On Your Marc: 4/12/16

UD a place to emulate

By Marc Katz

When Wright State University was introducing its new men’s basketball coach Scott Nagy to a few students, the world and assorted boosters, a key member of the university staff stood on the fringes of the media conference and said he thought WSU could emulate the success of a Gonzaga, a Butler or a … Dayton.

That’s a mid-sized public school opting to compare to smaller private schools, especially one that’s planted just a few miles away.

And why not?

I know, I’m still bummed about the Flyers losing in the first round to Syracuse. And yet, the way it all worked out, one of those small, private schools—Villanova—won the NCAA.

Get it? Dayton is chasing Villanova while Wright State is chasing Dayton.

So far, in the local chase, UD is ahead—and not just in men’s basketball.

Over the last eight years, the Flyers have fielded 31 conference champions and 24 NCAA teams in nine sports: men’s and women’s basketball and soccer, baseball, football, softball, indoor track and field and volleyball, most under the athletic directorship of retired Tim Wabler. It was the best eight-year run in the school’s history.

In the last 23 years, UD won 64 conference championships and had 37 teams in the NCAAs.

Wright State’s record is too pale to compare.

Neil Sullivan, on Wabler’s staff, took over the athletics
directorship last year, and the UD programs continue to perform. Maybe Wright State is watching.

How does UD do it?

“We’re not the little train trying to get up the hill,” Sullivan says. “We want to lead the pack. We want to win championships and compete in the NCAA tournament. We feel well capable of doing that. Our model is primarily led by basketballs.”

Yeah, he says it in the plural, meaning the men’s and women’s teams.

“Our bar is playing basketball in March, getting to the NCAA tournament and advancing in the NCAA tournament,” Sullivan says.

UD has advanced, even playing the likes of Ohio State, Syracuse, Stanford, Florida, Providence, Oklahoma and Boise State, most of them with big-time football teams.

“The University of Dayton can compete with those people,” Sullivan says.

Other small schools certainly can.

Villanova does not have big time football, yet won the national championship in men’s basketball.

Connecticut is trying to cultivate big time football, doesn’t have it and yet won its fourth straight women’s basketball championship.

Only Oklahoma in the men’s Final Four is what I would call a big time football program, and a whopping seven of the top 10 teams in the last Associated Press Top 25 poll did not even make the NCAA field.

I understand the filled stadiums and big ratings come from major college football and men’s basketball, but just as there is more to a university than English, math and science, there is more than football and basketball.

The University of Dayton operates 17 NCAA-sanctioned teams.

“We run toward expectations instead of from them,” Sullivan says. “We try not to make excuses for size and being a private school. We look at the opportunities we have.

“There is no time to feel disadvantaged. We feel we can compete with pretty much everybody. You have to have right players, right coaches and right fans,” he continues.

“There are 351 teams in Division I, and that ranges from the Ohio States and Texas’ of the world down to … schools that aren’t prominent in athletics.

“In basketballs [there it is in plural again], we fund our programs as well as any program in the country. We do the planes, the coaches salaries, the meals. We just opened up the $4 million Donoher Center. We’ve had two Power Five athletics directors come through (our facilities) and say, ‘This is as good as I’ve seen.’ We’ve had NBA scouts say this is as good as they’ve seen.

“We played Iowa this year and there is no difference in expectations between Iowa, a big land-grant school, and Dayton, in basketball. We’re both after March, and we’re both trying to advance for March.”

Sullivan makes it clear he’s not expecting championships in every sport. He knows UD can’t compete with, say, Stanford for a golfer or UCLA for a tennis player.

“What sports can we fund aggressively and have a chance to compete?” he asks. He answers with “volleyball, both soccers, our football program.”

“Money is necessary, but it’s not sufficient,” he continues. “You have to spend smart, you have to schedule smart, you have to hire smart, recruit smart. You have to do all those things.”

Wright State is watching. It has had successful seasons, but no NCAA bids in its money sport, men’s basketball, over the last nine years. Athletics Director Bob Grant thought he needed a new coach for his basketball team, and chose Nagy, who was at North Dakota State.

Nagy says at NDS, he went looking for players in Iowa and Illinois and places where the really big schools look. He said he signed some of those players.

Then WSU called.

“We recruited to who we were in all those places,” Nagy says. “If we can get them to go to South Dakota State, we can get them to come to Wright State, I guarantee you.”

UD has figured out how to do that. We’ll have to see if Wright State has figured out a similar formula.

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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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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