FAIRBORN — Using words like “sick” and “gut-wrenching,” Bob Grant reflected on one of his worst days at the office.
One week ago, the Wright State director of athletics announced that the university would no longer field softball and men’s and women’s tennis teams as part of a plan for a $2 million reduction in the department’s operating budget.
The move affected 39 student-athletes and six coaches and trimmed the number of sports offered by WSU to 11 (six women’s, five men’s).
“It’s the worst thing you can ever do as an AD, really,” the normally upbeat and lively Grant said in a low-key voice. “Especially it just exacerbates so much when you’ve got a culture like ours when you really value the student athlete.”
When Grant took over as AD in 2008, he instituted a new mission statement. His PSA: People, Student, Athlete, theme focused on the student-athlete with the proper priorities in place. What followed has been one of the most successful eras in WSU athletics which featured high achievements on and off the fields and courts.
That made the decision even more difficult.
“It’s maybe more awful than if you didn’t have a relationship with these young men and women, and value them,” Grant said. “It’s a bad situation. Just a gut-wrenching thing and I feel awful for the student athletes. They’ve done nothing wrong. They’ve been treated well and all the sudden the rug is pulled out from under you. It makes me sick.”
Likely making it more nauseating for Grant is that he’s a WSU lifer. He graduated from Wright State in 1988 and earned his MBA in marketing from the school in 2000. He was a senior development officer from 1992-95, then served as an assistant athletic director from 1996-2002 before becoming associate athletic director in 2003.
“I love the university and I love the community,” Grant said, adding that when he took over he wanted to make WSU better as a university and as an athletics department. He did that by building relationships.
“That’s why this maybe makes us more sick … we’re not cutting a bunch of numbers or product line,” Grant said. “My whole staff is torn up over the whole thing. They really are. It’s because they care so much.”
Almost two months ago Grant cut $1 million out of the expense budget and hoped that would suffice. But it didn’t.
“The university has financial issues and everybody’s got to partake in that,” Grant said. Ordered to shave more from the budget, there was really only one solution: cut sports like so many other universities around the country have done.
Then it simply became a numbers game.
“What’s the most amount you can cut out of expenses that affects the least amount of student athletes,” Grant said, adding that they looked at the expenses of each sport knowing that very few bring in revenue outside of men’s basketball.
In keeping with the PSA theme, all scholarships will be honored should the student-athlete stay at WSU, and all coaching contracts are being paid as well.
“You want to make sure the softball players and the tennis players are taken care of as best as you can,” Grant said. “That’s kind of the main worry for all of us in our department.”
Grant added that the athletic department is helping players maneuver through NCAA’s transfer portal as much as it can too.
There’s also another issue because of the forced cuts.
NCAA Division-I member institutions are required to sponsor at least seven sports for men and seven for women (or six for men and eight for women) with two team sports for each gender.
Grant said Wright State has been in contact with the NCAA and will pursue a waiver to remain in compliance. A similar waiver was recently approved for Central Michigan, giving the university two years to get back into compliance, the Associated Press reported.
WSU is looking for the same opportunity. Grant said WSU could bring back the same sports, or sports that cost less money. But until the other side of the coronavirus is reached, “uncertainty rules the day right now,” Grant said.
“You hope this is the end,” he added. “You pick up the paper every day and more sports are being cut and businesses are being affected. COVID has turned the world upside down.”
Grant is hoping the Raider programs will land on their feet when it’s all over.