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The South, High school and the NAIA

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It's well known common knowledge that the area college wrestling is hurting the most is in the south. When we take the time to look at far too many collegiate wrestling programs that have been dropped over the years, many of them come from the southern states. To give you an idea of what I am talking about, here is a list of teams that have been dropped throughout the south.


Alabama (7)

Auburn (DI)

Birmingham Southern (DI)

Troy (DI)

Alabama (DI)

Jacksonville State (DII)

Huntingdon (DII)

Livingston (NJCAA)


Arkansas (1)

Arkansas State Jonesboro (DI)


Florida (16)

Florida A&M (DI)

Florida Atlantic (DI)

Florida International (DI)

Florida State University (DI)

Jacksonville (DI)

Florida (DI)

Stetson (DI)

Central Florida (DI)

Southern Florida (DI)

Florida Tech (DII)

Tampa (DII)

Pensacola (NJCAA)

Brevard (NJCAA)

Edison (NJCAA)

Miami Dade (NJCAA)

Santa Fe (NJCAA)


Georgia (8)

Georgia State (DI)

Georgia Tech (DI)

Georgia (DI)

Augusta (DII)

Emory (DIII)

Oglethorpe (DII)

Southern Tech (NAIA)

Macomb County Tech (NJCAA)


Hawaii (1)

Hawaii (DI)


Kansas (5)

Kansas State (DI)

Kansas (DI)

Emporia State (DII)

Dodge City (NJCAA)

Garden City (NJCAA)


Kentucky (6)

Eastern Kentucky (DI)

Moorehead State (DI)

Northern Kentucky (DI)

Kentucky (DI)

Centre (DII)

Georgetown College (NAIA)


Louisiana (4)

Louisiana State (DI)

Louisiana Lafayette (DI)

Northeast Louisiana (DI)

Southwest Louisiana State (DI)


Nevada (2)


Reno (DI)


Tennessee (12)

East Tennessee State (DI)

Memphis State (DI)

Middle Tennessee State (DI)

Tennessee State (DI)

Tusculum (DI)

Memphis (DI)

Tennessee Martin (DI)

Vanderbilt (DI)

Knoxville (DIII)

Maryville (DIII)

University of the South (DIII)

Chattanooga C.C. (NJCAA)


Texas (13)

North Texas State (DI)

Richland College (DI)

Southwest Texas State (DI)

Southwestern (DI)

Texas A&M (D1)


Texas Tech (DI)

Arlington (DI)

El Paso (DI)

Letourneau (DIII)

Amarillo (NJCAA)

Eastfield (NJCAA)

Trinity (NJCAA)


Utah (4)

Brigham Young (DI)

Southern Utah (DI)

Utah State (DI)

Weber State (DI)


Now I'm not trying to undermine the devastation that other states have had endure when it comes to the numerous collegiate wrestling programs that have been dropped in them over the last 42 years. However, most of them are not hurting for collegiate wrestling opportunities, near as bad as the states I mentioned.


Which brings me to my next point. Wrestling's popularity at the high school level IS growing. Matter of fact it is growing tremendously and this creates a need for collegiate wrestling programs in certain states. Not to be pessimistic but as far as Hawaii and Mississippi are concerned, I think the best we can hope for is college wrestling to grow in 48 out of the 50 states. I just don't see Mississippi getting on board anytime soon and Hawaii just doesn't seem feasible.


So I have to question. Was one of the main reasons wrestling was dropped seemingly without much of a fight because at the time of elimination wrestling was NOT popular in the state? I mean I would like to see lineups of southern teams from back throughout the 70's, 80's and early 90's and see just how many of the athletes were from the home state. University of Kentucky, how many of the wrestlers on the team were from Kentucky? Louisiana State University, how many of the wrestlers on the team were from Louisiana? Did the level of high school interest and participation have anything to do with why wrestling was nearly wiped out in the south?


It makes me look at the current situation with the NAIA. The area where collegiate wrestling is actually growing.


Arkansas (2)

Central Baptist

William Baptist


Tennessee (2)




Kentucky (4)



Lindsey Wilson

St. Catherine


Kansas (6)


Fort Hays








Truett McConnell



Wayland Baptist


These are mostly teams that have been added in the last 10 years. A need for a wrestling program was assessed and as a result these schools added wrestling programs. I imagine that the growth of popularity and participation at the youth, junior high and high school level had a lot to do with it.


Had wrestling been as popular at the youth, junior high and high school wrestling level that it is today, would college wrestling have taken the enormous blow that it over the last 42 years?


With the growth of wrestling in the NAIA, will we see wrestling programs pop up in New Mexico, Alabama, Florida and Nevada? Will we see more wrestling programs pop up in Kentucky, Tennessee, Arkansas, Utah, Texas and Georgia?

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I have always said that you need a thriving ecosystem in order to see growth. You won't see programs operating as an island. People often forget that programs are dependent on one another. You need teams to compete against.


Division-III Pacific University is 1,500 miles away from the nearest Division-III program but it doesn't hurt them because there is no scheduling requirement for Division-III since they qualify through a regional national qualifier tournament. In stead of traveling for Division-III matches and tournaments they wrestle a schedule of mainly NJCAA programs. Without these programs from another division, wrestling at Pacific probably wouldn't exist.


The growth in Georgia was made possible, in part, due to the growth of programs in Tennessee and Kentucky. Though it is not on your list, Shorter College, in Rome, GA, was added as an NAIA school (they are now transitioning to the NCAA). They are close to Tennessee and were able to easily travel to compete against the programs to the north. Truett-McConnel is basically between Chattanooga and Charlotte making it easy to find competition. These two additions helped make it feasible for Life to add a program. In fact, NJCAA Darton College may have been the program that opened the flood gates and made it possible for programs and they are the furthest program south.


If you want programs in Florida, you need to get a few more in Georgia so there is regional competition. Wayland Baptist was a huge addition for Texas and makes it possible for other schools in the Lubbock/Amarillo area to add the program.


It is a lot like the at the high school and youth levels where a team will drive four hours from Ohio, to PA, because they know there are teams on the other side also traveling four hours from NJ and Maryland to meet them.


This is why the efforts by the NWCA to add small schools is so vital. You need to grow the ecosystem to allow more programs to thrive. I don't have any doubt that If Georgia gets 20 schools wrestling that aren't Division-I you will see a Division-I program add just to become the elite in state program. I could see Mercer or Kennesaw State adding the sport and making a point to show they are the best program in the state while competing in the SoCon, a lot like Chattanooga has done.

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As small, tuition-driven schools battle for enrollment growth, adding athletic programs can be a valuable tool. This table was recently in WIN and shows "markets" that are prime for adding wrestling. It simply shows the number of high school participants per home state intercollegiate program. Texas has 10,600+ high school wrestlers and 1 college program (that, incidentally, has both men's and women's teams).


The weakness in the table is that it does not show the total number of HS participants in states without a college program - Florida being a notable omission.


http://www.win-magazine.com/v2/2014/07/ ... wrestlers/

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Going back several decades, when many of these programs were dropped, the landscape was different.


My guess is that at the time most of the D1 programs were dropped, they were staffed by people who were not from the area, and the rosters had people not from the area. If they did have people from their region, they probably weren't very competitive.


Things have changed. Coaching in the South has improved, the wrestling is better, and there is more national level competition. I think this will continue.


But dropping the programs probably happened because of a need to shed costs, and the wrestling program being the minor sport that offended people most. Or that had the least enthusiastic constituency among administrators.

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Something else that occurs to me--and I have no idea how significant this is--if administrators are so inclined, in a small institution like many of those mentioned, dropping wrestling is relatively easy. You have no institutional facilities like a football field and stadium, tennis courts, baseball field, etc. Most of these programs probably operated out of a gym or room in a fieldhouse, a facility that could easily be converted to other uses.

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Wrestling in the South simply hasn't been as prevalent or popular as it's been in the Midwest or the Eastern parts of the country. I don't know how all of the programs started, but I'd agree that the high level programs were probably planted by people from outside the area (emphases mine):


For years, the only Deep South team of merit was Arnold (Swede)

Umbach's Auburn Tigers. Umbach, who grew up in Oklahoma, a

wrestling hotbed, ended 30 years of coaching in 1973 with 25

Southeastern Intercollegiate Wrestling Association team titles, two

Southeastern Conference championships and a 249-28-5 record.


"The only wrestling many Southerners knew for a long time was the

professional kind," Umbach says. "When we got the sport into the

SEC in 1970, we polled the schools to see how many would have

teams. I still remember Mississippi's reply: `Never.' I wanted to

build the sport throughout the South, so I put on clinics

everywhere. But I 'spect people from the Midwest and the North

laughed at Southern wrestling."


When Larry Sciacchetano (Shack) took over at LSU back in the 1970s, he made it a national power mainly by casting his recruiting net wide and being given plenty of room to take his athletes to the top level tournaments. His predecesor left largely because he wanted to keep things more local. While ultimately you'll probably want to keep things more relevant to the surrounding area, if you want to quickly build a program from the ground up, you'll need connections from the outside:


"I left LSU because I disagreed with the administration about

recruiting," says Shack's predecessor, Dale Ketelsen. "The way to

build the program, I felt, was to recruit the local boys, not to

bring in a lot of outsiders."


"One reason I came here was because the administration committed

itself to letting me recruit from coast to coast," Shack says. "I

got the job in May of '76. By then all the bluechip high-schoolers

were signed. I decided to save most of my scholarships, suffer

through the first season and hope for a good recruiting year the

next time around. Last year I spent an awful lot of time on the

road. High school wrestling in the South is in its infancy, so I

had to travel to where the best prospects were."


Shack's anticipated agony--his 1976-77 team was 5-12--was followed

by the ecstasy of recruiting triumph. He set his sights on 11 high

school All-Americas and bagged nine.


"Recruiting is multifaceted," says Shack, who is six feet, 230

pounds and wears a mustache as big as a broom. "To get top

prospects you've got to have a big-time schedule, excellent

facilities and a school that offers a well-rounded program of

athletics and academics. Being able to offer Northern kids warm

winter weather also helps."


http://www.si.com/vault/1978/03/20/8224 ... -dixieland

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