Brown wrestling program needs support

A new week and the wrestling community is once again confronted with the elimination of a storied program. This go-round it's the Brown Bears, an Ivy League team with a 99-year commitment to the sport of wrestling. The school didn't drop the program outright, instead choosing to rely on a protracted process of committees and commissions that suggest a course of action, then hear complaints regarding those suggestions. That process began last Thursday and will continue into the month of May. Now, say many in their camp is the time to act.

"One of the things we are trying to focus on is creating highly effective communication with the committee over the next few days," says Brown alumnus, two-time EIWA champion Bob Hill. "We are looking to our network of supporters and asking them to get on board with some of out larger efforts. Instead of sending 100 letters to Ruth Simmons (Brown's President) we'd like to see 100 people sign the same letter and present it to the committee on Wednesday."

Hill, who is the leader of the Friends of Brown Wrestling, an alumni organization, said they are making contact with high-level donors, alumni, students, and faculty to make sure they create the case for Brown wrestling not only in selfish terms of the student-athletes losing their opportunity to participate in athletics but the goodwill programs established by the program that would disappear if eliminated. Fifteen years ago the wrestling program adopted Fox Point Elementary School and has sustained a relationship with the school through wrestling. "Should it be eliminated, that'll be another opportunity lost because of the cuts," said Hill.

Dave Amato has been the head wrestling coach at Brown for the past 27 seasons and he says that he really didn't see this coming. "I know that the athletic director didn't want to act on these recommendations. He's always been very supportive, so but now we have to get the community behind us and influence the next step in the process."

Dave Amato
The next step in the process is a review by the committee that made the original recommendations. The committee features the athletic director, two students, two faculty members and most notably Dick Spies, who chaired a similar commission at Princeton which advocated for the removal of their wrestling program. Spies, who is well known in wrestling circles for the aggressive nature by which he attacked the Princeton program, came to Brown along with President Ruth Simmons and is considered by many to be her "right-hand man." He'll be facing off against representatives from each of the graduating classes, Coach Amato and members of the other effected teams.

"There is always a lot anger that erupts during these cuts," says Hill. "Wrestlers want to do something, but in this circumstance it is to write one letter and get as many signatures as possible. Make it a kind letter that outlines why Brown wrestling is important to your community."

The important message to remember about the Brown wrestling program still has a chance to survive. Athletic departments like the Univ. of Virginia and Princeton have used committees to gauge the the backlash of their alumni. In both those cases the feedback was severe enough to indicate to the universities that they'd be better off supporting the program rather than cutting it completely.

The wrestling community has a lot to be angry about - the cuts at Brown aren't motivated by the financial needs of the University (Brown recently raised $1.6 billion, of which only 1-percent is allocated for athletics). Amato says that the wrestling team was able to raise their operational budget for the year, about $75k, and over the years maintain their $800k endowment, of which a portion of the interest drawn is given to the program for costs. Unfortunately the wrestling program might be the victim of a school interested in having fewer athletes on campus. The Brown athletic department is being asked to return 30 admission slots to the university by the end of the year, and with the wrestling program holding 8 of those slots, elimination is a quick and easy solution to solver their problems.

Cornell head coach Rob Koll is not a stranger to the Ivy League system and what it takes to create a successful program, and he thinks that the lessons of Brown are universal, and though trite are worth repeating. "You absolutely have to have an active and engaged young alumni group . These are the guys who are going to be your fans and put in place the mechanisms to prevent being dropped." In the case of Brown, much of the action being taken is in reaction to the events, something many coaches agreed needs to be remedied.

Cornell coach Rob Koll believes Brown's young and successful alumni can be a real force and help get things turned around (Photo/Tony Rotundo,
"Unfortunately, it should really never get to this point," says Koll. "Every coach needs to be ready with a list of reasons why our program should be the one preserved. You have to make yourself an asset on campus."

The Brown wrestling community has received some negative press in recent months. On the mat the Bears were unable to produce an NCAA qualifier in 2011 and off the mat are still dealing with the fallout of the William McCormick court case against the university, which has been well-publicized by the New York Times and other media outlets. That case and any other discretions, Amato and Koll agree, look bad for the program, though Koll believes that they shouldn't be the death knell of any program.

"We are dealing with hundreds of 20-something young men who sometimes make bad decisions and get caught up in bad stuff," says Koll. "The point is you need your program to be in a better position than to be susceptible to those few bad actions."

Maybe most disappointing for fans of Brown wrestling is that the program is so proud. While Greensboro recently lost its program, they only ceded 15 years of competition, should Brown be eliminated the wrestling community would be losing one of the oldest programs in the nation, a program ready to celebrate their 100-year anniversary next season.

All the coaches interested in the heath of the Ivy League are looking to do their part and promote involvement in saving Brown athletics; Koll, Jay Weiss of Harvard, Brendan Buckley of Columbia, Rob Eiter of Penn, and Chris Ayres of Princeton are all leaning on their social networks to create awareness and maybe some social pressure.

"Brown has some amazingly successful young alumni," said Koll. "I think that they can be a real force and get this thing turned around."

According to Amato the team is in place with presentations for tomorrow's committee review. "We want our guys to show them what cutting the program is going to do to their lives and how they have to choose between the Ivy education or transferring for wrestling."

"Our strategy is to intervene at every level and keep up the pressure until we get this things reversed," says Hill. "We can do this. It'll be tough, but I think we can do this."

The wrestling community is pulling for their success. After the committee hearing the next step is for the corporation to review the recommendations and vote. The commission is made up five officers, including Brown President Simmons and should be announcing that date later this week, but it will likely be in mid-May.

Jokingly, Koll offered another more desperate solution, "We keep losing these battles, right? I bet if one of the wrestlers went on a hunger strike we'd start seeing different results. Jeez, I mean what does it take for us to show how committed we are to the sport."

While no one, including Koll, is directly advocating for huger strikes and sit-ins, the desperation of these continued losses is beginning to agitate the community en masse. Still, the Brown alumni and coaches suggest that the wrestling community utilize the avenues presented by the university to discuss the committee's suggestions. Hill says that the main course of action remains intense focus on writing letters and contacting decision makers.

"Brown is an interesting place and we need to be careful how we approach this thing, everyone wants what's best for the program and these wrestlers."


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