Reviving football is not a good move for WSU

Sports Editor

For being a Division I school with no football program, Wichita State has made a name for itself in national headlines, making the need for the sport obsolete.

Still, many wonder what is stopping the university from taking the plunge and investing in a multi-million dollar program that could rack up revenue for the school.

For athletic director Eric Sexton, a football program is far from a top priority.

“We’re focusing on trying to give our students and our coaches great opportunities at the department we’re at now,” he said.

The cost of building a football program and immediately being able to compete well at a Division I level would require many resources WSU just does not have, not to mention a need to balance the continued success of the other sports the school bases so much pride upon.

“It’s not about having it or not having it,” Sexton said. “It’s about how do we financially do it and respect the commitments of our sports programs that we have now, while having a level of commitment to success for football and the requisite for three or four other women’s programs.”

In order to satisfy Title IX requirements, WSU would have to offer enough opportunities for women’s sports as they do men’s. Since a football team can carry 80 or more positions, the issue becomes even more improbable, as more than one new sport would have to be offered for women.

“It’s not about whether we want to do that or not,” Sexton said. “It’s about how do we have the financial resources to do that?”

Basically, it comes down to money. WSU does not have the financial resources to sustain a brand new football program, including recruitment, a coaching staff, equipment, scholarships and necessary renovations to Cessna Stadium. That does not include the same features for the amount of women’s opportunities the college would have to create to satisfy equality policies.

WSU President John Bardo said there are more questions than finances in building a program.

“If you have a team that loses 11 games every year, is that good enough because you have one?” Bardo asked. “Does it matter if you beat Tabor College or do you want to beat Oklahoma? All of those questions have to be answered when you talk about football.”

Bardo said the cost of having a Division I team is way more than most students want to pay. The reality of having a competitive team means a stadium upgrade of $70 million or more paid for by students and a budget per year for the sport.

Most students are not going to want to pay that on top of other fees for campus upkeep. The money coming out of their pockets would not just be to sustain the football program, but also all the women’s sports that come with it.

A typical budget for a Mountain West team is $55 million a year. WSU’s budget is $22 million. How the college goes from what it can afford now to $55 million a year for a program is a giant step and not a high priority on most people’s lists.

“Someday that big donor might be out there that says, ‘Hey I want to do this,’ but right now, I just don’t see it,” Bardo said.

It is not just about having football; Bardo said he would gladly create the program if it were that simple.

“It’s about how do we do that without hurting the current programs? How do we do that so we don’t make it cost-prohibitive on the students?” he said. “Because we’ve gone now 30-ish years with no money being raised for it, no upgrades to stadiums and all those things that the other schools have been doing. So to buy in right now is pretty expensive.”

The cost of football alone makes the chance of WSU ever bringing the program back highly unlikely, and with the restructuring of the NCAA, costs for college athletics are increasing.  

“Right now we have so many really good programs. I don’t want to take away from them,” Bardo said.

In the past, students have started petitions to try to gain support for the rebuilding of a football program on campus, but what they are not taking into consideration is the interest in the sport.

Wichita is a basketball-based city. The Shockers are a successful team and are getting better every year. Koch Arena often sells out for basketball games, and the support behind the team has only grown with appearances in the Final Four and their undefeated season last year.

In the upcoming season, the college can expect 7-foot-tall players and a strong recruiting class. WSU is going to have a successful year in basketball, and that is what students should be focused on. The university has something to be proud of in their basketball team, and to take attention away from that to build a football team would be unfair.

A couple of years ago, there was a rumor Wink Hartman was interested in starting a football team at WSU. Several sources talked about him donating half a million dollars to the cause, but President Bardo said the topic has never come up in discussion.

Without a generous donor to get the program off the ground, there is no way WSU could support it. Students and staff can talk about it until they are blue in the face; the idea of a team might be nice, but in the region, there is more money to be made in basketball.

There are also other areas of campus that could better use the revenue brought in by student fees, such as a new business building and upgrades in technology used in classrooms.

WSU needs to maintain competitiveness in the educational department, and to do so, that will cost money.

Bardo said it is more important to build a parking garage and other necessities for campus, and that money has to come out of the students’ pockets. Of all those projects, football should rank lowest on everyone’s list.

“My thing is about the student experience,” Bardo said. “To me, if we’re committing to an athletics program and we’re committing to that student to have a really good experience, they may not win a championship, they may not be good enough, but we’re going to do right by them.”