‘At some point we are going to hang up the sneakers:’ Saal prepares for future

Kevin Saal has five core values he wants to instill in the athletic department at Wichita State – character, integrity, knowledge, stewardship and competitive excellence. 

Saal was hired as Wichita State’s nineteenth athletic director in June. As a part of Saal’s interview process, he created a document called “The Shocker Way,” which Saal plans on incorporating within the Athletic Department. “The Shocker Way” has three components – core values, student athletes and broad based competitive excellence.

 “When you take care of those (five) things, the championships come,” Saal said. “You can’t shortcut winning.” 

Saal said that relationships need to be maintained in order to have a clear vision for the department. 

“I used to think, as a young person, that your success was really measured by how much you got done and I think there is an element to that, that is important, but it’s now a combination of not only how much you can get done but how strong your relationships are,” Saal said. 

Saal built a strong relationship with Armchair Strategies, LLC. Armchair Strategies LLC is an NIL collective that helps shocker student athletes represent their community based on their own name, image and likeness. 

Armchair is owned by former Shocker baseball players Tymber Lee and Tyler Weber. 

“He’s got a good vision and I think you are going to see some of that in the next couple weeks or month or so,” Weber said. 

Name, image and likeness known as NIL, is something that Saal wants people to understand when it comes to Shocker athletics. Saal said that there used to be only five components to a student-athlete scholarship until about six years ago – room, board, books, tuition and fees. 

In addition to those five elements is the cost of attendance – which is when the NCAA allows an institution to pay what it costs above and beyond the main five elements to go to school. Usually this equates to entertainment and medical expenses. Each institution creates their own number. 

Allston Academic awards is the seventh element that rounds out a scholarship, but Saal said the eighth one is NIL. 

Saal said NIL is about letting athletes promote themselves in the community based on name, image and likeness just like any other college student. He said people often get confused that NIL is more so used for college athletes to act as professional athletes and gain millions of dollars in endorsements. 

“That’s not what it was intended to be and that’s not what it will be intended to be here,” Saal said. 

Another key component Saal wants to focus on is conference realignment. American Athletic Conference teams UCF, Houston and Cinciannti will leave to join the Big Twelve conference on July 1 of 2023. 

Since then, the AAC has added Florida Atlantic University, University of North Carolina at Charlotte, University of North Texas, University of Texas at San Antonio, Rice University and University of Alabama at Birmingham. 

Saal said he still believes that Wichita State’s conference will create exposure for the athletic department. 

“Realignment has been a part of our duties daily it seems like since 1996,” Saal said. “It’s certainly not something you can ignore. A lot of them are large markets such as Wichtia and are in areas that we actively recruit.”

Saal said as he continues to face the many elements and components it takes to run a college athletic department, he will take with him lessons that he learned at previous universities. 

“It’s a menu of options,” Saal said. “And I think a wise administrator will look at the menu and understand what can be applied and what can’t based on the strengths and assets of the institution or maybe the weaknesses of an institution.”

Earlier this year, President of Wichita State Rick Muma said that Kevin Saal was hired for his extensive leadership skills. While at Murray State he helped the department go through two conference realignments and appearances in post-season play and NCAA tournaments. 

“I have the greatest confidence that this forward thinking vision will propel Wichita State’s athletic programs to new heights,” Muma said. “Allowing our student athletes and our teams to achieve their full potential.”