On your Marc: 12/12

Right makes Wright

Wright State doing well in own

conference, for now

By Marc Katz

 

One of the primary jobs of a college athletics director is to act as a cheerleader for the sports, facilities, coaches, and university you have.

Well, that and making sure your coaches don’t get caught buying athletes through shoe companies or allowing athletes to sell their uniforms for inflated prices.

You also want to make sure you don’t hire an unpopular coach, igniting the fans’ ire so much the athletics director has to put his house up for sale.

Any volunteers left down there in Tennessee?

I don’t know if Bob Grant at Wright State has hired all the right coaches—maybe he has—but he’s got the cheerleading part down pat.

His school is in the Horizon League, so he compares his situation to the other nine league teams, not to say, the Big Ten, where athletics budgets dominate the conversation.

Grant compares his school to Cleveland State and Youngstown State, not Ohio State and Penn State, and that’s even without considering football part of the equation.

“I can say this is the first time in our history we have the best facilities in the conference, by far,” Grant told me recently. “I’ve got the best fans (he means the most) in men’s basketball and I’ve got the best coach in men’s basketball.”

As he was saying this, I started to burp out a few words of skepticism. Grant was talking about the Nutter Center and Mills-Morgan practice and workout facility, where the men’s and women’s basketball teams play and practice with other teams at the school. The fan base is okay, hovering around 4,000 a game for men’s games, which isn’t much on a national scale, but generally tops WSU’s Horizon League.

As for a coach, the Raiders had Brad Brownell for four years starting in 2006, and there aren’t many coaches better than him, except Brad Stevens who was at Butler three of those years. And while Billy Donlon followed Brownell and compiled a fine record (six seasons with three HL tournament championship games in the last four), he was not able to get the Raiders into the NCAA. Butler, then Valparaiso—another dominant HL team in recent seasons—also left the conference.

If you’re going to dominate your league, now was the time to do it, Grant decided.

So Grant fired Donlon and hired Scott Nagy, who was 20-12 in his first season and is hanging around .500 this season. We won’t really know if he’s doing a good job until year four or five.

Meanwhile, Grant brings out the pompoms.

“Brad Stevens is no longer here,” Grant points out. “Valpo is gone.”

He points out Nagy’s outstanding record at South Dakota State and repeats again his mantra, “How many ADs in the country can say, about their flagship program, they have the best facilities, best fans, and best coaching staff in the league? I love saying that, and I believe that to be true.”

“I’m not a knee-jerk administrator. This is not a win-at-all-cost program. Success will not happen overnight.”

Success certainly has not happened overnight and the over-sized photo in the media room of the Nutter Center showing the place stuffed with more than 10,000 fans on opening night, 1990, is testament to that. The Raiders moved to Division I in 1987 (four years after winning the Division II National Championship), but winning records became increasingly difficult to compile.

Initially, the team won, but not at a pace to excite fans, as attendance slipped from yearly averages of 7,000-plus to about half that. In all these years, the raiders have been included in just two NCAA tournaments.

“The gawk-factor wore off,” Grant admits, and elaborates. “We’ve not done a good enough job of putting a consistently good basketball product on the floor. I’m talking about 3-4-5 years of sustained excellence. Once we do that, I’d love to have this conversation again, numbers wise.”

He then launches into a discussion about what athletics are at Wright State, a student-athlete conversation when fans are mostly interested in the final score.

“We call our mission statement PSA,” Grant said. “People first, students second, athletes third. We are not a wasteful place. Financially (despite what you’ve been reading about the rest of the university) we are doing things better than at any time in our history in athletics.”

He cites graduation rates and success in other sports despite the demise of swimming and diving, arguably the most successful sport on campus, drowned in a too-old facility too costly to refurbish.

Wright State operates its athletics department on a $12 million budget, which, if you check how much other 10 state schools spend on athletics in Ohio, is small.

Ohio State, of course, dominates the budget discussions. The Buckeyes, Texas, Texas A&M, and Michigan spend the most on athletics, and usually cover their costs with football, according to yearly studies conducted by USA Today.

Ohio State’s athletics budget is approaching $170 million. Most of the others in the 230-public school survey can’t match that or cover their own expenses. Wright State is listed at operating its budget at about a $2 million loss per year.

Sure that’s a heavy burden, but you’re not going to spend every cold night at the library.

And, it says here, Wright State is too big to fail. That’s a sleeping giant over in Fairborn. Grant thinks it has been sleeping too long.

 

The views and opinions expressed in On Your Marc are the views and/or opinions of the author and do not reflect the views and/or opinions of the Dayton City Paper or Dayton City Media and are published strictly for entertainment purposes.

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Marc Katz
Columbus-born Marc Katz had a 44-year newspaper career, 41 of those years covering sports, 40 of them at the Dayton Daily News. He now blogs at KatzCopsNSports.com. Reach Dayton City Paper sports writer Marc Katz at MarcKatz@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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