU, Temple, South Florida, Cincinnati, Connecticut, East Carolina, Central Florida as well as football-only Navy — and the addition of the Shockers would round out the conference at 12 members, and ideal number to create conference divisions.

The move makes sense in terms of basketball as well for the school that has made six straight NCAA tournament appearances, including two Sweet 16s and the 2013 Final Four.


Last season, the AAC ranked seventh in CBS Sports’ conference RPI. The MVC ranked 12th, helped immensely by the Shockers’ presence.

Moving to a larger, more respected conference could help Wichita State’s tournament resume each March. A resume-bolstering move would likely be well received by Shocker fans, as the team received a 10 seed in this year’s NCAA tournament after being ranked as the No. 6 team in the country on kenpom.com and No. 20 in the final regular season AP poll.

Wichita State needed votes from nine of the 12 current institutions to be awarded an invitation to join the conference.

According to the MVC Constitution, although there is no exit fee, because the Shockers left the conference with less than 12 months official notice, “the departing institution receives no distributable revenues.”

This means that Wichita State will forfeit its share of NCAA basketball tournament revenues, a majority of which it helped earn. For each game played in the tournament, the team’s respective conference is given one “unit” that lasts six years, holding a value assigned by the NCAA. This year, each unit is valued at approximately $264,859.

The current MVC unit count through the 2017 tournament stands at 24 units, 16 of which were earned by WSU. This means that each of the 10 Valley schools are entitled to — and Wichita is sacrificing — a total of $635,661 before the MVC uses some of this money to cover its expenses.

Wichita State has risen to a national power in some sports, and a conference power in all. In the six sports it holds teams for both men and women — baseball/softball, basketball, cross country, golf, tennis, and track and field — as well as women’s volleyball, the school has collected a total of 51 MVC championships in just the last 10 years.

According to an ESPN article, Wichita State will pay a total of $2.5 million to join the AAC, but will not pay it directly; instead withholding revenues to cover the amount.

As of now, there are no immediate ties to any other school to replace the Shockers in the MVC. In 2013, the Valley needed less than a month to replace Creighton with Loyola-Chicago.

MVC Commissioner Doug Elgin told Sports Illustrated before the NCAA tournament, when the WSU-AAC rumors started flying, that losing the Shockers would be hurt the conference.

“It wouldn’t be a genuine response if I said we weren’t concerned,” Elgin said. “We want them to stay. Losing Creighton was a blow to the league. Losing Wichita State would be the same.”

This story will be updated later.

Sports editor Sean Carley can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter @SeanMCarley.

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