Thursday, May 22, 2008

Stop the Bleeding

College wrestling is in trouble, and a local phenom is feeling the effects.

Tejovan Edwards, who won a Group AAA state title at 140 pounds for Cox (Virginia Beach, Va.) High School, signed a letter of intent with Arizona State, eager to wrestle on the Division I level and compete for coach -- and former Cox standout -- Brian Stith.

Now Arizona State has dumped its wrestling program.

This is the sixth Division I wrestling program to fold within the last three years, joining Slippery Rock, Fresno State, Eastern Illinois, James Madison and Oregon. Arizona State is also cutting men's tennis and men's swimming. University officials say the move will save $1.1 million in the athletic budget, and also admitted a Title IX component.

Arizona State officials say roughly $8 million are needed to save the program and supporters have already raised $2 million, but this serves as a signal of a disturbing trend in college athletics. When Old Dominion announced a few years back it was adding a football team, rumors swirled whether the wrestling team would survive the Title IX ramifications.

The wrestling team survived the addition, as ODU decided to add three women's programs in lieu of cutting a men's team, but the fact that we even had the discussion is sad state of affairs.

Granted, college wrestling isn't one of the biggie sports -- it's not a money-maker, and aside from the national finals on ESPN, the sport rarely receives mainstream national publicity. Athletes like Edwards are often the victims in scenarios like this -- Arizona State says it will still honor his scholarship and his enrollment, but if Edwards wants to wrestle collegiately, he'll have to go somewhere else.

The spirit of Title IX is sound -- I'm all for gender equality. But athletic programs today use Title IX as an excuse to cut men's programs that don't excel financially. I'm all for female athletes getting their shot, but not at the expense of athletes like Edwards.

I hope Edwards can find another program to wrestle for, and I hope against all hope that the tide of Div. I wrestling teams getting the axe stops.

And soon.

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