The first steps toward restoring wrestling at UD -- which was eliminated at the Newark, Del. school in 1991 -- are taking place Monday evening at UD's Carpenter Center, through a working group of high school coaches and athletic directors, Delaware Interscholastic Athletic Association personnel, UD administrators and state government representatives.
This feasibility study to bring back wrestling to the state's flagship university is a requirement of Delaware Senate Bill 295, an appropriations measure approved by both branches of the General Assembly at the close of the 2016 legislative session and signed by Gov. Jack Markell.
Bill 295 Section 41 reads: "The working group's feasibility study shall include, but not be limited to, the landscape of high school wrestling in Delaware including where resident high school wrestlers attend college to continue wrestling, start-up costs associated with initiating a Division I wrestling program, projected ongoing costs with a wrestling program including the impact on female athletics at the University, and the potential for the University of Delaware hosting state high school wrestling tournaments and regional collegiate wrestling tournaments.''
"We have no program in Delaware for anyone to give back to," said the sponsor of the legislation, Sen. Nicole Poore, a Democrat from New Castle, referring to the lack of college wrestling programs in the state for high school athletes to continue their careers in their home state. "We need to bring back a middle-class sport that allows our young men and women to have an opportunity."
In June 1991, the University of Delaware announced the elimination of its wrestling program as a way of cutting athletic department costs. Edgar Johnson, athletic director at the time, said annual savings would be between $55,000 and $60,000.
Other possible contributing factors to axing the program: the announced retirement of long-time coach Paul Billy, as well as the Blue Hens' disappointing record over the previous 11 seasons: 6-44 in the East Coast Conference and 69-98 overall.
Title IX gender-equity concerns were not cited as a reason for getting rid of wrestling.
Cancelling the wrestling program left UD with 11 men's and 11 women's varsity teams at the time. Currently, there are eight men's and 13 women's teams with varsity intercollegiate status at Delaware. UD dropped men's indoor track and field in 2009 and men's cross country and outdoor track and field in 2011. Title IX gender-equity concerns -- even though Delaware had not received any complaints -- and economic factors were cited, according to the News Journal.
Previous attempts to convince UD to restore wrestling, including several with strong funding resources, have been ignored. The present push would include a recommendation that women's wrestling also be added, said Vic Leonard of the Delaware Wrestling Alliance. There are presently 30 college women's wrestling programs nationally, according to the National Wrestling Coaches Association.
Despite not having an intercollegiate wrestling program, UD is host to the Beast of the East, one of the nation's top high school mat tournaments, held the weekend before Christmas at the Carpenter Center.
Established in 1743, University of Delaware describes itself as "one of the oldest universities in the U.S." The four-year, public university, located in Newark, has a total enrollment of approximately 23,000 students. The school's sports teams, the Blue Hens, compete in NCAA Division I.