Boston University Cuts Varsity Wrestling Team
Next season will be the team’s last, but students and their families are still fighting to save the program.
Carl Adams is no stranger to adversity in the wrestling world. When he was first brought on to Boston University’s coaching staff 32 years ago, the wrestling program was not fully funded. It took him 23 years to hire an assistant coach, and his team has switched conference affiliations multiple times. But he’s come a long way. Today, the BU wrestling team consistently sends wrestlers to the NCAA tournament, and Adams has 9.9 scholarships that he can use to recruit the best high school wrestlers around. His team recently won an award from the NCAA for their high academic standing and 100 percent graduation rate. All in all, Adams is proud of his progress over the years.
But despite his dedication to the team and the sport, and despite the BU wrestling team’s success, Adams received heart breaking news last April: In 2014, the BU Varsity Men’s Wrestling Team will be cut.
The cut will affect BU’s team deeply, and it will add to the list of hits that the wrestling world in general has taken this year. In February, the International Olympic Committee voted to drop wrestling from its schedule for the 2020 games, and many colleges are following suit by cutting their D1 programs, too. Why is this happening? Adams isn’t sure, but he notes that high school wrestling is thriving despite cuts at the higher level at competition. Many people don’t understand wrestling as much as it needs to be understood, Adams admits. But for athletes that participate in the sport, it becomes an obsession and a lifestyle.
“Wrestling is one of the best ways to teach individuals how to compete in the game of life,” Adams says. “The discipline that you need to make weight and to work out on an empty stomach is incredible. It takes risk every time you go out on the mat, and you need that to succeed in life. You learn how to improve, you learn how to make great sacrifices. You learn to be at the peak of fitness. You learn how to compete to win but to also be humble. You learn that you have a ways to go no matter how good you are.”
Adams understands that from an outside perspective, wrestling is hard to make sense of. What he doesn’t understand, however, is why Boston University would decide to cut the wrestling program when the team has been competing at a high level and has been engaged in the community for years.
On April 1, Adams had a wrestling recruit on campus. He received a call from another student in New York that planned to commit to BU for the following wrestling season. He spoke on the phone with the parent of a student who had been offered a full scholarship. Adams remembers the day as a day when “all engines were go”. Everything looked good until 3 p.m., when Mike Lynch, the assistant vice president and director of athletics at Boston University, called Adams into his office. When he told Adams that next year would be the wrestling team’s last season, Adams was in total shock.
“It took me about a week to pull myself together and to get to the point where I had some clarity on what was going on,” Adams says. “I’m still trying to figure out what went on, to be honest.”
The team’s 25 members were on their way to play recreational football when Adams and Lynch called a meeting and delivered the news several hours later. The result was what Adams calls “complete devastation”. The wrestlers sat in silence for nearly 30 minutes, some crying, some staring blankly at the wall in front of them.
“When you have 25 kids competing at the Division 1 level, it’s crushing, ” Adams says. “That sport is a big part of their lives if they are competing at that level. It has been for a long time. Some kids came to BU for the program and because of scholarships, and some have siblings looking at BU. They had that ripped away.”
Adams says that Boston University officials cited their reason for cutting the team as strategic vision, noting that neither Title 9 nor finances played a role in the decision. But if they’re honest, Adams and his wrestlers still don’t understand the decision. The team has a strong competitive record, high academics and a high graduation rate. The team members have always been highly supportive of other BU athletic organizations, and Nestor Taffur, a rising senior on the team, was given an award for being the top male athlete of the year at BU last year.
Several calls were made to BU’s athletic department but not returned.
Adams does, however, remain hopeful that the decision will be revisited. With fifty years of alumni pushing the issue, he hopes that they will quickly make progress. Brown University, American University and Arizona State have all reversed decisions to drop their wrestling teams in the last few years, and Adams hopes to add Boston University to that list.
Matt Belikov, a rising sophomore on the team, will be highly impacted by the decision come next Spring. After two years spent under Coach Adams on BU’s team, he will either have to stop wrestling at a D1 level, the highest level of college sports, or he will need to switch schools, something that he says he refuses to consider.
“The team is so close, we’re basically like a family,” Belikov says. “It feels wrong to look elsewhere, and most of us don’t see leaving as an option. We’re just trying to exhaust all of the options to save the program.”
Belikov and his teammates have been trying to raise awareness of the issue by circulating a petition and keeping a Facebook page going. He says that although they can’t do much, what they can do is continue to show their support for the BU athletic community and the Boston community in general, just like they did before the decision was made. And while they continue to push the issue, Belikov can’t help but wonder what the decision is all about. He says that he can’t get a straight answer.
“It’s not money, it’s not Title 9. It’s tough to hear that they are trying to strategically refocus the university in another direction, because we have done so well and we’re so involved,” he says. “What is it then? Seriously, what is it? They’re turning their backs on our program.”
Despite their frustration, Belikov, his teammates, Coach Adams and Assistant Coach Sean Harrington hope that, as Adams says, the BU wrestling team’s positive energy will write the story itself. They hope that their success, their involvement in the BU community and the benefits of wrestling as a sport will speak loud and clear when it comes to revisiting the decision.
“Wrestling creates hardworking, dedicated individuals who are passionate about what they do and what they want, and who are supportive of their teammates and friends,” Belikov says. “Thats what I’d say when you ask why they shouldn’t cut our program.”