On April 18, the Boise State athletics department announced suddenly, and without warning, that it was cutting its wrestling program, effective immediately. The reason for doing so is because Bob Kustra, the president of Boise State, really wants BSU to have a varsity baseball program, and the wrestling team was apparently getting in the way of those efforts.
The move came as a shock to everyone. To make sense of the situation, we have compiled a comprehensive review of everything you need to know about the situation.
If you feel that something in this article is either inaccurate or was left out, please contact us so that we may remedy the situation.
In 2003, Boise State University hired former Eastern Kentucky University President Bob Kustra to be its next president.
According to the annual survey by the National Federation of State High School Associations, 2,377 kids in Idaho played baseball in the 2014-15 school year at 92 schools. During the same in year, 2,219 Idaho kids wrestled at 93 schools. There are, as of today, no schools that offer either baseball or wrestling at the NCAA Division I level in Idaho. There are, however, 11 schools that sponsor DI baseball in states adjacent to Idaho. There are two DI programs that offer wrestling in those same states.
More broadly speaking, according to the NCAA, in 2016 there were 948 NCAA baseball teams, 295 of which were DI. That is up from 642 total teams and 252 DI teams in 1982. Wrestling had 232 total NCAA teams in 2016, 76 of which were DI. That is down from 363 programs in 1982, of which 146 were DI.
A total of 34,554 student athletes had an opportunity to play varsity baseball on an NCAA team in 2016. In that same year, just 7,075 students had the opportunity to participate on an NCAA wrestling.
On June 23, 2015, Kustra announced the hiring of Curt Apsey as the new Boise State executive director of athletics and talked up his "pet project" of adding a varsity baseball program to the department. Kustra told the Idaho Statesman that the school can add a men's program without running into Title IX issues, as BSU studied the situation and "it turns out we're in really good shape as far as gender equity right now."
On January 21, 2016, the Idaho Statesman reported that Boise State would be putting its baseball expansion project on hold due to budgetary concerns. Kustra is quoted as saying, "We would have really enjoyed working in tandem with the owner of (the Boise minor league baseball team) and we were discussing with him an opportunity to build a stadium that would be on our campus."
On Februrary 18, 2016, Chris Schoen, a managing partner of both the Boise Hawks (a short season Class A minor league baseball team -- the lowest level of the minor leagues) and Greenstone Properties (a real estate development company) announced that they have signed a "non-binding letter of intent" to buy acreage from St. Luke's Health System to construct a multi-purpose stadium. As reported by the Idaho Statesman, an estimated $2 million per year will be needed to cover the debt service for the stadium construction. Half of that is expected to come from an adjacent mixed use development project, which would also be constructed by Greenstone.
On February 10, 2017, Schoen provided further details with regard to the proposed stadium. According to the Idaho Statesman, "In addition to donating the land for the stadium, Schoen would contribute $1 million to its construction cost, which is expected to be about $41 million. The Boise Hawks would lease the stadium, whose eventual owner is a detail that has yet to be worked out. Other potential sources of income include the minor league soccer team, BSU, concerts, prep sports tournaments and other events."
The proposed split in the stadium's construction costs between public and private funds appears to be a little off that of the typical stadium deal. As the USA Today reported, "In 2010, 121 professional sports facilities in use for all five major sports leagues required $43 billion in investments in new construction or major renovations. About half of that investment came from the public, according to research by Harvard urban planning professor Judith Grant Long."
For an idea of how much annual rent the Boise Hawks might be able to pay to help to cover the debt payments on its construction costs, the Potomac Nationals (High Single A) in Woodbridge, VA, announced in March 2017 that they would be willing to pay $450,000 per year to cover the cost of a new $35 million stadium. That deal was dubbed the "most expensive in minor league baseball."
If the Boise Hawks match the most expensive stadium rent in minor league baseball history, about $550,000 per year will likely still be needed to cover the debt from the stadium construction. If that difference is made up by Boise State men's athletics teams, it would increase the total men's sports expense budget by 33 percent, excluding football and basketball. The combined total expenditures for those sports in FY2015 was $1,675,625.
According to the latest comprehensive survey by the NCAA, after football and basketball, baseball is on average one of the most costly sports sponsored by the NCAA. The average baseball team at a DI school that also sponsors football runs up about $1,664,000 in expenses per year. The average wrestling team at a DI school that also has a football team costs about $1,007,000 per year to operate.
The NCAA also limits the total number of scholarships a DI program is allowed to award to wrestlers to 9.9. For baseball, the limit is 11.7. Boise State provides maximum scholarships to all their varsity sports.
The six schools in the Mountain West Conference that made their data available spent an average of $1,171,067 in 2015 operating their baseball teams. The Idaho Statesman recently reported that Boise State's fellow Mountain West Conference member Fresno State has a baseball team that costs over $1 million per year to operate. The Bulldogs recently restarted their wrestling program, which will begin varsity competition in the 2017-18 season, without cutting any existing teams in the athletic department.
Boise State's wrestling team had expenses of $460,760 in 2015.
On April 18, 2017, via a news item on its athletics webpage, Boise State announced it was cutting its wrestling program to pursue baseball.
First-year head coach Mike Mendoza was caught completely off guard by the announcement, as he explained in an interview moments after hearing the news. Later he would write in an email to the team, "It was our understanding we had full support from administration up until yesterday at 3 PM [Tuesday, April, 18th]."
A day after the news broke, Broncos senior and NCAA qualifier Austin Dewey explained in an interview with ESPN Boise 99.1 how the team found out about the program's cancelation when a compliance officer came by to distribute release forms to sign. Dewey described the news as a "slap in the face and a stab in the back." Dewey recalled how Apsey met with the team early in the school year when they agreed on goals for this season. One of those goals was to improve the team GPA, which was accomplished when the wrestlers earned the highest team GPA in program history.
Idahoans quickly began to register their disapproval with the decision to drop the wrestling program and especially with the way the decision was made and how the team was notified. Most of the incoming freshmen had already signed their national letters of intent, meaning the recruiting process was all but over. Their chances of finding a suitable school to transfer to would be much more difficult than had they known about the impending cut earlier, a decision which was in Kustra's words "two or three years in the works." One wrestling recruit was even being hosted on campus the day the program was shut down.
In response to the abrupt announcement, Assembly Members of the Associated Students of Boise State University (ASBSU) unanimously passed a "Resolution to Slow Athletic Fee Change" on Wednesday, April 19. The assembly resolved that the decision to cut the program "should be stalled until students have had the opportunity to provide input."
Bronco wrestling supporter Mike Randles shared his feelings with The Arbiter, Boise State's independent student news source, saying, "Like so many Idaho wrestling fans, I was shocked to hear of Boise State's decision to drop wrestling and add baseball. A decision that was made so tightly behind closed doors, so far removed from even the most immediate stakeholders that Boise State wrestling coaches were busy recruiting in the moments leading up to this announcement. The announcement was not only handled with a lack of professional courtesy and forethought, but the decision itself is flawed on too many levels to count."
Randles also created a YouTube video going into further detail about why he was so disappointed by the actions of the Boise State administrators.
For many close to the wrestling program, the manner in which the team was cut was not an aberration but par for the course for the BSU administration. Boise State alum and 2006 NCAA national champion Ben Cherrington shared a story of how he felt he was lied to by Apsey when interviewing for the Broncos head coach position this past year.
2006 NCAA Champ Ben Cherrington pic.twitter.com/bnsKYG2SPT— Keystaroslav Clasek (@SpeyWrestle) April 20, 2017
In an April 20 interview with the Idaho Statesman, Kustra announced that his decision was final.
A day later, the president of the ASBSU announced that the executive council "opted to suspend further consideration of the resolution [passed by the ASBSU assembly on April 19]" due to assembly members' "incomplete understanding of the relevant facts."
The ASBSU president went on to state that "as the newly elected Student Body President, I believe that the decision made concerning our student wrestling team would have benefited from student input. Further, I believe that the decision should have been communicated to the members of the wrestling team in a way that is consistent with our University's Shared values."
The ASBSU president continued, "To my fellow students who are suffering the loss of their community, please know that I and the entire ASBSU executive team stand with you during this time, and we will continue to support you as fellow students."
What Happens Next
That is entirely up to the students and Boise State stakeholders.
Even with the students' resolution not going forward and Kustra saying, "this isn't a decision that's revocable," the president of Boise State still ultimately answers to the state and people of Idaho.
Contrary to how it may appear from his actions, Kustra was not hired to make friends with minor league baseball team owners and help them build taxpayer-funded stadiums.
Boise State administrators have so far denied all of our requests to answer questions regarding their decision. It's certainly their prerogative to ignore those requests, but one has to wonder why Apsey would not even agree to an interview with Jason Bryant, one of the most reasonable and professional leading lights of the wrestling press, if he wasn't sure that the decision was defensible, logical, and legitimate.
But whether they like it or not, Kustra and Apsey do have a responsibility to answer to the Boise State community, especially the students. Kustra may be the boss of the BSU faculty and Apsey may be in charge of the athletics department, but the students are the reason the entire university exists.
Boise State is not a private company that Kustra has built from scratch, the resources of which he is free to dispose of how he pleases. It is an institution created by and beholden to the public. How the athletics department is run is very much the business of the students and the Idaho taxpayers, and it is their right to demand accountability and transparency from school administrations, regardless of any particular student body parliamentary procedures.
Having recently been in a similar situation, Cleveland State University brought its wrestling program back from the dead when the student body voted to increase their student fees to help pay for a new lacrosse team, a sport the CSU athletic director wanted to start and was originally planning on paying for by cutting the wrestling team.
Kustra has not provided any details for how he intends to pay for the new baseball program he is intent on pursuing, but student fees have become an increasingly popular source of revenue for cash-strapped athletic departments across the county.
Should Kustra decide to increase student fees to fund his pet project, he would be forced to deal with the Idaho Board of Education regulation that states in its Governing Policies and Procedures that "a proposal to alter student tuition and fees shall be formalized by initial notice of the chief executive officer of the institution at least six weeks prior to the Board meeting at which a final decision is to be made."
Furthermore, the ASBSU and the Boise State Department of Student Affairs set up additionally processes that Kustra would be expected to follow, should he and Apsey try to alter the way student fees are currently being spent.
It must now be said that if the students and taxpayers are all on board with Kustra's pet project, then a protest is moot. However, to even make that judgement, the people to whom Kustra was hired to faithfully serve and educate are at least owed an explanation, which so far Kustra has been unwilling to provide.
What You Can Do To Help
Start by signing this petition if you haven't already. 'Like' this page on Facebook to get regular updates and use the hashtag #SaveBSUWrestling.
Attend the Save BSU Wrestling Rally at Board of Education if you are in the area and reading this before April 29.
Support local Idaho journalists as they continue to investigate the story.
this, unfortunately, is not a one-day process. It will take time to flush it out. And, believe me, we intend to find answers— Michael Katz (@MichaelLKatz) April 20, 2017
Call, write, and email the school (respectfully, please) to voice your opinions. Let them know that you don't think it's a great idea for a public school to shutter a successful, nationally recognized wrestling program just to save money in order to start more expensive baseball team that might see home playoff games snowed out.
The four most northerly schools in the Mountain West don't have a baseball team. I don't think that is a coincidence. pic.twitter.com/8lcG6JfhWV— Keystaroslav Clasek (@SpeyWrestle) April 20, 2017
Pledge monetary support to the program if you can. But don't feel obligated. Just showing your appreciation to all the folks fighting to save the program can be equally helpful.
Take solace in the fact that there are many others who feel as you do.
keep the faith pic.twitter.com/AKRLwyDAzh— The Wrestling Nomad (@wrestlingnomad) April 20, 2017
Finally, contact me and Dan Lobdell (emails below) and let us know if you have anything else you think should be shared. We will add anything to the article that could possibly help.
Thanks for reading.