Late Wednesday, some news came out that will have a profound impact in the regional world of sports.
Wichita State officials announced plans to demolish Cessna Stadium and replace it with a smaller facility to host Wichita State’s track and field program, along with "high school and club events for soccer, lacrosse and track and field."
The proposal to demolish the stadium was passed by the Kansas Board of Regents 9-0.
No timetable was set for the construction of a new facility.
Cessna Stadium was opened in 1946 and it shows its age. Its capacity is listed at 24,000, but it once held as many as 33,000.
The stadium hosted Wichita State football until that program was discontinued in 1986. There is still a cadre of WSU alumni who are bitter over that decision despite lack of attendance and lack of success on the field. More about that later.
The biggest impact in the short term will be the Kansas State High School Activities Association State Track and Field Championships, which ends the school athletic year in late May.
The meet draws about 3,500 athletes, along with coaches, parents and fans to Wichita. All six classes compete at the venue.
The challenge for the KSHSAA, at least during the years Cessna is not available, will be where to host the event.
The top candidates would probably be Rock Chalk Park (seating capacity 7,543) in Lawrence, the home of the University of Kansas track and field program; and Emporia State University’s Welch Stadium (7,000).
There are a number of other venues that can adequately host the meet, but not many venues that can provide the needed parking or towns that can provide the needed hotel rooms.
What will likely happen is the event will probably have to be held at two or three sites.
A reconstructed stadium at Wichita State would prove an ideal venue for the return of the meet, as well as the state football championships and a state soccer tournament or two.
As Wichita is being looked at for a possible pro soccer franchise, such a stadium would be ideal — especially if looking at a team at the second or third level of the U.S. pro pyramid (such as USL Championship or USL League One), though some colleges balk at allowing pro teams using college facilities.
Now back to the question of a return of WSU football.
One of my first duties when I arrived at the Kansan some 35 years ago was covering Wichita State and Kansas State home games when there weren’t other events going on. (We had another reporter who covered about half the Bethel games, and I handled the other half. That was back when BC had a nine- to 10-game schedule).
There were times when it seemed like there were more fans and more excitement at KCAC games than at WSU games.
In the seasons I covered the Shockers, the team was 3-8 both seasons. The Missouri Valley Conference dropped football at the NCAA Division I-A level (now called the Football Bowl Subdivision) after the 1985 season, meaning the team competed as an independent in its final year.
It really came as no shock when the program was discontinued, but some supporters were very upset at the decision.
A return of football at the top level would be very expensive. The Cessna Stadium site lacks the room to build an adequate stadium (probably 35,000 to 40,000 at minimum), along with the training facilities. It would probably have to be built at an off-campus site.
Then you have the question of adding women’s sports to offset the 65 scholarships offered to football players. Earlier studies showed Wichita State would have to add at least three women’s sports to stay compliant with NCAA and Title IX regulations.
The cost of all that (not including the stadium) was pinned at about $11 million.
The biggest pro to the question was answered when WSU joined the American Athletic Conference. You would have natural rivals in Tulsa, Southern Methodist, Memphis and Tulane. The American is one of the stronger non-Power 5 football conferences. The conference isn’t so tough that it would take 20 years to become competitive. With UConn leaving the American, there is an opening in the football schedule.
WSU could try for a lower level, such as the Division I-FCS level, or even offer football as a non-scholarship sport, such as schools like Drake or Dayton or those in the Ivy League do. The question would then become, could the school generate any interest?
The sport that really sticks out as a strong candidate at WSU would be soccer. The area develops a lot of talent in relation to its size and there is nowhere in-state for men’s soccer players to go.
The NCAA scholarship levels are 9.9 for men and 12 for women, which doesn’t break the bank or tilt the Title IX numbers too far.
Mark Schnabel is the sports editor at the Kansan, filling in with the news department at the moment. He can be reached at email@example.com.