Yesterday morning, Wright State’s Board of Trustees met with MRJ Advisors to discuss the findings of MRJ’s assessment on the state of intercollegiate athletics on campus. This meeting with the public was the culmination of four months worth of work collecting data from around campus, the Horizon League, and other Division 1 institutions to determine whether or not Wright State should move forward with any plans to retain their status as a Division 1 institution.
For anyone unfamiliar, Wright State has been under a continuous crunch due to a large number of factors, starting with a budget crisis that went unchecked for too long and then being exacerbated by other problems like COVID-19 and a nationwide fall in enrollment. The Raiders decided during the COVID period to cut the softball team and both tennis teams in an effort to keep costs down. Those three teams kept the university at the minimum required to operate at the Division 1 level and while the waiver to operate without them was approved, the waiver is due to expire at the end of this season.
While usually a budget crunch would lead to a Division 1 athletic program to retool and determine their goals with a new budget in mind, this committee was tasked with determining whether or not continuing as a program is worth the effort. While a number of institutions recently have taken the move from D2 or D3 up to D1, it is not unheard of for an institution to completely dismantle their program, such as at the University of Hartford which moved to D3 just after making the NCAA championship for the first time in their history. For Wright State, this crossroads and the decision they would make would be one of its most important.
The committee broke down the expenditures and contributions of the athletics program, the differences between Wright State and other Horizon schools, and the responses from the campus-wide survey. Wright State has kept their budget within operating parameters set by other Horizon schools, but is receiving a higher percentage of institutional support compared to the all but IUPUI. The contributions from ticket sales and other direct revenues have been stagnant in recent years, and rising inflation costs have caused the percentage of support from the university to grow as a result.
The campus survey revealed that just about half of the students present on the two campus strongly believe that athletics is a vital part of campus and a nationally recognized brand. Similarly, it was found that Wright State has a history of good performance in the Horizon, consistently competing for the McCafferty Trophy. Of note was the lack of awareness of athletic events that was cited as an improvement needed. Additionally, younger alumni feel a disconnect with the athletics programs and placed it as a lower importance in their evaluation of Wright State.
Given all evidence collected by MRJ Advisors, the third party contractors concluded that a move out of Division 1 would be unwise. The budget of athletics is not in a dire position and a move down to the lower divisions only offers savings that do not match the loss of opportunity. Among the reasons to stay was a determination that Wright State should avoid relocation fever and stay in the Horizon League, a position I wholeheartedly support.
While the budget has not grown in any significant manner, the lack of a significant growth in external contributions is the main cause of concern for the Raiders going forward. One of the points made about the contributions numbers is that they are half the amount expected of a school with a similar footprint, and considering the smaller budget, a higher contribution number would allow Wright State to lower the percentage of institutional support necessary to the athletics program.
It will be up to the athletics program to weigh the options for the three squads needed to get to the D1 minimum. The presentation from the intercollegiate meeting can be found at this link: https://www.wright.edu/board-of-trustees/meetings/meeting/414796