Football program hangs in the balance of conference change

Wichita State President John Bardo shed some light on the university’s plans to bring back a football program last month. While brief, Bardo did share a bit more of the plan this time around.

Bardo said the largest portion of the $4 million for upgrades and improvements would be for stadium renovations with the remaining amount for a practice facility.

He said WSU, now in the Missouri Valley Conference, is considering the possibility of moving to the Big 12. 

The Big 12 is widely considered one of the strongest conferences at the Division I level in football and basketball, though it only has 10 teams currently. They would like to add at least two more teams, or potentially four.

Teams from the American Athletic Conference and Mountain West Conference are key contenders to join the Big 12. The University of Houston headlines this group. 

Bardo has acknowledged that teams leaving from these conferences will open up some spots.

The Mountain West has been a possibility for some time, but it is known to oppose WSU joining before it has a football program. Also, Wichita isn’t in the mountains nor is it on the west coast, so it doesn’t appear to be the best fit.

Many have also argued that the Mountain West isn’t much of an upgrade from the Missouri Valley in basketball, but realizing it could be worth it for football. 

Bardo has touched on the fact that joining the Football Bowl Subdivsion (FBS), the highest division of college football will be difficult, and conference realignment could help. He has also talked about his willingness to start off in the Football Champion Subdivision (FCS) in football and remain in the MVC as it could be beneficial to the program. 

However, the American Athletic Conference (AAC) could be a real opportunity. Houston is a prime candidate to leave for the Big 12 and Cincinnati is also in serious discussions. That could open two spots and other AAC teams remain in the running to depart. 

The American Conference is considered fairly middle of the pack in both sports, so it could be a great fit for WSU. They could surely hold their own in basketball and, while it remains to be seen, if they’d be willing to admit a school without a developed football program, it could happen.

Bardo seems to be cautiously optimistic. He knows Wichita State has options, but if he wants to fulfill his vision of a football program at WSU while also joining a conference with a more metropolitan focus unlike the Missouri Valley, it’s out of his hands at least for now.

The ideal scenario for Wichita State would be for several AAC teams to leave for the Big 12 so the Shockers could go straight to the FBS, but it’s a big dream. 

A more likely and still potentially exciting option would be to play football in the Missouri Valley for a few years before some Division I conferences once again realign. That could be perfect.