Why did the Summit League add UMKC and why now?
The addition of UMKC takes the number of schools in the Summit League to 10 – an ideal number for scheduling, travel partners and stability.
But not so fast.
It has been known for quite some time that current Summit member Fort Wayne has been expected to leave the conference for a more geographically convenient landing spot, like the Horizon Conference – even Summit League commissioner Tom Douple has admitted so. And, it seems Western Illinois is always balancing precariously on the financial ropes. But interestingly, the biggest concern of many Summit League members is the future of baseball. With only six teams, the Summit barely meets the NCAA minimum for an auto-bid to the NCAA Tournament. The loss of either the Mastodons or Leathernecks would likely be fatal to baseball – especially to Summit League members on the southern flank.
Why is this such a big deal? The UMKC Kangaroos do not field a baseball team. That would most certainly concern Oral Roberts which has a rich baseball tradition and the Omaha Mavericks who have come into their own as a solid program. One or both may jump if their baseball programs are at risk.
Why add UMKC now – instead of a school that offers baseball? For starters, this move ensures soccer stability with a jump to seven men’s and women’s teams and an automatic qualifier buffer for the league in case both Fort Wayne and Western Illinois leave. Let’s also remember UMKC’s biggest asset: it’s not located in either of the Dakotas.
But men’s baseball still hangs in the balance and Douple must find a way to soften the blow with the potential departures of Fort Wayne and/or Western Illinois. And it seems that his best avenue for doing so is adding Augustana College.
We’ve talked about Augie before and the blowback that Douple and his regime will almost certainly get from the non-Dakota conference members. But adding Augustana may be the sacrifice the rest of the conference has to make to keep baseball.
If and when Fort Wayne departs, the addition of tiny Augustana as a back-fill will be more positively accepted, especially to the baseball schools. It allows Commissioner Douple to avoid looking like a pawn for MIDCO Sports, Sanford Health and its CEO Kelby Krabbenhoft who are pushing for more D-I entertainment, content, and power in their hometown of Sioux Falls and the greater Dakotas region. And, after all, the Summit League did add a non-Dakota school in UMKC.
So, don’t be fooled by the hidden ball trick of adding the University of Missouri Kansas City to the Summit League. Douple and company are playing small ball right now in hopes the short-term sacrifice pays off down the line. UMKC is merely an insurance policy and a buffer against the blowback when Augustana and its baseball team inevitably “rescue” the conference.