Roll up the mat…college wrestling takes another fall

That thud emanating from northern California was another college wrestling program hitting the mat and losing to the count.

For ASU wrestlers and their fans, it brings back not-too-distant memories of their own program on life support.  And it doesn’t bode well for the future of the sport.

The University of California, Davis just announced that wrestling is among four sports that are being eliminated in response to deep cuts in state funding.  Coaches of the sports to be discontinued were notified this morning; a total of 153 student-athletes and seven coaches are involved.

The cuts are designed to save $2.9 million over the next three years, as the programs are scheduled to be discontinued by July 1.  The Aggies sent three wrestlers to the NCAA tournament last month, but didn’t have an All-American.

Flash back to May 23, 2008…

The UC Davis announcement reads like the difficult decision that ASU Vice President for Athletics Lisa Love was forced to make a couple of years ago. When it was decided that 22 sports were too many for  the university to be able to financially support, three men’s sports – wrestling, tennis, and swinning – were put on the chopping block to save an estimated $1.1 million per year.

As many as 70 athletes and six full-time coaches would be effected.  Thom Ortiz, the wrestling coach, would be paid through November.

Supporters were told that, if they could raise enough money to fully endow them, the sports could be saved.  The wrestling program carried an estimated cost of $8 million.

Sure enough, 10 days later, it was announced that the wrestling program was being fully reinstated, thanks to financial support from local and civic leadership.  Eventually, all three sports were saved by outside support.

The significance of losing the wrestling program is just as true for UC Davis as it was for ASU back then.  Wrestling has seen its share of discontinued college programs through the years as a result of budget choices and Title IX requirements, so every program it can continue to field is important to its survival.

And out here in the wild and wooly West, the loss of a program takes on a larger impact because so many of the viable D-I wrestling programs are located in the Midwest and the East, and representation on the West Coast is minimal by comparison.

The loss of UC Davis would mean there are just seven schools in the Pac-10 that will continue fielding a wrestling program.  Four of those left are also California schools.  How long will take before the state’s financial crisis tears apart another athletic department, and the administration goes looking for sports to cut?

But, hey, ASU emerged a winner.  Maybe UC Davis will find a few supporters in their athletic community with deep pockets.  And a love of wrestling.

No doubt, the Sun Devils are rooting for their Pac-10 opponents this one time.