President Bardo left this one sports project on the table


Matt Crow

Wichita State President John Bardo speaks during a press conference announcing Wichita State’s acceptance into the American Athletic Conference. (April 7, 2017)

President John Bardo was around during the good years of Wichita State football. He described these memories fondly, and let many believe he would be the one to resurrect the school’s football program.

With teases on social media, a prized black Shocker helmet in his office and a $60,000 feasibility study, it would appear football was the late president’s big sports project.

Bardo never lived to see the project reach completion. Wichita State’s interest in football stymied in 2016. Still, Bardo said “doors were never closed” but said he felt confident a revival wouldn’t happen until after he was gone. Yet, that’s not to say that Bardo, a described agent of change, didn’t have plans to expand Wichita State’s competitive sports teams.

“I think eSports will be the next thing added to intercollegiate competition,” Bardo told The Sunflower in October. “That will be next.”

eSports wasn’t Bardo’s stopping point.

Why Bardo wanted football was to offer students an entertainment attraction early into the fall semester. Basketball, the school’s largest entertainment attraction, doesn’t play its first games until November. Wichita State is most likely to face retention issues in the first eight weeks of the semester. Bardo thought that if he could find a way to keep students in Wichita on the weekends, retention numbers would grow.

Matt Crow
Wichita State President John Bardo pictured at Wichita State’s joining the American Athletic Conference.

His solution?

“It’s possible men’s and women’s soccer,” Bardo said. “It’s gaining popularity in this part of the country particularly.”

How serious were these considerations? Enough that Bardo said he had multiple conversations with Athletic Director Darron Boatright about the possibilities.

“Darron Boatright certainly understands the interest I have in that,” Bardo said.

Wichita State hasn’t jumped into soccer because, Bardo said, the school is still “digesting the (2017) move to the American Athletic Conference.”

“Right now, it’s the wrong time to get into anything,” Bardo said. “Soccer, down the road, might be possible.”

“Those were more of preparatory conversations than anything,” Boatright said this week. “With the way our Title IX numbers are currently and the way the percentages work out with our undergraduate numbers, we have the right amount of sports that we do right now.”

Swimming and diving and sponsoring bowling were also considered options, Boatright said. That considered, Wichita State is still searching to fulfill Bardo’s mission of providing a fall sports entertainment option for students in the first eight weeks of the fall semester.

Joseph Barringhaus
Wichita State’s Director of Athletics Darron Boatright addresses fans at the State of the American pep rally.

“We had multiple discussions as an executive team about those very important first eight weeks of classes,” Boatright said. “Your decision, the statistics will say, you will decide your freshman year, the first eight weeks, if that’s the institution you’ll graduate from.

“That would have been a reason why he (Bardo) would mention another fall sport is he was looking for another entertainment option,” Boatright said.

Bardo was clear with his intentions with athletics. He wanted to win, Boatright said. “He would never shy away from that,” Boatright added.

“The only thing Dr. Bardo was adamant with me on was studying conference affiliation and studying feasibility for football,” Boatright said. “He was demanding in that we were going to look at them. And if we found that we’re where we need to be, that’s fine.”

Bardo’s success with the university includes Wichita State’s expansion on its east campus addition known as Innovation Campus, but also leading Wichita State’s move to the American Athletic Conference, Boatright said.

“I’d be hard-pressed to find an example of a president in such a short period of time that had such a lasting and profound impact on a community and university,” Boatright said.

Joseph Barringhaus
Wichita State President John Bardo addresses fans at the State of the American pep rally.