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Is Old Dominion just the tip of the iceberg?

A shocking betrayal.

Old Dominion, a long and storied collegiate wrestling tradition, just dropped its half-century old program.

The reasons given by ODU include financial challenges and Title IX compliance.   Athletic director, Wood Selig added this:  “Our decision became even more clear during this coronavirus crisis, which we know will have significant impact on future athletics budgets. This decision will better allow the remaining sports to compete at a national level."

The bigger question:  is this a one-time setback to our sport, or is ODU just the tip of the iceberg?

It is entirely possible that many more wrestling programs will be shuttered in the very near future.

Taking a deeper look

Right now we are in the middle of a worldwide pandemic.

The most visible health expert in the country said this recently:

“I don’t think we should ever shake hands again."

Ponder that for a moment.

The sport of wrestling is a sport of close combat, with athletes putting their hands on each other, breathing, coughing, and sneezing on each other throughout the match.

Our sport includes the highest level of physical, hand to hand contact in all of college, high school, and youth athletics.

If Dr. Fauci’s mindset becomes the future….

What chance do we have of surviving?

Right now the experts are talking about re-starting our economy, and opening things back up.

What’s that going to look like?

Here’s what its not going to look like…

Business as usual, just like January.

Expectations in a lot of circles are that things will change, now and in the future.

Some businesses will open back up.

Some activities will resume.

But there will be a New Normal.

And wrestling just might not fit in with that new normal.

We can’t return to normal until there’s a vaccine.

That consideration has been discussed at the highest levels of government.

A vaccine will likely take 12-18 months if we’re lucky.

Case in point, decades later, there’s still no vaccine for AIDS.

Compounding the problem

Every sport, even the revenue-generating football and basketball, will have a hard enough time getting back to competition in the wake of this world health crisis. There is enough close contact in those sports to keep the great Dr. Fauci tossing and turning in his bed at night.

But more likely than not, those sports WILL find their way back.  They will be deemed safe enough.  

If they don’t?

All this is for naught because no collegiate sports will exist.

Nor High School.  

Nor Youth.

But will wrestling resume?

Right now, I operate under the assumption that, at some point, restrictions will be lifted and sports will be allowed to continue.

But wrestling will be heavily scrutinized due to its high level of personal contact.

If nothing else, Political Correctness will wag its crooked finger in our direction.

We are not important enough, they will say.

Its too dangerous, they will say.

We should never shake hands or wrestle, Dr. Fauci might say.

What if, what if, I am wrong? (which I hope I am)

Let’s think positively and say we are granted permission to wrestle again.

What then?

When that happens, there will still be THIS enormous elephant in the room.

This crisis has hit colleges and universities extremely hard.

Revenues are cratering.

Many schools will likely not survive – and those that do, are already seeing budgets slashed to the bone and bottom lines drowning in red.

Schools rely heavily on endowments and deep pocketed donors – and those will shrink precipitously.

Many students will drop out, opting instead for budget-friendly online education (which they are getting right now, at a much higher cost).

Revenue will drop to a fraction of its current numbers.

Budget cuts will be deep and painful.

Entire departments will vanish.

The most profitable, essential programs will stay – the least essential ones will get slashed.

Sports is NOT essential.  Nursing school is.

The only programs that have even a remote chance of survival are the ones that are self funded.

Unlike football and men’s basketball, Wrestling is categorically a non-revenue sport.

Even Soccer isn’t safe.  University of Cincinnati just dropped their men’s soccer program due to budget concerns.

Combine budget landmines with the health concerns around our sport, in this new “we should never shake hands again” world we are living in.

What chance does a sport have that starts off with competitors shaking hands, and proceeds to get a lot more physical contact from there?

Will colleges and health directors look at our sport in a different light?

Will high school athletic associations?

Its likely they will.


Two steps to our sport’s survival.

Step One:  Eliminate the financial incentive to cutting wrestling

For any collegiate wrestling program to stand a chance of survival, it is imperative that it be self-funded – and then some.

If the number-crunchers see a program that is contributing to the bottom line – bringing real revenue that far out-strips its expenses – you’ve given yourself a fighting chance.  Here’s how you can accomplish that:

Have a minimum of 5 revenue streams, all contributing positively to a healthy bottom line, including, in some cases, lining the pockets of the university as well.

These 5 revenue streams could include:

  • A perennial endowment machine that funds the program for years into the future (and can’t be seized by the university).  Example in point, Penn State’s Nittany Lion Wrestling Club, worth upwards of $5 million – far more than any wrestling program in the nation.
  • Advertising (where allowed – check your local compliance office, I’m not an expert on such NCAA things):  Programs available for home meets with lineups, personal information, etc., including paid ads.  In this digital age, you could make a digital program and make it available on your team’s app (if you have one).
  • Summer Camps (most do this now) – a good chunk of money goes to the university, which keeps everyone happy.  
  • More traditional fundraisers such as working concessions at football games, hosting a tournament, inviting fans to be a part of your team club, where you can regularly market t-shirts, tickets to events, etc.
  • Home meets – admissions $, concession $, etc, but also a great place to cross-promote your app, your club, your camps, those home meet programs (digitally etc) or give them away and make money on the advertising.  If it were me, and I were concerned about printing costs, I would create a digital program every meet, and have scan codes posted on fliers throughout the venue so fans can purchase the programs instantly (or better, give them away for free and make money on selling advertising spots on the program).

If your school already does all of the above, that’s great.

Being self-funded is not enough to survive anymore though.  The next step is even more critical:

Our sport must get healthier immediately

Remember the pandemic?

Well, there’s only one narrow path out of this for wrestling, the sport that features more personal physical contact than any other.

If we are even allowed to continue (aka, Fauci doesn’t somehow become president)…

It is imperative that we rip the health risk out of our sport in every way possible.

The coronavirus mindset will last much longer than the virus’ threat.

And parents will ask, at every opportunity…is this sport safe for my child?

The answer, right now?

Not Safe Enough.

Here’s why:

Chapter 4 of my book, Wrestling in the Coronavirus World:  How to protect your kids now and in the future, outlines the Danger Zones of Wrestling that leave young athletes at risk.

Here are a few of these dangers, lifted directly from the book:

Large open mats

Ah, what fun can be had, with an enormous room full of wrestlers of all ages getting ready to strap it on and get after it.  I remember many an open mat I attended when I was but a yute in question.

But that was then and this is now – and times have changed.

Skin diseases weren’t nearly as prevalent.  Staff infections were rare.  MRSA was never mentioned.  And Covid-19 hadn’t been formulated in that Chinese factory (?) yet.

Now is the time to re-evaluate the large open mats, and take an in-depth look at the risks of these venues.

“I went to open mat, got the nasty funk and so did a bunch of my friends.”

This was sadly related to me recently by a kid who was forced to sit out of my training for a while.

Six questions come to mind and I already know the answer to most of them:

  1. Where there any skin checks? (no)
  2. Did anyone check the health of participants (check temperature for fevers, etc.)
  3. Were showers made available and encouraged?
  4. Were disinfectant wipes (such as Clorox wipes) available for wrestlers afterwards?
  5. Were the mats mopped before the event?
  6. Were people kept from walking on the mats in their street shoes?

There’s a checklist you can use to evaluate whether an open mat is a safe option for your wrestler.  

If the answer to any of the above is NO, then you take your chances by going there.

Large wrestling clubs that take in more than 20 athletes at a time.

The larger the numbers, the fewer the health protocols that are enforced.  Sheer numbers lead to sloppy practices, and many of these rooms are a literal cesspool of disease just waiting to be sprung upon your unsuspecting child.

Any trainings that do not perform skin checks and health screenings on a daily basis

Are starting times strictly adhered to?  Is there an expectation of arrival by a specific time?  Taking those steps allows a venue to build skin and health screenings into the routine.  If athletes have an expectation to arrive on time, then they can be ready to follow your built-in protocols that will protect all the participants from disease and illness.  If a venue doesn’t build skin checks into their routine, however, they are putting your athlete’s health at risk.  Do you want to take chances with your athlete’s health?

In a sense….Large training gatherings, and any wrestling experiences that do not include thorough skin checks and health screenings, should be a thing of the past.

Chapter 5 outlines Health Protocols to keep your wrestlers safe.  Every wrestling opportunity:  open tournament, training gym, wrestling practice, open mat – should be following these protocols if we want our athletes to remain safe and healthy.

If we do not implement these kinds of changes, and immediately…

Our sport is in serious danger of not returning in any meaningful way.

My book, Wrestling in the Coronavirus World:  How to protect your kids now and in the future, can be found here.

I wrote the book with the express intent of helping our sport survive this current crisis, and the next ones that are certain to follow.

The book includes:

  • Why I feel the wrestling world is doomed (unless we make immediate changes (Chapter 3)
  • Still swept under the rug:  the biggest non-virus threat facing our sport (Chapter 6)
  • Health protocols to keep your wrestlers safe (Chapter 5)
  • The Danger Zones of Wrestling (Chapter 4)

Its a quick read – and a roadmap to the future of our sport’s existence.

-Randy Simpson