Wichita State Leaving Missouri Valley For American Athletic Conference In July

Greyson Jenista (Photo by Alyson Boyer Rode)

Wichita State will move to the American Athletic Conference on July 1, 2017, the conference and school said Friday. The Shockers will leave the Missouri Valley Conference, where they have been a member since 1945.

AAC commissioner Mike Aresco highlighted Wichita State's baseball program in a statement announcing the move.

"This is a university with a strong athletic and academic heritage which shares our conference's commitment to excellence, and we look forward to having them as a member," he said. "The university has an exceptionally strong tradition of success in men's basketball and baseball. The addition of Wichita State in basketball and Olympic sports extends our conference's national footprint, enhances our national profile, and strengthens our position as a leader in intercollegiate athletics."

The addition of Wichita State gives the AAC nine baseball members, as Southern Methodist, Temple and Tulsa don't field teams and Navy is a football-only member. The conference has finished in the top six in conference RPI every year since it was created following the Big East Conference's split after the 2013 season, and ranks fifth this season.

The addition of a ninth member will allow the AAC to change its schedule format. Currently, the teams play eight conference series, facing six teams once and one "rival" twice in home-and-home weekends. The format makes sense in some cases, such as Central Florida and South Florida, but less so in others, such as Connecticut and East Carolina. It also can lead to significantly different strength of schedules in an otherwise balanced system.

While next season's schedule has not been finalized, sources said they expect the conference season will remain at 24 games with every team playing one series against each of the other eight teams, with one bye week.

Adding Wichita State is one of the few conference realignment moves in recent years by a Football Bowl Subdivision conference not to be motivated by football, as the Shockers do not have a football program. Instead, the main motivation seems to be adding Wichita State's strong men's basketball program, which will increase the conference's revenue from the NCAA tournament and give it 12 members for basketball.

In addition to its basketball success, Wichita State has a rich baseball tradition, including the 1989 national championship and seven appearances in the College World Series. The Shockers also have 20 regular-season MVC titles and 18 conference tournament championships. It most recently made the NCAA tournament in 2013, when it last won the MVC tournament. After that season, however, longtime coach Gene Stephenson was fired amid NCAA violations that forced the regional appearance to eventually be vacated.

Fourth-year coach Todd Butler is still in the process of rebuilding the program, which had slipped before the violations and Stephenson's ouster. The Shockers are 14-14 going into its conference slate, which begins Friday with a series against Southern Illinois.

Wichita State is the second program to leave the MVC in recent years. Creighton departed for the Big East after the 2013 season. Dallas Baptist joined the MVC for baseball the following season and quickly emerged as one of the conference's powerhouses along with Missouri State. The Patriots and Bears have combined to win the last three league titles and again look to be the best two teams in the league this season going into their series this weekend in Springfield, Mo.

Now, the MVC, the second-oldest Division I conference, will need to evaluate its options for replacing Wichita State. The conference's presidents and athletic directors reportedly will meet Sunday in St. Louis to discuss its next steps.

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