While some may think Wright State decided to make the move to Division I as a result of winning the D-II men’s basketball national championship in 1983, those conversations had actually been taking place on campus in the years prior to that crowning achievement. The championship, however, may have been the tipping point.
Dr. Mike Cusack was named Athletic Director in 1982, and attributes the vision of the university president and provost for the move. “Dr. [Robert] Kegerreis, who was the president, and Dr. [John] Belgin who was the provost, were both forward-thinking, entrepreneurial men who were very proud of the fact of how much [the university] had grown and developed.”
With a growing footprint that included a medical school and newly-constructed engineering school, campus leadership and faculty believed the university was positioned academically to move to Division I. Athletically, success became more the norm than an exception, as many programs won on a consistent basis, including baseball, men’s soccer and volleyball.
Men’s basketball, given their accomplishments, was the highest profile program. The team’s success continued beyond that 1983 championship year. The Raiders qualified for the NCAA tournament two of the next three seasons, including a 1985-86 team that finished 28-3, ran off 22 straight wins and was ranked #1 in the nation throughout much of the season.
“We were the cream of the crop in Division II, and we felt we had the players to go Division I,” remembers former assistant coach Jim Brown. “We had the fans to go Division I, and we had played several Division I teams and had some success.” Despite the optimism of being able to compete on the basketball court, there were concerns off of it. “We didn’t have some of the peripheral stuff; we didn’t have a strength coach, we didn’t have an academic advisor. There were things we didn’t have that Wright State has today.”
Wright State began Division I play in all sports in 1987. Playing as an independent meant scheduling challenges, as well as motivational challenges. “Not being in a league wound being a tremendous detriment. Those first three or four years we were really good, and didn’t have anything to show for it.” The Raiders won 65% of their games the first three years in Division I, winning 54 and losing 29.
Joining a conference would be one of several major milestones that the basketball program would experience in the early 90’s.