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What do recent Wichita State rumors mean to the Mountain West?

The AAC appears to be making a push to bring the Shockers to its conference.

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-3rd Round-Wichita State vs Kansas Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

Jon Rothstein of FanRag Sports reported Thursday morning that rumors of Wichita State heading to the American Athletic Conference have recently sparked. Rothstein says that a potential move to the AAC was discussed in recent league meetings.

Wichita State University, a current Missouri Valley Conference member, has enjoyed tremendous success on the hardwood in recent years, but it is WSU’s football program (or lack thereof) that has conference presidents hesitant to welcome the Shockers to their leagues. Wichita shut down its football program back in 1986, just months after the first 64-team installment of what we now know today as "March Madness."

Wichita State is an ideal candidate to boost the power of any basketball conference. The Shockers have appeared in the AP top 15 each of the previous five seasons under head coach Gregg Marshall, reached the Final Four in 2013, and went 35-1 the year after. Notable tournament victories for the Shockers since 2011 include wins over #1 Gonzaga (‘13), #2 Ohio State (‘13), #2 Kansas (‘15) and #6 Arizona last year.

Back in May, Wichita State was tied to rumors of joining the Mountain West Conference, but it seemed highly doubtful without a football program. Mountain West commissioner Craig Thompson insisted that it would only add a team to the league if it carried a football program.

Here are a few of my knee-jerk thoughts on Wichita State’s next move:

A move to the AAC makes sense

The AAC is essentially Big East lite, stuck in a no-man’s land between the ACC/Big East shadow and the middle tier of Mountain West, Missouri Valley and the Atlantic 10. Nevertheless, this is a conference that is attractive due to its larger arenas, bigger names, massive ESPN TV deal and ability to send multiple teams to the NCAA Tournament even in down years. Due to Wichita’s location in the middle of the U.S. map, geography isn’t as much of an issue as you might believe, even with Connecticut, Central Florida and Temple in the league. Mid-Major Madness’ Russell Steinberg drew up a quick outline of AAC travel partners if Wichita State were to join the conference.

The AAC could use a jolt similar as the Mountain West, and a move from the Missouri Valley to The American would be a considerable upgrade for the Shockers.

Thompson must look into basketball-only Wichita State

Hawaii’s basketball program isn’t a member of the Mountain West, so why does Wichita State need a football team be a part of the MWC? The money production from football is king in college sports, but the Mountain West is enduring its worst stretch since the conference was formed in 1999 and needs a boost in the worst way. Since 2013, Wichita State has recorded nearly twice as many tournament victories as the entire Mountain West Conference, a 9-5 advantage.

It is clear that Mountain West basketball needs a facelift of some sort. For the second consecutive season, we can anticipate only one MWC team clinching a tournament bid. An addition of Wichita State - which has played heavyweights Louisville, Michigan State, Iowa, Seton Hall, Utah and VCU in non-conference the past five seasons - would help the Mountain West schedule better games during November and December, something that has cost the conference multiple bids the last few years.

Regardless of whether Wichita State brings back its football team or not, there is no reason why the Shockers wouldn’t give the conference much-needed respect in a time where the only headlines you see about the MWC is whether its glory days are over. Thompson must realize that a trio of San Diego State, Wichita State and Nevada would make the Mountain West the best mid-major in college basketball.

Despite the glaringly strange geographical concept of a team from the Kansas plains joining forces with a conference whose office is located in the Colorado Springs, a move to the Mountain West may make more sense than you think.

Present-day Wichita State might not be the same Wichita State 3-5 years from now

Nearly every basketball program in the country has enjoyed a "___, ___ and ___ era," a span of a few seasons where a nucleus of two or three players stick together and put a school on the map. For the Shockers, it was the backcourt of Ron Baker and Fred VanVleet, two once-in-a-generation talents that transformed the WSU hoops program. Baker and VanVleet both completed their incredibles careers this past spring, and with head coach Gregg Marshall being tied to seemingly every open job on the market these days, one has to wonder if Wichita State can stand the test of time as a mid-major powerhouse.

I don’t expect a complete overhaul now that Baker and VanVleet have moved on (WSU is 9-2 with losses to Louisville and Michigan State), but it’s hard to imagine the Shockers to be a second weekend NCAA Tournament candidate on a yearly basis as a member of the Missouri Valley. If and when Wichita State moves to a conference with a bigger name, it should be able to gather recruits like Baker and VanVleet that keeps good going for the Shockers.

Here is a quick profile on Wichita State’s recent basketball success and how it stacks up against the Mountain West:

Average Recruiting Stars, Mountain West and Wichita State

School Average Recruiting Stars
School Average Recruiting Stars
San Diego State 3.6
Nevada 3.2
New Mexico 2.8
Wichita State 2.7
Fresno State 2.7
UNLV 2.6
Boise State 2.6
Utah State 2.4
Wyoming 2.3
San Jose State 2.3
Colorado State 2.2
Air Force 2.1

Mountain West and Wichita State Team Summary, 2013-16

School Wins NCAA Tournament Wins Weeks in AP Poll
School Wins NCAA Tournament Wins Weeks in AP Poll
Wichita State 121 9 50
San Diego State 109 4 35
New Mexico 88 0 22
Boise State 87 0 1
Colorado State 87 1 4
UNLV 81 0 9
Wyoming 77 0 1
Utah State 73 0 0
Fresno State 72 0 0
Nevada 60 0 0
Air Force 58 0 0
San Jose State 27 0 0