In order to know where wrestling ranks relative to all the other sports, and with the folks in the entertainment industry, all we need to do is look at some statistics.
There are 363 Division I universities in America. And out of that number, 34 of them have a wrestling program. That means that 91% of the athletic directors at the D-I level don’t see any redeeming value for housing a wrestling program. The other 44 institutions of the 78 who wrestle at the D-I level, aren’t actually D-I institutions, but D-II’s who believe they’re the little engines that could.
Decades ago, they might have been, but not today. The Clarion’s, Cal Poly’s, Central Michigan’s, Lock Haven’s, Edinboro’s and Slippery Rock’s of old, who use to terrorize America’s wrestling landscape, are no longer capable of doing that anymore.
Today, those 44 D-II institutions are just hanging on to a pipe dream of what use to be, not what is, or what is ever going to be. In essence, they’re wasting precious resources and athletic talent by chasing D-I glory.
For those who want to disagree with my views, I’ll mention a few statistics. At last year’s D-I tournament, if you combined all the points the bottom 34 D-II teams scored, you wouldn’t have enough to break into the Top 20.
So, you might ask, “Why are you writing this Wade? We need positive people out there sharing with us what we have, not what we lack.”
I get it, all that sounds logical. But may I ask in return; where has that gotten us over the last 150 years? The sport is still on food stamps and the media shuns us while program numbers at the D-I level continue to shrink, which is the most important metric when we talk about the health of wrestling. Actually, we have lost more D-I programs (68) since 1982 than any of the other 26 sports the NCAA offers? And we haven’t added one major D-I program, anywhere in America this century?
So, how is any of this possible if we’re as good as we think we are?
By sporting comparisons, we have 12% of the number of D-I teams that Tennis has, the same percentage holds true for Golf. Wrestling has 17% of Soccer’s numbers, 45% of Ice Hockey teams, and 10% of the total number of D-I Cross Country teams. So, how special does that make us?
Regarding the competitiveness of D-II wrestlers at the D-I tournament, can anyone name the last champion the sport had that was a from a D-II school? Here’s what I found when I looked; in the last 20 years there hasn’t been one, not one NCAA D-I Champion, that came from a D-II institution.
By comparison, in the 1970’s, in half as many years, non-Division I wrestlers took home 14 individual championships. So, what does that tell us; that all D-II coaches are bad?
No, not at all.
But it does point out that a huge gap exists between D-I and D-II programing, mostly based on the ever-increasing number of resources that are available to the big boys. And I’m afraid of what that means for our sport moving forward? It appears to me at least, that we have 44 D-II schools that are risking their existence on a hope and a prayer of being able to say they’re somehow relevant, when in fact, they’re not, and won’t be ever again.
Please coaches, none of this has anything to do with you personally, or your level of commitment, or your competitive nature, or work ethic, or passion, or dedication to the sport, or your athletes. You just don’t have a war chest large enough to compete with the big boys. And that’s not going to change. The days of D-II schools keeping up with the budgets of actual D-I institutions have come and gone to a galaxy far, far away. Especially when you factor in the top D-I wrestling programs are spending millions of dollars on their Regional Training Centers, have a full complement of scholarships, and enough NIL money to recruit the best wrestlers with substantial contracts. By comparison, it’s like these D-II schools are Greenland and they’re declaring war on the United States.
Now, I wonder how many wrestlers over the last 20 years, who competed at the D-I level, that had no business being there, who would have taken home D-II All-American honors or a National Championship had they competed there? I would imagine quite a few. So, are we doing what’s in the best interest of those athletes?
Here’s the point, outside of wrestling’s small universe, there is less than 1% of the countries general population who would ask the question; “Were you a D-I, D-II, or D-III athlete?” when they heard you were an All-American or National Champion in the sport? I’ve never been asked that question, not ever when someone heard I won a couple of titles. I get it though; in wrestling, D-I is king with a capital K. But outside of the sport, no one cares where you wrestled to even ask. And most fans inside the sport don’t even ask that question. They just say, “wow,” or “good job,” or give you a look of admiration.
So, why do we still have 44 institutions who are trying to keep up with the Joneses, but have no chance given their shortage of resources? Why are so many wrestlers being told ‘they can do it’ when 21st Century history tells a vastly different story. Isn’t it time to rethink what we’re doing before, not after, athletic department budgets become so constrained that AD’s start to look for ways to stop the bleeding?
If you’re not sure about any of this, please ask one the Athletic Directors at ODU, Slippery Rock, Boise State, West Chester, Drake, Western Michigan, James Madison, or Portland State what they thought about the sport before dropping it?
Later this week I’ll post the second part of this blog, on how the rules of wrestling have changed over the last 120 years. I’m sure you’ll find a few of them bordering on the bazar.