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The impact of a potential Wichita State move to the American Athletic Conference

The realignment fires are always burning.

NCAA Basketball: Wichita State at Colorado State
Will Landry Shamet play his senior year in the American?
Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports

The American is potentially targeting Wichita State as a non-football addition, according to FanRag’s Jon Rothstein.

He reports that the idea was floated at the league’s latest meetings. He also writes that while the financial benefit may be minimal, the basketball benefit would be undeniable.

“Adding the Wichita State brand to a league that already has UConn, Cincinnati, Temple, Memphis, Houston and SMU would make that a four-to-five bid conference,” one coach told FanRag Sports. “It’s a no-brainer for the American.”

Should it happen, Rothstein writes that one source told him the Shockers wouldn’t enter the league until the 2018-19 season.

Conference realignment is a frenzy, so we might as well start speculating and get ahead of this. Here are several thoughts on the news.

The fickle Big 12

The threat of the Big 12 plucking Cincinnati, Houston, UConn, Memphis, or anyone else always looms. The conference didn’t expand this offseason, but that doesn’t mean the same pitches won’t happen again in 2017. Adding a program like WSU would help a proactive American not bottom out basketball-wise if there’s movement in the future, especially from the Huskies or Bearcats.

If non-football additions are on the table, what other schools could be in play? Would the more lucrative TV deal of the American be enough to lure a Dayton or VCU, should the AAC want to go that route?

The elephant in the room

We know that WSU is considering bringing back football, which it dropped in 1986. The university released a study in June which focused on the “steps necessary to start a football program” at both the FBS and FCS levels. Should WSU join the American in basketball, it would need to leave any hypothetical football program behind, at least for a minute. The Shockers could begin playing FCS football immediately, but would need a two-year “reclassification period” before playing in an FBS conference.

Is WSU’s end-game to crack the door open on FBS ambitions with its basketball team? Would the American want to potentially dilute its football product with an infant program? Would this create tension between WSU’s basketball and football goals? These are questions that need to be answered.

Boom times for Shocker basketball

This would be an unquestionably great move for WSU. For one (and you probably don’t need to go any further), the American represents greener financial pastures. The conference inked a seven-year, $126 million TV deal with ESPN in 2014. It’s unclear what football-less WSU’s cut would be, but it would certainly be an increase over what they’re currently getting in the MVC. Here’s the Wichita Eagle on the MVC’s own TV deal that was signed in 2015.

While the financial gain is unknown, and certainly not comparable to ESPN’s contracts with football-driven conferences, the Valley hopes to benefit in recruiting and connection with fans.

TV deals wouldn’t be only the monetary benefit. The following is from a New Orleans Times-Picayune article discussing Tulane’s move to the American in 2014.

The Green Wave will receive new types of income for joining the league—like payouts from the NCAA basketball fund, which distributes money to leagues for its members' wins in all but the championship game in the NCAA women's and men's basketball tournaments. With Connecticut making duel deep runs in the NCAA Tournament this spring and the fund distributing money for wins over a six-year rolling period, Tulane stands to receive a good amount of pocket change. Each unit – or win by an AAC team -- was worth $250,106 this year, up 1.9% from the previous season.

The American is simply a bigger stage, with bigger financial returns. It’s also a big step up in basketball. The MVC has waffled between a one-bid and two-bid league in recent years, whereas the American has a handful of traditionally successful programs. No longer would WSU need to rely on two (or three) games with UNI to make national waves from January to early March. This is to take nothing away from the MVC, which has good basketball enthusiasm. The American is just a horse of a different color.

Can the Shockers keep up the pace?

It wouldn’t seem WSU would slip — at least not much -- playing in the American. The Shockers wouldn’t be running roughshod through conference play anymore, but Gregg Marshall’s program has more than held its own against strong competition in recent years. Since 2014-15, WSU has wins against Oklahoma, LSU, Arizona, Vanderbilt, Utah, Seton Hall, Alabama, Memphis, Tennessee, Indiana and Kansas.

Besides Oklahoma and LSU, all of these came during the Ron Baker/Fred VanVleet heyday. So the devil’s advocate would say that Marshall needs to prove he can maintain that standard with a new group. Still, the incredible resources he has at his disposal shouldn’t be overlooked.

Who replaces the Shockers?

Losing WSU would be crushing to MVC basketball, especially just several years after Creighton’s departure. The Shockers went through a period of mediocrity between the Eddie Fogler and Mark Turgeon eras, but are clearly the league’s jewel program — Marshall or no Marshall. So who gets the nod to replace them?

Horizon and Summit League teams make the most sense geographically, and the MVC did pluck Loyola Chicago from the Horizon League after Creighton left. Football wouldn’t (likely) be required, roping in more candidates. Here are several very quickly thrown together options:

  • Valparaiso. The Crusaders’ profile is in line with Bradley, Drake and Evansville: private universities with smaller enrollments. They’d make perfect geographical sense, being the third Indiana school in a slow shift eastward. And they make mutual basketball sense. The MVC adds a consistent program while Valpo (theoretically) joins a better league.
  • North Dakota State. The Bison football team already calls the MVC home. The league would expand its footprint into new, albeit sparsely-populated, territory. NDSU basketball has been solid in recent years, with five postseason trips since 2008-09, including a win over Oklahoma in the 2013-14 NCAA tournament.
  • South Dakota State. The Jackrabbits essentially have the same bright points as NDSU, who also play football in the MVC. Their basketball team has been to either the NCAA, NIT or CBI every year since 2011-12.
  • South Dakota. The Coyotes are yet another school that plays football in the MVC. They don’t have recent basketball success like NDSU or SDSU, with only one postseason appearance (2009-10 CBI) since going Div. I in 2008-09. Yet they’re a good reminder that conference realignment has a political side. Would the South Dakota legislature let one school go while the other doesn’t? Whether relevant or not, USD’s endowment is considerably larger than SDSU’s.
  • Oakland/Denver/Detroit. These schools seem far-fetched, but the last time the MVC had to replace a school it picked Loyola Chicago. Rambler basketball hasn’t been nationally relevant since the mid-80’s, but they’re in a big city with a lot of eyeballs and wallets. Would they go down that path again?