According to a report from the Washington Post, the University of Missouri Kansas City (UMKC) is leaving the Western Athletic Conference and returning to the Summit League for the 2020-2021 season. The addition of UMKC will bring conference membership to ten schools. The move makes it unclear what will happen with Augustana College – a school considered to be a shoo-in for the Summit League’s tenth opening when they transition to Division I play.
Interestingly, reports cited an ‘invitation’ which was extended by the Summit League to UMKC. According to the Washington Post, “We’re thankful to the WAC and their commitment to Division I excellence. We accepted the invitation to return to the Summit League because, after careful review, we believe it will help us achieve our goals,” UMKC Chancellor Mauli Agrawal said in a statement.
UMKC currently fields men’s soccer, cross country, golf, tennis and basketball and track and field teams. They also field women’s teams in softball, volleyball, track & field, soccer, cross country, golf, tennis and basketball.
UMKC, like Denver, has focused unsuccessfully on growing basketball over the years. Within the last year, they hired a new athletic director, Brandon Martin, and head basketball coach, Billy Donlon. They also moved their home basketball games from Municipal Auditorium in downtown Kansas City to their on-campus Swinney Gymnasium.
Originally a member of the Summit League, the Kangaroos left the conference the same season Denver joined the league. However, the travel heavy WAC conference has been a major burden for the low-budget Kangaroos who spend 14 million dollars per year on athletics. The WAC’s vast reach requires an immense amount of travel. For the men’s basketball team alone in the 2016-2017 season, UMKC spent $415,730 on flights, ground transportation, lodging and meals, according to NCAA records. The men’s basketball team averages about 1,500 fans per game, similar to Denver’s attendance last season. Recent budget cuts across the University of Missouri system eliminated the UMKC band and cheerleaders. The men’s basketball radio announcer, Steven Davis, no longer travels to away games. It is unclear if Summit League travel savings will allow UMKC to restore some of their prior cuts.
UMKC is relatively close to Denver so travel time will be much easier and cheaper for the Pioneers than either departed IUPUI or Augustana. Also, the addition of UMKC will provide easier travel partners for fellow Summit League Members Omaha and Oral Roberts as well.
Considering realistic options for Summit League membership, the addition of UMKC is just about the best option for Denver. Longer term, DU will, hopefully, consider a more suitable conference affiliation.