Throughout the 90s and early 2000s, the Wright State swimming and diving team, on both the men’s and women’s side, was a dominant force in the Horizon League. The Raiders captured multiple championships between 1995, when the conference was then known as the Midwestern Collegiate Conference, and 2008.
Personally, I can vividly remember 1996 and 1997 in particular, when, as a student journalist, I saw Wright State come swooping into the Cleveland State natatorium and handily win conference crowns both years.
All that, though, has ended. In spite of a fundraising push by Raiders swimming coach Kyle Oaks and the Collegiate Swim Coaches’ Association of America to raise $85,000 to bring the team back for the 2017-18 season, Wright State announced that this would, in fact, be the men’s and women’s teams’ final year as a program.
You may think, at first glance, that this is an example of the ongoing challenge schools that rely heavily on student fees to fund athletics face. You may also think, perhaps, that WSU’s demise is a bit perplexing, given that it shells out $500,000 per year to men’s basketball coach Scott Nagy, a $275,000 jump from the salary of the previous coach, Billy Donlon.
The latter thought is one that the CSCAA has pointed out, citing that WSU athletic director Bob Grant has seen his budget grow by $1.6 million even as he has taken a swing of the ax to the swimming program.
However, those assumptions pale in comparison to the larger issue that Wright State faces financially. The move came as the university faces $10 million in budget cuts across the board this year, which means that no department, even athletics, is spared. It is reported that the move will save the university approximately $450,000 per year.
The same situation befell the University of Akron in 2015, when, among its many cuts, the baseball program shuddered. But while Akron has already announced that baseball will be returning for the 2019-2020 season, it doesn’t appear that Wright State will be looking to bring back swimming even after the budget issues are resolved.
And it also doesn’t look like there will be any intervention from the Horizon League, which is already going to spend the next year seeking to add a seventh baseball program after the departure of Valparaiso to the Missouri Valley Conference. IUPUI’s arrival to the league included the addition of its swimming teams, meaning that losing Wright State, though painful, won’t prompt the need to add another school.
This hasn’t stopped the CSCAA to make a continued effort to fight the program’s demise, citing the Herculean effort to generate the $85,000 in donations to keep the team up and running for this season. However, the group has also pointed out that any proposal to keep the program alive is a non-starter with Wright State president Cheryl Schrader, effectively ending the fight where it stands.
For those who have followed the Raiders throughout the entire span of the program’s existence, the final days of the men’s and women’s swim teams, which will happen at the Horizon League Championships at Cleveland State’s pool next February, will be met with equal parts nostalgia and sadness for what was and what will never be again.
E-mail Bob at bob [dot] mcdonald [at] campuspressbox [dot] com or follow him on Twitter @bobmcdonald.
Image via WSURaiders.com