Kevin Saal pushes for student athletes to be students first


Mia Hennen / The Sunflower

Director of Athletics Kevin Saal speaks to the crowd of mourners and Wichita State community members present for the Memorial ’70 ceremony. The ceremony of rememberance honored WSU football players, administrators and supporters who died in a plane crash on Oct. 2, 1970.

After five months with Wichita State, Director of Athletics Kevin Saal said he is looking to give student-athletes the best experiences possible by emphasizing the importance of academics in each athletic program. 

During the Faculty Senate meeting on Nov. 28, Saal discussed who the Shockers are through balance of academics and athletics. 

“Our core values we talk a lot about,” Saal said. “It’s really who we are and it’s the lens through which we make decisions. Character, integrity, knowledge, and stewardship.”

Currently WSU has over 250 student-athletes, from 30 states and 24 countries. Over 50% of this population are first generation students. 

These students are learning across six academic colleges with 68 different majors. This year’s basketball uniforms now display a patch of each individual’s academic college.

“That’s really important for us to maintain that connection and represent,” Saal said. “Hopefully that’s a community that folks can get around our student-athletes as well in those academic colleges.”

For the past 17 consecutive years, 34 semesters, WSU’s athletics department has maintained a 3.0 overall GPA. In the spring of 2022, they achieved a 3.3 GPA.

For the department’s five year plan, they are looking for the next five of 10 semesters to have a 3.3 GPA. WSU athletics has never earned a 3.4 GPA, so one of the next 10 semesters is aiming for that goal.

Saal wants to work on connecting student-athletes to jobs. Saying that they are person-players, in that order.

“Students first, then persons, then players,” Saal said. “Then, ultimately, professionals.”

One of the department’s largest goals is to win championships. To make it to the NCAA tournament, it’s important to stay competitive at the conference level.

“We gotta win championships in our league if we expect to represent the institution at the national level,” Saal said.

The Shockers have won six American Athletic Conference Championships. Women’s cross country, men’s and women’s outdoor track and field, volleyball, softball, and men’s basketball have each won a championship. 

“Our goal is to win 15 in the next five years,” Saal said. “It’s bold. It’s aggressive. We also have 15 sports so it’s no coincidence. We want to align resources to expectations so that each one of our sports have a chance to win a conference championship.”