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Could Student-Athlete Compensation Hurt Division I Wrestling?

Cornell head coach Mike Grey (Left) and two-time NCAA champion Yianni Diakomihalis (Right). Photo credit: Tony Rotundo/ WrestlersAreWarriors.com

The landscape of college athletics that we once knew is changing rapidly. 

 

Since 2018, the transfer portal has added a semblance of free agency into NCAA athletics for the first time in the organization’s history. Furthermore, recent advancements concerning the usually stringent name, image, and likeness (NIL) policies that have governed NCAA sport since its inception are now beginning to loosen. Soon, as early as the 2021-22 season, NCAA athletes may be able to profit from their name, their attributes, and their unique intangibles. 

 

Bowl subdivision football and men’s basketball are the most talked-about sports regarding these NIL developments, given the generous television contracts concerning college football and men’s basketball. Both of these sports have morphed into billion-dollar businesses in their own right over the last two decades. Plus, football and basketball are the sports that traditionally have the biggest, most recognizable names within college athletics, like Tim Tebow, Johnny Manziel, Trevor Lawrence, Zion Williamson, Cage Cunningham, and others.

 

Still, it is intriguing to see how wrestling is currently and will continue to be impacted by these opportunities to profit from a wrestler’s persona and ability on the mat while still a college competitor. 

 

I don’t expect the most recognizable wrestlers in the sport, such as Spencer Lee, Gable Steveson, AJ Ferrari, Daton Fix, or Yianni Diakomihalis, to garner as large of a deal as a Big Ten or SEC quarterback. Still, wrestlers, especially the elite freestylers, will benefit by being Olympic hopefuls and even Olympic medalists during their college careers. 

 

Although I am happy that developments will allow athletes (especially wrestlers) to earn back some of that same financial benefit they bring to their university, I am fearful these forms of compensation could tarnish the NCAA wrestling product. Here is  how:

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