Boise State

Wrestling’s Loss

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 . . .

Incredible

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.

 

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21 thoughts on “Boise State

  1. I will, also, miss your posts, Wade.

    Please forgive me for copy/paste much of a private email I sent you.

    I want other people to answer the question, what is wrestling’s goal.

    Please forgive me for taking a contrarian view of a point earned is a point scored because I do not believe a point earned is a point scored will accomplish wrestling’s goal. To be honest, I can’t answer the question, what is wrestling’s goal.

    Let me copy/paste from the email now.

    I wish to take a contrarian view of a point earned is a point scored.

    Let me pick, as my target, the sport of football.

    Football is already popular. People must find football exciting.

    Wouldn’t football be even more exciting if teams could score more points?

    Let’s take the existing rules of football, as they are, and add one new rule.

    The new rule is to award a team one point for every first down.

    This shouldn’t harm the sport of football much, or will it?

    Let every other rule remain the same.

    Now let’s have a football game between two fictional teams!

    The Oakland Rabbits are known for getting a touchdown as fast as possible. Give them the football and you can expect a long pass or a long run straight to the end-zone.

    The San Francisco Turtles are known for plodding along. They eventually get to the end-zone, but it takes them a while.

    The game starts. The Rabbits win the coin toss and elect to receive.

    The Rabbits’ receiver gets the ball, and it’s a touch down! Six points.

    Next up, it’s the Turtles turn t receive. They get it on their twenty.

    A short down and out, and the Turtles get a first down on their thirty. Score is now six to one in favor of Rabbits.

    Another run to the first down marker, and it’s first and ten on their forty. Score is now six to two.

    The Turtles rinse and repeat, gaining ten yards, and a first down each time.
    Pretty soon the Turtles scored six points based on six first downs.
    Finally the Turtles go for the end-zone, and the score is Turtles twelve, Rabbits six.

    Now it’ the Rabbits’ turn. They receive and it’s a touchdown. Score is now twelve to twelve.

    Turtles get to receive, again on their twenty. As before, the Turtles score six first downs on their way to a touchdown.
    That’s twelve more team points for the Turtles. Six team point for the first downs and six team points for the touchdown.
    Score is now Turtles twenty-four, Rabbits twelve.

    Rabbits receive the ball. Touchdown. Score is Turtles twenty-four, Rabbits eighteen.

    Turtles receive the ball. Six first downs, and finally, gasp, a touchdown. Score is Turtles thirty-six, Rabbits eighteen.

    Rabbits receive the ball. Do you think the Rabbits will be stupid enough to immediately make a run for the end-zone?

    We will have football games where the teams slow the game down, try to score as many first downs as possible, and get the fans frustrated. Where are the long passes or the long runs? What is the momentum of the game?

    A simple scoring change in football to score more points to make football more exciting than it already is can ruin the game.

    Football is not like basketball. What works in one sport doesn’t work in the other.

    Football has a certain step-by-step progression toward scoring, a certain momentum.

    Basketball scoring is quick and fast. The scoring itself, is the progression, but there is no step-by-step progression.

    Wrestling is not like football. Wrestling is not like basketball.

    What is the progression toward scoring for wrestling? What is the momentum? What is the goal?

    Is the goal, in wrestling, to score a pin, or score more points?
    If the goal is to score a pin, make it the only thing that scores.
    If the goal is to score more points, make a pin be another way to score points, not a way to end the match.

    Look again what happens to football if we make a simple scoring change in football to have more points to make football more exciting.

    Why shouldn’t I believe a simple scoring change in wrestling to make wrestling more exciting won’t have the opposite effect?

    -Rick

    This ends my copy/paste of a portion of the email.

    As I said in the email, and let me repeat,
    Is the goal, in wrestling, to score a pin, or score more points?
    If the goal is to score a pin, make it the only thing that scores.
    If the goal is to score more points, make a pin be another way to score points, not a way to end the match.

    Please do not have two ways to end a match. Please do not try to have multiple goals. If you wish to end the match by pin, have pins be the only way to score. If you wish to end the match after six minutes of wrestling (or 5 or 8 or 9 minutes), do not end the match when a pin occurs, but have a pin be just another way to score points.

    People say wrestling is physical, and compare it to chess, which is mental. People say wrestling is physical chess. Chess has one way to score, one way to win, last time I checked. One either got a checkmate (or the opponent resigns if a checkmate is imminent), or it’s a draw. There are no points for getting a good position or making a great move. If wrestling is like chess, the only goal should be the pin. Nothing else should score. The match should last as long as practical to allow a pin. The match should be stopped for time reasons only when it’s not practical to wait for a pin to occur.

    People might try to compare wrestling to hockey. What is the goal of hockey? The goal of hockey is to score the most goals. I suggest scoring a goal in hockey is like getting a pin in wrestling. When one scores a goal in hockey, the hockey match doesn’t end. The hockey match goes on until all three periods are completed and time runs out. If the goal is to score the most points, do not end the wrestling match when a pin happens. Treat a pin like another scoring move. Stand the wrestlers up and let them wrestle some more.

    These are my fundamental problems with amateur wrestling.
    1) What is it’s goal. Is it’s goal to score a pin or to score the most points?

    2) how should a wrestling match end? The answer to this question derives from the first question.

    If the goal is a pin, don’t end the match when one wrestler gets a “technical fall”. Don’t have a technical fall. Let them wrestle, without really having a clock, until there’s a pin. Only stop the match if the match has lasted too long and has become impractical to continue. If one wrestler begins to wear the other wrestler down, give the dominant wrestler as much time as possible to get the pin. Don’t interrupt a pin in progress by having a clock that stops the match. Once a wrestler shows he can almost pin his opponent, let the match run longer than would normally be allowed to give the wrestler a greater chance to get the pin. In chess, we let a chess match go on and on until a checkmate happens or the players agree to a draw.

    If the goal is to score the most points, do not stop the match because a pin occurred. Stand the wrestlers up. If you wish, give the wrestlers a minute to recover before having them wrestle some more. Use the clock only to declare the end of the match. If you have a six minute match, there should be six minutes of wrestling. If you have a nine minute match, there should be nine minutes of wrestling. I would go farther and argue only pins should count for scoring points, just as, in hockey, only goals count for scoring points. People will disagree and want points for take downs and escapes and near falls and reversals. I argue it’s the scoring of points for take downs and escapes and reversals and near falls that cause wrestling to morph into what wrestling now is. It’s using the the rules for scoring points for take downs and escapes and near falls that lead to a take down/stand up, hit and run, use the clock, style of wrestling.

    3) how should points be scored in wrestling? Should there be a point scoring system to determine who wins a match? Should there be a separate way matches score team points?

    You can guess my answer to this point. I only want pins to score points. I’m not afraid to declare a match a draw if no pins are scored. I can sort of understand points need to be scored in an individual tournament to advance an individual wrestler through the weight class. There is no need to have points scored in a dual if every match is win/lose/draw, and only pins count.

    I suggest only wrestlers and wrestling coaches understand the goal of wrestling. Ignorant fans do not. I do not.

    If we wish to dwell on business for a moment, one needs to explain in one simple sentence the product or service one is trying to sell. If one needs a paragraph prospective customers won’t understand and won’t pay attention and will do something else.

    Please define, in one simple sentence, what is the goal of wrestling.

  2. thanks for your insights over the years. fairly easy to understand why your views may not be appreciated on a forum such as “The Mat”, since the single greatest point I believe you have made is that growth is connected to an increased fan base, and almost every survey regarding potential rule changes only elicits responses from coaches and officials. There will be no radical changes regarding match scoring, team scoring (including forfeits), matside weigh-ins, duration of events, weight classes and more until it may be too late. thanks again, and while we may not have always agreed on the finer details, our view of the big picture remains similar. good luck on the book!

    • You’re very kind. Appreciate your comments and thank you for being one of the good guys. :>))

  3. I’ll miss your posts but watch for the novel :) You’ve had an impact at the grass roots level at least. As a youth coach (and late comer to this blog) I was gratified to find someone with such “street cred” echoing my thoughts on youth competition and retention. And I was on board with your mission to make the sport more fan-friendly. Artful stalling doesn’t fill seats, and being aggressive is more fun anyway. I’ll keep doing what I can to keep the fun in fundamental, and sneak in some ‘fun’ moves too. We need more creative thinkers on and off the mat. Solving puzzles is fun. And upper body skills seem like a lost art that’s fun to watch. If the main difference with swimming (besides being easier to understand I suppose) is that Americans like a winner, that can give reason for hope.

    • Thank you . . . I needed a shot in the arm after reading some of the feedback at themat.com. Guess I’m not quite as popular in Colorado Springs as say Pittsburgh. Oh well, I have tried to make people think and enjoy my writing style even if they don’t always agree with some of the premises.

      • BTW last winter we tried katas with our beginners (double leg, standup etc) and it was a hit, helped them stay focused, gave them little ‘black belts’ at our team party

  4. Your words are about far more than wrestling competition.
    Hope there is an autobiography in the future.
    You will be missed…
    Thank you

  5. I have thought about posting something for a long time and since you are apparently ending your blogs I guess I will throw
    in my two cents. First, I am not a wrestler who dwells on the past because I did not have one. Basically I was a scrub for a couple of years at a high school you are familiar with. I graduated a few years before your encounter with Bimbo. I do have a son that is very much involved in promoting the sport, Jeff Upson. Aside from his day job as a police officer, he spends a tremendous amount of time on his website, PaPowerWrestling. So I am one of the fans that wrestling wants to keep while adding new ones. I think the wrestling powers need to look at some other sports to emulate or at least try to understand their success. The sport I am thinking of is swimming. I have a great niece that spent some time with us last week. She just finished her freshman year at Georgia, a school that won back to back NCAA championships in 2013 and 2014. I asked her how many people come out for her meets and she said not very many. Yet this is a sport that every four years is thrust into the limelight
    during the olympics. Swimmers grace the covers of sports pages, TV affords it prime time coverage, and some of the participants make a lot of money. I can go to State College and sit with 16,000 others to watch PSU at Bryce Jordan although Rec Hall is the preferred venue. Can’t get tickets to Rec Hall because they are sold out. I realize that I may be comparing apples to oranges but for the life of me I can’t understand how swimming which I consider comparable to wrestling can command so much attention on the national scene and schools continue to lose wrestling teams. I have prattled long enough. I don’t have answers and I know that Wade has proposed some changes. I agree that something needs to be done. Wrestling needs to “toot it’s own horn”, encourage intercity wrestling, encourage woman teams – I note that Wyoming Sem is starting a woman’s team. Maybe change the scoring system. I used to cringe when watching the olympics the announcers had to explain the scoring system. The bottom line is if nothing is done at the national level, even with what I believe is an increase in DIII teams, the sport will eventually become a club sport and then die, and I don’t want to see that happen.

    • Thanks Tom . . . appreciate the time you took to write. It is frustrating to say the least.

      One of the ways you get the media’s attention is by dominating, especially at the international level. Swimming does that in spades, it’s never an issue if the USA is going to win the Olympics, it’s only being debated by how much? Wrestling on the other hand, couldn’t win a medal in Greco if we issued sidearms and the freestyle team, especially prior to Synder, struggles is the best way of describing it. Prior to 2015 and after the 2000 Olympics, discounting Burroughs, America only won 1 Gold Medal in freestyle. That doesn’t get many people’s attention. As to swimming, Phelps won more Gold medals by himself than all of our wrestlers did in men’s Greco, men’s freestyle and the women’s program in the last 37 years, since the 1980 Games. The swimmers in Rio had more Gold Medals than all of wrestling has won since the Berlin Games in 1938. That should pretty much answer your question regarding swimming.

      Please understand I didn’t write this to point out how bad our athletes are but to suggest we have other problems with the administrative portion of our countries programming.

      In review, either 1) we’re not very good athletes or wrestlers or 2) we’re not being administered and trained very well or 3) the Europeans are better athletes and wrestlers. I don’t see a 4th option here. I don’t believe that #1 or #3 is true because we have more coaches coaching than any other nation on the planet, more wrestling rooms and more wrestlers than any other nation, better sports nutrition, sports physiologists and sports medicine than any other country in the world so by a process of elimination it has to be #2. Does anyone else see a 4th option?

  6. Wade I hope you stay involved, we need to keep working for the sport of WRESTLING. We have started 2 men’s and 3 women’s teams in the last 3 years in Oregon. Working on D1 teams also. I love your thoughts and think they are important. Wrestling programs are being added but at non D1 programs mostly. Big Picture : fans in seats at duals, more duals, more dates for duals, donations for your sport before in trouble, rules, and learn to promote our sport. I have read most of your posts and your thoughts are always good. You should hook up with Nancy and Dave Schultz’s son. I won’t stop working for our sport but I want to make sure I’m making it better!! YOURS IN WRESTLING. Marlin

    • Thanks Marlin . . . well said. But as the analogy I’ve used many times before, starting more programs, all be it wonderful and necessary, might be putting the cart before the horse. Look at wrestling as a restaurant chain. To make more money and grow the business you certainly need to sell more franchises and build more restaurants. But if the food is so-so at best, more restaurants only points out to more people, in more cities, that they may want to go elsewhere to eat. We have to fix the menu first, make wrestling exciting, then work to expand. More is never better when what you’re doing isn’t enjoyable.

      Many of your points above we need to work on first then look to expand.

      I’d look forward to talking with Nancy and Xander if they would feel I could be of help.

  7. The Boise president is a popular punching bag these days, but he has nothing to do with wrestling’s well-being or lack thereof. He’s just an observer.

    Give credit to the NWCA for establishing the task force. We are not privy to the membership or plan,nor is the topic on the published NWCA Convention agenda. Perhaps all of that will be shared and various stakeholders will have a chance to participate.

    Taking your ball and going home is unexpected but understandable. I’m old, you are older and life is short. Keep breaking glass.

    • I’d love to give the NWCA credit, they do do things that are exemplary and Mike Moyer is a class act. However, I’m old enough to have seen about a dozen various task forces come and go over my time in the sport. All from various organizations and I can’t remember or are able to point to anything any of them accomplished but they did raise all our hopes only to wonder a year or two later; “what ever happened to that task force?”

      So, if I were a betting man, I’d lay odds that 18 months from now we will be asking the same question of this task force.

      I sincerely hope that Mike makes me eat my words, I want to be wrong.

  8. I’m very sorry to hear that this is your last blog post. While you may not have seen the impact you’d hoped for with the sport’s leadership, you influenced many coaches, parents and fans of the sport. I for one strive to teach based on many of the ideas and principles I’ve learned from your blog.

    I agree with nearly all if what you said, but think that there is hope if those who are in it for the love of the sport begin to take it back from those who are in it to make as much money as possible.

  9. I hope you keep in the fight when the mood moves you. Wrestling needs out of the box thinking!

  10. I too have enjoyed your blog and am srry this may be the last. With twin boys beginning high school this fall, I was hoping they would have the opportunity to wrestle (they are both black belts in karate), but their high school dropped wrestling many years ago to start a golf program. The reason given were many of the same stated in your article.

  11. Sad to see you go really enjoyed your perspective on the sport. The leaders of the sport have always cherry picked the successes and convinced themselves that everything is alright with wrestling. Numbers don’t lie, reality is what it is but as long as people are making a living off of wrestling they are going to take care of themselves and hope to make it to retirement – what a legacy they will leave behind a sport that hardly exists – best of luck Wade

  12. Good luck with your book, I’ll miss your posts. I hope the Boise State president is wrong, but I’m afraid he might be right – our days as a mainstream scholastic sport are numbered. I hope that changes, but it’s going to be very difficult to come back from where we are now.

  13. Wade, I love and respect your passion. We don’t always agree but I enjoy the thoughtful dialogue. Hope you reconsider. Talk soon!!!

  14. See you down the road Wade, I have enjoyed every moment I have spent with you and have read in your blogs. I would love to get together for an evening at one of my son Kyle’s Restaurants in DC. He was also a wrestler in high school!

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