When word got out that Cleveland State was exploring the possibility of adding lacrosse, I doubt anybody thought it would be at the cost of another sport. In fact, it seemed as if CSU was planning to have both men’s and women’s teams.
Of course this didn’t happen. Cleveland State plans to add men’s lacrosse starting in 2016-2017.
There’s just one problem with this. Another CSU sport, apparently, has to lose its funding. And it looks like it has to be the wrestling squad.
Personally, I’ve been on the fence about this whole lacrosse business from the outset. I’ve only ever seen a little bit of the sport, even as there was a pro team, the Ohio Machine. As intriguing as lacrosse may be, and despite the fact that Cleveland State would be only the second Division I program in the state besides Ohio State, the move gave me pause.
The reason was rather simple. In 2011, CSU decided to drop baseball as a varsity sport. Unfortunately, it had been doomed for years, with no home field on campus and forced to be nomads, playing everywhere from Euclid to Eastlake to Lorain.
All things considered, if anything should have been on the table, it should have been the return of baseball, not a sport that athletic director John Parry has had a long-vested interest in. Now, not only does baseball stay dead, it appears that wrestling could go the same way.
Now, Cleveland State wrestling doesn’t necessarily have to die. According to head coach Ben Stehura, if $800,000 can be raised, the program can continue to operate after its projected end after the 2015-16 season and part of a long-term goal of $5 million for keep it funded.
This isn’t exactly without precedent at CSU. For many years, fencing, another Cleveland State sport, was not funded by the university. So, the idea that wrestling would have to fend for itself is not out of the realm of possibility.
And if any team could rebuff the wishes of Athletics, it would be the wrestlers. As a matter of fact, the CSU wrestlers have successfully staged a revolt against Athletics once before.
In 1997, Cleveland State announced that long-time coach Dick Bonacci would no longer be retained, which sparked a level outrages across the wrestling community. The campaign resulted in Bonacci getting the stay until he retired on his own terms.
For that, is it really that wise an idea to pick a fight with a group of guys who’ve spent their whole lives fighting and were recruited to do it in college?
Apparently this fact has been lost on Parry, who has his heart set on having lacrosse, a sport near and dear to him, as the legacy of his tenure as athletic director.
But that brings up another curious question: If Parry is so into lacrosse and wants to bring it to CSU, then how come he couldn’t get the money together to start up the program without having to gut another sport like wrestling?
It is a head-scratcher, to be sure. Then again, we’ve been asking for years where Cleveland State was at with funding for the new scoreboard at the Wolstein Center. I think we know our answer now without saying anymore, don’t we?
Never mind that this is the same program that produced Matt Ghaffari, who won a silver medal in the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta. Forget the decades-long stretch of sending at least one Viking grappler to the NCAA championships. And never mind that Cleveland State counts among its wrestling alumni former MMA fighter Gerald “Hurricane” Harris and Stipe Miocic, considered one of the rising stars in the UFC.
On a side note, Miocic was also a member of the now-defunct baseball team. What did Miocic ever do to CSU to make them want to wipe his presence from Athletics lore?
Remember that this past season, the Vikings had two wrestlers, Ben Willeford and Riley Shaw, compete in this NCAA championships, and that both were nationally ranked consistently throughout the year. And remember that Cleveland is hosting the 2018 NCAA Championships at Quicken Loans Arena.
So, the athletic director at Cleveland State decided to defund and potentially doom a sport that is going to be highlighted in the city in three years?
And also keep in mind that a year after Parry left as athletic director at Butler, his successor, Barry Collier, dropped the sport like a bad habit.
Needless to say, since the announcement, support has poured out throughout the Internet, with the #SaveCSUWrestling hashtag posted by, among others, Miocic, four-time NCAA champion Logan Stieber from Ohio State, two-time national champ Jake Herbert, Iron Chef and host of The Chew Michael Symon and TNA World Champion Kurt Angle.
It appears that the vocal support is there. Now comes the hard part raising the $800,000 in a year to give the program more time to its end goal of $5 million to fully fund the program. If support given to other Cleveland State sports is any indication of whether or not wrestling will survive, there’s a pretty good chance the program will, indeed have a future.
Take the swimming program, for example. No stranger to fundraising, CSU swimming raised more than $125,000 in 1999 for scholarships and to have the pool re-named in honor of former coach and athletic director Robert Busbey. They topped that with a campaign that ended earlier this year, which raised more than $250,000 as part of its Heritage Project.
It should be noted that one of the donors to this initiative was, in fact, Cleveland State president Ronald Berkman. Considering that the plan to swap out wrestling for lacrosse undoubtedly came across his desk, he might want to think about chipping in to this fund-raising drive as well.
And the Board of Trustees might want to consider doing to same thing, seeing as how they, too, had to have seen this plan before it became public.
Stehura has requested that all information about donating be sent to him via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. Interested parties can also reach out to Mike Moyer of the National Wrestling Coaches Association by phone at 717-653-8009 or by e-mail at email@example.com. There’s also a Twitter account set up, @SaveCSU, which will likely have updates on the situation.
Finally, the Cleveland chapter of the Wrestlers in Business Network have set up an online campaign on the Crowdrise fundraising platform: https://www.crowdrise.com/savecsuwrestling.
You’ll want to pay attention, because this is going to be an issue that will likely be ongoing until the money is raised or CSU changes its mind, the preferred scenario.