UMKC’s decision to leave for the Western Athletic Conference doesn’t shake University of Nebraska at Omaha Athletic Director Trev Alberts’ belief in the Summit League.
“Part of the job of an athletic director is to have your eyes and ears open,” Alberts said. “But I can only say that we’re really happy to be in the Summit League, and with the leadership of (Commissioner) Tom Douple, the league is very strong. We’re excited about Denver becoming part of the league, and we’re certainly disappointed that UMKC chose to leave.”
Missouri-Kansas City announced Thursday that it will leave the Summit for the WAC in July, capping what amounts to a trade between the conferences. Denver announced in November that it is leaving the WAC for the Summit. Denver has a $26 million athletic budget, while UMKC’s is $11 million.
Some suggest that UMKC’s move could be one domino that might lead to the eventual breakup of the Summit.
Of course, any number of scenarios could play out, with some tied to which schools might join the Catholic-based, basketball-focused members of the Big East Conference in forming a new league.
For example, the Summit’s Oakland and IUPUI could be targeted by the Horizon League. North Dakota State and South Dakota State, which have football programs, could draw interest from the Missouri Valley Conference.
Alberts confirmed that several conferences have shown interest in UNO, but that the school is pleased with the way it fits with like-minded institutions in the Summit.
Alberts said UNO would be well-positioned in whatever realignment scenario — if any — presents itself. And at this point anything is speculation, he said.
“UNO benefits greatly, not only from having Chancellor (John) Christensen’s leadership and how our campus has evolved, but also because we’re in Omaha,” Alberts said. “And as conference membership continues to change and evolve nationally, our strongest selling point is our community. UNO is blessed and fortunate to be in Omaha, and because of that I think we’re well-positioned for the future.”
The exchange of Denver for UMKC has the league set to compete with nine schools again for 2013-14.
The Summit, which added South Dakota the year before UNO joined, lost Oral Roberts to the Southland Conference last year after previously seeing Southern Utah depart for a better geographic fit in the Big Sky Conference. Centenary also left the Summit for Division III.
But the Summit is rock-solid compared with the WAC, which loses all but three schools after this year and is adding Cal State-Bakersfield, Chicago State, Grand Canyon, Texas-Pan American and Utah Valley in addition to UMKC. Idaho, New Mexico State and first-year member Seattle are the only schools returning for 2013-14, and Idaho is leaving for the Big Sky in 2014.
Others besides Denver leaving after this season are San Jose State, Utah State, Louisiana Tech, Texas-San Antonio, Texas-Arlington and Texas State. Denver, Seattle, Texas-Arlington, Texas-San Antonio and Texas State all joined the league in 2012, replacing schools such as Boise State, Fresno State, Hawaii and Nevada.
“At this point in the game, anybody who tries to define stability — I don’t know if I would put a lot into that,” Alberts said. “These are interesting days in college athletics; I mean Maryland and Rutgers are going to the Big Ten. To define or predict stability is problematic at best.”
The WAC is no longer sponsoring football, so both conferences — the WAC and the Summit — will hang their hats on men’s basketball as their primary attraction, and the numbers appear favorable for the Summit moving forward.
The WAC is currently rated 13th among Division I leagues in realtimerpi.com, while the Summit is No. 18, but the WAC will be losing its top five teams next season and currently doesn’t have a returning team rated better than No. 176.
Denver is No. 108 through Thursday, while UMKC is No. 279.
Other 2013-14 WAC schools and their men’s basketball ratings among 347 Division I teams include Cal State-Bakersfield (274), Seattle (280), Utah Valley (281), Chicago State (306) and Texas-Pan American (309).
UNO, which swept UMKC in its first season of competition in the Summit, is No. 303. The Summit has five teams in the top 145, including Denver. The WAC has one, No. 75 New Mexico State.
Speculation about future Summit expansion targets includes North Dakota and Northern Colorado, two schools that used to compete with UNO — as well as other Summit members South Dakota, South Dakota State and North Dakota State — in Division II’s North Central Conference.
At three hours away, UMKC was the second-closest Summit campus to UNO, with only South Dakota being closer.
“We’ve enjoyed competing against them, and it was nice for us because they are so close,” Alberts said. “But like we did in 2011 (in moving to Division I), they made a decision based on what’s in their best interest, and clearly their leadership did their due diligence. And in their opinion the best place for them was the WAC.”
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