The Matside View by Gary Abbott

Wrestling thoughts from the NCAA Convention

I was blessed to attend my first NCAA Convention this weekend, which was held in the Gaylord Opryland Hotel and Convention Center in Nashville, Tenn. As a wrestling person from the outside, I found the event fascinating..

This was a collection of the movers and shakers within the college sports community, coming together to work on planning and direction for college athletics.

The main reason for USA Wrestling’s attendance this year was a special seminar entitled “Protecting Student-Athlete Opportunities: The future of Olympic Sport Sponsorship at NCAA Institutions.” Coverage of this event has been posted on TheMat.com. We were also able to attend a Title IX presentation, clearly a very important topic to our sport and to our membership.

Here are a few random thoughts from a wrestling guy at this event: The size of this convention is massive. The convention area was large and expansive, as up to a reported 1,600 college administrators from all levels of the NCAA family converged on Nashville. Clearly, the big local news in Nashville was the NFL playoff game between New England and Tennessee up in frozen Massachusetts, but once you got into the NCAA Convention, you wouldn’t know there was anything going on in the outside world.
They published this huge map and schedule for each participant, who needed directions in order to get to each meeting on time. They placed volunteers in referee’s shirts to help attendees find their way through the maze.

The sad thing to see were administrators from so many colleges that do not sponsor wrestling. It hurt even more to note all of the institutional leaders from schools that used to have wrestling teams. In many cases, the people here were not the ones that made the decision to kill off our sport., as it happened before their time. However, in some cases, they certainly are those people. And, these are the people, who, for whatever reasons (such as Title IX) are not adding new wrestling teams to college athletics. Of course, it has to feel even worse for Dick Aronson, the gymnastics leader, who has seen his sport for men drop down to just 20 programs. He has pushed the NCAA for years to do something about preserving Olympic sports opportunities. The seminar this weekend was a result of Dick’s efforts, along with other sports leaders who just want to scream “STOP” to all of these dropped sports programs.

One of the wrestling leaders that I did see was the legendary Bruce Baumgartner, the athletic director at Edinboro Univ. and the past president of USA Wrestling. He and some other sports officials from Edinboro were here to participate in the meetings. Athletic directors are the hands-on administrators of college sports, and there certainly needs to be more wrestling people like Bruce in these positions of authority. We have a few out there (Andy Noel at Cornell, Bob Carlson at Clarion, Rick Bay at San Diego State, etc.), but clearly not enough.

* The turnout for the “Preserving Olympic Sports” session was acceptable, but not very large. The key positive outcome from this meeting was that the statements and discussions were on the public record, and will hopefully appear in the next NCAA News. The next session after the Olympic Sports discussion was the one on “Gender Equity,” and that program was jammed with people. I wonder if those on the Olympic sports panel might have been preaching to the choir to people who were already devoted to the Olympic sports movement. It seemed to me that those in the “Gender Equity” session might have been the ones who needed to hear from speakers talking about preserving sports opportunities.

* Jim Scherr of the USOC did a tremendous job of presenting the reasons that college athletics is so important to the Olympic movement. He also had the courage to mention the possible negative future effect of proportionality on men’s Olympic sports opportunities. The USOC has proposed a joint task force with the NCAA to address these issues, which is a great idea that really needs to be put into place right away. Another of the speakers, Ohio State AD Andy Geiger, gave a motivational talk about the value of all sports, including the Olympic sports, as part of the educational process. If more people in positions of power had the passion and commitment to all athletics like Geiger, we would not have to talk about “endangered” Olympic sports at all. The sad truth is few colleges have the financial advantages of an Ohio State, and face tougher choices with their programs.

* The one downer during the Olympic sports meeting was the presentation by Christine Grant of the Univ. of Iowa, who used statistics from the discredited GAO study, as well as from the NCAA, to try to claim that men have not lost opportunities in NCAA sports. There is still a core group of people from the quota advocate groups who keep trying to say that there is no problem concerning the loss of opportunity for men. By refusing to admit that there is challenge by using misleading statistics, they can continue to push forward with the proportionality quota. Grant also asserts that there has been an explosive spending increase on football and basketball, that is choking off opportunity for the “so-called men’s minor sports.” If her numbers in that area are even close to accurate, they provide a damning indictment of the priorities of today’s athletic administrators which bodes poorly for the future of Olympic sports.

* The gender equity seminar was opened by an assistant athletic director at Washington State, Marcia Saneholz, who reported on the “success” of her school in meeting Title IX goals. The state has supported tuition waivers for women’s athletics, which has made it easier for that school to build their women’s athletics. However, a large part of her presentation was a strong backlash against the efforts for Title IX reform during the past year. At least she was not one of the phonies – she asserted that it should be expected for men to “give” something up in order to eliminate past discrimination, as if the slashing was right and fair. As with others on the women’s sports side of things, they continue to lump the victims from sports like wrestling and gymnastics with those in men’s basketball and football. We are all men, after all. We all know that the only ones giving up their opportunities are those in the Olympic sports, certainly not hoopsters and football players. Once again, she and others kept tooting the horn of NCAA President Myles Brand, who has bought into the gender quota position and was a powerful force to kill the momentum for Title IX reform a year ago. Brand has become a hero to the quota advocates.

* Speaking of NCAA President Myles Brand, there was an incident during the Saturday evening reception that was a bit embarrassing. With over a thousand people jammed into a large hall, he was brought up to the podium to say a few words. However, the sound system was terrible, and the noise from the people talking in the crowd was tremendous, and absolutely nobody heard a word that he said. There was the most powerful person in college athletics on a stage talking to himself, with nobody paying attention. Certainly, the free food and drink played a factor in this&

* I had a discussion with Ed Matejkovic, the athletic director at West Chester University, which recently has been embroiled in a Title IX legal matter. He commented on how he has been dealing with Title IX challenges, like the wrestling community. West Chester dropped a number of sports teams recently, including one women’s team (gymnastics). An outside group on behalf of the women gymnasts took the matter to court, and a judge has ruled that West Chester had to reinstate its women’s gymnastics team (but not the men’s teams). He noted that West Chester truly believes it is in compliance with the law, but it is not exactly in proportionality, and that was the only factor that the judge considered. He said the university has appealed the decision, and is in on-going negotiations concerning the next step in the process. West Chester did not cave into the legal pressure, like the Univ. of Northern Iowa did recently when it reversed a decision to drop women’s and men’s teams, bringing back just the women.

* It was the week of the NCAA Convention that the NCAA chose to release its Gender Equity study for the 2001-02 years. It ran on page one of the NCAA News handed out at the convention, and was one of the lead stories on the NCAA web page. The headline for the article is “Data show continued gender gap in spending.” Again, there was no mention of the affect on participation for men’s Olympic sports, so I will have to download the document to see what the numbers say about what happened to us. If you didn’t think there is a focus on the proportionality quota, you need to read this article. The word “proportion” was mentioned 30 times in the story, and the word “percent” was used 57 times.

* I kept an eye out for any references to wrestling in the NCAA literature and propoganda. There were many displays, posters and banners all over the convention site. The NCAA has a large and effective public relations presence. There was a poster on nutrition, which, predictably, featured an image of wrestling. It showed Cael Sanderson against Jon Trenge in the 2002 NCAA finals. The quote on the poster said “Doing my best doesn’t mean winning at any cost.” There were also some photos of wrestling on other displays. The “National Championships” display had four larger photos along with many smaller sports images. One of the four big images was a picture of Matt Lackey of Illinois celebrating his win at last year’s NCAA tournament (the other sports prominently featured were women’s basketball, women’s lacrosse and men’s soccer).

* The NCAA took over Channel 29 on the hotel television system, and ran its commercials and other videos on the channel all weekend. Of the 24 different shows and commercial spots, there were none specifically about wrestling. They showed all of those national public service announcements that you see on television all the time. The sports highlighted in them were women’s swimming, men’s shot put, softball, men and women’s basketball and water polo. I left the television on during the weekend, hoping to see some wrestling on the NCAA channel. I did not. There was a monitor on during the reception which showed a few wrestling highlights, but it was the only time during the weekend that I saw any wrestling video.

* There needs to be a push for the NCAA and the USOC to do an awards program, honoring the top Olympic sports athletes on the college level. The NCAA does a tremendous job with its “Woman of the Year” awards (there is no Man of the Year award as far as I can tell). The Olympic sports need the same kind of support, and a big-time award, with a number of featured finalists each year, would provide some tremendous and needed publicity for the amazing athletes from the Olympic sports.

* Wrestling is an NCAA sport, and college athletics is very important to our Olympic effort. It seems to me that wrestling needs to be more prominent with this group of individuals, the people making decisions about sports offerings in college. It did not seem to me that wrestling is a player in this community, and that could be another reason that our sport has suffered so many losses.


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