Almost from the moment Ted Bredehoft set foot on the Wichita State campus 10 years ago, he was surrounded by controversy.
Hired in August 1972 as athletic director, Bredehoft vowed to “attain excellence” in the sports in which the Shockers competed.
In many ways, Bredehoft achieved that goal. But in the end, it was the pressure to attain “excellence” that proved to be his undoing.
The third NCAA investigation during his tenure, bringing with it the possibility of severe penalties against the WSU athletic programs – one of which is already on probation – created an atmosphere in which Bredehoft was forced to resign.
When Bredehoft arrived, Wichita State competed in five sports. That number is now 15 – including the women’s sports that came under Bredehoft’s command in a 1980 merger of the men’s and women’s athletic departments – and the Shockers have captured five straight Missouri Valley Conference All-Sports awards.
Wichita State regained national prominence in basketball and developed outstanding programs in baseball, golf and tennis under Bredehoft. But it wasn’t until this season that WSU was able to put together a winning football season.
In tough times for collegiate athletics, the workaholic, 50-year-old Bredehoft was able to keep the Shocker ship afloat financially. He raised the level of contributions to the athletic department from $77,000 to more than $1 million annually. And the WSU athletic budget showed a similar growth, increasing from $900,000 in 1972 to $2 million.
But the growth didn’t come without a high cost to the university’s reputation and to the careers of those who didn’t fit into Bredehoft’s plans. Within 1 1/2 years of his taking charge, 23 people – including football coach Bob Seaman and his staff – were fired or forced out. The revolving door continued to turn through the years, as more than 50 athletic department personnel – including nine sports information directors – came and went.
Three times in Bredehoft’s 10 years at the helm, the WSU athletic department came under the scrutiny of the NCAA. Bredehoft inherited the first probe in 1973, when a team manager was found to have changed the transcript of basketball player Rudy Jackson.
Bredehoft’s reign began to crumble in February 1981 with revelations of rules violations in the basketball program that eventually led to a three-year probation handed out in January.
But it was the latest investigation into the football and basketball programs – started by the NCAA in August and which later included an admission from WSU that it had improperly recruited an athlete – that proved to be the final straw.
Monday, WSU President Clark Ahlberg announced he had accepted Bredehoft’s resignation effective next Tuesday. After a decade of unwavering support for the man he hired, Ahlberg apparently succumbed to mounting pressure to take steps to clean up the athletic program.
Ted C. Bredehoft, all 5-foot-4 of him, splashed onto the Wichita sports scene Aug. 9, 1972 when he was named as successor to Cecil Coleman, who left Wichita State to become athletic director at Illinois. Before taking the job at WSU, Bredehoft had served for 11 years at Arizona State as an assistant athletic director and a wrestling and tennis coach.
When WSU officials went searching for the replacement for Coleman, they said they wanted someone “promotional-minded.” They couldn’t have found a better man than Bredehoft in that regard.
At his first news conference, Bredehoft began with the promotional hype that would later lead to his being tabbed “Barnum and Bailey Bredehoft.”
“There are 82,246 square miles in Kansas and I’d like to declare all of this country as Shocker Country,” Bredehoft said.
The list of Bredehoft’s schemes was almost endless. Here are some of the best:
But a couple of Bredehoft’s zanier ideas proved to be solid moneymakers. Shocker Mountain, an artificial ski slope set up on a ramp in Cessna Stadium, has helped hundreds of people learn to ski. And Bredehoft’s Love Ya Shocker Shop in Henry Levitt Arena is an outlet for just about all imaginable Shocker paraphernalia.
Perhaps Bredehoft’s greatest attribute was his ability to raise money for his programs. The Shocker Athletic Scholarship Organization that Bredehoft formed became the foundation for the department’s solid financial base. More than $1 million is raised annually through SASO.
But in making the big contributors an integral part of WSU athletics, Bredehoft alienated other long-time supporters.
Bredehoft’s most controversial move for revenue came in 1980 with “musical chairs.” Bredehoft required season basketball ticket holders in choice locations to become members of the Bold Gold Club to retain their seats. To keep their seats, ticket-holding boosters had to give a minimum $600 donation.
Some ticket holders coughed up the money and kept their seats. Some refused. Others took Bredehoft to court to keep their seats and won, forcing Bredehoft to put a disclaimer on the tickets notifying buyers that their seat locations might not be honored in the future if they didn’t meet Bredehoft’s conditions.
Always alert to ways of increasing public exposure of his product, Bredehoft put together the first college basketball subscription television service in the country when he unveiled the Shocker Sports Superchannel in 1981. The cable TV channel, which broadcasts live and taped replays of WSU basketball games and other Shocker sporting events, netted $100,000 in its initial year.
Bredehoft was almost fanatical in his drive to get Wichita State’s sister institutions – Kansas and Kansas State – on the WSU football and basketball schedules. The Shockers played K-State in football four times during Bredehoft’s tenure – losing all four times – but met KU only once.
That game came this season when for the first time in 36 years WSU played both KU and K-State in the same year. Both games proved to be box office successes, with 41,500 people attending the game in Lawrence and a K-State non-conference record crowd of 40,100 watching in Manhattan.
Two of the on-field highlights for Bredehoft came at the expense of the Jayhawks. The Shockers defeated KU 13-10 this season in football and downed the Jayhawks 66-65 at the 1981 NCAA Midwest Regional basketball tournament in New Orleans. That was the only time in Bredehoft’s term that WSU played KU or K-State in basketball.
Despite a drive and determination matched by few, Bredehoft was unable to achieve several of his goals.
He dreamed of building Wichita State’s football program to a level comparable to that of any major Division I-A university. He fired Bob Seaman in 1973 and brought on Jim Wright. After five years of sub-.500 football, Wright was canned in favor of Willie Jeffries, the first black head coach at a Division I school.
Bredehoft often scheduled the Shockers against some of the nation’s top teams – Alabama, South Carolina, Arizona State – teams they had little chance of beating. Despite his frequent promotions, Bredehoft was never able to fill the 31,500-seat Cessna Stadium.
Basketball was another story. With the Shockers moving back into the national limelight under the care of Coach Gene Smithson – whom Bredehoft hired in 1978 – there weren’t enough tickets to go around. Bredehoft envisioned expanding the 10,666-seat Henry Levitt Arena by raising the roof, but was unable to get the project off the ground because of tightening economic times.
In 1978, Bredehoft revived the baseball program by hiring Gene Stephenson and announced plans for a playing field with an artificial-turf infield and a 5,000-seat stadium with major-league lighting and locker-room facilities.
Although Shocker Field is a first-class playing surface, the other facilities never materialized, and that proved to be a thorn in Bredehoft’s side. Stephenson constantly was on the offensive about upgrading the facilities and had more ammunition after he took the Shockers to the runner-up spot in the 1982 College World Series.
Bredehoft’s final fond moment as director of Wichita State athletics came last Saturday in Des Moines when he was carried off the field and given the game ball after the Shockers defeated Drake 38-29 in a game dedicated to Bredehoft.
Monday, when the end had come, staff members were called to Bredehoft’s office to be informed of his resignation. Bredehoft made the announcement without any fanfare.
“He was,” said one of his aides, “very businesslike.”