It would appear that Wichita State’s chances of joining the Mountain West in some format are hindered as much by its history as by the fact that it doesn’t have football.
Yes, football is the most visible and obvious issue. When asked about the likelihood of the Mountain West bringing the Shockers into the league, commissioner Craig Thompson said it was unlikely and that having a football program is “important.”
“I don’t imagine the highest candidacy being a program that doesn’t play football,” Thompson said at Mountain West Media Days.
Wichita State hasn’t played football since 1986, though it did recently launch a feasibility study to consider bringing it back.
The Colorado Springs-based Mountain West has 12 football-playing institutions and 11 in other sports, including basketball, because Hawaii is a member only in football. Because Wichita State has expressed interest in joining the conference according to a report from CBS Sports, and because of its geographic proximity to the Front Range, and because of its recent run of basketball success (five straight NCAA Tournament appearances and a Final Four in 2013), it would seem logical to bring the Shockers aboard to give an even 12 teams and split basketball into divisions like the league does in football. The MW could consider adding Wichita State as an affiliate member the way Colorado College is in women’s soccer, therefore not cutting into the football money distribution.
The addition of the Shockers would instantly boost the Mountain West's status in basketball. Surely there would be a way to monetize basketball matchups like Wichita State vs. New Mexico, San Diego State or UNLV (among others), right?
Thompson didn’t disagree with that point, but there’s a bigger picture to consider when evaluating basketball revenue. NCAA Tournament payouts are given to conferences on six-year cycles, which helped the Mountain West cash in on runs by BYU and Utah after they had left.
Bringing Wichita State aboard would mean any success in the next few years would still benefit the Missouri Valley Conference.
Saying he wasn’t necessarily talking about Wichita State, Thompson said looking beyond those next few years would be a consideration the Mountain West would have to make when evaluating the potential of adding a new member, particularly a school without football.
“You look at the history of a program,” Thompson said. “Had they been that consistent for 75 years of five years? A coach is hot, he’s phenomenal, he’s on everyone’s list. Is he going to be there? Or is he going to be gone in two years. Those are all issues.”
It’s an interesting point to consider, particularly since Wichita State made just one tournament appearance between 1988 and 2012 and won the Missouri Valley regular-season title just once between 1983 and 2012.
The discussion illustrates the importance of football money. If a program had enjoyed a run like the Shockers are on under coach Gregg Marshall in football, they would be at the top of Big 12 expansion lists right now. Because it’s in basketball, the demand seems minimal.