Wichita State and its juggernaut men’s basketball program will be joining the American Athletic Conference for the 2017-18 season, according to a source with direct knowledge of the situation. The American Athletic Conference Board of Directors held a 10:30 a.m. conference call on Friday morning and unanimously voted in the Shockers. A formal announcement is expected Friday.
Wichita State’s departure from the Missouri Valley Conference ends an affiliation that stretches back to 1945. For the past month, the Shockers’ move to the AAC lurched toward inevitability. The last unknown was resolved this week, when Wichita State found out it would be admitted for the 2017-18 season. That led to the AAC presidents approving the expected on Friday, a step viewed as a formality with the details having already been settled.
The Shockers are upgrading leagues in part because of the chilly reception they’ve received from the NCAA tournament selection committee. The committee gave Wichita State only a No. 10 seed after it posted a 30-4 record in the 2016-17 regular season. That seed, universally regarded as the committee’s worst in this tournament, came in part because of a schedule softened by playing Valley teams with low RPIs. (Wichita State also got seeded No. 11 in the 2016 tournament and got sent to the First Four in Dayton before stomping fellow No. 11 seed Vanderbilt and No. 6 seed Arizona). The AAC ranked seventh in conference RPI this season, compared to 12th for the Valley. By joining a league with consistently stronger teams top to bottom, Wichita State significantly increases its chances of consistently receiving an at-large bid to the NCAAs.
The Shockers will not pay an exorbitant exit fee to depart the MVC. By leaving so quickly and starting AAC play this fall, Wichita State will have to forfeit its share of the annual conference revenue distribution. It also will have to leave its portion of the NCAA tournament unit shares it earned. (Wichita State officials aggressively objected to inserting a significant exit fee after Creighton left the league in 2013, hinting to Valley schools that the Shockers may be eyeing a move).
For the AAC, the move pushes the conference to 12 members in basketball. The plan is for the AAC to continue with an 18-game conference schedule, according to a source. More importantly, it gives the league another marquee team after a season in which the AAC placed just two teams—SMU and Cincinnati—in the tourney. The AAC had four teams make the NCAAs in 2016.
The primary lure for the AAC adding Wichita State is additional basketball prestige. The Shockers have reached six consecutive NCAA tournaments, including the Final Four in 2013. The Shockers also went 34-0 in the 2014 regular season, earning a No. 1 seed before falling to No. 8 seed Kentucky in the second round.
Shockers coach Gregg Marshall is considered one of the country’s elite coaches and makes more than $3 million per season there.
Financially, the league will benefit from the NCAA tournament units the Shockers are expected to bring. Each NCAA tournament game appearance a program makes is worth $1.6 million, which is split among teams in the conference.
The Shockers should deliver value immediately. Sports Illustrated projects Wichita State as a top-10 team for 2017-18. The Shockers return virtually all their key players from a squad that went 31-5 and lost to No. 2 seed Kentucky in the Round of 32 last month. (Former walk-on John Robert Simon was the team’s lone scholarship senior).
The AAC is set for a new television contract in 2020, but Wichita State’s addition won’t dramatically change that deal. Conference contracts are heavily slated toward college football, which means one high-end basketball-only school like Wichita State will provide only a slight impact on the bottom line of the AAC’s new deal.
The Valley has been prepared for weeks for the loss of Wichita State. Prior to the start of the NCAA tournament, Valley Commissioner Doug Elgin told SI that “he wouldn’t be genuine” if he wasn’t concerned about the Shockers’ potential departure. A meeting of Valley officials will commence on Sunday in St. Louis to discuss life after Wichita State. The league sits at nine programs with the loss of the Shockers, and officials are expected to discuss candidates to replace them.