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New efforts to save Boise State wrestling

Boise State at the Pac-12 Championships (Photo/Tony Rotundo, WrestlersAreWarriors.com)

Two months after Boise State University announced it was eliminating its NCAA Division I wrestling program effective immediately, at least two groups are actively working to reverse that decision.

This week, two Idaho politicians reported on their meeting with Boise State president Bob Kustra … while the organization Save Boise State Wrestling updated its members on its efforts on behalf of sport at the school.

Politicians go to the mat with BSU's president

Two Idaho state senators -- Chuck Winder and Marv Hagedorn -- have issued a letter concerning their meeting last week with Kustra on his decision in April to eliminate the school's NCAA Division I wrestling program effective immediately.

"While we had open and frank discussions with Dr. Kustra, we were unfortunately unable to change his mind and get him to reverse his decision," the two state senators wrote.

Winder and Hagedorn reported that Kustra based his decision on axing the Bronco wrestling program on these factors:

  • There are no other wrestling programs in the Mountain West; [Note: There are actually three programs in the conference: Air Force, Wyoming, and, coming on board this fall, Fresno State.]
  • Kustra's characterization that "wrestling is a dying collegiate sport";
  • "The wrestling program was failing to succeed";
  • Despite strong support from the community, the thousands of pledged donations, and the wrestling program's history of success, Kustra sees no future for wrestling at the school as a Division I sport.

    Kustra also asserted that Boise State's football program is funding all other varsity sports, with the exception of men's basketball. He added that season ticket sales for Bronco football were "significantly down over the past two seasons."

    The two Idaho state senators went on to write, "No amount of discussion or options could sway him (Kustra). He told us that he had heard very little opposition to his decision to terminate the program. He also mentioned the community support he had heard for his decision to begin varsity men's baseball."

    The BSU president is a baseball fan

    At the time Kustra announced his decision to eliminate wrestling, the BSU president openly stated his preference for bringing baseball back to the school after it was eliminated in 1980. Kustra has been reportedly working on baseball's return to his school for at least the past two years, despite not having a baseball stadium for that new program on campus or elsewhere in the city of Boise. Estimates for building such a facility hover around $40 million.

    However, Kustra's desire to launch a Division I men's baseball program -- with its related costs, including construction of new facilities -- would appear to fly in the face of the Boise State president's statements to Winder and Hagedorn about financial issues for Bronco sports.

    "My most serious takeaway from the meeting was learning of the financial challenges faced by the entire athletic department at the university."

    "Declining football season ticket sales means Boise State must take a hard look at many other smaller sports at the school."

    Winder and Hagedorn went on to write that if Boise State is indeed struggling to support its current athletic programs, this represents a much larger program for the school … an issue of importance to be addressed by the Idaho State Board of Education, as well as other Idaho state legislators.

    Kustra's push to make wrestling a club sport

    According to the letter from the two Idaho state senators, Kustra suggested the wrestling community put its time and effort into endowing the Boise State wrestling program as a non-varsity club sport. He also expressed a willingness to keep Mike Mendoza (who had been brought to BSU just last year as head wrestling coach from Cal State Bakersfield) at the school "in an administrative role in the athletic department should he want to stay at BSU."

    "(Mendoza) would be given the opportunity to continue coaching at the school should there be an interest in continuing wrestling as a non-varsity club sport," the legislators' letter quotes Kustra. The president went on to say that this option would allow "continued use of the current facilities, school logos, and other benefits the school can offer to the program, coaches and athletes."

    After presenting this wrestling-as-a-club-sport option in their letter to Boise State wrestling supporters, Winder and Hagedorn go on state, "While (we) appreciate and see Dr. Kustra's endowment offer to continue wrestling as a well-supported club sport, (we) know it offers little comfort to the many people who want wrestling to continue at the Division I level." That said, the legislators try to offer Bronco mat supporters some encouragement, concluding their letter by suggesting a two-prong approach:

    1.Take up the BSU president's offer for a non-varsity club program for wrestling that will give the wrestling community three to five years which give them time to raise funds to …

    2. Build the endowment for returning and sustaining an NCAA Division I wrestling program.

    The letter concludes: "We hope that we can eventually see the wrestling program return to varsity status at BSU!"

    Meanwhile, Save BSU Wrestling discusses its options

    While Idaho politicians were meeting with the Boise State president, at least one other organization is openly exploring options for keeping college wrestling within the state of Iowa.

    On Thursday InterMat obtained a letter from Matt Klinger of Save BSU Wrestling which he sent to that organization's supporters today.

    In his letter, Klinger presents two possible directions supporters can take. The most obvious: to continue the fight to retain a Division I wrestling program at Boise State by considering various potential options, including endowments (and how much would need to be in that fund) and the possibility of funding a companion women's program. Klinger cautions supporters with this reminder: "It took Fresno (State) over five years to get their program back. It's possible, but we need constant pressure."

    A second group within Save BSU Wrestling is exploring the possibility of bringing a varsity wrestling program to another four-year college in Idaho. The two schools that have been approached for this possibility are Northwest Nazarene University, and College of Idaho.

    Both are private, four-year schools.

    Northwest Nazarene, located in Nampa, Idaho, has an enrollment of 2,000 students; its sports teams compete in NCAA Division II. College of Idaho, situated in Caldwell, Idaho, has approximately 1,140 students. C of I sports programs are in the NAIA (National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics).

    Klinger disclosed that Mike Moyer of the National Wrestling Coaches Association has already been talking to the athletic directors at both schools about adding intercollegiate wrestling programs.

    Save Boise State Wrestling reported that, in just two months, the group has raised over $275,000 in pledges, including over $68,000 raised at their GoFundMe page and gathered over 17,500 signatures to an online petition supporting the reinstatement of the Boise State wrestling program.

    The 411 on Boise State wrestling

    Boise State announced the elimination of its Division I mat program in mid-April, effective immediately. The statement issued by the school said, "The move was made to better align its programs with the Mountain West, and with the intent to add baseball in the future."

    As InterMat reported back in April, Boise State has a strong wrestling tradition. The Broncos have won six conference team championships. The program has had 12 top-20 NCAA team finishes and five top-10 NCAA team finishes. However, the Broncos had struggled this past season, finishing 2-9 in dual meets this past season and fifth at the Pac-12 Championships.

    Three weeks later, InterMat outlined the impact of Boise State's decision in Idaho (eliminating the only Division I program in the state) as well as far beyond Boise, eliminating opportunities for wrestlers in the mountain West, a region already lacking in college wrestling programs.

    Earlier this month, NWCA's Mike Moyer wrote a passionate plea for keeping the Division I wrestling program at Boise State for the Idaho Press-Tribune.
  • Comments

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    Krop Wrestling (1) about 1 and a half years ago
    Lessons learned: All D1schools should look at endowing their programs, no matter the success a school has.