Feature Articles

The recession can’t keep college wrestling down

The Open Mat.com

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 hasn’t put college wrestling’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, “to ensure the fiscal viability of the overall athletic program,” according to the school’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 ½ “full ride” scholarships, a fraction of the scholarship load of big-time football or basketball programs.

Low coaches’ salaries: College wrestling coaches’ 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 – who led the Ohio State Buckeyes to a close second-place finish at the national championships – earned $160,000 last year.
These salaries are among the highest in college wrestling… 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 steady… 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, “What recession?” while 17% admitted they would try to economize where they could. Only 14% said they had originally planned to go, but weren’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.

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