UMKC’s Move To Travel-Heavy Conference Strains Athletics Department Budget |

There’s a bubble, not only in college athletics, but in higher education altogether. Stories like this are so very common these days. Belt-tightening and program cuts are just part of the deal. Another reason why a good director of operations is worth every penny they make.

Kansas men’s basketball team will be just down the road from home this week for the Big 12 conference in Kansas City. Mizzou only has to go to St. Louis.

UMKC, on the other hand, has to travel more than 1,300 miles to Las Vegas for the Western Athletic Conference (WAC) tournament. The WAC is a far-flung conference: UMKC’s closest competitor is Chicago State. Otherwise, they’re going to places like Seattle and Bakersfield, California, and paying for the travel.

The school hoped its move to the WAC — a mid-major conference that doesn’t have football — would bring more exposure to its athletic department. Instead, UMKC is taking a serious look at its five-year-old affiliation.

The UMKC athletic department’s total operating expenses for the 2016-2017 school year was $15.9 million, while total revenues were $14.8 million, according to NCAA records filed with the University of Missouri System. Plus, the system’s budget crunch led to UMKC getting $1.5 million trimmed from its athletic department’s coffers for this school year.

The meal ticket for mid-major athletic programs is landing an automatic bid to the NCAA men’s basketball tournament, and to do that, you have to win the conference tournament. When UMKC was in the Summit, it never did. So, the school decided in 2013 to switch to the WAC.

Wilson became AD the same year UMKC made the switch. While she didn’t have a say in the matter, she says the school hoped it would give the university’s signature sports program a better shot at the Big Dance.

“Yeah, I think the opportunities for that were such at the time that that was probably, definitely a thought that that would be helpful,” Wilson recalls.

But since joining the WAC and bringing on former Louisville assistant Kareem Richardson to coach, the men’s basketball team has had only one winning season, going 18-17 last season.

The new conference affiliation hasn’t reflected well at the turnstiles either: Crowds didn’t surpass 2,000 for a single game this season. Kansas City’s Municipal Auditorium seats almost 10,000.

The WAC’s vast reach requires an immense amount of air travel — for players and coaches. The average men’s basketball trip last season was $32,000, according to NCAA records.

That extensive travel requirement led WAC conference rival CSU-Bakersfield to announce Nov. 27 it’s leaving for the more geographically friendly Big West, citing an average of 2,400-mile roundtrip for its teams. The Big West’s only school outside of California is Hawaii.

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