Last week, the American Athletic Conference announced the addition of the Wichita State Shockers to all sports except football. Given the recent success of the Shockers’ men’s basketball program under head coach Gregg Marshall, this was thought to be a move primarily to improve the conference’s national spotlight in terms of basketball.
However, the conference will also benefit from the addition of Wichita State in other sports as well. One notable sport that will improve from the newest member of the American is baseball. The Shockers have had plenty of success historically, and for quite some time, baseball was the biggest sport on campus.
“My last games as a player came at Wichita and they’ve got a beautiful facility, really great tradition,” UConn head coach Jim Penders said. “I remember watching Eric Wedge celebrate their College World Series with an old-school mustache back in, I think it was ’89 when they won it.
Under legendary head coach Gene Stephenson, the Shockers defeated the Texas Longhorns in that 1989 national championship and is still, to this day, the only NCAA title Wichita State has won in any sport in its history. Wichita State also has several runner-up finishes, losing in the championship in 1982, 1991 and 1993. The 1982 season was a particularly special one for the Shockers, who won 73 games, an NCAA record for most wins in a single season.
Since their first NCAA Tournament appearance in 1980, three years after the program was rebooted, Wichita State is second in the nation in total wins and win percentage, trailing only Florida State. The school has made 12 NCAA Tournament appearances since 1996, but has not been back to the championship since a loss to the LSU Tigers in 1993.
The Shockers’ long-time coach Stephenson was fired in 2014 after 36 years at the helm of the program and was replaced by Todd Butler, a former Arkansas assistant. They haven’t had the greatest of success in Butler’s time as head coach, but the program seems to be back on the rise with some steady play so far this season. They currently stand at 16-16 overall and are 2-1 in the Missouri Valley Conference, and could continue to improve their record in what is a generally weak baseball league.
“They’ve got a great tradition in baseball,” said Penders. “We were fortunate enough to actually beat them down in South Carolina a couple years ago. Coach Butler is going to do a great job with that program.”
With a baseball history as great as Wichita State’s and a program that is still on the rise under Butler, the American could be getting a real gem with their addition to the conference. Forgetting basketball, just this baseball team alone adds a real competitive team to a conference that’s already shown it can hang with the Power 5 schools.
“[Wichita State] is another great baseball program to enter an already great baseball league,” Penders summarized.
The Shockers’ impact on the success of the conference remains to be seen, but it does look like it will be a fantastic addition. However, there is one thing the UConn baseball head coach isn’t too happy about when it comes to Wichita State.
“Yeah, it’s another place I can’t find a good cannoli,” joked Penders.