Wichita State’s exit from the Missouri Valley Conference, which we’ve discussed here is starting to cause a ripple effect across non-power five conferences.
To balance their conference, the Missouri Valley is now looking at adding either one or three new members. Some of the schools they’re visiting are from the already shaky WAC conference and include UMKC which is publicly pleading for Valley membership. The Missouri Valley also scheduled a campus visit to cash-strapped Summit League member, Omaha last week. It seems highly unlikely that either Omaha or UMKC would make the cut – but stranger things have happened.
But how could these moves begin to impact Denver in the short and longer term?
In the short term, if the Valley only adds one team such as Valparaiso or Murray State there is little impact.
However, the exit of UMKC, UIC, or any other member(s) from the WAC put the conference on life support. Add to that, Grand Canyon University, another WAC member, is actively looking to upgrade their basketball conference. GCU is an attractive target for potential suitors with superior facilities, competitive programs, and they provide access to a major metro area (Phoenix). Their current status as a for-profit institution appears to be holding them back from making a jump. But if the Big Sky were to show interest, Grand Canyon could pair with current Big Sky member Northern Arizona as an ideal travel partner and league rival.
WAC member New Mexico State is said to be looking for a landing spot as well, as an independent football program and a member of the WAC for Olympic sports, they have been linked to the Mountain West as well as Conference USA.
The recent addition of California Baptist to the WAC hardly does anything to bolster their flagging status. The WAC meltdown is coming and it may come sooner than expected.
North Dakota’s departure from the Big Sky Conference to the Summit League compounded matters in the Big Sky. The WAC’s New Mexico State may jump to the Big Sky for Olympic sports and put most of their sports in the same conference (the Big Sky does not sponsor baseball and swimming). Idaho also moved their football operations to the Big Sky – so might their other sports be far behind?
Basketball is the driving force behind much of the movement. Seattle recently fired their basketball coach, Cam Dollar, after the Redhawks finished 13-17 this past season and finished sixth in the WAC at 5-9. He was replaced by Jim Hayford from Eastern Washington as Seattle frantically tries to turn around their basketball fortunes. Like DU, Seattle is actively working to improve their basketball pedigree to attract the West Coast Conference.
Lest we forget, there is unrest among West Coast Conference members. Gonzaga has expressed interest in going to a stronger basketball conference. BYU even flirted with the Big 12 for football & Olympic sports. However, their potential exit appears to be more of a longer-term desire at this point.
How does this all tie together?
If the WAC implodes, Seattle University will knock on the door of the West Coast Conference again. At that point, the conference has decisions to make. Do they say no and stay with eight schools? Do they take in the former conference member Seattle and run an unbalanced nine-team league? Or does this force them to look for a 10th member for balance?
That’s where DU would come into the picture. With the addition of Seattle and Denver, the West Coast Conference would add two large metro markets and schools similar in size and mission to member institutions.
On the other hand, some people have speculated that Grand Canyon University might be in play for the West Coast Conference because of their surging basketball program and the Phoenix metro market. Still, they appear to be a poor cultural and academic fit for the WCC made up of mostly Catholic Universities.
While it appears that there are no short term moves for Denver at this point, DU’s conference affiliation outlook could change quickly, especially if (when) the WAC faces an exodus of key schools. The Pioneers would be smart to keep in close touch with the West Coast Conference while continuing to improve their basketball resume.
Stay tuned to LetsGoDU as these moves begin to happen and the dominos begin to fall. Denver’s athletic future might be more intertwined with this than you think.