I was saddened to read the President of Boise State’s review of his wrestling program and the stated reasons for discontinuing the sport, plus the pledge to keep the program on the sidelines as long as he’s in his role as head of the university.
The reasons he used for his decision included declining ticket sales for Bronco football, the yearning of some school supporters to start a baseball program and worst of all, his very painful pronouncement that wrestling is a dying sport.
If one steps back and takes an objective appraisal of what was just said, the President made some very good points. If revenue is down, obviously something has to go. And given that ticket sales for wrestling are almost non-existent at his school, and all the financial pledges to support the program came in after his announcement to drop the sport, it’s not hard to understand why he’s holding his ground. No administrator worth his salt will reverse a decision of this kind once it’s made.
Now here’s where the hard part comes in with regards to writing this blog. I have to say that the President was right; wrestling has done little to nothing to keep its programs safe. Now to his perception and pronouncement that wrestling is a dying sport; oh my gosh folks! That view point alone is worth its weight in gold. It’s the shot that should be heard around the world of wrestling and into each of our locker rooms. What he just said is worthy of his induction into our National Wrestling Hall of Fame.
Granted, the announcement was an unintended favor, but as usual the sport is missing the point. We continually fight the “what” while missing the “why”. Losing the Bronco program, and all the others before it, has been our own doing! President Kustra just said as much and instead of hinting at it, or blaming Title IX, he said it very loudly to make sure it sinks into our thick skulls.
If you’re missing the point here, put simply, the President of a major university just pronounced in a very public forum that “wrestling is dying” . . . and still, besides not listening, we’re helping spread the narrative. Think forfeits for a moment. Coaches purposely forfeit weight classes, because in most instances it makes tactical sense. True the team still loses 6 points but not the accompanying momentum that occurs when they’re forced to watch the carnage of a superior athlete taking apart one of their own. Of course there are always legitimate injuries that might cause a forfeit to occur but a vast majority of them are either tactical or apathetic in nature.
So here’s the question; how does this perception that teams who are unable to field full teams play into the hands of administrators who hear from one of their own that wrestling is a dying sport? I get it; we want what we want and who cares about the consequences until another program is dropped, then it’s way too late to bitch.
Instead of seeing the much larger picture, the sport is still fighting anyone and everyone they perceive had a hand in the Boise State decision. While all this is taking place not one member of any of our leadership teams has begun to develop a post mortem analysis asking such questions as: what happened, why did it happen and how can we keep it from occurring again?
But for USAWrestling its business as usual, just as it is for the NCAA Rules Committee, Brute, WIN, The Hall of Fame, the AAU, Cliff Keen, Nuway, the National High School Federation, Amateur Wrestling News, Wrestler’s in Business and so on.
From my perspective, none of these organizations or businesses realizes they have a dog in this fight, when, in fact, they do, and the dog is getting its butt kicked.
Fewer programs mean fewer fans and smaller numbers of athletes; all of which translates into a downturn in memberships, subscriptions, donations and equipment sold.
We’re all in this boat together. Wrestling needs to understand that what just happened at Boise State is a tragedy and embrace it as such, and then come together to restructure our thought processes.
But I doubt that’ll happen, because it’s as if, the sport is anesthetized to losing programs; we’re like deer in a car’s headlights, frozen in place. Maybe it has something to do with us setting the bar so low for so long that we’ve become used to it. Our way of thinking has come to a point that we don’t even realize what’s possible anymore or how bad we’ve let things become. It’s a frog in the pot of water analogy. We’re piddling along at 26mph in a vehicle that’s capable of going 112mph and yet we think the old buggy is full open.
Well, it’s not full open, and we’re not even close to what we could be; that’s the problem we have to overcome. No one is dreaming of the possibilities or has a willingness to restructure how we do business. For God sake people, when hasn’t mano-e-mano been the best form of entertainment on the planet?
Think gladiators and the coliseum in Rome and packed houses; think about the largest crowds and most important sport in the ancient Olympic Games; think professional wrestling of the early 20th century and every seat in Wrigley Field being taken to witness Frank Gotch and George Hackenschmidt slug it out; think boxing from Marciano to Ali to Tyson and how the UFC is less than 20 years old and worth billions today. People love fights and that might have something to do with the popularity of ice hockey. A good old fashioned scuffle brings out the warrior fan in all of us.
Wrestling could be king but we’re happy with it being the three of clubs.
We’ve sissified the sport to death. We’ve developed so many regulations over the term of being man’s oldest sport that winning is as much about manipulating the rules and playing to them as it is about switches and stand-ups; maybe even more. It’s about making every new fan we attract feel inept and leave the arena perplexed and unsatisfied because they didn’t understand or enjoy what they just saw.
How could we have screwed up the most basic of sports . . . two people fight; one wins, one loses. That’s it, it’s that simple and yet we can’t even get that right.
Boise is dead because of us, it’s not the President of the University’s fault. Wrestling has always refused to study why programs drop and do something about it because it’s far easier being a reactive failure than a proactive success.
And somehow wrestling is okay with that . . .
Before I begin here, I’d like to say for the record that I’m not looking for any responsibility that will infringe on my free time in retirement and I don’t want to be seen spitting in wrestling’s punch bowl but . . . really? The NWCA is assembling a Blue Ribbon Task Force to tackle high school wrestling’s participation slide and I’m not being asked? That means, as with the 6 or 7 previous Task Forces that I’m aware of, there’s little sizzle and mostly fizzle.
At the very least I bring to the table a creative mind. I’m a thought leader with 55 years of experience and a perspective that wrestling needs, mainly because I see the entire picture. I don’t get pulled into arguing the merits of riding time or the benefits of creating a push out rule. I’m also not easily awed by the bright and shiny which is why the NCWA is only expanding and Beat the Street’s is growing.
There’s a stark difference between the two.
One is run using business principles to increase programming with the end user in mind and the other is a conglomerate of coaches who, like Congress, look at things from their perspective, certainly not how their constirutients sees things.
All too often when committees like these are formed they’re typically made up of a dozen or so likeminded individuals who are each afraid of invoking the wrath of the others by stepping away from the go-along to get-along agenda. This creates an epidemic of imaginational loss and leads to a perilous state of groupthink where false beliefs are propelled forward as a means of getting along. As a not so distant example; the explosion of the Challenger shuttle right after take-off.
And we wonder why Boise State dropped; why the NWCA Duals are dead; why the sport hasn’t had a major school add wrestling since Clemson in 1975; why forfeits at both the collegiate and scholastic levels are reaching epidemic proportions; why no major Network will even talk with us let alone broadcast the sport* and why wrestling has the poorest retention rate of any youth activity.
If we don’t begin to do the uncomfortable, if we don’t initiate change in the way we’re doing business, if we don’t begin listening to viewpoints different from the norm and find out how all the major sports vary from us; then we’re going to hear a lot more administrators say that wrestling is a dead sport.
*ESPN’s coverage of the NCAA’s doesn’t count because they’re forced to broadcast our national championships as part of a much larger contract they sign with the NCAA.
This Will Be My Last Blog
The more I write, the more I realize how little my blogs have achieved other than to entertain my friends and annoy those who have been a target of my angst.
But I have to admit I have taken great pleasure not only in the topics I’ve tackled but the writing style I’ve developed. I’m probably my own favorite writer which I guess is why anyone writes.
However, though this is my last posting, I do plan to leave the web site up for those who would like it as a resource tool.
As to my immediate plans; I intend to attack the few remaining items I have on my bucket list. The first is to co-author a book on raising children with my lovely wife Deb while continuing to struggle with a 300 page novel I started over a decade ago. Jacob’s Cradle, a story of love, heartache and the struggles an Olympic athlete has to endure while being a clandestine operative for the CIA. It has great potential but what I’ve learned so far about a project of this nature is how much respect I have for the John Irving’s of the world. Writing columns and short stories are a piece of cake. Novels are another thing all together.
In closing I’d like to say thank you to all the 1.4 million visitors who over the last year made my blog the most successful one in the sports history. And if you’d like to help resuscitate our “dying sport”, please grab a pen and write something bold on your Facebook, Twitter or Instagram accounts. I’d love to read your thoughts for a change.