On Monday, Oklahoma State Athletic Director Chad Weiberg made some comments about the prospect of adding a women’s wrestling program, essentially shutting down the idea for now. With that, I thought I’d lay out some thoughts on the subject to help paint the picture of the situation for OSU as I see it.
1. Weiberg actually gave me a meeting to discuss this a few months ago
A few months ago I reached out to Weiberg to discuss the subject. He set up a meeting and we had a bit of an off-the-record conversation about it and some other topics surrounding wrestling. Nothing groundbreaking or anything, he just preferred to chat about it rather than going on the record with anything regarding it. And the sentiment we discussed back then is essentially the same as he spelled out here. Naturally, I mixed up the days and was late, but he was very kind about that and I did appreciate him meeting with me and discussing this when he certainly didn’t have to. I say that just to say that I had a bit of a heads up with this and expected it would eventually become public.
2. I understand the sentiment, but this could put OSU behind when it does start a program
I’m obviously a wrestling guy, but I get it. It doesn’t bring in droves of cash and that’s essentially all that athletic departments around the country care about right now. So their focus becomes the revenue sports in football and basketball (mainly football) as they drive the athletic department as a whole.
But here’s where the sport is currently and where it will continue to go. It’s growing. It’s the fastest-growing sport in the United States right now, and there’s no debating that. So any idea that OSU is not eventually going to have women’s wrestling is probably wrong. With OSU’s history in wrestling and as the sport continues to grow, they’ll almost certainly eventually add it. It just may be 20 years from now before it actually happens.
The problem that this creates is there will be a number of programs in the meantime that will be started. As it’s gone so far, and I expect we’ll see more of, is the pattern of smaller D1 schools adding and it eventually expanding within the Big 10. Iowa has already added and more dominoes will eventually fall in that conference because wrestling is the Big Ten’s No. 3 sport. Their fans are all in on wrestling and the administrators know the opportunity that exists with it.
The other area it’s growing is smaller schools. There are five D1 women’s wrestling schools currently — Iowa, Lindenwood, Presbyterian, Lock Haven and Sacred Heart. Iowa has added partially because of a lawsuit but also because it has a rabid wrestling fanbase that supports wrestling. The other four were added in part because it’s a super cheap and easy way to grow your enrollment and athletic department. Wrestling is not a revenue sport, but it’s not expensive to operate by comparison if you already have a men’s program. Coaches are usually willing to work pretty cheap, they can use the same facility as the men and wrestling teams typically have a lot of walk-ons, so it acts as a recruitment tool for general student population and adds tuition money from those kids.
So this is personally where I see it continuing to grow.: If Iowa sees success, other Big 10 schools will add it. And again, we’ll see it continue growing at smaller schools because it’s actually legitimately become a revenue generator for them when you consider the enrollment growth and tuition-paying students they add among other factors.
All of those things said, I expect we’ll slowly see it build in the Big Ten and across those small schools before OSU ever adds a program. And when OSU does, it’ll just be behind the eight ball and will have a lot of catching up to do to close the gap on the other programs.
3. OSU could do it dirt cheap and make it happen now
I don’t think OSU would ever go this route, but if it really wanted to just push through and make it happen, it could. Here’s what I mean: Carl Albert State recently added a women’s wrestling program and a men’s wrestling program. The same person coaches both. They share facilities, and they join a lot of their travel.
If OSU really wanted to get ahead of the curve on women’s wrestling, it could do something similar. Not saying have John Smith coach both, but you could get a coach at an affordable rate if you wanted to. You could only wrestle against teams in Oklahoma and Texas to save on travel (there are a lot of smaller schools they could make it work with), you could share the men’s facilities, and utilize all the other angles one could take to save money, but still have a wrestling program. I don’t think OSU would ever do that. I believe it would take the deliberate angle of raising money, hiring a top-level coach, providing scholarships, nice facilities, etc., but if OSU wanted to it could get one going on the cheap as that’s honestly the main reason women’s wrestling has grown so much in recent years as many JUCOs, NAIAs, DIIIs, etc. have gone this route.
4. It could take away from the men’s program to an extent
I want women’s wrestling at OSU more than anyone, but let’s just be honest, there are certain things it could take away from the men. Fans only have so much time and money available to them and they could find themselves in spots where they have to choose which one to go watch or which one to donate to or whatever else. It’s just a reality.
5. I don’t buy the logic that this couldn’t be done
I’m a capitalist. I get it, football is king financially and is what moves the world of college athletics. And a women’s wrestling team isn’t going to suddenly be some big revenue generator. But I’ve never been able to fully wrap my head around the bloated budgets and moves that athletic departments make. For example, OSU started a $55-million renovation of its football stadium right after last season. Not a T. Boone-esque donation or anything of that nature. A movement of athletic department money to make that renovation. Will that make their team better than the 7-6 record from last season? I personally don’t think so.
But regardless, saying OSU doesn’t want to make any money moves like adding a sport, but they’re spending $55 million on a facility upgrade? Make it a $45-million renovation then use the $10 million and there’s your women’s program for the next 15 years, probably.
Again, I get it, football is king in college athletics, but my point remains. Let’s not act like athletic departments are totally cash-strapped when they are dumping all of this money into football.