Another year without Shocker football

Sports Column

We haven’t heard the cracking and pounding of shoulder pads against football helmets, whistles echoing in the background and coaches yelling out directions at Wichita State since 1986.

It may be hard to believe, but it has been 27 years since Shocker football was disbanded.

The decision was made due to the price of maintenance of a then-aging Cessna Stadium, which was built in 1969 and restored for the first time in 1998.

It was restored again in 2002, when a seven-month, $1.3 million project added a new track and locker rooms.

Poor attendance at games and subsequent problems in turning a profit were other reasons former Athletic Director Lew Perkins and former WSU President Warren Armstrong gave for ending the football program.

The decision to end the program was made decades after the tragic 1970 Colorado plane crash in which Wichita State football players, administrators, athletic staff members and team supporters lost their lives.

Every now and then, grassroots organizations have talked about restoring football at WSU. Most attempts never get past the first stages.

The plans are usually not well thought out, and the efforts often lack the necessary support from WSU fans and the Wichita business community.

No matter what side you are on about football returning, it is a very touchy situation for fans, the community, alumni and administration.

The reality is that we may never see football at WSU again—or at least not anytime soon—and not at Cessna Stadium. The writing is under the current proposed master plan, which is a tentative 10- to 30-year plan addressing WSU’s growth and the appearance of the campus.

The plan all but eliminates football returning. It calls for the east side bleachers of Cessna Stadium to be razed for a parking garage for the new residence hall being built.

Cessna Stadium seats 30,000 fans. Taking out those bleachers will leave about 15,000 seats, which is not enough seating for a Division 1 football program.

I would love for WSU to have a football program, but without the support of the community and some big donations, football will not happen.

To understand why we are at this point, just take a look at the last 20 years of the program’s existence.

At WSU’s last home game, 4,223 fans showed up to a 30,000-seat Cessna Stadium on Nov. 15, 1986, to watch the Shockers lose 52-6 to Arizona State University.

The Shockers finished 3-8 in their final season of play, and they had also finished 3-8 in the two previous seasons. From 1968 to 1986, the Shocker football program was 60-159.

In 1983, WSU’s best season at 8-3, the average crowd was 23,000 fans per game. In 1986, a 57-6 loss to the University of Kansas only brought 3,911 to Cessna Stadium.

There is a lot of blame to go around in what went wrong with Shocker football. The play was sometimes horrendous, so no one wanted to come watch WSU lose.

The sparse crowds also drained the administration’s football budget due to low-ticket sales, which meant not turning a profit.

Attendance was so bad that at one point, just to fill the stands at a lot of Shocker home football games, the games were free.

But to all who want football back, you must understand the beginning.

If it begins, the Shocker football team may not be on an upward slope for several years, and you still will have to support the team and show up at games.

It would take the entire WSU community to make football’s return a reality. Not to mention major donations.

WSU football is like the girl who got away. When you had her, you took advantage of her, when she’s gone you want her back. Twenty-seven years later, the community, students, older fan base and alumni realize they miss football.

Let’s hope that the loss of Shocker football made us better people, and that we miss our long lost love and want her back enough to fight for her. Fight for her, but if we fail, let her memory live in peace.

There are always memories.