FAIRBORN — Wright State coach Scott Nagy sees plenty of advantages in playing top-tier schools on the road, even though his team won’t get a return game at the Nutter Center.
He schedules that way because it generates enthusiasm within the program, creates exposure and gives the Raiders a real shot at an upset.
And even though they’ll also end up with a hefty payout, the financial component is never a consideration.
“Our players WANT to play in games like that,” Nagy said.
That didn’t work out at Purdue last season. The Raiders took a 96-52 drubbing.
But it certainly paid off at North Carolina State five weeks later. Despite lugging a 3-7 record to Raleigh, Wright State shocked the Wolfpack, 84-70, before a stunned crowd of 11,344.
The Raiders will be looking to pull off another upset at Louisville at 1 p.m. Saturday. The Cardinals are in a transition phase, firing coach Chris Mack midway through last season, but they’re a traditional power that has won three national titles, including the 2013 crown, and made 10 Final Four trips.
And Nagy is right. The chance to play one of the top programs in the nation certainly has gotten his players fired up.
“They’re definitely a team we can beat,” said senior guard Trey Calvin, who had 37 points, four assists and just one turnover in 43 minutes in the Raiders’ 102-97 double-overtime loss to Davidson on Wednesday.
“I don’t think they’re better than Davidson. For sure, we’re confident going into there, and we think we can win.”
Nagy has agreed to play a significant number of what’s known in college basketball circles as “buy games,” meaning taking a sizeable check to play a major-conference foe on the road to help the overall athletic budget.
Bob Grant, the Wright State athletic director, said the Raiders have been getting paid between $75,000 and $120,000 for those games. That’s enough to cover an assistant coach’s salary for the year.
According to research from the 2019-20 season done by Athleticdirectoru.com, the most common guarantee was $90,000, but there were numerous others where the buy-game visitor received six figures.
Texas Tech paid Houston Baptist $115,000, the same amount Boston College gave Albany.
The single biggest guarantee was $150,000 from Kentucky to Georgia Tech. That was for a home game for UK and a “neutral site” game at the Atlanta Hawks’ arena.
But unlike Wright State coaches before him, Nagy alone decides when to take those games. His administrators aren’t meddling with the schedule.
“They don’t make us go get a certain amount of money. Most people at our level don’t really have that option. We want to play some of those games — the right ones at the right times. For us, the money is sort of an extra thing. We’re not playing for the money,” he said.
Every Horizon League school takes one-way games, and the primary motivation is the financial windfall.
Detroit Mercy visits Washington State and Cincinnati. Oakland goes to Syracuse and Michigan State. Purdue Fort Wayne’s first game was at Michigan. And Robert Morris played at Ohio State and will visit Dayton.
Youngstown State has a trip to Notre Dame, while Milwaukee went to Purdue this week and will visit Iowa State.
But the most ambitious non-league schedule belongs to Green Bay, who opened the season at Georgetown and will travel to Stanford, Oregon State and Wisconsin (for the eighth straight year).
Not surprisingly, the games that have been played so far haven’t been close. HL teams are getting soundly beaten.
“Some people asked me last year, ‘Why would you play the Purdue game?’ Well, one, we’re not playing it thinking we’re going to get beat that badly. We’re trying to COMPETE,” Nagy said.
“Purdue wanted to play us because they’re probably thinking we’re a pretty good team that could give them a test. Obviously, it didn’t work out that way. But we certainly didn’t go into that game thinking we’re going to take the money and take a beating. That’s not the way we think.”
The Raiders lost at Penn State, 77-59, four years ago. But they proved they could play with Power-5 programs early in Nagy’s tenure, losing narrowly at Mississippi State, 67-63, and winning at Georgia Tech, 85-81.
“We don’t believe you can build a program by forcing coaches to do it,” Grant said as the Raiders were getting for a home game against Atlantic 10 contender Davidson on Wednesday. “We’re to a level now where we’re not going to do it. We’ve been one of the bullies on the block in the Horizon League because of it. I don’t think that’s a coincidence.
“When Scott got here, that’s one of the things we changed. We budget differently. We fund-raise differently. We’ve generated much more revenues, which has allowed us to be off the hook (not needing to chase money), where some schools don’t have the crowds and support like this.”
The Raiders have been doling out paydays to visitors at times themselves.
Nagy has Grant’s blessing on that, too.
“Coach Nagy is such a veteran. I trust him totally. He knows how to build a winning program,” Grant said. “He knows when it’s the time to get bought, when it’s the time to buy and when it’s the time to get a home-and-home (series).
“An upgraded program looks like this and schedules like this. The last four or five years have proven that his recipe for doing this — the recruiting, the scheduling, the timing of things — works. That’s why we’re in the position we are. I couldn’t be more pleased.”
Wright State at Louisville, 1 p.m., ESPN+, 980