A couple weeks ago, the new Pac-10 commissioner, Larry Scott, announced a new television deal with Fox/ESPN that will pay each of the 12 member schools of the newly-constituted Pac-12 Conference upwards of $24 million per year for the next 12 years. As a University of Oregon wrestling alum who has been involved with the Save Oregon Wrestling effort, I’m excited about what this new contract could mean for wrestling, as well as for other Olympic sports, at my alma mater and at other Pac-12 schools. Below is a short excerpt from a note I sent to Save Oregon Wrestling Foundation board members.
In short, this new Pac-12 TV contract money is a game changer for the whole conference. Immediately, a good portion of this money is going to shore up operating deficits and boost salaries of AD staff and football and basketball assistants. It’s also going to fund facilities upgrades and offset future revenue shortfalls. It will almost certainly also be used to fund more women’s sports. Wrestling needs to make a strong claim to some of this money to reinstate programs throughout the West. Utah, Colorado, Arizona, UW and Oregon seem to have the best arguments for reinstatement. Cal, UCLA, WSU are too cash-strapped to consider making the reinstatement of wrestling any priority. The whole of the wrestling community needs to appeal en masse, including USAW, NWCA, plus all the state wrestling associations. It has to be a broad campaign to the athletic departments, universities, state university boards and to the Pac-12. (By the way, the Pac-12 needs more sports for their coming TV network.) This is perhaps the last, best opportunity to save college wrestling in the West. I understand the money isn’t here yet, but there’s really no time to waste getting after this now.
I don’t know what kind of interest this TV deal has generated within USAW so far, but I know you have some stake in promoting the reinstatement of college wrestling programs. I’m writing you because I think it’s going to take a collective effort fronted by wrestling’s national governing body—and perhaps even the USOC—to impress Pac-12, network and university administrators to make reinstatement of wrestling programs a priority. I think it’s critical that we put together a campaign directed at the Pac-12 and the networks first. I doubt that the schools will go for wrestling if they aren’t pushed from the top.
Oregon’s new athletic director, Rob Mullens, has already released a statement that wrestling would not be reinstated at Oregon, and that adding sports were not in their six-year financial plan. That bucket of cold water was prompted, most likely, by Larry Scott’s press conference comment that the TV deal meant that some eliminated teams could be restored, and that he had an interest in bolstering the Olympic sports that the Pac-10 have won so many NCAA titles in and have produced so many great Olympians.
The argument against the reinstatement of wrestling consists of three points: cost, gender equity, lack of wrestling programs in the West. The new TV contract millions makes it harder to cry poor, but the reality is that the comparatively small operating budgets wrestling programs run on still need to win support over many alternative uses for that money. That won’t happen if university athletic directors see too few Pac-12 wrestling programs. By the way, the Pac-10 ADs hate the Pac-10 wrestling conference comprised of unaffiliated schools like UCSB and Boise State. Gender equity can be addressed by adding both men’s and women’s wrestling teams—a cutting edge idea that’s consistent with how folks roll out here. That leaves the dearth of wrestling programs in the region as the final hurdle, and this is where we need to make our best case about the growth of wrestling and the strength of prep and club programs in California, Arizona, Utah, Washington, Oregon and Colorado.
In making the best argument for wrestling, we also need to be problem solvers who offer solutions for administrators before they can balk. We need to organize locally to make it as easy as possible to reinstate wrestling at these schools, and that entails working with state associations and university alumni and booster groups to create donor bases, hire top coaches, build facilities and promote wrestling programs to prospective recruits.
I don’t know if there are any vital reinstatement efforts for wrestling in Colorado, Utah, Arizona, Washington or California, but this is the kind of windfall that presents new possibilities for the entire conference, and I think it’s incumbent upon us to invite the member schools to reconsider wrestling, and perhaps give deeper thought to what their missions should be going forward.
How can you help make this happen? I think USA Wrestling could offer great assistance in networking with respective state associations, linking with the USOC, NCAA and NWCA, showing the commercial potential for wrestling on TV, and speak as an authority on the growing popularity of the sport despite the constant struggle to survive administrative malice and neglect.
I realize this is pretty blue sky. As someone who makes his living writing Nike ads, I’m somewhat knowledgeable and connected and have a pretty good 30000 foot view of the landscape, but I don’t know if this can be done. I just know we have to try, because this is our last shot out here. I look forward to hearing your thoughts.