No fireworks yet, Wichita State ready to start talking football

Evan Pflugradt

There’s no fireworks, no celebrations. But Wichita State is ready to start talking football.

The conversation started nearly 30 years ago – in 1987 – but the conversation, as noted by Darron Boatright, took a serious turn four years ago. And in December, it took an even more serious one.

Monday, the university released the “Football Benchmarking Analysis,” a 69-page report naming a price tag on bringing WSU a Division I football program.  The $60,000 report – originated in December at the request of WSU President John Bardo – uses four case studies to detail the steps necessary, if WSU decides to pursue the project.

“This is turning opinionated conversation into educated conversation,” Boatright said. “Our intent is being transparent, and sharing everything we have with the community.

“This has been studied many times in the last 30 years, but never as openly as Dr. Bardo has chosen to make this.”

Boatright said the project would impact a lot of people, extending well past the boundaries of WSU’s campus. And that’s why they’re calling on the opinions of the public – where comments can be suggested online. 

“This affects every facet of the community,” he said.

As Boatright notes, this is not a moment for celebration. But they’re hoping this report will be a breakthrough to where they can engage the public with actual numbers and share a rough idea of what the ancillary benefits may be.  

Boatright said the community will view the project differently this time around because they will be engaged in the process. 

Initially when Bardo first came to the college four years ago, he addressed the matter, saying “not now.” But Boatright looks out the windows of Koch Arena, gazing at Shocker Hall, and the dirt-paved land soon-to-house additions to Innovation Campus; he considers it the right time to start approaching such a project. 

“It came to a point where some of the needs were met, and Bardo put a check in the box on those projects, then the community conversation switched to football,” Boatright said. “In December, Bardo came to a point where he was ready to address it.” 

Boatright said he sees the campus to be at a point of growth. 

The project, however, is only in the beginning phases. And the timeline, if the project is adopted, could be as long as six years down the road. 

The plan details a five-year operation from announcement to first game. As Boatright stated, the opportunity for revenue won’t exist for some time. 

“You don’t necessarily look into a project like this to make profits and losses equal,” Boatright said. “It’s much greater than that.

“There would be great expenses to make this work.” 

In fact, the plan details as much as $40 million for a startup facility and a startup of budget of $6 million annually. 

The plan looks at renovating Cessna Stadium, which from a construction standpoint hasn’t been touched in more than 30 years. 

To get the building up to compliance with the American’s with Disabilities Act, it would require a facelift of more than $28 million. 

Boatright claims the “bare bones” of Cessna are stable enough to give them the opportunity to enhance it.

“If you gave me a $28 million facelift, I’d look a lot better, too,” Boatright said.

The plan details new elevator systems, new press boxes and possibly, the addition of suites. 

In addition, the plan calls for a practice facility that would also hold offices. Boatright said WSU has the luxury of space in the Innovation Campus division of campus. 

“A lot of ideas have been bantering around,” Boatright said. “[The facility] would be very close to campus, if not on campus.” 

Boatright said despite the money questions and concerns, the vision remains for WSU changing the freshman experience. 

“A lot of decisions are made in the first six to eight weeks of a freshman’s experience on campus,” he said. “We’re looking at ways to enhance their experience on campus, and keep their feet on the ground in Wichita.” 

WSU currently has one of the lowest freshman retention ratings in the state. According to reports Boatright has read, the first two months lay the groundwork for what he claims impact not only the four to five years they spend in college, but also the rest of their lives. 

“We will evaluate how this might affect the student life on campus as well as the entertainment value off campus,” Boatright said. “We want to be keeping people here in town, bringing new people to campus and bringing people back to town. The goal is getting people to spend their dollars in our community.”

Bardo, who is on vacation this week, will evaluate the report along with the athletic department in the coming months. There is no set timeline for what’s next.