“Why would we want to make it easy for them to leave to another league?” – Patty Viverito Missouri Valley Football Conference Commissioner
Of late, the primary focus on Wichita State Athletics seems to revolve around the nonstop gossip about conference realignment and the Shockers’ part in it: will the Shockers stay in the Missouri Valley Conference, or will they leave?
Among the many rumors and scenarios is the possible addition of a sport(s) to help facilitate an (upward) move for the Shockers out of the MVC.
The sport causing the most buzz has clearly been the possible revival of the Shocker football program, which was discontinued in 1986.
The buzz was fanned into fever pitch earlier this year after WSU President John Bardo tweeted pictures of a WSU football helmet, equipment semi-truck, and a marching band uniform concept drawing on February 3. When President Bardo tweeted pictures of an actual Shocker marching band uniform on April 15, the buzz went into full-effect.
— John Bardo (@President_Bardo) February 3, 2016
When considering the possible future of Shocker football, I am reminded of the scene in the movie Gladiator in which Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius and General Maximus Decimus Meridius spoke of Rome and its future.
Marcus Aurelius bemoaned:
“Or will I be the emperor who gave Rome back her true self? There was once a dream that was Rome. You could only whisper it. Anything more than a whisper and it would vanish…it was so fragile. And I fear that it will not survive the winter.”
For the last three decades, 21st and Hillside has existed without football. In the last few years, community efforts to rejuvenate the idea have taken hold, and although nothing has been officially stated from administrators at WSU, rumors have abounded.
To fan the flames, one student even tried to start up a club football program with the idea of that turning into the official program one day.
The whispers grew into perceptions of official actions with Bardo’s tweets, coupled with the hiring a consulting firm to evaluate the WSU athletic department and a potential move to a different conference.
Regardless of whether this was all a cultivated media play to get attention with the Mountain West Conference or any other collegiate league, by this point, the buzz was deafening, so much so that Missouri Valley Football Conference Commissioner and MVC Senior Associate Commissioner Patty Viverito took notice.
And in a big, big way.
Viverito was recently interviewed by Jeff Kolpack, a writer who covers North Dakota State Bison football for SportsManias.com.
In the interview, Kolpack discussed the possibility of WSU joining the MVCF with Viverito, who didn’t mince words when asked about the Shockers potentially parking a football program in the MVCF, with intentions of eventually jumping to D-I FBS football.
Kolpack wrote, “Asked if the fact Wichita State being a member of the Missouri Valley would give the Shockers a home field advantage for Valley football membership, and Viverito almost laughed.”
“Viverito answered, ‘It would have to be a pretty compelling case,’ she said. ‘We’re not interested in somebody using us as a stepping stone, that is pretty clear. What they’ve said publicly has not indicated any type of love for our level of football.’
The article continued, “’The politics would become strange,’ Viverito said of her office running two leagues, ‘but we need to understand if the president’s motivation to get to FBS is to change conferences. If they have the appearance that they’re using the Missouri Valley Football conference to get to a place where they can leave the Missouri Valley, then I would say both league’s interests are pretty well aligned. Why would we want to make it easy for them to leave to another league?’”
As a Shocker fan, the words grated across my eyeballs as I read them.
Her words fueled the already tense battle in my mind between my enthusiasm for bringing football back and the reality of no viable alternative existing for Shocker football if the MVFC wouldn’t be interested in the addition of Wichita State.
I understand Viverito’s concerns and interests as an MVC brass-wearer, but I think she may have been more than a little crass in her approach.
For both the football and non-football versions of the MVC, Wichita State has unquestionably been the goose that’s laying golden eggs for fellow MVC conference members (even the ones who “use,” to borrow Viverito’s own term, the MVC for football and nothing more).
WSU’s golden-goose status is more evident now than ever with the loss of Creighton to the Big East a few years ago, and I think that impact is what stunned me most when considering the saltiness of Viverito’s comments.
But forget about the perpetual rivers of revenue and publicity generated for the MVC by the WSU men’s basketball team for a moment. We will get back to that shortly.
When comparing other MVC member institutions to Wichita State, some glaring differences emerge between academic and research focus, enrollment and metropolitan size, geographical positions, and (especially in) financial support for athletics, not to mention overall athletic performance.
Now let’s look at the arena of athletic competition.
Over the last 12 years, Wichita State has taken home the MVC All Sports Trophy nine times. Most recently, WSU has won the title three straight years in a row. With a strong athletic department spearheaded by the dominant run in basketball, as well as strong performances across the board in other sports, Wichita State is rightly in the business of looking for greener pastures, whether Viverito likes it or not.
Wichita State remains the furthest western member of the MVC by a large margin, with Missouri State being the second-farthest west.
When Arch Madness in St. Louis rolls around, WSU fans are faced with the longest drive, yet Shocker fans undisputedly compose the largest contingent to attend the tournament every season since the departure of Creighton.
If the Shockers ever bolted, Arch Madness would find a massive hole in their spreadsheet when presenting Arch Madness numbers to the city’s hoteliers and restaurateurs of St. Louis.
In the same vein, when the Wichita State men’s basketball team hits the road in conference play, its MVC brethren enjoy on average a 43% increase in attendance compared to their season averages. Specifically, when WSU comes to town, the MVC sees a total increase of 17,171 butts in the seats.
|OPPONENT||WSU GAME ATTEND.||AVG ATTENDANCE||-/+||% INCREASE|
That translates directly in to big spikes in ticket, concession, and parking revenues, not to mention real economic impact and tax dollars for those communities.
In terms of men’s basketball, the other major benefit that Wichita State has brought to the MVC over the last six years is the perpetually massive portions of the NCAA Basketball Fund revenues that provides money to all conference members.
The NCAA Basketball Fund is basically a pool of prize money earned by teams who make the NCAA Tournament.
Each game that a team plays in is worth a certain amount of money, called a “tournament unit.” The deeper a team goes in the tournament, the more money they earn for their conference.
Each year’s distribution is based on a six-year rolling period. Based on the NCAA Revenue Distribution Plan for 2015-16, the MVC has received $17,332,479 from the basketball fund in that period.
Since the 2011-12 season, the MVC has been represented in 21 NCAA tournament games. Of those 21 games, Wichita State owns 14 of them.
UNI has played in four NCAA Tournament games, Creighton had two games in 2012 that the MVC keeps, and Indiana State just one.
The rest of the Valley? Zero games.
To add to the disparity of the bottom of the Valley, there are four members who haven’t had an NCAA Tournament appearance this century. Missouri State and Evansville in 1999, Illinois State in 1998, and Loyola-Chicago in 1985.
Certainly, no conference or conference commissioner can kowtow to the interests of one school ahead of all the rest. That’s part of their jobs: to keep the playing field as level as possible to preserve the core product of sport, which is the spontaneous excitement around the unpredictable outcome of unscripted drama.
However, in this writer’s opinion, Viverito and the Missouri Valley Conference owe Wichita State at least a little more public deference than they’ve shown with her pointed, crass remarks.
And if President Bardo and WSU want to put out some feelers about football, the least she and the rest of both MVCs can do is at least cordially offer to listen without salty remarks.