Over the last decade, college sports have come to embrace a peculiar principle: change. While we’re seeing a trend of student athletes switching schools midway through their college careers, we’re also beginning to see a similar trend in schools switching to different conferences. This year alone, 30 NCAA Division 1 Athletic programs have gone through conference realignment for one reason or another. Since 2010, 100 Division 1 Basketball programs have merged conferences, or in the case of the American Athletic Conference which started in 2013, have joined a completely new league. The number of programs that have moved conferences over the past couple decades are astonishing; you can see the full list here.
Conference realignment isn’t necessarily a new trend. Teams have been moving out of old conferences and forming new conferences since the 1920s. Some survive, and others don’t. But over the past decade, you can see a definitive movement away from settling down. For the most part, schools and conferences are looking for better TV deals and better competition. Though we’d like to think the latter is usually the case, money tends to drive schools to switch leagues. Back in 2012 when the Big East Conference split between FBS schools and non-FBS schools, the “Catholic 7” wanted a better television deal than the one they’d get with the football schools. Maryland and Rutgers left for the Big Ten Conference back in 2014 in order to bring the Big Ten Network out to the east coast and expand television subscriptions.
Conference realignment in the Atlantic 10 has seemingly become a routine since the conference was founded in 1976. 21 schools are now former members of the A-10 including 11 football-only schools. The league has had an inconsistent pattern of schools coming and going. Temple was a long time member before departing for the AAC in 2013. Butler stopped by for a year before moving to the Big East. Penn State even joined and left twice since the league was founded. Davidson was the most recent team to join the league back in 2014. It’s all about reaching the biggest audience, getting the best TV deals, and as always, making the most money. There are already dozens of programs announcing future changes, and dozen more will follow suit in years to come.
So, in the spirit of conference realignment, I thought I’d go ahead and scout out a school that would be a great addition to the Atlantic 10 Conference. One of our writers, Mat Shelton-Eide, actually did a cool article a couple months ago about a possible conference expansion idea, featuring two leagues within the conference that compete against one another. As Mat notes, most of the Power 5 conferences revolve around football, so if the A-10 wants to stay relevant in the world of college sports, it needs to have successful basketball schools that consistently make the tournament. So what if the A-10 were to look for a new school to add to the conference? Here’s why Wichita State would be the perfect fit.
The Wichita State Shockers have found loads of success ever since the 2009-2010 season, two years after Gregg Marshall replaced Mark Turgeon as head coach. The Shockers went 25-10, a huge step up from their 17-17 mark the season before. From there on, the Shockers would improve each season until they were a household name in the college basketball world. Going 29-8 and winning the 2011 NIT Tournament, the Shockers were on their way to doing something special. 2012 featured a trip to the NCAA Tournament and a first round loss to VCU (in their last year in the CAA). 2013 was where the magic happened. The Shockers made a miracle run to the Final Four as a 9 seed. Seniors Malcolm Armstead and Carl Hall led the way while freshmen stars Ron Baker and Fred VanVleet were born. 2014 featured an undefeated season and a close second round loss to the eventual runner-up Kentucky Wildcats. 2015 and 2016 have been anything but letdowns as well; the Shockers have made the NCAA Tournament both times and won 4 games in the process.
Like VCU and Dayton, Wichita State has asserted itself as a dominant mid-major program. The Shockers have been in the NCAA Tournament 5 straight seasons, and even though they lose Fred VanVleet and Ron Baker for next year, they’ll look to be back in the Big Dance yet again. VCU has been in the tourney for 6 straight years; Dayton has made the Big Dance the last 3. The Flyers have been long-time participants in the A-10, but VCU moved over after their run to the Final Four. It’s interesting that a program that’s had as much success as Wichita State hasn’t moved to a new conference yet.
Creighton, a team that’s had a lot of success in the Missouri Valley Conference along with the Shockers, made a move to the Big East in 2013 during the Doug McDermott tenure. It was earlier in that year that we saw the Shockers shock the world and make a run all the way to the Final Four. Though the Shockers stayed put, it seems that now more than ever, they’re ready to make the next step and move to a bigger conference. But is it too little too late?
Sources are reporting that Wichita State is actually looking for a new home, so this may not just be speculation. The Mountain West is an option for the Shockers, but commissioner Thompson noted that there are no intentions to expand the conference at this time. Besides, the lack of a football program would make the Shockers an odd ball in a league that isn’t dominantly basketball oriented. What about the American Athletic Association? Commissioner Mike Aresco says his league is happy with the way it is, and they would not like to add any more teams. The Big East is also not considering a conference expansion at this time, and the Conference USA requires its schools to be an FBS member.
All roads lead to the Atlantic 10. Commissioner Bernadette V. McGlade released this statement regarding the addition of another school to the Atlantic 10 conference:
“However, if there is a compelling reason to realign our A-10 membership to protect or enhance the conference, the Presidents’ Council have stated a commitment to engage in that analysis and/or decision.”
I’ll give you a compelling reason. The addition of Wichita State would mean the addition of a school that would make the NCAA Tournament on a yearly basis. Though the Atlantic 10 is beginning to assert itself as one of the more dominant mid-major leagues in college basketball, it’s a long way from being a consistent 4-5 bid league. Part of the issue is that the A-10 tends to almost cannibalize itself when it comes to getting NCAA Tournament bids. Rather than a few teams beating up on the rest of the league, there tends to be a strong presence in the middle, and those extra couple teams just don’t quite have a good enough resume to make the Big Dance.
If the Atlantic 10 added Wichita State, it would add a top-tier team that would likely separate itself from the pack. Now, if you’re a fan of a team like Richmond or George Washington, you may not like this idea, but hear me out. Wichita State has a solid reputation as a collegiate program; if the Shockers have a decently good season, they’re more likely to make the NCAA Tournament than a team like St. Bonaventure that hasn’t established that continuity. Arguably, the Bonnies had a better resume for the Big Dance than the Shockers last season, but Wichita State snuck in regardless. But if you have a team that’s more than likely a lock for the NCAA Tournament, you’re allowing other teams in the league a chance to separate themselves from the pack by facing another difficult opponent. Instead of facing a middle-of-the-pack team twice, a borderline tournament team gets an RPI-building game against a team like Wichita State. Adding the Shockers to the A-10 not only gives the league a consistent bid to the Big Dance, but it increases the chances of another team separating itself from the unfortunate league-cannibalism trend by increasing strength of schedule.
Wichita State also boasts consistently strong non-conference schedules which could encourage the league to do the same. The A-10 is actually starting to trend towards tougher out-of-conference opponents, but adding WSU could further this tendency. The Bonnies had one of the worst non-conference schedules last season, and even though they went 14-4 in the A-10 and clinched a share of the regular season title, they got snubbed. But now they’re adding more Power 5 opponents like Florida this year, giving them a better chance of getting good resume-building wins as well as a strong strength of schedule.
That brings me to my next point. The conference would gain tons of respect (at least we hope) if Wichita State joined up. Seeing St. Bonaventure get snubbed by the Selection Committee was tough for the conference, and seeing Power 5 schools with weaker resumes make the field frustrated fans from all 14 teams in the league. But if a team like Wichita State (which has had an undefeated season, mind you) joined the A-10, the league would instantly elevate in terms of overall talent. Having the Shockers around would be like having a giant trophy; showing off to the rest of the nation that the A-10 boasts an impressive school that’s beginning to have consistent success in the world of college basketball.
Wichita State would have a lot to gain as well from joining the A-10. Tougher competition in teams like VCU, Dayton, and Rhode Island provides the Shockers with a chance to boost conference strength of schedule. Other than Northern Iowa, Wichita State doesn’t currently have a lot of competition in the Missouri Valley Conference, though they were unable to get the automatic bid this past season. Regardless, tougher competition in the Atlantic 10 would provide Gregg Marshall’s team a chance to emerge as a mid-major powerhouse in a competitive league. No disrespect to the Shockers, but when they went undefeated in the 2013-14 season, they didn’t get as much love as they could’ve because of a relatively easy conference schedule.
Wichita State would also benefit greatly from more TV time due to better conference matchups. It’s no secret that president John Bardo would love to see a boost in the school’s popularity as a result of a conference change. Joining a more dominant league would result in an overall better reputation for the school in both athletics and in general. And before you tell me that Wichita isn’t on the east coast, neither are Saint Louis or Dayton, so that’s not much of an excuse anymore.
Wichita St. is interested in switching conferences, and if the Shockers want to remain solely focused on their basketball program, the Atlantic 10 would be the perfect destination. There has been rumors that the school would like to revitalize its football program, hence its interest in the Mountain West. But given the fact that the MWC is not interested in adding Wichita State, it’d make more sense for the school to remain the way it is. Not to mention the fact that the A-10 is the only league that would actually seem open to the opportunity if it presented itself. Could we see a 15 team league in the near future? Possibly. If Wichita St. joined the A-10, it would be greatly beneficial for both sides, so hear me out WSU and the A-10 Conference, make this happen!