Two years ago, Wichita State started making noise about re-starting the Shockers’ football program. Which was news to a certain demographic who was unaware that Wichita State ever played football in the first place.
Indeed, Wichita State fielded a team for 90 years, but dropped the program in 1986 due to poor performance, poor attendance and poor finance. But the school hired a new president in 2012, and by 2016 he was leading the charge to re-start Shocker football. WSU president John Bardo even commissioned a $69,000 study into reviving the sport.
The campaign even had the first important milestone every football program needs: a helmet.
— John Bardo (@President_Bardo) February 3, 2016
Though WSU football struggled, its other programs have a history of competing on an elite level. Wichita State baseball owns seven College World Series appearances — most recently in 1996 — with a national championship in 1989. Wichita State basketball made a run to the 2013 Final Four and earned a No. 1 seed in the 2014 NCAA Tournament after posting an undefeated regular season.
But a major development happened in the two years between that tweet and now: Wichita State moved to the American Athletic Conference as an all-sports member (in every sport but football, obviously).
This was a good thing for the university, as it now shares a basketball court with the likes of Connecticut, Cincinnati, Memphis and Temple, and its academic side rubs elbows with Tulane and SMU. But that was a bad thing for Wichita State’s football prospects, because the price tag just became that much higher.
To be competitive at the AAC level, the 2016 study found Wichita State would need $40 million to build and/or upgrade facilities and $6 million a year to run the program. The Shockers’ have a stadium on campus, Cessna Stadium, but it’s not exactly a state-of-the-art facility in 2018.
“What it boiled down to was everybody wants it, nobody wants to pay for it,” Bardo told Wichita State’s student newspaper, The Sunflower. “(Football) is not something we’re going to spend a lot of time on unless the external situation changes where people change and decide to put money into it.”
Wichita happens to be the home town of Charles and David Koch, whose Koch Industries is the second-largest privately held company in the United States and who happened to have a combined net worth of $108 billion. The Shockers’ basketball programs play in Charles Koch Arena, who provided $6 million of a $25 million renovation in 2003, so there is a connection there.
But it doesn’t appear either of the Koch brothers or any other big donor appears to be on the horizon to play rainmaker for Wichita State football, at least not in the near term. For that reason, the door to reviving Shocker football will never be officially closed — at least not as long as Bardo is president — but it’s not on the agenda at this time.