Wichita State accepted an invitation Friday to join the American Athletic Conference, ending a relationship with the Missouri Valley Conference that dated 72 years.
The presidents of the AAC’s 12 member schools voted unanimously to admit the school in all sports but football. The school, which has been a member of the MVC since 1945, does not have a football program but it is a powerhouse in men’s basketball. Wichita State has been to six straight NCAA Tournaments and reached the Final Four in 2013.
It will officially join the AAC on July 1.
“Here we go!,” the school tweeted in announcing its decision
The AAC currently has 12 members for football: UCF, Cincinnati, UConn, East Carolina, Houston, Memphis, Navy, SMU, South Florida, Temple, Tulane and Tulsa. Navy is a football-only school, so the Shockers would give the conference 12 members in both football and basketball.
“The addition of Wichita State in basketball and Olympic sports extends our conference’s national footprint, enhances our national profile and strengthens our position as a leader in intercollegiate athletics,” said Mike Aresco, the conference’s commissioner.
Aresco acknowledged that the addition will strengthen the conference’s upcoming negotiations for a new national TV deal. Its current contracts with ESPN run out after the 2019 football season and 2019-20 basketball campaigns.
The move could also help both the conference and the Shockers when it comes to seeding in basketball for the NCAA Tournament. Wichita State received just a 10 seed in this year’s tournament, despite a 30-4 record – the fourth time in five years the Shockers have had at least 30 wins. They ended up losing in the second round to Kentucky, 65-62, in one of the tournament’s best games.
The AAC, meanwhile, got just two bids into the tournament. Both conference champion SMU and Cincinnati were seeded sixth in their regionals. SMU lost in the first round. Cincinnati in the second.
Our players “want to play the best,” Shockers basketball coach Gregg Marshall said. “They want to compete against the best, because they ultimately want to be the best. So this will be a welcome change for us.”
Wichita State President John Bardo said joining the conference will not only improve the school’s athletic standing, it also will allow it to improve academics by making new connections with other top research universities.
“We are competing for championships and at the end of the day, we are a rising national university,” he said.
Bardo said the decision also puts any thoughts of the school returning to football, which it stopped playing in 1986, on a back burner.
“This is as big a deal as we could possibly have had, and now is the time to focus on it,” he said.
The Missouri Valley Conference said the departure represents another stage in the evolution of the league. Creighton left the league for the Big East in 2013.
“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 league said in a statement. Because it did not give the required two-year notice for leaving the MVC, Wichita State will have to forfeit its share this year’s conference revenue distribution.
Aresco said having 12 members in all sports will make scheduling easier for the AAC, bit added there are no plans to divide the league into two basketball divisions.
He said a 12-team league also makes future expansion easier. But the league, he said, does not want to get into a situation where it has multiple schools that do not participate in one of its major sports, noting that was a reason for the troubles that broke up the old Big East.
He said the AAC is not currently in negotiations with any other school.
“We’re done for now,” he said.
Local journalism is essential.
The journalists of The Spokesman-Review are a part of the community. They live here. They work here. They care. You can help keep local journalism strong right now with your contribution. Thank you.
Subscribe to the sports newsletter
Get the day’s top sports headlines and breaking news delivered to your inbox by subscribing here.