As Missouri Valley bids farewell to Wichita State, UMKC wants to say hello

UMKC coach Kareem Richardson (middle) talks to his squad before tipoff of a game last season.
UMKC coach Kareem Richardson (middle) talks to his squad before tipoff of a game last season.

With Wichita State leaving the Missouri Valley Conference to join the American Athletic Conference, UMKC has its hand raised to fill the void.

“Obviously we would love to be considered,” UMKC athletic director Carla Wilson said. “If we could be more regional with our conference affiliation that would create some geographic rivalries, help our travel and be a benefit to us.”

UMKC is in its fourth year as a member of the Western Athletic Conference, a three time-zone league that stretches from Chicago to Seattle to Bakersfield, Calif., and filled with schools with low major athletic budgets.

Wilson estimates that UMKC spends about 20 percent of its budget on travel for its teams, and “it would be great” if somehow the Kangaroos could cut that in half by moving into a conference where most of its members are in the Midwest.

“The WAC is every competitive and that’s been a plus for all of our teams,” Wilson said. “The travel is a challenge with the missed class time, and the dollars associated with travel a time when the University of Missouri system is facing cuts.”

UMKC and the three other schools in the University of Missouri system face budget cuts of 8 to 12 percent for next year.

UMKC was one of four schools considered by the Missouri Valley in 2013, along with Valparaiso, University of Illinois-Chicago and Loyola (Chicago) and when Creighton left for the Big East. Valley officials visited each school, and Loyola was the choice.

During that process, UMKC had already left the Summit and had joined the WAC. That move was seen as competitively beneficial to the Kangaroos.

As for travel, the school believed then that direct flights to some of the destinations instead of long bus or van rides would offset lost class time. But four years of travel experience have proved complicated.

“It’s been more challenging than originally thought,” Wilson said.

The Missouri Valley has called a meeting for Sunday to discuss its future.

Several schools have been rumored as possible Valley members besides those considered four years ago, including Omaha, Belmont and the Dakota schools.

Of the group of potential candidates, Belmont, currently in the Ohio Valley Conference, has had the greatest recent men’s basketball success. The Bruins have appeared in postseason play in each of the past seven years, including four seasons in the NCAA Tournament.

The current Missouri Valley lineup, without the Shockers: Missouri State, Drake, Northern Iowa Southern Illinois, Illinois State, Indiana State, Evansville, Bradley and Loyola.

UMKC would bring a metropolitan area and one of the nation’s most historic basketball settings, Municipal Auditorium. The Kangaroos haven’t played in the NCAA Tournament since becoming a Division I program in 1987 but went 1-1 this season’s CBI Tournament, the program’s first postseason appearance.

Blair Kerkhoff: 816-234-4730, @BlairKerkhoff