At the Oklahoma State’s wrestling media availability Wednesday, John Smith inadvertently talked about the next “Bout at the Ballpark,” where Oklahoma State will return to Arlington on Feb. 3 to wrestle the returning NCAA runner-up Michigan.
Last year Oklahoma State wrestled Iowa in the event and behind that slightly premature announcement from Smith is the broader reason why Oklahoma State is wrestling these big events in Texas and other locations around the country. Oklahoma State Athletic Director Chad Weiberg wants to use the Oklahoma State Wrestling “brand” and show it off around the country.
“That’s a large part of the reason why I’ve been such a proponent of us wrestling in Texas. There’s no program, men’s or women’s, down there that’s on our level,” Weiberg told PFB. “But yet it’s so big on the high school level down there. We can’t own that state from a brand standpoint in football, and we can’t own that state from a brand standpoint in basketball, but we should in wrestling. There’s no other brand the size of our brand anywhere around them. That’s why I wanted to start that presence every year, if possible.
“Our fans can get to it if they want to, we’ve obviously got a huge alumni base in Texas plus all of the kids wrestling in high school down there. … It’s just growing the fan base. We’re just trying to find the right way to build that presence down there. That’s what that’s about.
The counter to that argument I often hear is it takes a match out of Gallagher-Iba. And in the case of last year with Iowa, that’s a legitimate point. Weiberg’s sentiment on this subject is accurate, though. I’ve done freelance work for WrestlingTexas and lived/worked in El Paso in 2021. El Paso is far west Texas and a little different environment than Dallas or other areas, but I was able to get a pretty good feel for wrestling in Texas in that process. The wrestling itself in Texas is a bit less polished than what you see in Oklahoma. It’s only been sanctioned at the high school level since 1998, whereas Oklahoma has had the sport dating back generations. But participation numbers in the sport in Texas are high. There are simply a lot more people, more kids, and therefore more wrestlers in the state. And I can say based on my experience that they are a passionate group of kids and parents.
That does create a real opportunity for Oklahoma State. If you can capture that growing group as fans of your program it can have an exponential impact. Just having them as generic fans that follow the program certainly helps, but you can even extend that out to potential future students that will attend the school and become alumni. It’s difficult to capture that wrestling only in Oklahoma.
My opinion, for whatever it’s worth, is to simply do it with a nontraditional rival. I don’t love the idea that we missed an Iowa home dual last season, and I wouldn’t want to see Bedlam, Missouri, Iowa State, etc. as part of this. But scheduling a big name that we don’t see OSU wrestle every year like Michigan? I’m all in. And there are a number of other strong programs you could get involved with this most seasons.
But there’s no doubt that Oklahoma State has a brand in wrestling, and Weiberg is right that the school needs to find a way to market that brand.
“I feel like our wrestling is sort of the Notre Dame of football,” Weiberg said. “What does Notre Dame do? They move that brand all around the country. That’s a big reason why they don’t join a conference. That would restrict the way they can move that brand around the country. I feel the same way about wrestling. Us and Iowa are that brand in wrestling, and I don’t know that we’ve fully realized that and deployed that brand the way we should long term. We’ve got to realize we have that brand and start acting that way as much as possible in wrestling.
“[OSU] Wrestling is the most successful program in any college sport. … We got to figure out how to tell that story.”