In an NCAA tournament driven by longshots and upsets, the Shockers are in many ways the oddball of the season’s final weekend: They don’t have a big-time football program like Syracuse, Michigan or the Cardinals, and they don’t belong to a major conference that enjoys a weighty television contract.
Instead, the Shockers run their basketball program on a budget of just $3.1 million, which accounts for everything from coach Gregg Marshall’s salary to a robust recruiting budget, all of the transportation to road games and everything else that comes with playing Division I sports.
Pitino, by comparison, makes $3.9 million in base salary alone.
But the fiscal disparity between the three big schools and a mid-major like Wichita State will hardly matter when the ball is tossed up Saturday night in the Georgia Dome, and the Shockers take on the Cardinals for the right to play for the national championship.
Everything is equal when the teams step on the hardwood.
“Our administration gives us wonderful support,” Marshall said this week. “We fly on private planes every time we leave town. We have 10,500 fans at every game. It’s a great place to coach.”
That’s why Marshall has rebuffed every overture to leave.
The calls will undoubtedly pick up given what the Shockers have done this year, but the longtime coach of Winthrop has said repeatedly that it would take the perfect opportunity to pry him away.
For one thing, he has it pretty good at Wichita State.
The school’s robust aerospace engineering program, along with the National Institute for Aviation Research right on campus, means Marshall has plenty of private planes at his disposal — no flying in coach for this mid-major team. And that extends to recruiting, where Marshall’s able to cover more ground than most coaches by dictating when and where the wheels go up.
“They’re kind of like sports cars, instead of a school bus. They’re more like Ferraris and Jaguars. They go pretty fast,” Marshall said, joking about the fleet of private planes.
“That is a great benefit,” he said. “Our players don’t understand how good they have it, to go from bus to private plane to bus and in a couple hours be in our hotel.”
Then there’s the fact that the Shockers no longer have a football team — it was disbanded in the mid-1980s. The money that the Missouri Valley school once funneled into a losing program has, for the better part of 30 years, been directed toward the more successful basketball team.
“I think for schools within our conference, obviously football isn’t a moneymaker for them,” said Rege Klitzke, Wichita State’s senior associate athletic director for business operations. “If you compare ourselves to fellow conference schools, not having football is a big advantage.”
It’s also one of the reasons the school has been able to reward Marshall handsomely.
The coach signed a seven-year extension in 2011 that pushed his base salary to $900,000 and his total compensation to more than $1 million a year. And while it’s far short of what Pitino is making at Louisville, Marshall has a chance to bolster his bank account with a number of incentives. He’s already earned an additional $380,000 for making the Final Four, and can pick up another $36,000 by making the title game and $200,000 for winning the school’s first national title.
“We have a great basketball program. We have tradition, we have history,” Marshall said. “It’s been a lot of great players, tremendous fan base. Tremendous support. The administration loves it. We don’t have football — they don’t want football. They want us to be the best we can be.”
So far, the Shockers have been as good as anybody.
They’ve already won a school-record 30 games, and reached their first Final Four since the 1965 season. Along the way, the Shockers roughed up Pittsburgh, upset top-seeded Gonzaga, beat up La Salle and then knocked off second-seeded Ohio State — another big-budget school — in the regional finals.
They’ve proven that a 6-foot-8 forward is just as tall at Wichita State as anywhere else, and a point guard who shoots 40 percent from beyond the 3-point line can do it regardless of the setting.
“Are there financial benefits to making the Final Four? Sure, we can go into that ad nauseam,” Wichita State athletic director Eric Sexton said in a phone interview. “But what this really represents is a great chance for our school to be seen on a national stage.”
And in a world where the bottom line is more pronounced than ever before — especially in college athletics — it’s virtually impossible to put a value on that kind of exposure.
“It’s a great ride, well-earned and deserved, and we’re not satisfied. We still have work to do,” Sexton said. “But it’s a great window into our athletic department, our university and even our state to be one of the final four teams playing.”