COLUMN: Ransdell’s powerful influence on athletics at WKU

John Reecer is the sports editor of the College Heights Herald during the spring 2016 semester.

John Reecer

Many people understand that all it takes to make a difference can be the dedication of just one person.

In the last 20 years at WKU, no one has made a larger impact on campus than President Gary Ransdell.

Ransdell’s time at WKU has featured unprecedented growth in several areas of collegiate life. The area that has arguably experienced the most growth during his tenure is WKU athletics.

It’s important to understand there are other aspects of college life that are very important to the overall growth of a university, and not everyone views sports as the most important of these.

That debate aside, one cannot underestimate the impact a successful sports program can have on a college campus.

For example, after quarterback Johnny Manziel won the Heisman Trophy and led the Texas A&M Aggies to a banner season in football in 2012, the school saw its highest enrollment in history during the following fall semester as a record 9,710 freshmen arrived on campus.

Like Manziel at A&M, Ransdell has made a big impact on sports programs at WKU. In Ransdell’s case, his work has been behind the scenes.

In perhaps his most significant contribution to sports on this campus, Ransdell successfully negotiated the move to Conference USA in 2014.

This move from the Sun Belt Conference was visionary; the future of the athletic program at WKU was ensured in a conference with wider renown and a higher level of play.

In the 2014-15 school year, WKU’s first season in the conference, athletic programs set a C-USA record by bringing home eight conference championships.

Since Ransdell’s first year as president, Hilltopper athletic programs have won over 100 total conference championships in less than 20 years. The football team even captured the NCAA Division I-AA National Championship in 2002.

Ransdell concentrated a large amount of time on improving the football program in particular.

His most notable contribution to the team was his leadership during Smith Stadium’s renovation, which began in April 2006.

The renovation featured construction of a new west side for the stadium as well as significant improvements on the stadium’s existing east side.

A berm was also constructed to give fans a new and entertaining way to watch the game. The stadium’s capacity now stands at 22,113.  

Ransdell was also instrumental in the football program’s move from Division I-AA to Division I-A of FBS, where the program is quickly gaining national recognition.

WKU ended the 2015 season ranked No. 24 overall in the final AP poll having defeated the University of South Florida for WKU’s second consecutive bowl win.

Despite the growth and progress Ransdell has encouraged, the president did not shy from taking decisive action with an athletic program in spring 2015.

Together, Ransdell and Athletic Director Todd Stewart suspended the men’s and women’s swimming and diving program for five years when the program was accused of multiple violations regarding hazing, drug paraphernalia and sexual assault.

Ransdell and Stewart’s decision sent a clear message: acts that violated campus policy and undermined WKU’s goals for a positive university experience would not be tolerated.

No matter how we remember Ransdell’s time as president, his contributions to athletics at WKU were done with class, morality and a visionary commitment to consistent growth.

The next time you stand in Smith Stadium and cheer on the Hilltoppers, don’t forget to think about the difference one person can make.