Campus Corner

February 14, 2013

Western Athletic Conference basketball tournament could come to KC

The Western Athletic Conference and UMKC formally announced their partnership on Thursday and one of the benefits of WAC membership could be postseason basketball at home for the Kangaroos.

Campus Corner

The Star's blog on college sports, featuring Kansas, Kansas State and Missouri

Another college basketball tournament in Kansas City?

The Western Athletic Conference could bring its event here.

The league and UMKC formally announced their partnership on Thursday amid cheerleaders, the school’s fight song and an audience of athletes, coaches, fans and media at the university’s theater in the Student Union.

One of the benefits of WAC membership could be postseason basketball at home for the Kangaroos.

“There’s an opportunity to bring the WAC Tournament here, hopefully sooner rather later,” UMKC athletic director Tim Hall said.

Perhaps not in the first year or two of league membership, Hall said, but next three or four. And the school and league would consider all area venues, including the Independence Events Center.

The Kangaroos will leave the Summit League and face greater transportation costs in their new league this fall. The school determined it will spend about $160,000 more to travel its teams to WAC destinations spread over three time zones. That money will come from private funds, not the school’s budget, Hall said.

Because of direct flights to several WAC cities, Hall and Chancellor Leo Morton said their research indicates students will spend less time on the road in their new home than they do in the Summit, where buses are typically used to move teams throughout the Midwest.

UMKC also won’t pay an entrance fee to the WAC, and the new conference will cover the cost of UMKC’s exit fee from the Summit League: $250,000.

The WAC will add six schools next year. The league that started in 1962 to serve Western schools has been as active in realignment as any in college sports.

Arizona, Arizona State, Utah and Brigham Young were original WAC schools. TCU and Boise State were recent WAC members.

Most current football playing schools, such as Louisiana Tech, Utah State and San Jose State, are moving to new leagues for 2013-14.

New Mexico State, Seattle and Idaho are the only WAC schools competing in basketball this season that are expected to be in the WAC next year, although Idaho is expected to leave for the Big Sky in 2014-15.

Joining the league along with UMKC are Bakersfield (Calif.), Chicago State, Grand Canyon (Ariz.), Texas Pan-American and Utah Valley.

WAC interim commissioner Jeff Hurd said he doesn’t believe the shuffling has concluded.

“These are volatile times,” Hurd said. “Conference realignment isn’t over. There will more coming forward. But the WAC has built a great foundation for the future.”

The WAC offers championships in all sports sponsored by UMKC. The conference added men’s soccer as an affiliate sport, accepting teams from schools in other conferences, this year, and the Kangaroos soccer program will be part of a league that includes Air Force, UNLV and San Jose State.

From a competitive standpoint, UMKC figures to fare better in its new league. The Kangaroos’ budget of about $11.7 million based on federal figures in 2012 will be on the higher end of athletic budgets of next year’s WAC athletic departments that don’t sponsor football.

Finding greater success for men’s basketball is paramount. The Kangaroos are in the bottom half of the Summit League standings in coach Matt Brown’s sixth season. The program, which has been a member of its current conference since 1994, has never played in the league tournament championship game, where a victory would provide an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.

Several other UMKC programs have crossed that postseason threshold.

“Competitive success matters,” Hall said. “We need to put ourselves in a position to win more frequently, sooner. Once we get into the NCAA Tournament I think some other things will fall into place for us.”

Hall wasn’t specific on the future of Brown, who has turned in one winning season since he was hired in 2007.

“I would be disingenuous if I said that I wasn’t disappointed,” Hall said. “We haven’t been as successful as need to be. We’ll do what we do with every other program. We support our coaches and student-athletes, and we’ll take it through the conference tournament and see what happens from there.”

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