The American Athletic Conference is expected to vote on a proposal to invite Wichita State to join the conference on Friday. If approved, the AAC would add Wichita State as a full member, with the notable exception of football, as the Shockers have not stepped foot on a football field since discontinuing the program in 1986. If accepted into the AAC, do not expect this to spur the reviving of the program.
As fun as it would be to see Wichita State attempt a comeback in college football, and it seems that idea has been on the minds of some recently, the economics simply are not in favor of such a move at this time. For starters, the travel just within the conference would be a burden that would take a toll on the initial benefits to joining the AAC in other sports. But starting up a program with the intent to play FBS football is a serious commitment that must be planned out well in advance. That is not to say it should not be an option if the school has the inkling in the future, but for right now that is simply not in the cards.
Wichita State has done its homework over the years about a possible return to football. In 1992, the university conducted a feasibility study and determined it needed $24 million in stadium renovations in order to comply with 1-A football regulations at the time. Five years later it was determined it would cost $11 million to revive the football program and a handful of women’s sports. A year later, in 1998, the university’s advisory board recommended reinstating football following a 15-month study, but the recommendation failed to lead to a football comeback. In 2006, the mayor of Wichita proposed using public funds to help revive the program, only to drop the plan less than a month after suggesting it. And as recently as in 2012, the formation of a club football team was made with the intent of paving a path back to a full program rebirth at Wichita State. Here we are five years later and nothing has come of that either.
There is also the fact the AAC is not in need of adding any football members. The most recent addition of Navy as a football-only member brought balance to the conference lineup with a full 12 members. Unless the AAC loses a school to another conference, the need to fill a spot in the football lineup is non-existent for the foreseeable future. The Big 12’s flirting and teasing with AAC members without ever extending a formal invite to the conference made sure of that.
Wichita State should also be mindful of the experiences other programs are currently having in the evolving college football landscape. Idaho just became the first FBS program to drop down to the FCS. New Mexico State is left in isolation as an independent after being cut loose as a football member of the Sun Belt Conference. UMass was recently let go by the MAC and some members of the UMass community would prefer to see the program follow Idaho’s lead and return to the FCS.
Simply put, unless Wichita State has some serious funding behind the launch of a revived football program, the timing and climate is just too unsettling to consider such an option.