You may have missed the announcement last week when the American Athletic Conference commissioner, Mike Aresco, announced the addition of Wichita State to the AAC in men’s and women’s basketball and Olympic sports beginning July 1. That would leave an opening in the Missouri Valley Conference.
According to SB Nation, “A list of possibilities has been reported, including Valparaiso, Belmont, UMKC, Omaha, the four Dakota schools and more. The decision will likely come down to numerous factors, such as geographical fit, financial stability, and basketball relevance.”
Should DU consider throwing its hat in the ring to replace the Shockers?
The short answer: no.
Denver, at various times, has been rumored as a possible candidate for the Missouri Valley. But really, does the Missouri Valley have any more compelling match-ups for local fans than the Summit League? Would Drake, Bradley and Northern Iowa send locals to the ticket line? What about a date with Evansville, Indiana State or Loyola (Chicago)? Oh, and who could forget Southern Illinois and Indiana State?
Travel would be no less costly, no easier and many of the Valley universities are no more academically aligned with DU than the Summit League. Nor would Denver’s path to March Madness be any easier.
Sure, the Summit League is not the ideal partner for Denver at this point, but it is better than DU’s former WAC affiliation – a group of vagabond programs that is powering up next year by adding California Baptist. Add Grand Canyon, Rio Grande, and Chicago State and you have the exact opposite of what DU is looking for.
Despite early trepidation, the Summit League is actually turning into a good fit for Denver. Since joining the Summit League in 2013, Denver fans are just getting used to our rivals. And, the addition of North Dakota next season is a plus. It is a stable conference for Denver where Denver has a solid opportunity to compete successfully.
Denver needs to bide their time and only make a change if one of the following four things happens.
- Like Schools – If the West Coast Conference approaches Denver for membership, DU should take it. The WCC is the very best fit for Denver, but it won’t happen without a vastly improved hoops program.
- Regional Footprint – If the Mountain West dropped its football requirement, this option would offer great regional rivalries. But there are lots of other schools, many with football, waiting breathlessly on their doorstep. This isn’t happening anytime soon.
- New Private University Conference – A new conference is forged and comprised of high profile private universities that exit their current leagues (Drake, SMU, Tulane, Seattle, etc.) in the future. This will take a collapse of several conferences and appears highly unlikely at this time.
- National Footprint – The Big East came calling (it’s a pipedream) – but Creighton did it. Again, DU would need to raise their basketball profile considerably to get in the conversation. It would take years and a very long track record of hoops success.
The reality is that the Pioneers sit on an island in the middle of Colorado. DU’s options are limited.
The Summit League is stable and growing with the addition of North Dakota (yeah, them).
And, DU’s Summit League affiliation doesn’t limit Denver’s ability to play national powers. Denver can still line up against top teams in their non-conference schedule, energize their fans, and build a national reputation – see DU men’s soccer as the perfect model. DU women’s volleyball might be the next emerging program on the national scene and they can follow the same blueprint.
And the DU’s athletic department has smartly lined up many other non-conference sports with great conference affiliations such as Lacrosse in the BIG EAST, Gymnastics in the Big 12, Hockey in the NCHC, and skiing in the RMISA.
The most obvious path is to build a strong basketball program over the next 5-7 years and make a run at the West Coast Conference. It can be done – it will just take patience.