After a day of listening and reading various opinions about UNO's new direction for their athletic program, I'm growing increasingly uncomfortable with one part of the decision. It's not the decision to go division 1, and it's not the decision to drop football. I think those decisions have been vetted and thoroughly reviewed and make good sense from an objective perspective. In the case of football, it's a painful decision, but it just doesn't seem possible to make football feasible going forward.
The decision to drop the wrestling program doesn't seem to be based on the same criteria. Trev Alberts even admitted as such, admitting that it wasn't based on financial reasons, but on "alignment." The problem with that explanation is that the whole impetus for looking at the viability for reexamining UNO's athletic department was financial. What does "alignment" mean anyway?
As best as I can determine, "alignment" means that UNO wants their athletic department to closely match the offerings of other Summit League programs. Fair enough. But "alignment" isn't a sufficient reason by itself to eliminate a program; there has to be something more, especially when you are dealing with a program that has won three straight national championships. It's been suggested that UNO shouldn't move to Division 1 because it would harm the wrestling program; that's a bogus reason to hold the rest of the athletic department back. Likewise, eliminating the wrestling program because the Summit League doesn't sponsor wrestling is no reason to eliminate it. South Dakota State and North Dakota State have found ways to be Summit League members and still have a wrestling program. UNO certainly should examine that option first. UNO isn't dropping hockey because the Summit League doesn't sponsor it for obvious reasons: hockey looks to be the bellweather program for the entire athletic program. Well, wrestling is the athletic program that brings the greatest level of accomplishment to UNO; it deserves special consideration.
Maybe, in the end, it is still a financial issue at it's core. I'm not sure I totally buy that, because by all reports, wrestling coach Mike Denney works hard at fundraising to ensure the wrestling program remains viable. If that's actually the case, then it's unfortunate that the program has to be terminated, but terminated it should be.
If not and it can be shown that UNO's wrestling program is financially viable in division 1, then the UNO wrestling program should get a stay of execution.
UPDATE: March 14, 2011
UNO athletic director Trev Alberts was on KOZN-AM (1620) and KFAB (1110) this morning, and clarified the problems with wrestling. In the end, it too is a financial situation. Adding golf and men's soccer is a requirement for joining the Horizon. Keeping wrestling puts UNO in a gender equity problem that requires additional women's sports. Plus, while Mike Denney has done a wonderful job making wrestling work in division 2, it'll take additional resources (between $250k and $750k) to make wrestling viable in D-1. In the end, for as wonderful as the wrestling program has been, it just isn't viable going forward.
It's a shame that it had to come to this, but I do understand why.