Southern Illinois AD: Wichita State “too big for its britches”

Tommy Bell, Southern Illinois athletic director
Tommy Bell, Southern Illinois athletic director Courtesy photo

When Wichita State made public its desire to look at options for conference membership, hurt feelings were inevitable.

Southern Illinois athletic director Tommy Bell gave voice to those feelings during a radio interview with Mike Reis of Saluki Sports Today, a university-produced show. Reis asked Bell about the Big 12’s recent decision to not expand and how that affects Wichita State and the MVC. Wichita State president John Bardo linked Big 12 expansion to WSU’s situation, thinking that a move by the Big 12 might open opportunities in another conference for the Shockers.

“I think they’re a little bit big for their britches, and you can quote me on that,” Bell said. “People have aspirations. You have to be careful what you wish for.”

Bardo and WSU athletic director Darron Boatright frequently stated their respect for the Missouri Valley Conference over the past year. The Valley’s been a good home for WSU since 1945 and both men entered this issue realizing the MVC might remain WSU’s best (or only) option.

“If we stay in the Missouri Valley, we’re going to try to be a force for good and pushing forward,” Bardo said in December. “But we’re going to position ourselves, if there’s another shift in conferences around the nation, we’re going to position ourselves to be as good as we can be and see whether the Missouri Valley is the right place for us.”

It’s no surprise people around the MVC aren’t thrilled with being told the Shockers feel they’re ready for a bigger stage.

Over the past 10 years, WSU’s success in many sports has given it good reason to feel that way, especially in men’s basketball. Schools that resent that success have two choices — get better and make the MVC the kind of conference WSU wants to remain a part of, or complain.

Boatright took the diplomatic course when asked to respond.

“I am not concerning myself with what Tommy said, I have a lot of respect for him and believe him to be a very competent administrator,” he said in an e-mail. “Our focus is on our institution and what we can do to continue striving for excellence.”

Paul Suellentrop: 316-269-6760, @paulsuellentrop