Boston University's two-time national qualifier Nestor Taffur (Photo courtesy of Tony Rotundo; WrestlersAreWarriors.com)
If you follow college wrestling, you would know there was a huge success story in the past two months. Stanford wrestling made its incredible return. It was cut during COVID, along with ten other sports. Amazingly, all sports were reinstated a year later. In addition to this, there has been a recent influx of wrestling programs starting from scratch (mainly at the D2, D3, and NAIA levels). Some of these programs have been added both men's and women's wrestling. It is insane how fast the sport is evolving, while spreading into different areas - especially the southern part of the country. This area is not known for its wrestling, but the landscape may be starting to change.
This had me thinking about which schools would be great additions to the EIWA Conference. I made my decisions based on the school's geographical location, academic requirements, and size of the school. Plus, the school should not belong to another conference that already has wrestling. This is why a school like Syracuse is not on my list. It used to be an EIWA member, but if the school were to reinstate the program, it would be included in the ACC conference.
Honorable Mention - Lafayette Leopards
This would be a phenomenal addition to the EIWA conference. Lafayette is located in one of the most well-known wrestling hotspots of Easton, Pennsylvania. A few famous Easton wrestlers include Bobby Weaver, Jordan Oliver, Jack Cuvo, Jamarr Billman, Brian Snyder and the people's champ Willie Saylor. With only 2,700 or so students enrolled, it is a small school. The huge benefit of potentially adding wrestling to this school would be what realtors drool over: LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION. It would be in prime location to start a program, residing in the Lehigh Valley, 5 minutes from New Jersey.
It would take a lot to get a program started here, and a big-time coach to help get it off the ground. Local wrestling coach legend, Barry Snyder (Nebraska assistant's father - and longtime Easton high school assistant coach) was the last coach at Lafayette before the program was cut in 1989. He was working as a volunteer with zero pay before the program was ultimately hacked. An ideal, dream coach would be someone like Brian Snyder taking over the reins over 30 years after the program was cut. Lastly, local prominent wrestling names like Jordan Oliver and Willie Saylor would be great additions to the staff. As a bonus, the university's main rival is Lehigh. Who wouldn't love to see this dual meet every year to claim "King of the Lehigh Valley"!?
#5 - Dartmouth Big Green
Dartmouth is one of two Ivy League schools without wrestling. The New Hampshire school is a typical-sized Ivy League school, with around 4,500 undergrad students, all of which are smarter than me. With academics being a top priority, recruiting for this school would be difficult - no different than any other Ivy League program. The challenge this team would have is the time it would take to become competitive in the league and a long-term commitment from admissions. All current Ivy League programs have been on the rise in the past decade. Dartmouth would be leaps and bounds behind their rivals.
I am not saying it is impossible to add wrestling to this school, but considering the school dropped 5 sports during COVID, adding any sports in the near future seems impossible. Although, we have seen Stanford bring the wrestling program back (plus 10 other sports), Dartmouth's endowment is one-fifth of Stanfords. I know Dartmouth's nearly $6 Billion endowment is not meant to be used for wrestling, but there should be something it can do - right? Obviously, Dartmouth would be a great addition to the Ivy League and EIWA Conferences. The quality of student-athletes the college could bring to the table would raise the bar so high, it would make it even more difficult for other conferences to match. Plus, the conference could use another team with Green in it. Binghamton is sick of always wearing the green anklet!
#4 - Yale University Bulldogs
The next team on my list is the other Ivy League school without a wrestling team, as previously mentioned. Yale has a pretty historic wrestling tradition. The team was officially sanctioned in 1903, but was around before that. 27th President William Taft was an intramural champion, while attending Yale in the 1870s. If it were not cut in 1991, the program would have been one of the oldest teams in NCAA wrestling history. They claimed the first 4x EIWA champ, George Dole. He won titles in 1905, 1906, 1907, and 1908. He also won the gold medal at the Olympic Games in freestyle wrestling, held in London. Yale would be a perfect addition to the EIWA Conference. Their tradition is the main reason why they are slightly higher on my list than Dartmouth, which has very little wrestling history.
Being located in New Haven, CT (the city that Dave Portnoy, of Barstool Sports fame, proclaims as the "Pizza Capital of the World"), it makes a perfect location just off I-95 between New York and Boston. You can head in either direction on I-95 and hit a handful of EIWA schools within 5 or 6 hours - including the horrendous traffic around New York City. The undergrad size is nearly 6,000 students. Yale also currently has an active club team, competing in the NCWA division. This is a good sign, as we all know club teams at this level can sometimes pick up steam and make the jump to the NCAA level. The Bulldogs would be a terrific add-on to the oldest conference in wrestling. Their tradition, location, academic standards and among other reasons, make Yale the perfect candidate to be an additional EIWA program.
#3 - Georgetown University Hoyas
I'm not sure what a "Hoya" is, but we need them in the sport of wrestling. Originally, I thought it was an old wooden ship, used in the Civil War era. (Yes, that was an "Anchorman" movie reference). After doing a bit of research, the university's main sports chant in the late 1800's was a Greek/Latin phrase "Hoya Saxa" - which loosely translates to 'What Rocks!" The term stuck and the university officially adopted it as the mascot. Enough with the history, back to wrestling talk.
Georgetown is located in Washington D.C., as is American University (who is also an EIWA member). This is a great location for an EIWA school, as most conference schools are within driving distance. A private institution, with academics mostly on par with Ivy League schools, Georgetown makes sense to join the conference. The school would be an average-sized EIWA school with 7,500 undergrad students. To name a head coach that could potentially take over, a good option would be Teague Moore. He was the coach at American until he stepped down last season. He knows the area, can recruit well. Plus, he was doing good things at American until his departure.
I hate to be Debby-Downer, but it looks like getting wrestling at this school may be a tall task. I do not see any evidence of Georgetown ever having a program. They do not even have an official club team. This is never a good sign. With the longtime success of their basketball team, plus already having 24 sports, I do not see any rush to get wrestling started up from scratch. If the stars were to align, and Georgetown would get into the wrestling scene, the ACC may swoop in and steal them. We can all dream though…
#2 - Temple University Owls
Temple would be a rare state-funded school to participate in the EIWA. It would be the largest EIWA school with nearly 30,000 undergrad students. With a price tag on par with other state schools, they would have a recruiting advantage over just about any other school in the EIWA. Plus, their university is in Philadelphia - which some claim is the best wrestling city in the country. Drexel and Penn are already in the City in the Brotherly Love; what's wrong with adding another cheese-steak eating school to the mix?
Temple is no slouch when it comes to wrestling tradition. During their time as a DI program, nine wrestlers earned a total of ten medals at the NCAA Championships. The program was cut in 1986, due to Title IX implications. Just a year prior, Temple's Bill Hyman won a national title at heavyweight in 1985. He was also fourth the previous season. Because of these results, Hyman is now a member of the EIWA Hall of Fame. The squad made a promising resurgence in 2015 as a club team, competing at the NCWA level. Seriously striving to pump out All-Americans every year, and now looking for an assistant coach, this is a legitimate club team that competes annually against Division II and Division III teams. There may be something promising coming out of North Philly.
Sometimes I like to include a dream-scenario coach that will likely never happen- so here we go. There is only one person for this job that would put Temple on the map immediately. The guy I'm thinking of is a four-time world champion, and Olympic gold medalist, and recently moved to Philadelphia from Nebraska. Yes, him. Jordan Burroughs would be a massive signing as head coach to get this program up and running faster than Rocky Balboa up those museum steps. Just imagine the kids flocking to Temple to visit the incredible Jordan Burroughs. Kids would be sold on the city, Temple's modernized campus, and it Jordan freakin' Burroughs! His recruiting pool would be enormous. The potential this school has would make any coach salivate like they just walked into a Reading Terminal Market on a Saturday afternoon.
#1 - Boston University Terriers
The program was a longtime CAA member, until the conference collapsed in 2013. Boston's final season was in 2014, where they joined the EIWA during their final season before being cut. What a season they had too. They came away with four conference placewinner. Their best performance came from Nestor Taffur (now representing the country of Colombia at 74 kg). He won an EIWA title as 157 lbs, after a battle in the semi-finals with yours truly. Taffur went on to finish Round of 12 at NCAAs that year. Not quite the Cinderella story we were all hoping for, but what a fantastic year he had to represent Boston University wrestling one last time. He was ranked as high as fifth during the year.
I think Boston University would be a great school to add to the conference. The NERTC already has Brown and Harvard as partners when it comes to Regional Training Centers. Adding another school, will only help that RTC continue to grow and prosper. The location of Boston is ideal, as it is driving distance for everyone in the conference. With another DI wrestling school in the area, it may help grow the sport of wrestling in the New England area. I'm not sure who an ideal head coach would be for a resurgence of the program, but the aforementioned Taffur would be a great addition to the coaching staff. He put his heart and soul into that program, as a wrestler, to help try and save it.
In terms of other factors, Boston is on par with the EIWA schools regarding academics and costs. With private university costs, and roughly 18,000 undergrad students, it would be one of the largest universities in the conference (in terms of student population). A good-sized school, located in a historic city, who also had a program within the past ten years - sounds like a perfect scenario to add another school to the EIWA conference.
In conclusion, I understand that some of these schools may never add wrestling, and that's fine. Not every school can have a wrestling program, due to financial restraints, Title IX laws, and just plain lack of interest from the community. Now that the COVID pandemic is slowly fading into the past, maybe some universities will be open to the idea of adding a sport. Wrestling is in a great position recently, too, due to the incredible growth of women's wrestling. This makes Title IX an easier path to navigate around - where in the past, wrestling was only a men's sport. This made it very hard to add wrestling without dropping another male sport. Regardless, seeing any of the schools above be added to the EIWA Conference would be like Cinderella's foot and that glass slipper… the perfect fit! I'll see myself out.