Looking back at 2015: College mat programs born, died, resurrected

In terms of intercollegiate wrestling programs, the year 2015 saw a number of birth announcements for new programs ... sadly, a few obituaries concerning the death of a handful of programs ... and, even a few programs that returned from the grave to wrestle another day.

New programs

The roll call of college programs announced in 2015 came from geographically diverse locations throughout the U.S. For the most part, the new programs built on a trend of the past few years of smaller colleges adding wrestling to their roster of sports offerings to attract and keep a diverse student body.

The year started off with Greensboro College of North Carolina reporting it would add men's wrestling to its roster of intercollegiate sports competing in NCAA Division III. In April, Ferrum College in Virginia revealed it would build on the success of its current men's wrestling program with the addition of women's wrestling and men's club wrestling. In June, Bacone College in Oklahoma announced it would be adding a women's intercollegiate program to go with its successful men's program. In July, Otterbein University just outside Columbus, Ohio let it be known they would add a men's wrestling program to their roster of Division III sports.

The fall saw even more news of new programs. In September, Otero Junior College revealed it was adding a mat program, the first two-year college in Colorado to do so... all with the idea of offering more opportunities for wrestlers in that state and neighboring Kansas. Just last month, Drury University in Springfield, Mo. announced it was launching a men's wrestling program which would compete in NCAA Division II ... while, just before Thanksgiving, Thomas More College in Crestview Hills, Ky. -- a suburb of Cincinnati, Ohio -- announced it would be adding a varsity Division III wrestling program as well as a dance team to its roster of sports programs in the fall of 2016.

Rounding out the newly announced programs for 2015 ... Castleton University, the oldest institution of higher learning in Vermont (founded in 1787), just named Scott Legacy to head up its new wrestling program which takes to the mats in 2016.

Reinstated programs

Some schools brought back wrestling programs that had been eliminated a number of years earlier. In January, Millikin University of Decatur, Ill. revealed it was bringing back its Division III mat program which had been eliminated in 2008. Hampden-Sydney College in Virginia, which had axed its Division III men's program three decades ago, announced its return ... becoming only the third all-male school to offer D3 wrestling. In July, Nebraska Wesleyan announced it was bringing back its D3 program that had been in existence from 1962-1982. Arguably the most eagerly anticipated "return" was Fresno State. After months of statements and speculation, the California university made it official in February: the Bulldogs will be back on the mat in 2018-19 after the program was axed in 2007.


A couple schools announced they would be saying goodbye to their mat programs ... only to reverse their decisions a couple weeks later.

Less than a month after announcing in March it was "suspending" its NCAA Division II wrestling program for two seasons, Northern State University of South Dakota changed its mind and reinstated its Wolves mat program immediately.

Cleveland State wrestling team
About the same time, Cleveland State revealed it would defund its 52-year-old Division I wrestling program, and replace it with a men's lacrosse program. However, thanks to the efforts of the National Wrestling Coaches Association and Wrestlers in Business Network, coupled with the outrage that erupted from the wrestling community -- not just in the wrestling hotbed of northern Ohio, but throughout the nation, along with the news that the CSU athletic director was a former lacrosse star still involved in the sport, and the embarrassment of having the school host the 2018 NCAA Division I Wrestling Championships without having a mat program -- forced the school to change its mind, reinstating and reestablishing funding for the Viking mat program, while staying true to its plan to add a men's lacrosse program.

Dealt a death blow

Sadly, some college mat programs received the death penalty, with no expectation of being resurrected anytime soon.

Darton State College announced it would be axing its intercollegiate wrestling program at the end of the 2014-15 season. The school, located in Albany, Ga., cited significant decreases in revenue and continued decline in enrollment among the reasons. The Darton mat program had generated negative national headlines in September 2013, when a total of three wrestlers had collapsed during outdoor workouts in summer heat on two separate days. One of the wrestlers, 20-year-old Ben Richards of Tampa, Fla. died nine days after collapsing during a five-mile run.

Three weeks after placing seventh in the team standings at the 2015 National Collegiate Wrestling Association Championships, the wrestling club at Glendale Community College in Arizona was eliminated in March.

In June, Knox College extinguished its Prairie Fire NCAA Division III wrestling program after 65 years, effective with the 2015-16 season. The school, located in Galesburg, Ill., cited low roster numbers and a succession of three coaches each serving only one season as primary reasons for the decision. That same month, New York City's Yeshiva University eliminated its wrestling program launched 65 years ago by legendary Olympic wrestler Henry Wittenberg, and dismissed its head coach of 45 years, Neil Ellman, with a phone call from the athletic directed who cited the school's "pressing financial needs."


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