In the last few weeks, rumors have swirled about mid-major powerhouse Wichita State leaving the Missouri Valley Conference and joining the American Athletic Conference as a basketball-only member. As speculation ramps up, Sports Editor Dan Madigan and Associate Sports Editor Tyler Keating debate whether the Shockers would be a quality addition to the American.
Keating: On the surface, Wichita State appears to be a very good men’s basketball program, and therefore a quality addition to an American that has had a difficult time making noise nationally since UConn won it all in 2014. The Shockers have been to six consecutive NCAA tournaments, with a Final Four run in 2013.
But this may not be the case of a strong program, but the case of a strong coach. Head coach Gregg Marshall has led Wichita State to considerable relevance over his 10-year tenure, but before he made his first appearance in the tournament with the Shockers in 2012, the program had only been there once (2006) since the year 1988. It begs the question: what if Marshall leaves to take a job at a bigger program? The American may be left holding the bag: a merely adequate mid-major men’s basketball program worsening the conference’s existing problem of geographical over-extension.
Madigan: Marshall is without a doubt the only reason Wichita State basketball is relevant nationally. His ability to build the program into a perennial NCAA tournament team speaks to all-around talent as a head coach. This has been more evident than ever recently, as Marshall’s Shockers have finished the season in the top 20 of KenPom ratings for every season since 2012. This type of success hasn’t been seen by any team in the American since its inception in 2011 (not even UConn), and would surely add another team to a respectable top-half of the conference.
Normally, talented coaches leave smaller schools after a few seasons for a job that has more prestige, money or both. While Wichita State is far from a blue-blood, they are more flush with cash than your average mid-major due to the Charles and David Koch. The Koch brothers, who co-own Koch Industries and are currently tied as the eighth-richest people in the world, love Shockers basketball. When Marshall nearly left in the spring of 2015, Charles Koch led a group of boosters to pony up and increase Marshall’s salary from $1.85 million to over $3 million. While Wichita State is not a Power-5 school, donors like the Koch bothers have enough money to pay Marshall like one. That alone might be enough to keep him around for years to come or entice a new coach if Marshall leaves.
Keating: Should Wichita State join the American, it is imperative that the school (and the Koch brothers’ wallets) do all they can to keep Marshall around. They can match high salaries, sure, but the allure of accomplishing great things at a more established school may be calling. That’s something Wichita State simply can’t match, and after Marshall’s program was shafted again by the NCAA tournament selection committee (receiving a 10-seed), he may feel that he simply has a greater chance to advance deep into tournament in a more well-regarded conference. After seeing SMU and Cincinnati notch 6-seeds this season, that conference certainly won’t be the American.
And even if Wichita State remains a quality program after joining the American, they don’t provide the conference with anything new for the all-important, revenue-gobbling sport of football. To say the Shockers don’t have a football program isn’t a joke — they actually don’t have a football program. The program was discontinued in 1986. So here’s another school situated in a small television market, whose men’s basketball program is a distant, distant second to its state’s flagship university, and the American would be adding them into the mix without a complementary football program even existing as a possibility? It just doesn’t seem like a good idea.
Madigan: While the money is in football, the Shockers not having a football team would allow the American to keep football membership total at 12 and bring their basketball membership to a dozen as well. When the conference’s TV deal set to expire in 2019-20, the conference could be set to bring in some extra cash simply from having another Top-25 team in its conference for basketball. For a conference that really lacks in payouts to its members, every penny counts.
Lastly, adding the Shockers is simply the quickest way to boost the conference’s men’s basketball profile and keep bigger, basketball centric schools like UConn, Cincinnati and Memphis somewhat happy. It adds at least one more quality opponent every American team’s schedule and could help get the conference to three or maybe even four bids in the NCAA tournament. Is Wichita State the most logical solution to bringing more basketball credibility to the American? Probably not. But it’s the quickest, and for a conference constantly trying to stay afloat and puff its chest as a Power Six conference, the fastest fix might be the best in order to keep the larger American schools pleased.