Amidst the excitement of the last few days for Portland State fans–a postseason appearance for men’s and women’s basketball and an announced renovation to PGE Park– the Portland State Athletic Department announced Wednesday that the wrestling program would be discontinued, a decision that is effective immediately.
Amidst the excitement of the last few days for Portland State fans — a postseason appearance for men’s and women’s basketball and an announced renovation to PGE Park — the Portland State Athletic Department announced Wednesday that the wrestling program would be discontinued, a decision that is effective immediately.
The verdict regarding the wrestling program has been forthcoming since initial deliberations began nearly three months ago. When President Wim Wiewel commissioned a task force to look at the feasibility of the program in January, most close to the situation expected this decision to come down.
The task force, composed of Athletic Director Torre Chisholm, Vice Provost of Student Affairs Jackie Balzer and several other faculty members along with lone student representative Monique Peterson from ASPSU, met together several times and held public forums for wrestlers, parents and alumni to offer testimony.
The task force was charged with choosing the future of the program from five possibilities:
1. Keeping the program intact without change
2. Increasing funding for the program in attempts to make the team more competitive at the Division I level
3. Removing funding completely from the team but keeping them functioning as a member of the Pacific-10 Conference
4. Removing all funding
5. Making wrestling a club sport at Portland State.
The Portland State wrestlers, having just completed their most successful season in three years despite struggling in the conference play, were optimistic that administration would keep their program intact.
But the task force recommended to Wiewel that the program was not feasible and he accepted that recommendation.
“This is a sad day,” Chisholm said in a press release Wednesday. “PSU has a tremendous tradition in wrestling. Unfortunately, circumstances have changed in such a way that PSU can no longer field a program commensurate with the University’s expectation for excellence.”
Since the task force convened regarding the wrestling program, those within the wrestling program complained that it has been unclear as to what specific deficiency they were hoping to avoid by possibly discontinuing the program.
Since the process began, academics and the inability to compete at the Division I level have been the most frequent concerns voiced by members of the task force.
But since wrestling head coach Mike Haluska took over two years ago, the team’s academic performance has dramatically improved and the coach says that his team’s cumulative Grade Point Average is the highest of any sport at Portland State and has been that way for the past academic year.
The squad struggled to a last place finish in the Pac-10 Conference but competes against schools more financially committed to their programs than Portland State. Currently the Vikings receive enough money for just two scholarships, funding that is split amongst the 26 members of the team.
According to the press release, the athletic department will continue to provide the same amount of scholarship funding to members of the wrestling team should they choose to stay at Portland State.
For the more than 20 student-athletes who were expected to return next season, their future is now clouded by the decision of university administration.
Some will likely transfer to other schools, although collegiate wrestling opportunities are slim in the Northwest, with Oregon’s, and now Portland State’s, program being discontinued within the past two years.
Only Oregon State provides high school wresters in the Northwest with the chance to wrestle at the Division I level.
Portland State is now the fifteenth school in Oregon to eliminate wrestling in the past four decades, particularly disheartening given the program’s storied history. The Vikings won national championships at the Division II level in 1989 and 1990, and count national champions and gold medal winners as program alumni.
“The wrestling program was in serious distress and the University lacks the resources to fix the many problems,” Chisholm said.
Another concern is that the discontinuation of the program will further limit the opportunities of students who have disabilities or undersized to compete at the collegiate level, as wrestling has historically been more accessible to student-athletes with disabilities or those at lower weight classes.
For example, even smaller Portland State wrestlers like 125-pounders Thomas Cottrell and Kevin Martinez had an opportunity to be a college athlete.
Other factors that may have been heavily considered include the team’s status of wrestling outside of the standard conference affiliation. In every other sport offered at Portland State, the Vikings are a member of the Big Sky Conference, with the exception of softball and wrestling.
Most close to the program, including former head coach Marlin Grahn, said that if wrestling were a sport offered in the Big Sky Conference then the team’s fate would never have been in jeopardy.
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