Wichita State has not played a down of college football since 1986, but it wants in with the Mountain West Conference
Wichita State made the decision to discontinue its college football program in 1986, but the thought of reviving the program was never silent for long. A study was done in 1992 to review the potential cost of bringing the program back. Another was done five years later in 1997. A year later an advisory committee made the recommendation to reinstate the football program, but no progress was made on figuring out how to raise the money to do so. In 2006, the mayor of Wichita suggested using public funds to help bring the college football program back, on the belief that college football would be good for the economy of the city. This idea was quickly abandoned within a couple of weeks. More recently, in 2012, an effort to start a club team with the hope of leading to a full-on revival of the program was never given support from the university. Now, once again, the topic of a potential rebirth of Wichita State football is starting to spark some conversation.
According to Dennis Dodd of CBSSports.com, Wichita State has approached the Mountain West Conference about potential membership. That would, in theory, round out the MWC’s basketball membership at 12 members but bump the football membership to 13 (Hawaii is not a basketball-playing member of the MWC). There may be some reluctance from the Mountain West to jump all in on adding Wichita State. As Dodd notes, splitting the basketball revenue between 12 members may not be received well, or possible, under the current media rights deals signed with ESPN and CBS Sports Network, but the increasing status of the Wichita State basketball program is not to be overlooked. In a bizarre twist in college football realignment, Wichita State’s basketball success may lead to a new look on the football front.
The Mountain West Conference could use a boost in basketball notoriety, and Wichita State would surely deliver that. The only question is whether or not Wichita State is prepared to fully fund a football program to go along with it. As reported, it would take an estimated $50 million to get a football program off the ground at Wichita State, which would include a renovation of Cessna Stadium. The old 31,500-seat football stadium has remained in relatively good shape as it continues to be used for track and field competition. It was most recently renovated in 1996. It would just need a minor facelift to bring it up to Mountain West standards and expectations. The more difficult and challenging part of the equation is finding a way to drum up enough interest from potential donors and supporters.
The last few years have shown some good examples of programs starting from scratch. Old Dominion revived its dormant program in 2009 and Charlotte started up a program in 2013. UTSA started its football program in 2011. All three currently reside in Conference USA. Georgia State initiated its football program from scratch in 2010 and currently is a member of the Sun Belt Conference. It is possible to get on a fast track to the FBS, as these programs have demonstrated. The problem is the Mountain West Conference is already settled on its football membership with 12 members. It made the decision to pass on adding Idaho and New Mexico State on multiple occasions, which would suggest adding a start-up program with no track record to fall back on may not be a likely scenario unless the conference gets desperate. If the Mountain West Conference were to lose a member to another conference, then Wichita State may become a little more attractive of an option.
But who is leaving the MWC for another conference? Probably nobody.
Maybe Wichita State should approach the Big 12. I hear they have a few openings.