Until the basketball team can win scrimmages against MAAC teams, I'm "fairly" confident that Rutgers men's basketball is going to take a back seat to the wrestling team this year. With two thirds of football season in the books already, it's time to look for other RU-related athletic diversions over the next few months, because the women can't play every night. Hear me out. Yes, this is a bit like asking everyone to give up Christmas for Diwali, but what exactly can we do after Santa keeps bringing a lump of coal every year?
By all indications, the Rutgers wrestling program is on an upswing. Within the next few years, it actually has a chance to be pretty good. Like most readers, I'm in the position of being moderately intrigued by year two of the revitalization, while knowing little to nothing about the sport, and probably inclined to jump off the bandwagon at the first hint of struggle.
I needed a level of expertise proportional to this interest, so I asked a friend from Iowa for comment. Now, if you don't know anything about the state of Iowa beyond all the corn, they're into amateur wrestling roughly as much as New Jersey is into hair grease and track suits. The Hawkeyes have won 22 national championships, and are back to their winning ways under their new head coach, Tom Brands. In-state rival Iowa State recently lost their coach, Cael Sanderson, to Penn State - lured by the promises of a rich talent poor, infinite resources, and no longer having to stand in Iowa's shadow. That's quite the psychological blow to the Cyclones, given that Sanderson was an ISU alum.
That's right. Those damned blockheads in Happy Valley saw what their infinitely cooler, smarter, and better looking rivals in New Brunswick were doing on the mat, and followed our lead in what was the most brazen theft since Beaver Stadium appropriated that Zombie Nation techno song from German soccer clubs. If there's anything that can rouse my interest, it's competition from Penn State, so I had to get to the bottom of all of this.
Ok. Rutgers wrestling saw near-immediate results with the hiring of Scott Goodale last year. More institutional support helped, but the turnaround was striking considering the common wisdom that New Jersey (along with PA, Iowa, and a few others) is one of the top states for the sport. Hence, the belief that RU could be good if they ever took it seriously. Lo and behold, that's seemingly what happened.
Now, in thinking that RU wrestling is on the rise, are we overreacting to a small sample size, and displaying yet another typical case of East Coast bias/ignorance/arrogance? Or, is it really that relatively straightforward for a program to compete in an Olympic sport if all the right ingredidents are in place?
It's early, so it's hard to say if you're overreacting or not. I would say that there's probably reason to believe that you aren't. There aren't a whole lot of schools that take wrestling seriously right now. If a school is able and willing to invest heavily in the program, like Iowa, PSU, and apparently now Rutgers have done, that's a huge advantage. That's on top being the most visible program in a talent-rich state. If they continue to have success, that should help keep more of that talent in-state, and I think Rutgers could be a power for years to come.
With the hiring of Cael Sanderson from Iowa State, we finally know what exactly Penn State is doing with all that extra revenue from scheduling home cupcakes every year. What do you see as the significance of that hiring with respect to the overall D1 wrestling landscape? With all of PSU's financial resources, how high can they conceivably go? Are Rutgers and PSU on the crest of a trend here, or is it just a blip on the way to twenty more programs getting the axe because of Title IX?
Feel free to insult ISU as much as you want in your answer (none of their fans will ever read this), and in fact I'd appreciate a gratuitous shot or two at PSU too if you don't mind, just because.
Sanderson moving is huge. PSU was something of a sleeping giant, and they now seem firmly committed to building a winner. Sanderson is easily the best recruiter in wrestling today, and always pulls in great classes. The undefeated career and Olympic gold made him THE legend to aspiring college wrestlers all over the country, kind of like (former Iowa HC and ISU star Tom) Gable was back in the day.
As for how high they can go, I'm not sure. Iowa isn't going anywhere with Brands at the helm. He's a fantastic coach who clearly picked up a lot from Gable, and isn't too shabby a recruiter himself. His teams didn't really seem to have a huge problem with Sanderson's at ISU, where he was also pulling in great classes. I think they're pretty clearly our main challenger in the Big Ten (and thus probably the country) now though. In a way, I'm sort of torn in his move. It hurts ISU which is good for in-state recruiting, and because lol ISU. But it is going to make the Big Ten that much harder, and it was already ridiculously stacked. I'm interesting is seeing how it turns out. They're certainly paying him enough.
On whether or not Rutgers' and PSU's new commitment to wrestling is a trend, I don't think it is. Lots of athletic departments are in a budget crisis right now from what I understand, so I can't imagine too many school pouring money into what isn't exactly a huge revenue sport (Iowa is probably the most wrestling-crazy school in the country, and it's still a distant third on the pecking order behind football and basketball). I'm guessing that it's always going to be a sport that's in danger of getting killed off Title IX and money reasons at most schools.
(Hope those were decent answer and somewhat interesting. One of the guys who writes for Black Heart Gold Pants, Ross, is a huge wrestling fan who knows a lot more than I do. I'm a regular commentator there, so, if you want, I can try to put you in touch with him. He knows his stuff and would be better for this interview that I am)
No! That's enough wrestling for one day. Thanks to my buddy for humoring me with this, as I begin my frantic search for any possible diversion from the horror show that is the 2009 Rutgers men's basketball team.