JEFF KOLPACK: Conference realignment has people scratching their heads
FARGO -- Maybe the Western Athletic Conference was using old stationary when it was in communication with the Missouri-Kansas City athletic department in the last several months. Maybe at the top of the letterhead were Boise State, TCU, Tulsa, Hawaii, SMU, Rice, Fresno State, UTEP and San Jose State.
Those are all former members of the league.
When it comes to conference realignment, the announcement that the Kangaroos are moving from the Summit League to the WAC next season has people scratching their heads. On the outside, it seems WACked.
The WAC of old is no longer, replaced by the likes of Chicago State, NAIA Grand Canyon University (Ariz.) that won't be D-I eligible for four years, Utah Valley State, Texas-Pan American and Seattle University. It almost sounds like the old United Basketball League, the collection of independents that former Bison basketball coach Tim Miles made into a pseudo-conference when NDSU was in the D-I reclassification.
Oh yes, the old UBL. I wonder if Miles sits in his Big Ten office at the University of Nebraska, with a $179 million arena under construction and the Husker One jet at his disposal, and reflects back on his glory days as the UBL commissioner.
I still think the commissioner messed up when he didn't demand New Jersey Tech add seating to more than one side of the court. Who can forget those WDAY-TV highlights of a wall behind the Bison team bench?
Anyway, the official statement from UMKC Chancellor Leo E. Morton says, "We accepted the invitation to join the Western Athletic Conference because of the strong potential alignment it offers with our strategic objectives related to community engagement and financial strength."
I'm no Einstein, but I'm still trying to wrap my head around that one. "Strategic objectives related to community engagement and financial strength." I guess that means more fans will pay money to see Texas-Pan American, Grand Canyon, Utah Valley and Chicago State. Maybe the WAC television package is the next big thing.
Financially, the 'Roos just increased their travel budget. Instead of bussing to Nebraska Omaha, the University of South Dakota and Western Illinois and perhaps South Dakota State and NDSU, UMKC will hit the friendly skies for perhaps the entire WAC schedule. Closest school is Chicago State at 525 miles -- and if the Summit felt the need, it could probably convince Chicago to cut its travel budget exponentially and join the Summit.
And did anybody mention the WAC has had more movement lately than a Zumba class? Idaho is gone after next year, and you can bet New Mexico State is hopping on the first bus out of the WAC.
The only logical thought, perhaps, is if UMKC is making a pre-strike, thinking Oakland will move to the Horizon League and NDSU and SDSU will join the Missouri Valley Conference. The Oakland scenario is possible, if not probable.
But my sources indicate there has not been one word exchanged lately between the Missouri Valley and the Dakota schools. And even if Missouri Valley member Creighton left for a new private-school league, the Valley would probably look at replacing the Bluejays with another private school, like Oral Roberts, to maintain the public-private member balance.
In Friday's Real Time RPI conference power rankings, three of the top four teams in the WAC are all leaving -- including Denver to the Summit of all places. If this were a straight-up trade of basketball programs, UMKC for Denver is a pretty good deal for the Summit.
The Summit, in its response, released a statement saying it wishes UMKC the best and, in what could be taken as an exit slap, "is excited" about Denver joining next season.
Moreover, if the latest NCAA RPI were applied to next year's WAC, you would have No. 76 New Mexico State, No. 264 UMKC, No. 278 Seattle, No. 287 Utah Valley, No. 304 Pan American and No. 308 Chicago State. With an interim commissioner, the WAC could maybe entice former UBL commissioner Miles to come out of retirement and work on those rankings.