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Opinion: Bilas Shines Light on Fiscal Hypocrisy in College Sports

Bilas vs Clemson

When the college football national championship took place last Monday, it understandably had many wrestling fans feeling less than enthusiastic. The final showdown was between two schools, Alabama and Clemson, that used to have wrestling but discontinued their programs. Between that, the extensive coverage of all aspects of the game, and all the money involved, it is easy to see how the wrestling community could feel a little resentful.

Though most national media members that cover revenue sports like football and basketball only bother to mention wrestling as a footnote, if at all, Jay Bilas, a basketball personality for ESPN, was perfectly willing to make his feelings known. Bilas has long been willing to point out what he views as the hypocrisy of the NCAA and the concept of amateurism. During one particular swipe at Clemson, Bilas brought wrestling into the conversation with this Tweet:

When a Clemson fan replied, “We don’t have a wrestling program anymore. Clemson had to drop it to be in compliance with Title IX”, Bilas had a perfect response. The former Duke Blue Devil replied, “No, you didn’t have to drop it. You chose to. There’s plenty of money for it. Just look at your facilities and salaries.” After seeing so many wrestling programs dropped under the guise of Title IX compliance while the arms race to compete in football continues unfettered, it was a treat to see Bilas so accurately make this point.

Adding women’s sports was always an option to comply with Title IX. In fact, I would argue that was the intent. Instead, too often, administrators used the combination of Title IX and money as an excuse to cut men’s programs, leading to over 100 lost NCAA Division I wrestling programs since it became law. Clemson dropped their program in 1995, which should make you immediately suspicious as to how they lasted for 23 years with Title IX in effect before being “forced” to drop wrestling. Even if we buy the explanation that the program was dropped for compliance reasons, the current state of the Clemson football program and the money being spent on it suggests bringing wrestling back, even if it means adding a women’s sport as well, is no longer a fiscal issue.

In addition to the initial Tweet mentioning the $700,000 in bonuses Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney was due, which is more than the operating budget for a fair number of NCAA wrestling teams, Bilas continued:

That one year of Swinney’s salary, reportedly $5 million, could nearly endow a wrestling team by itself is not surprising. That the facilities being built to further entice athletes to accept one of the 85 full scholarships available for a D1 football team are excessive to the point of straining credulity isn’t either. The $55 million facilities could have been built, with slightly less luxury and excess, at half the cost with the other half used to ensure the future of three non-revenue sports, but that would mean Clemson might lose out on a five-star recruit or two.

The most galling part, in my opinion, is Swinney’s lack of awareness for how good he has it. Instead of being thankful that he gets paid an incredible sum of money to coach football at a school committed to giving him every possible advantage, he instead chooses to speak about the entitlement in this world and how paying the players would ruin it for him. Regardless of where you stand on the issue of paying college players, the hypocrisy is staggering.

I am not naive. I understand why resources are thrown at football. I understand how much money can be brought in and I understand that, often times, athletic departments are propped up by wealthy boosters, making calculating how much money a successful football team brings in a complicated problem. Still, it is difficult to believe that schools can consistently raise funds for higher coaching pay and facilities that border on obscene while ignoring wrestling and other sports that were discarded long ago. Are we really supposed to believe that Clemson can raise $55 million for their facilities and pay Swinney millions of dollars per year, but they can’t raise the money to bring back wrestling? Perhaps that is the case if the two fund-raising efforts are separate, but that is rarely the case. Colleges boot-strap less popular fundraising efforts to big ticket items as a matter of necessity. They could do the same for non-revenue sports, but choose not to.

Make no mistake, schools are under no obligation to offer wrestling. If they simply decide they don’t want our sport around, there is nothing we can do. We must make our sport attractive enough that it is a desirable offering within a college sports program. However, using money and Title IX as an excuse is disingenuous for those participating in the revenue-sports arms race. This certainly includes Clemson and also includes their opponent in the title game, Alabama. It includes Oregon, too, though their football program has taken a bit of a downturn despite the amount of money invested in it. The next time you hear someone trot out that excuse as to why a program, of any kind, was dropped, I hope you will, as Bilas did, correct that ridiculous assertion. There are many hurdles we face in bringing back programs, don’t let those that are patently false persist.

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