Consulting firm recommends Wright State keep current athletics program

First-year Wright State women's basketball coach Kari Hoffman talks to her team during Wednesday's game vs. Lake Erie College at the Nutter Center. Aaron Horn/ Wright State Athletics

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First-year Wright State women's basketball coach Kari Hoffman talks to her team during Wednesday's game vs. Lake Erie College at the Nutter Center. Aaron Horn/ Wright State Athletics

A sports consulting company hired by Wright State University has recommended the school keep its athletics at the Division I level and remain in the Horizon League.

MRJ Advisors concluded after about four months of research that Wright State could better leverage its sports program to attract students.

The school’s board of trustees created the Special Committee on Intercollegiate Athletics earlier this year to look at the future of athletics at the university, which has had to eliminate sports in recent years because of financial issues.

Doug Fecher, one of the trustees on the committee, said a report presented Tuesday by MRJ advisors shows that Wright State has an impressive athletics program which could be used to further support student success.

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“Wright State University does a tremendous job with its athletics program,” Fecher said. “Our student athletes are impressive young people.”

According to the presentation Tuesday, nearly half of Wright State students who responded to a survey said the school’s athletic teams are an important part of their student experience and contributes to their sense of pride in their university. About 2,084 students responded out of the total of 10,364 who received the survey. Of those who responded, most identified as non-athletes.

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The surveyed students also said they would like to see more awareness around sports. Offering more student and fan appreciation events, promoting community engagement, having more affordable concessions and incorporating more Wright State traditions would help with engagement, students said.

MRJ Advisors’ research showed that Wright State spent about $12.37 million in fiscal year 2019 on athletics, which is lower than the Horizon League average of $13.98 million. Any changes to downgrade athletics would give only marginal savings, the advisors said.

MRJ Advisors also said that any revenue growth opportunities for Wright State athletics are mostly associated with Division I athletics. Wright State’s athletics programs generated about $2.3 million in revenue through ticket sales, donations, royalties and the Horizon League in 2019 while receiving just over $10 million in institutional support.

Trustee Andy Platt, who sits on the committee and formerly played golf at Wright State University while he was an undergraduate, said he knew athletics is an “emotional thing.”

“What I see in this report is that we have some strong Division I opportunities, we need to stay strong in Division I, but we also have some significant opportunities to help tie it more to enrollment and then to really continue to build the brand,” Platt said.

Trustee board chair Tom Gunlock said the presentation identified various ways that enrollment could be enhanced due to athletics. The university has seen declining enrollment numbers for the last few years.

“The administration is now working on the development of a plan to capitalize on those opportunities and leverage the value of Wright State University Athletics,” Gunlock said.

The athletics committee will continue to meet and give a recommendation to the school’s trustee board at a later date, according to Seth Bauguess, a WSU spokesman.

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