Students at CSU have not had the opportunity to watch a Division I wrestling match on campus since the spring of 1985.
In April of that year, CSU discontinued its varsity wrestling program. But Ram fans aren’t alone.
This is all a part of a larger, nationwide trend. Colleges and universities around the country have steadily been dropping their wrestling programs over the past 30 years, in an effort to meet and maintain quotas set by Title IX mandates.
Title IX is the federal law that prohibits discrimination based on gender in any educational program that receives federal assistance, including athletic programs.
Colorado is losing many of its best high school wrestlers to out-of-state universities because of the lack of Division I wrestling programs in the state. CSU and the University of Colorado both used to support varsity wrestling programs that have since been dropped in an attempt, by these universities, to be compliant with Title IX.
The only Division I wrestling program that still exists in Colorado is at the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, and attending the Air Force Academy is not always a viable option for high school athletes.
Tom Clum, a 2001 graduate of Pomona High School in Arvada, is one of the most successful high school wrestlers ever to come out of Colorado. Clum graduated with a 148-1 prep record and three state championships. He is now a redshirt freshman wrestling for the University of Wisconsin in Madison, Wis., a Division I program.
“I really wanted to stay close to home because my family is very close,” Clum said. “But, I also wanted to be at the Division I level. There are some great Division II schools in Colorado, but it’s not quite the same. My goal was always to wrestle Division I and if we had a program in-state, it would have almost surely been a lock decision for me.
“I think there are a lot of kids in Colorado that are definitely Division I wrestlers, but would rather just be close to home,” Clum said. “It’s a shame that they can’t have both.”
Six of the eight schools in the Mountain West Conference, including CSU, have discontinued their wrestling programs sometime during the past 30 years. Air Force and the University of Wyoming are the only two remaining Mountain West schools that still support a varsity wrestling program, and wrestling is not a conference sport at either of those schools.
Five colleges or universities in Colorado still support varsity wrestling programs, and four are at the Division II level — Western State College, Colorado School of Mines, Adams State College and the University of Northern Colorado.
Next year, UNC will make the transition to the Division I level, which may help the situation for some high-quality Colorado wrestlers.
Jack Maughan, head wrestling coach at UNC and president of the National Wrestling Coaches Association, hopes this Division I distinction will help him capture more of these high-quality high school wrestlers who have always dreamed of competing at the Division I level.
“This is one of our biggest things,” Maughan said about the difficulty of recruiting Division I-caliber wrestlers to UNC. “When we lose people, a lot of it’s because of that, and after this year, I won’t have to do that as much.”
Maughan said Title IX has a lot to do with the dwindling number of collegiate wrestling programs in Colorado and around the country.
As president of the NWCA, he said, “Our mission is to preserve, promote and strengthen wrestling, to help people be better coaches and to better the sport.
“One of the main things we’ve been doing is trying to change the way Title IX is enforced. We are not against Title IX. We are against how they are enforcing Title IX. We’re just against the quota part of it.”
Maughan knows of the time when CSU still had a wrestling program. His father, Arthur “Bucky” Maughan, now the head wrestling coach at North Dakota State University in Fargo, N.D., defeated a CSU wrestler in the finals of the 1963 NCAA Division I Championships.
More Division I wrestling programs in Colorado would not only help to keep more of the state’s high school wrestlers at in-state universities, but it would also help to increase the quality of wrestling across the state.
Steve Knight, executive director and head coach of Team EXCEL, Colorado’s premier club wrestling program, said the talent level of high school wrestling in Colorado has room for improvement.
“We probably rank, talent-wise, at about 23 or 25 in the country, among states,” Knight said.
“I do believe that if Colorado had more Division I programs, more in-state wrestlers would attend these programs. Just having these programs and our high school wrestlers being able to see a local dual meet between CSU and Iowa State or Oklahoma, I believe, would do a lot to bring up the level of wrestling in Colorado. If nothing else, from an awareness standpoint.”
This is a common sentiment among wrestling enthusiasts around the state.
“We don’t have a program for kids to go and watch, and we don’t get as many kids getting that high level of coaching and competition coming back and becoming coaches,” said Clum, the Pomona graduate. “States like Pennsylvania have a ton of Division I programs and tons of those wrestlers come back to coach high school.
“We would just generate more wrestlers to come back and become coaches, which would obviously strengthen our high school wrestling. It would also give high school wrestlers some exposure to Division I wrestling, which is something that I didn’t even really know about until I got to college.”
President Bush recently appointed a committee to re-evaluate Title IX and without some changes in its enforcement, wrestling supporters say the law will continue to hinder the quality of wrestling and the opportunities for wrestlers in Colorado and around the country.
“Title IX, while I think it is great for girls, has clearly taken away thousands of positions for guys,” Clum said. “I don’t know how we can consider something that takes opportunities away from anybody a fair thing.”
Clum would like to see Title IX enforced in a different manner.
“They need to find a way that will allow for a much fairer way to enforce this law,” he said, “because the way things are going, it’s only going to get worse for guys like me.”