By: Mark Palmer (Original Here)
While the current recession may putting some college and professional sports in a serious predicament, generally speaking, the troubled economy hasnâ€™t put college wrestlingâ€™s shoulders to the mat just yet.
Sure, some college programs have been axed; most recently, Carson-Newman College in Tennessee announced this was the last season for its wrestling program, â€œto ensure the fiscal viability of the overall athletic program,â€ according to the schoolâ€™s athletic director, in an April 2 press release. Yet, in the same week Carson-Newman shucked its wrestling program, Tiffin University in Ohio announced it was establishing an intercollegiate wrestling team.
Why is amateur wrestling doing OK despite the economy? Here are some reasons:
Low-cost investment: In these tough economic times, one of the beauties of wrestling is its relatively low cost, requiring not much more than an initial investment in a mat and wrestling gear for its athletes. NCAA rules limit wrestling scholarships to the equivalent of 9 Â½ â€œfull rideâ€ scholarships, a fraction of the scholarship load of big-time football or basketball programs.
Low coachesâ€™ salaries: College wrestling coachesâ€™ salaries are comparably low. Here are three examples from programs that placed in the top ten in the team standings at the 2009 NCAAs:
Mark Johnson, head coach at the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana (which placed ninth at the NCAAs) made $112,890 in 2008;
Cael Sanderson, in his third year of coaching the Iowa State Cyclones (the third-place team at the NCAAs), made a reported $137,000;
Tom Ryan â€“ who led the Ohio State Buckeyes to a close second-place finish at the national championships â€“ earned $160,000 last year.
These salaries are among the highest in college wrestlingâ€¦ yet are a mere fraction of what head football and basketball coaches are paid at these schools.
Affordable fan fun: Attendance at college wrestling events seems to be holding steadyâ€¦ and, in some cases, actually increasing. This past season, an all-time dual-meet attendance record was set when 15,955 fans jammed Carver-Hawkeye Arena at the University of Iowa for its meet vs. cross-state rival Iowa State. The price of a ticket to a typical college wrestling dual meet is a pittance compared to the cost to attend a big-time campus football or basketball game, so mat fans can continue to watch their favorite teams in action without making a major financial sacrifice.
Fanatical fans: The NCAA Division I Championships are the Super Bowl of college wrestling; each year, fans plan vacations around this mid-March event. More than a month before the 2009 NCAAs were held in St. Louis, I posted a poll at TheWrestlingTalk.com online forum, to see if the recession might force fans to alter their plans. Thirty-eight percent basically said, â€œWhat recession?â€ while 17% admitted they would try to economize where they could. Only 14% said they had originally planned to go, but werenâ€™t able to because of the economy.
Attendance figures at the 2009 NCAAs bore out the results of this unscientific poll. Despite the worst recession in at least a half-century, more than 97,000 fans attended the three-day college championships, shattering previous records. The recession may have other college sports down on the mat, but wrestling seems to be gaining the upper hand.