Wichita State Shockers

Wichita State will know more about its conference, sports options by the end of May

Wichita State basketball dominated the Missouri Valley Conference regular season in recent years.
Wichita State basketball dominated the Missouri Valley Conference regular season in recent years. The Wichita Eagle

May and June is when NCAA Division I conferences meet to discuss old business and plan for new. Administrators hand out awards, decide championship sites and argue about scheduling, usually in sunny resort hotels.

Many conferences will also discuss expansion. Those looking for new members will kick around schools. Since early February, Creative Sports Solutions worked on behalf of Wichita State to get its name inserted in those conversations.

“They spent the first few months talking to people across the country, which I don’t think is any secret, so that if conference expansion comes up, possibly Wichita State could be a name that’s discussed,” WSU interim athletic director Darron Boatright said. “They have sown the seed … with some individuals that will be at those meetings.”

WSU’s contract with CSS, $60,000 for four months, is nearing its end. WSU expects a report in late May after directing the consultants to evaluate possibilities for conference membership and adding sports. Boatright said the report will be made public.

Don’t, however, expect WSU to announce it’s adding your favorite sport on June 1.

The CSS report won’t include recommendations or conclusions. Boatright expects reports on discussions with conferences regarding WSU and cost estimates for adding sports. WSU views the report as a marker in the longer process of evaluating the athletic department. In December, president John Bardo said the evaluation of the athletic department could last a year.

“We didn’t ask them to make specific recommendations,” Boatright said. “We asked them to assist us in gathering factual, actual information and numbers. It’s where we can really start looking at the impact and the possibilities on the community, as well as on our campus.”

While Boatright wasn’t specific about conferences, there are a select few which make sense as a step up for Shockers basketball and should be sure stops for the CSS lobbying.

The American Athletic and Mountain West conferences both carry 11 basketball members, but commissioners from both recently made statements in favor of football-playing members. Basketball-focused conferences such as the Big East and Atlantic 10 might ponder WSU’s strength favorably. Those conferences, however, are largely populated by private schools and the geography isn’t favorable to Kansas.

“The initial information … there are probably some individuals that we’re interested in that may or may not be interested in us,” Boatright said. “And there’s some people that are interested in us, that we may not be.”

Creative Sports Solutions, an Atlanta firm, also spoke to Missouri Valley Conference administrators, a conversation MVC commissioner Doug Elgin described as a 10-minute phone call. Lost in much of the talk generated by the December announcement by Bardo is that he started by saying that remaining in the MVC may be the best option. If so, he said, he wants WSU to help the conference improve.

“It’s not only about moving (conferences),” Boatright said. “That’s not what this is about. It’s about evaluating.”

In December, Bardo talked mostly about playing football at the highest level, the Football Bowl Subdivision. However, the past few months may open his mind to the Football Championship Subdivision, where it would find a ready and powerful home in the MVC. Bardo, in February, Tweeted pictures of a WSU football helmet and band uniforms and hasn’t disguised his enthusiasm for the potential of football.

“Although it doesn’t get a lot of notoriety here, the Valley is the No. 1 FCS football conference in the country,” Boatright said. “I’m sure that was a topic that was discussed. We’ve tried to ensure that we’ve been transparent with Commissioner Elgin and the Valley’s membership.”

Bardo, it is also important to remember, sees the potential of the athletic department as a tool to help the university and community. If more activity on campus in the fall helps enrollment, he sees that as a positive. If associating WSU with research institutions in large cities helps Wichita, that’s another plus.

Bennett tees off — Shockers junior Grant Bennett starts play in the NCAA men’s golf regional on Monday at Karsten Creek Golf Club. He is one of five individuals competing in the field, which also includes 14 teams.

Bennett must finish as the top individual, not on a qualifying team, to advance to the NCAA Championships on May 27-June 1 in Eugene, Ore.

Worth noting — Butler Community College sophomore Tamara Lee announced on Twitter that she committed to WSU’s women’s basketball team on Friday. Lee, a 5-foot-9 guard from Edmond, Okla., averaged 13.3 points, 3.6 rebounds, 1.8 steals and 1.3 assists. She made 42.9 percent of her shots and 38.6 percent of her three-pointers. She earned second-team All-Region VI honors. … WSU’s Gregg Marshall basketball camps begin in June with a team camp, two day camps, shooting camp and high-intensity camp for high school and junior college athletes available. For information go to marshallhoops@goshockers.com.

Paul Suellentrop: 316-269-6760, @paulsuellentrop

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