I think we need to pay closer attention to what is happening. With the loss of EMU, a year after Boise State, which followed on the heels of, well, you get the idea. Every time we have an NCAA Championship, it seems we receive more bad news about some institution or institutions deciding to discontinue wrestling.
This is as predictable as old faithful with the issue being a combination of anemic revenue production (the coaches fault), non-existent political clout (absolutely the coaches fault), and coaches (once again) who haven’t elevated the sport in the eyes of their administration.
We really need to stop taking the easy road by blaming administrators, their institutions, Title IX, Congress, Mrs. O’Leary’s cow, or the alignment of the stars.
This is all about a sport which has 1) minimal entertainment value relative to the masses, 2) an NCAA Rules Committee who won’t tackle anything more challenging than locked hands, and 3) coaches who continually fail to elevate the sport in the eyes of their institutions.
I’ve written about the entertainment issue and the Rules Committee in several previous blogs so I’ll refrain from tackling that topic again other than to say . . . if we increase the sports “fun” quotient our fan base will grow, and the first stop on our way to stability will be revenue neutrality. If you haven’t thought about it before, there hasn’t been a school, anywhere in the country, that dropped a program, any program, that was making money. Even if the program has some bad actors in it, or not so nice social issues going on, things always have a way of being smoothed over when a positive cash flow is involved.
So, what am I left with but to zero in on the coaches. They’re the individuals who have been dictating the direction the sport’s been traveling for over a century. They are also directly responsible for the way athletic administrations view the sport of wrestling. This viewpoint may not always be fair, but the buck has to stop at their desks. And sadly, most of them don’t even realize that’s a responsibility they have, or even how to go about making changes. But they’re going to have to figure it out, and soon.
Let’s look at this as being a complex mixture of Competitiveness, Ignorance, Unawareness and Uncomfortableness.
Competitiveness, because most coaches aren’t really concerned if programs go, as long as theirs isn’t one of them. Less programs mean they’ll have an easier time recruiting and in the instance of EMU, there are quite a few coaches in the Mid-American Conference that just moved up one spot in the rankings. So, I hope this makes sense, why would any coach want to reverse this when it directly benefits him?
Now I know all of us would like to think this isn’t the case, but as well all know, competitiveness, which wrestling coaches have in capital letters, dictates how a they think and act.
And I would also be willing to bet that every athlete on the EMU team, a day after the announcement was made, was contacted by at least 3 competing institutions regarding transferring to their program. And it’s also a fair assumption that of all those coaches who made calls, not one thought enough to contact the administration at EMU to ask what they might do to help reverse their decision.
Now understand, I don’t blame the coaches for taking this route, this is what competitors do-they compete. It is not in their DNA to help other programs win. This conflict of interest and competitive urges are simply too great to trust any coach with wrestling’s health and welfare.
Ignorance, because again, too many coaches don’t have a clue what a danger sign looks like relative to their program. They never realize their program is in trouble until the announcement is made and then it’s always too late to do anything about it. Once the AD puts the decision out in the public, the concrete has already dried.
Name one school, okay, Binghamton and Princeton, that reversed their decision to drop wrestling once it was made? And in those two instances, it was the efforts of two men, one at each institution who stepped up and had the clout that was necessary to turn the decisions around. But the odds of that taking place again is so remote that Vegas doesn’t even have a line on it. So, unhappily, say goodbye to Eastern Michigan.
Basically, if coaches don’t identify the problems they have before the announcement, the decision is not only painful, but permanent as well.
Unawareness, because there are too many coaches who think they can do the jobs of 3 men which is simply absurd; maybe 2½, but not 3. And where the unawareness (or silliness) comes into play is they are all hell bent on focusing on growing wrestlers, not programs.
The most important job of a coach, besides teaching technique, is a game called politics and politicians. It’s something that way too many of them find both foreign and repulsive. Instead of broadening their reach within the athletic department, they prefer to double down and concentrate on the sports W’s and L’s. It’s certainly a feel-good way to go, until you don’t have a team to feel-good about. Being a head coach, especially at the collegiate level, is all about bolstering the sports standing within the department while your assistants fulfill the duties you’ve given them relative to the wrestling room.
Now, let me ask this question, when was the last time you read that the number of wins or loses a program had was the reason administrators gave for discontinuing it? Having an All-American, like EMU had at this year’s NCAA’s, means nothing to administrators other than it might weaken their case for dropping the program, by just a hair, and only within the wrestling community.
The real problem, as I see it, is over the last fifty years the Rules Committee (aka coaches) have deliberately increased coaches workloads by expanding the number of hours each week the teams spend traveling and competing. Long gone are the 10 date seasons and dual meets, they’ve been replaced by Quads, 8-team duals and multi-day events. The result of all this has been, assuming everyone wants to be competitive, is the slow extermination of the sport.
Wrestling would be far better off if it had half the number of competition dates and terminated all-day events.
The why for this is simple.
Spectator numbers would go up, no one wants to give up a full day of their lives to sit on hard bleachers, even the die-hards at Penn State and Iowa refuse to do that. The frequency of injuries and skin infections would decrease, which happens to be one of the many reasons why the sport receives a bad rap. Grades would go up because athletes would be trading sitting in a van for sitting in a classroom. Budgetary expenses would go down proportionally to the reduction in competition dates. And maybe the most important thing of all is coaches would now have the time to focus on the other half of their jobs . . . politics and politicians.
My point is none of this can be considered poor time management on the parts of the coaches, it’s more a case of not having any time left to manage. Coaches these days have become so busy that they literally have to put bathroom stops on their calendar.
Uncomfortableness, it hurts the sport that our coaches are uncomfortable doing anything that isn’t training based. As an example, most wrestling coaches refuse to wear white shirts and ties and are terribly ill at ease around those who do. It’s funny in a way, coaches would never think twice about taking on a grizzly bear but to speak with any administrator on a peer to peer basis, well, that thought alone scares them to death. Shirts and ties to wrestling coaches have a way of being the same as what garlic is to a vampire.
Besides something as simple as professional attire, it would be a rare case indeed if someone saw a wrestling coach playing golf with his boss, or challenging him to a game of racquetball, or heaven forbid, taking him to lunch. These things are so far removed from their thought processes that it rarely, if ever, happens.
That alone can be considered as one of the main reasons why wrestling programs are dropped. Administrators can’t relate to their wrestling coach because they don’t know their wrestling coach. It’s not an administrator’s responsibility to get to know their coaches, it’s the coaches responsibility to reach out to their administrators.
It’s well documented, when wrestling coaches don’t reach out, and tough decisions have to be made, they’re the ones who end up dusting off their resumes. It’s always easier to drop a program whose coach administrators don’t know than the one who’s part of their inner-circle and weekly poker game.
If anyone thinks all this is silly, then they’re one of the unknowing. Because the competition wrestlers face on the weekends isn’t near as important, or deadly, as the interpersonal relationships coaches face during the week in the administrative offices.
Once again, it’s the coaches, they’re the ones in charge of their programs, both in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health. So, right or wrong, like it or hate it, they are the sports CEO’s, the ones who are responsible, and accountable, when a program drops.
Look at it this way; Eastern Michigan had 9 male sports as of a week ago, now they have 7. Think of this as a tournament with 8-teams, each one having a line on the bracket. I know, EMU has 9 sports but for the sake of argument here, pretend there are 8 and the school has to cut 4 sports.
In this scenario, all wrestling coaches have to do is win the first round of the tournament. We’re not asking them to win the semis or the finals, just the quarters. But all too often wrestling can’t even do that, but why not? Why can’t our coaches demonstrate that wrestling has more to offer the school than its quarter finals opponent?
It’s just competition, and it’s widely known, when an athletic department gets into financial trouble programs disappear. You can’t blame the athletic directors for having to make tough decisions, you just have to show them that the track coach whose office is across the hall from yours is the one who needs to go. This is all competition and a numbers game.
So, the question wrestling coaches should be asking is how do I win the quarters? What criteria will my athletic administrators use to decide who gets the boot and who moves into the semis?
It’s usually pretty simple. The sport that goes is the one that means the least to the institution and the Athletic Director, it’s the program that administrators can drop and catch the least amount of political hell over. All too often that’s wrestling because our coaches don’t have booster clubs to speak of and if they do, it’s typically a good old boy network that doesn’t have the ear of the Athletic Director or any political clout worth mentioning.
In this competition, the programs that have the largest number of problem children, are the most non-political or have the weakest image outside of their sport are the ones who end up in the consolation bracket.
Remember what the President of Boise State said, which was picked up by every news outlet in the country, “wrestling is a dying sport.” Now I can’t say for certain, but I would be willing to bet that the administrators at Eastern Michigan were influenced by his opinion. And the President was right, wrestling is dying and going to continue to as long as our coaches focus on W’s and L’s, while believing that politics and politicians are a game played by the weak.
Can you believe it, once again, wrestling is taking the same solidarity tack we have always taken; they’re asking the wrestling community to sign petitions in response to Eastern Michigan dropping their program.
Petitions are as silly as they are non-productive, and a really, really, really bad idea. To begin, petitions have never, ever, not once, not ever, reversed a decision to drop wrestling. All they do is make those who sign them feel warm and cuddly that they became involved and took a stand by taking the time to sign their names.
But what actually happens when administrators receive a 103-page petition with 127,826 signatures on it is they now have free kindling for their fire places next winter.
The downside of this involvement is far more serious. Since well-intentioned and caring individuals took part in a gesture that was meaningless, it’s very tough for the sport to go back and ask them to do more. That’s how decision makers win, it’s how they do what they want because they were the ones who created the idea of petitions in the first place. All so the masses would feel that their opinions mattered, when in actuality, they don’t.