On Friday morning, the American Athletic Conference voted unanimously to add the Wichita State Shockers as a non-football member. WSU will be the 12th basketball member for the league, as Navy is football-only. This arrangement may start seeming familiar for Syracuse Orange fans, who remember the unwieldy Big East days of football and basketball members.
Despite their school voting in favor of the Shockers’ addition, some UConn fans aren’t too pleased.
Let's check in on UConn following the Wichita State-AAC news... pic.twitter.com/lYCf7xtGOm— John Cassillo (@JohnCassillo) April 7, 2017
We can poke a little fun at our “friends” from Storrs right now, but their reaction does highlight the cruel realities of conference realignment for a lot of schools -- but really, the Huskies, Cincinnati and USF more than just about anyone else.
Despite successful programs (and for UConn championship-caliber basketball for much of the last 20 years), they’re relegated to an Island of Misfit Toys for what could be eternity.
Let’s not forget that it could’ve been us.
When Syracuse was originally supposed to head to the ACC in 2003/04, Virginia Tech ended up swooping the bid (by way of Virginia senator Mark Warner). The ACC ended up adding Miami, Boston College and the Hokies, as you know. UConn was pissed and sued the ACC. That’s not why they got left out the second time around when Pitt and Syracuse joined. Or the third when Louisville got the invite too, over UConn, on the strength of its football program more than anything else.
If the ACC expanded at a different time (say, 2008ish), maybe Pitt and UConn are the calls. And then there’s little chance they would’ve made it in over Louisville whenever that decision came around -- much like what happened to UConn.
In the Fringe parallel universe of college athletics, perhaps Syracuse has been sentenced to a lifetime in the purgatory that’s now the American Athletic Conference.
It’s a tenuous spot for every team in that conference, and one that gets worse by the day. The football side of the league just had its best chance at the Playoff (Houston) fail to even get close to it. On the basketball side, SMU and Cincinnati weren’t long for the NCAA Tournament in any way.
The move to get Wichita State is one of self-preservation, not strengthening a league. When considering NCAA Tournament bids like World Cup allotments earlier, the AAC still got three. But that was largely on the strength of credits earned by SU (2013 Final Four), Louisville (2013 champs) and UConn (2014 champs). Those credits are gone in two years. And then the AAC could be left with a paltry 17 over a five-year stretch (they have 41 from 2013-17 right now).
That inherited money is currently boosting revenues for the league, but all of that dries up very soon. It’s a dangerous game that forces you to invite Wichita State, who’s been one of the more consistently successful mid-majors of the last half-decade.
The Shockers’ credits don’t come with them, but the chance at more credits does.
For UConn, their hand -- like everyone else’s — was forced here. Either accept the status quo and hope another team beyond Cincy, SMU and the Huskies can jump up and compete, or make an addition that should at least improve the depth of the league at the top.
The price of that is a roundtrip ticket to Wichita, Kansas once every January. It makes the wide swath of land spanning from Boston to Louisville to Miami in the ACC seem pretty cozy in comparison.
We still hear cries from corners of the Syracuse fan base about missing old rivals and the old league. In another reality, perhaps the Orange have one of those or even both. But the cost of those things would be trips to Omaha (Creighton) or Wichita (Wichita State), less revenues and the eventual failure of the SU basketball brand.
The ACC is our home now, and that’s a pretty advantageous place to be in the current college basketball landscape. But let’s not act like this other reality wasn’t a distinct possibility for Syracuse. We’ll get to spend the foreseeable future watching how our fate would’ve turned out there, in the form of the Huskies.