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Requiem for a team

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Boise State’s decision to drop wrestling seems smart, but that doesn’t make it right.

Photo courtesy: The Arbiter

Yesterday’s stunning announcement that the Broncos would immediately jettison the wrestling program in favor of men’s baseball was a kick in the gut to some and reason for rejoicing for others. Personally, I went through the entire range of emotions. I’m obviously glad that my alma mater is going to pursue a sport with a broader footprint in the Mountain West and one that I think has an opportunity to absorb a lot of Treasure Valley talent. That’s a perfectly sensible response to the news as logically, it makes a lot of sense for Boise State to explore this avenue. However, it’s also perfectly natural to feel sadness, hurt, and even anger at the collateral damage caused by this move.

I’m sure the sadness, hurt, and anger closely mimics the emotions felt by the same Boise State baseball program when it was gutted in 1980. Unfortunately, college athletics has become a zero-sum game and when that kind of environment exists, there are always victims. As a former wrestler myself, the internal strife I feel about this move is real. Wrestlers are just a different breed. These are guys that forgo Thanksgiving dinner because they have to make weight. These are guys that put their minds and bodies through extreme stress for the sport they love. As of 4pm yesterday, these are guys whose labors are for naught. A victim of dollars and cents.

On paper, it’s really dollars and sense—and it’s a decision more and more schools are sadly having to make. Because of the incredibly low number of MWC schools that sponsored wrestling, BSU was forced to live a vagabond life in the Pac-12. Even then, the Pac-12 wrestling conference consisted of a measly 6 teams (now 5) and only 3 of those schools were “traditional”, which is to say “full-time” member institutions (Oregon State, Stanford, Arizona State). The rest of the Pac-12 wrestling conference was filled out by Cal Poly and Cal-State Bakersfield. Wrestling is dying in the collegiate and Olympic landscape because of money and eyeballs (or lack thereof).

And that’s maybe the saddest part. Wrestling infrastructure is a fraction of other sports. Singlets, headgear, a mat...that’s pretty much all you need—in theory. But add in coach and assistant salaries, travel and recruiting expenses and it becomes a moderately costly boat anchor (the Statesman reports the wrestling program was about $350k in the red last season). Still—I hate to see what’s happening to wrestling. It’s a time-honored sport that’s created some fantastic moments in Boise State history and it’s filled with unforgettable names like Mike Young, who won 10 Big Sky wrestling titles in 14 years at the helm. That Boise State had fallen on hard times as a program of late (no more than 3 dual wins in a year since 2013) maybe shouldn’t be lost in the mix here—but the commitment by the newly-minted staff and wrestlers to turn things around will now go unfulfilled.

The elation of the baseball-add and the sadness of losing wrestling can and should occupy the same space for a while in Bronco Nation. And for what it’s worth to the wrestlers: I’m sorry.

UPDATE: Seems like some close to the program aren’t ready to go down without a fight and they’ve set up a petition to save Bronco wrestling. I don’t know if it will move the needle (money will), but if you don’t want to see the wrestling team get axed, this is literally the least you can do.