Wrestling teams lucky to stay alive

Minnesota’s wrestling team is lucky to have an opponent to face Sunday.
Thanks to Title IX, the 1972 law that among other things mandates gender equity in sports programs, wrestling programs around the nation have been under the gun.
Count Portland State, the Gophers’ Sunday opponent, as one of those programs.
The Vikings have been under fire from the university for about four years. Why? The school wanted to cut the sport’s funding to better comply with Title IX.
And don’t think other schools didn’t take notice. Minnesota assistant coach Joe Russel says it’s not uncommon for wrestling to hit the chopping block.
“I think in the past it’s been that way because there’s no women’s equivalent and they’re just trying to get the numbers in line,” Russel said. “It’s been hit very hard.
“Since Title IX, there’s been around 400 college programs dropped and we’re under 100 Division-I schools with it now. We don’t want to head the way of other sports, like men’s gymnastics is pretty much decimated now.”
But while Portland State faced the executioner, coach Marlin Grahn and a group of alumni came up with a solution: private funding of a college-level sports program.
The Vikings receive $68,000 a year from student fees. That’s their entire budget. Grahn makes around $30,000 and the rest is reserved for travel and supplies.
But does that mean the university is going to leave the team alone? Grahn isn’t so sure.
“You’d think not, I guess we’ll have to wait and see,” he said. “As long as we raise the scholarships that we offer, I think they’re going to leave us alone, because right now they aren’t funding us.”
A self-funded varsity program isn’t a bad idea on the surface, but it sets a precedent that shouldn’t be followed. The argument goes that if the trend continues, the only teams drawing money from university funds will be those that make a profit, like men’s basketball, football and (theoretically) women’s basketball.
“I think with gender equity — there was something that needed to be done,” Grahn said. “What’s happened is there’s a few sports in men’s and a few sports in women’s that get a lot (of money) and there’s a whole bunch more that don’t get that much.
“That’s the reality of what gender equity has done.”
What Grahn is saying isn’t new. It seems like lately everybody’s bemoaning the loss of one team or another to make room for another women’s team.
But with Portland State’s success at maintaining its program despite receiving no funds from the school, maybe the tide is turning. Maybe schools will get smart and stop cutting programs.
It’s time to add women’s programs, rather than cut men’s to fit a budget or any other concern.
But things aren’t that bright and shiny yet for wrestling.
“We’re still in for some tough times, but there’s some movement for change,” Grahn said. “If we start seeing that movement and we go where we’re adding programs or at least stop cutting in the sake of saying gender equity, then I’ll say we’ve made progress.”
While all this cutting of sports has happened outside of Minnesota, Russel — the assistant Minnesota coach — says the Gophers have been keeping a watchful eye on the national scene.
There’s no telling when their heads will be next on the block.
“You always have to be on guard,” he said. “In the Midwest, wrestling is supported really well; West Coast is where it’s hurting.
“We’ve had a lot of support from administration here but you’re definitely in a fight for your sport. If not for your own team, they’re dropping teams around you and that makes it harder to compete.”

Jim Schortemeyer is the sports editor and welcomes comments at [email protected]