College basketball: Brown learning ropes at UMKC
KANSAS CITY -- Matt Brown coaches basketball at a school that doesn't play football within a league that doesn't sponsor football.
Football is nevertheless changing Brown's life.
Now finished with his sixth season in charge at the University of Missouri-Kansas City, the former Marshall staffer and West Virginia assistant coach is no longer part of the Summit League following Sunday's first-round conference tournament loss to North Dakota State.
The Kangaroos, right in the middle of the country, will begin play next season in the Western Athletic Conference.
"I think everyone wants to be a step ahead, just in case," Brown said last week in between a win against IUPUI and a recruiting trip. "Different schools go to different leagues and the next thing you know you've got six or seven schools and your league doesn't have an opportunity to play for a NCAA berth. Most universities want to stay ahead of the game, but I didn't think football would ever trickle down to our level."
The WAC, once one of the most entertaining football conferences in the country, was picked apart and ultimately fell apart during conference expansion.
The 2012 season was its last as a football league. Desperate to maintain the automatic bid to the NCAA tournament for the conference tournament winner, the WAC rebuilt itself and added new teams.
UMKC was added last month and joins a roster that now includes California State-Bakersfield, Chicago State, Grand Canyon University, Idaho, New Mexico State, Seattle, Texas-Pan American and Utah Valley.
"Obviously, there's a name recognition as far as the conference being known, so that's going to be good for us," Brown said.
The WAC has had at least two teams in the NCAA field in 24 of the 28 years the field has had at least 64 teams. UMKC has never been to the NCAA tournament in 38 years of Division I competition. Brown's team finished 8-24 this season and his overall record is 64-122.
He knew nothing but success before with his three years as an administrative assistant for Billy Donovan at Marshall and Florida and his 10 years as an assistant for John Beilein at Richmond and WVU.
"UMKC didn't have a lot of history and tradition," Brown said.
He's the eighth coach in school history and succeeded Rich Zvosec, who was fired after winning records in four of his six seasons.
Zvosec followed Dean Demopoulos, who spent but one season at the school and left for an assistant coaching job in the NBA.
Brown wanted to be a head coach. Brown, who was 37 years old when he was hired in 2007, believed in the school's potential. He'd been impressed with Kansas City and all its resources since WVU's Guardians Classic losses to Kentucky and Texas in 2005 inside the Municipal Auditorium.
That building has played host to more Final Fours than any other. It's also where UMKC plays some of its home games.
"In 2011, we had 16 wins - that was the third-most wins in the Division I era," Brown said. "That might not sound like a lot, but it's the third-most. That gives you an idea about the history of the program. I'd say the university has been very fair to me. They've been patient with me.
"I knew it would be a challenge when I accepted the position here. Division I opportunities are hard to get. I'd interviewed for two of them before and didn't get them."
Brown earned a contract extension following the 16-14 record in 2011, but it goes only through next season, one that's going to be spent learning on the go. Four of the nine WAC schools are in infant stages of Division I basketball. The closest trip for Brown in what will likely be eight WAC road trips is Chicago State, a little more than 500 miles away. Some other road trips are three times that distance.
"It will be a unique experience for everybody in terms of finding out the costs of travel, the level of play, the quality of the teams. Everyone plays a different style," Brown said. "I think it might actually be a little similar to our first couple of years in the Summit League when we had Centenary (La.) and Southern Utah in the league.
"It's trial and error to figure out what's best to do. West Virginia is a long ways away from the rest of the league, so I'm sure it's a whole new experience for them."
Brown said the university is at peace with what the added travel might do to academics.
"I think what the administration did was take a look at how much class time they missed with bus trips and felt like being in metropolitan areas for most of our travel would be almost less travel time in the WAC," he said.
There's a financial component involved, though. The Kangaroos bus to their conference road games and to whichever ones they can in non-conference play. They'll have to fly to their conference road games now. They'll also have to cover a lot of that expense on their own since the athletic department doesn't have a football program to fill a checking account.
Brown played five games on one-time contracts this season for a guaranteed income. The Kangaroos were 0-5 against Seton Hall, Louisville, Ohio State, Iowa State and Kansas State, though they gave the Wildcats fits. Brown might need more next season to offset costs.
"It's tough but if you want to be a head coach, sometimes you've got to be willing to get out there regardless of the situation," he said.
Contact sportswriter Mike Casazza at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-319-1142. His blog is at blogs.dailymail.com/wvu.