In his first trip to Wichita, American Athletic Conference commissioner Mike Aresco was properly introduced to Shocker basketball on Monday at Koch Arena.
It was the first public ceremony since Wichita State joined the American, as Wichita State’s band and cheerleaders led the celebration and the new conference banners were unveiled to the hundreds of fans who showed up in black and yellow with umbrellas.
Aresco had been told about the dedication of Wichita State’s fans, but he saw it first-hand for the first time Monday.
“Wichita State brings something unique to us right now and that is just a tremendous national brand,” Aresco said. “I don’t think I ever fully grasped how iconic the brand has become. It reminds me of a Gonzaga or Boise (State) in football. You’ve got a sustainable program here and that was one of the key things we looked at when we made the decision.”
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Fans were pleased to listen to Aresco address the crowd with compliments to Wichita State for its athletic and academic success as he outlined all of the benefits to the new partnership. They gave Aresco a standing ovation as he ended his speech with an emphatic “Go Shockers.”
The applause grew even louder minutes later when the American banner was unfurled in the rafters of sections 118 and 119.
“It’s been a very exciting time since our announcement in May,” WSU athletic director Darron Boatright said. “We’re enjoying seeing the city embrace this idea and now we have a lot of work to do to ensure we’re prepared to go in and compete now.”
It’s obvious that Wichita State and the American are still in a honeymoon phase, as both sides raved what could be now that they have teamed up.
Aresco called WSU joining “a shot in the arm” for The American, while Boatright noted the national exposure the AAC will bring to Wichita State’s athletics. WSU president John Bardo was excited about joining a conference with schools of similar academic ambitions.
“When you bring in a school like this, which is as competitive as you are, it elevates everybody,” Aresco said. “Everybody has to be that much better. I think this will have tremendous value for us and I think we will have tremendous value for you because now you’re going to be going into big cities and you’re going to be playing on CBS and ESPN and ESPN2 on a regular basis.
“Everybody is going to see what this program is on a day-to-day basis, not just once or twice every year.”
Aresco has publicly lobbied for the American to be considered a “Power 6” conference, instead of the “Power 5” structure that currently exists.
Fighting for national respect is a familiar one for Wichita State.
“Over the years I think you’ve seen coach (Gregg) Marshall absolutely be willing to play just about anybody anywhere,” Boatright said. “The players and the coaches he brings in, they don’t come here to play in those big games. They come here to win those games. We’ve had some success against those autonomous five programs over the last few years because we belong on the court with them and I think they’re beginning to recognize that now.”