Shockers are committed to the MVC -- but keeping their future league options, um, open
Wichita State in the Missouri Valley Conference just plain makes sense. Geographically. Competitively. Logically. But as the roulette wheel that is conference realignment continues to turn, no team is safe.
Gregg Marshall and the Shockers are 46-8 over their last three Valley campaigns and 88-15 overall since the fall of 2011.
Scott Sewell / USA TODAY Sports
By Sean Keeler
ST. LOUIS -- There is a precedent here, and it's ... well, it's ugly. Before Wichita State, only one other men's hoops team has ever gone 18-0 in the Missouri Valley Conference.
It left the league the next year.
So we posed the question to Shockers athletic director Eric Sexton on Thursday, just before the start of Arch Madness 2014, out of curiosity:
Any calls? Inquiries? Feelers?
"We've not been approached," Sexton told FOXSportsKansasCity.com. "Nor have we approached (any other league).
"But nor do we have our head in the sand. ... We're always looking at, 'Are there other opportunities that are better?'"
To be clear, Sexton added, there aren't. As it stands, right now, the Shockers (31-0, 18-0 MVC) are happy, content and dominant.
The second-ranked Shox (31-0, 18-0 MVC) are 46-8 over their last three Valley runs -- a winning percentage of .852 -- and 88-15 overall since the fall of 2011. The Shockers just completed the first 18-0 mark in league play since (drum roll) Oklahoma, all the way back in 1927-28. That winter of '28 capped a 35-7 three-year run in the MVC for the Sooners, for a winning percentage of .833.
The very next season, the Sooners bolted -- along with Kansas, Kansas State, Nebraska, Missouri and Iowa State, to form the Big Six, the forerunner of the Big Eight and Big 12.
Mr. Sexton? Um, there's a Mr. Bowlsby on line 1.
Just kidding. KIDDING!
"We love the Valley," Sexton said. "At the same time, every institution always has to be looking at what's going on in the conference realignment world.
"But the Valley is a great fit for us. It's great for all our sports programs. But we would not be doing our job ... we would not be doing our due diligence in the best interest of our program not to be paying attention to the conference realignment (discussion)."
The Big 12 isn't calling. As the Shox haven't played football since 1986, none of the other BCS-type big boys will be calling, either.
But what if the Big East -- a basketball-first entity that snatched Creighton from the Valley roughly a year ago at this time -- ever decides to expand its net? What if the dominoes fell in such a way that the Atlantic 10, a peer league that's benefited from the additions of Wichita-esque powers VCU and George Mason, wants to go west? The Big 12 has 10 and the Big Ten will soon have 14. Omaha is east of, um, Denver. The words "Atlantic" and "East" can mean whatever the university presidents -- or television execs -- want them to.
"Of course, I worry about it," said MVC commissioner Doug Elgin, who has proudly weathered few realignment storms compared to his administrative peers. "I worry about more than Wichita State. I worry about any team in our league looking to leave. Because any other institution, every member of our league, is extremely valuable. We've never been defined by a single institution."
Only this year, from a men's basketball perspective, they have. The Shox won the regular-season crown by a whopping six games over a pretty salty Indiana State team (21-9, 12-6 MVC), the largest cushion by a Valley champ since Bradley's six-game edge in 1985-86. The Bluejays were 13-5 in the MVC last winter; they're 13-4 in the new Big East now. Good is good.
"I think this situation is about perspective," Elgin said. "And it's about understanding that commitment to a league is not a one-year move.
"When you look at Creighton and the success they've had, you wonder if it can be sustained. I'm not suggesting that it can't be. But you look at the current state of Butler and George Mason, and both of those teams find themselves at the bottom two of their (respective) conferences.
"So I think the most important thing is that we've always been wide open, and certainly we have been supportive of schools that independently study the landscape and decided whether they're in the right conference or not.
"The important thing to remember about Wichita is they're in the best geographic fit they can have, not only for their men's basketball but for everybody else. I think when you stretch geography, you stretch your resources."
Well, that and credulity. A column in the Daily Hampshire Gazette a few weeks back suggested the A-10, the former home of Butler and Xavier and the current home of Saint Louis and VCU, should give the Shockers a call, geography be damned. The presumption being that the Big East isn't done gobbling up basketball-first name brands, and the No. 17 Billikens could very well be next on the shortlist. We're putting a lot of carts before a lot of horses here, but one thing is clear: Those wheels have already been greased.
"(The Shockers) are in a position where they could be looking at a domination of our league for certainly the next few seasons, if not longer," Elgin said. "I don't know why that is not enough. Particularly since I don't know of a basketball league where they wouldn't be considerably more of an outlier than they are now."
Watch Thursday, Friday and Saturday Arch Madness action on FOX Sports Midwest.
Omaha is 467 miles, by car, from Chicago, home to Creighton's nearest "rival," DePaul. If money is no object, well, neither is geography.
"The league outside of Wichita State and Indiana State was young -- a very young league," Northern Iowa coach Ben Jacobson said. "And it happened to come in a year when one of our teams has consistently been in the top three (nationally). So, naturally, Wichita is the only undefeated team in forever in basketball. (And) it's natural, then, to say, 'OK, well, maybe they're too good for the league.'
"I could see where the question is coming from, but I think our league is going to go (up) again because of the youth of our league. And when you look around in addition to the youth, the quality of the players, I think we've opened up pretty good, and have (improved), with the coaches, with Barry (Hinson) over at Southern Illinois and Ray (Giacoletti) at Drake -- and you can just keep going. So I don't think this league is going anywhere."
The Shockers aren't either, short-term. But that doesn't mean Sexton won't take a call.
"This conference realignment world is an eye test -- and it changes every time the doctor turns the dials," Sexton said. "'Is this better? Or is this better?' But I'll tell you: The MVC is a great conference, (has) great teams, (is) a great league -- unbelievable competition that people don't give near the credit that it should.
"We're not looking for options. I don't know what Doug says about all those things. But at the same time, Wichita State would be remiss if we weren't trying to continue to focus on excellence up and down our sports programs to afford us the best opportunities to be a great partner, for the MVC or if other opportunities were to (present) themselves."
If. If. If.
"Listen," Jacobson said. "This is a great place for Wichita."
Geographically. Competitively. Logically.
"I do think I would ask the question, if I'm in the decision-making role at any school, and certainly (at) a school in a situation like Wichita State: What's wrong with domination?" Elgin said. "What's wrong with having access to NCAA (tourney) appearances?"
What indeed? Consider those aforementioned Sooners, back in the day. Oklahoma won the first Big 6 (10-0 conference) hoops crown, but two years after the split from the MVC, it wound up last in the Big 6, 0-10 in the loop. Boomer Sooner wouldn't win another conference crown again until 1938-39 -- some 10 years after the Big 6 was formed.
So the money may be greener. The grass, well, you never know.
You can follow Sean Keeler on Twitter @seankeeler or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.