East Carolina’s already difficult quest for basketball respectability got just a little tougher Friday with the addition of Wichita State as the newest member of the American Athletic Conference. The Shockers were admitted in a unanimous vote of the AAC’s board of directors and will begin play at the start of the 2017-18 academic year. “We welcome Wichita State University to the American Athletic Conference,” said ECU athletic director Jeff Compher, serves as chairman of the league’s AD committee. “They bring a rich history of competitive success in all of their sports and they will enhance our national prominence as a Power 6 Conference.” Wichita State will officially become an AAC member on July 1. While it will compete in all sports except football, its men’s basketball program is the most valuable addition to the an already strong league that boasts nationally recognized programs Cincinnati, SMU, Memphis and Temple, along with NIT semifinalist Central Florida. Led by coach Gregg Marshall, the Shockers are one of only five teams to win at least one NCAA tournament game in each of the past five years. They have earned four straight Missouri Valley Conference championships, a run that has included a Final Four appearance in 2013 and an undefeated regular season a season later. Their addition to ECU’s schedule promises to be another major obstacle for coach Jeff Lebo’s struggling program to overcome. The Pirates have experienced three straight losing seasons since joining the AAC themselves. In addition to men’s basketball, Wichita State also fields nationally prominent teams in baseball, which won a national championship in 1989 and has produced 37 Major Leaguers, women’s basketball, volleyball and both men’s and women’s tennis. “”This is a university with a strong athletic and academic heritage which shares our conference’s commitment to excellence and we look forward to having them as a member,” AAC commissioner Mike Aresco said in a statement announcing the addition. “The university has an exceptionally strong tradition of success in men’s basketball and baseball. The addition of Wichita State in basketball and Olympic sports extends our conference’s national footprint, enhances our national profile, and strengthens our position as a leader in intercollegiate athletics.” The AAC has 10 full-time members: ECU, Central Florida, Cincinnati, UConn, Houston, Memphis, SMU, South Florida, Temple and Tulane. Navy is a member in football only while Wichita State will compete in men’s and women’s basketball, along with 13 other Olympic sports.
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