Is worth it to be ‘All American?’

Wichita State, if you haven’t already heard, is a new member of the American Athletic Conference. And what a big deal it is.

Superior athletics might not apply personally to you, but high school students pay close attention to the success of their athletic programs. Traditionally, when a school sees success in their basketball or football program, enrollment numbers surge. For instance, shortly after Wichita State advanced to the Final Four of the NCAA Tournament in 2013, campus visits climbed significantly.

This happy little accident opened up our minds to the thought that Wichita State could achieve President John Bardo’s quest to enroll 22,000 or more students.

But something didn’t change: headcount. Past the 20-day mark of classes, Wichita State’s retention numbers didn’t seem to live up to the administration’s expectations. Enrollment never surged like we thought it might.

And here we are. The summer is over and national pundits are ranking the Shocker men’s basketball team at or near the top of their projections. Yet, with all the perks associated with a new conference, there’s also a large bill to be paid. Without any growth in enrollment, that financial burden could increase.

This year, Wichita State students will pay $340 for an athletics fee (for a full-time undergraduate taking 15 credit hours) — up $24.40 from the year prior. Bardo projected WSU to lose $1.9 million in the conference change, and said it could be five years before the university could see any financial benefit.

Bardo told the Kansas Board of Regents that this benefits students, providing them with “the ambiance and the feeling of belonging on campus.”

He claimed the move would strengthen the branding of the university by the association with other AAC schools. He claimed that “the branding of who we are … at the end of the day, will mean a lot to the student who graduates” regardless of if they ever attend a sporting event.

But in the last year, student attendance numbers at all WSU’s major sporting events dropped. Attendance for men’s basketball games sank so low that the players notably commented on it and the athletic department started offering student tickets to the public.

For some, Wichita State joining The American was a dream come true, and that $24 bump in their fees is likely brushed off without much, if any, fuss. Others, however, just won’t reap the benefits of a conference change — and that’s okay.

If you’re about to be here a while, $24 extra is a bargain to see top-level competition — and hey, if Bardo’s right and a diploma with the name Wichita State University starts to carry a little more weight, this deal will have been a homerun.