“PAY THE MAN,” scream fans on social media and message boards.
Wichita State athletic director Eric Sexton doesn’t need prompting. If the realization that men’s basketball coach Gregg Marshall earned another raise is just hitting him now, the game is already lost. Wichita State thinks of its job of retaining Marshall in a world full of high-profile suitors in the same way Marshall thinks of recruiting: It never stops.
“We always are paying attention,” Sexton said. “We’re always looking at what we need to do to advance Shocker athletics.”
Wichita State, 30-5, ended another landmark season on Thursday with an 81-70 loss to Notre Dame in a Midwest Regional semifinal at Quicken Loans Arena. The harsh reality of the season’s end, combined with Alabama’s reported interest in Marshall, create an uneasy feeling among fans. Shockers juniors Ron Baker and Fred VanVleet may choose to play professionally instead of using their final season of eligibility.
Those are first-world basketball problems, further proof that the Shockers operate in the sport’s upper reaches. Sexton’s job is to keep things running that way, and Marshall is the key. To that end, Wichita State renovated basketball locker rooms two seasons ago. A new student services building, expanded basketball offices and luxury boxes in Koch Arena, all in the planning stages, fit that strategy. So does giving Marshall all the tools and attention he needs to travel, recruit, hire assistants and schedule in ways fitting for a top program.
And there’s money.
Marshall makes a base salary of $1.85 million — including a $125,000 bonus payable April 13 — that’s likely to move up past $2 million this spring. He receives bonuses for athletic and academic success, and operates on a seven-year rollover contract. Wichita State makes many moves — appealing to donors, requiring large donations for the right to buy prime seats, increasing marketing and ad revenues — with Marshall and his program’s needs in mind.
“We want Wichita State athletics, for every one of our coaches including Coach Marshall, to be their dream job,” Sexton said. “We have a great coach who is doing great things.”
Earlier this week, Gary Parrish of CBSSports.com cited sources saying Alabama would start the bidding at $3 million. Marshall told reporters in Cleveland he will listen. While Wichita State is in enviable shape when compared to most of the 351 NCAA Division I schools, there is a limit, Sexton says, and a school such as Alabama can win a spending war.
“We look at that all the time,” Sexton said. “If it ends up being about money, then there is some point that number is not attainable and wouldn’t be financially responsible. But there are some many other things that add up to what is a great job opportunity. We try to pay attention to all of those things.”
For Sexton, this is March Madness behind closed doors. He starts each spring knowing that Wichita State benefits from home-court advantage, and that is why Marshall remained with the Shockers despite overtures from high-profile schools such as North Carolina State, UCLA, Missouri and others over the past eight seasons.
Marshall, as he makes clear, is happy in Wichita.
“I’ve said how content and happy I am at Wichita State over and over and over, and we are,” Marshall said Wednesday. “It could be the last job I ever have, I could retire from there. But at the same time I don’t bury my head in the sand if a tremendous offer comes along, we look at it as a family and that’s been something we’ve dealt with for 17 years.”
He often says he doesn’t want to go to a rebuilding situation. He long ago reached the point where he prefers winning 30 games and sipping champagne on chartered planes after NCAA wins to struggling for an NIT bid. Alabama, for what it’s worth, went 19-15 this season, 32-34 the past two seasons and 117-85 in former coach Anthony Grant’s six seasons. Grant made three NIT appearances and grabbed an NCAA berth in 2012.
Home-court advantage also includes an athletic director and administration that Marshall is comfortable with and the knowledge that his sport is the priority.
Alabama possesses the money, prestige and SEC juice to make all that irrelevant, and 73-year-old athletic director Bill Battle apparently wants to go all-out to return Crimson Tide basketball to power.
While Shockers fans wait, they can reflect on another history-making season. Wichita State won a third Missouri Valley Conference regular-season title in four seasons, made a fourth consecutive trip to the NCAA Tournament and won 30 or more games for the third straight season. NCAA victories over Indiana and Kansas made March memorable, even if the Shockers fell short of a rematch with top-seeded Kentucky.
“Obviously right now (we’re) disappointed, hurt, tired, you know, exhausted,” VanVleet said Thursday. “It’s been a great year for us, lot of ups and downs, lot of fighting, got a bunch of new guys just bringing them along but it’s been fun, it’s been a great ride for us.”