College Wrestling's Hidden Arms Race

Austin Bernard Zain Retherford Trials 2017

With the advent and promotion of USA Wrestling's Regional Training Centers, it has become standard operating procedures for nearly every title-contending NCAA program to elevate its associated wrestling club to the next level. College teams are now in competition to attract the best post-collegiate competitors and Olympic hopefuls to their RTCs. Those athletes serve as practice partners and examples for current students and recruits with international aspirations. 

With our recent dive into the publicly available tax returns for many of the biggest and most successful clubs, we have been able to shed some light on what had previously been a hidden aspect of the college wrestling arms race.  

Incidentally, while USA Wrestling bestows an official designation for all qualifying regional training centers, there is no established protocol for naming wrestling clubs. Official RTCs are referred to as "wrestling clubs," "regional training centers" or at times something else entirely. Moreover, there is nothing stopping a club without an official USA Wrestling designation from calling itself a regional training center. Most, but not all, of the clubs referenced in this analysis are official RTCs.

So just how much money and resources are needed to run a high-level regional training center? 

To answer that question, we'll first look at the top 10 NCAA programs ranked by 2015 total expenses, according to their self-reported data submitted to the NCAA as part of their gender equity and Title IX research.

1 Iowa $2,239,430
2 Penn State $2,139,539
3 Ohio State $1,874,431
4 Missouri $1,817,874
5 Arizona State $1,633,977
6 Oklahoma $1,531,915
7 Oklahoma State $1,496,545
8 Lehigh $1,424,094
9 Nebraska $1,392,588
10 Virginia Tech $1,376,107

Next, we'll look at the top 10 wrestling clubs, ranked by their 2015 expenditures as obtained from their 990 IRS form tax returns

1 Sunkist Kids Wrestling Club $649,452
2 Nittany Lion Wrestling Club $630,283
3 Hawkeye Wrestling Club $449,685
4 Gopher Wrestling Club $362,899
5 Lehigh Valley Athletic Club $350,875
6 Finger Lakes Wrestling Club $345,612
7 Ohio Region Training Center $329,531
8 Cliff Keen Wrestling Club $288,261
9 Panther Wrestling Club $226,703
10 Southeast Regional Training Center $213,459

At this point, we need to mention a number of caveats that go with these numbers.

To start, not every school reports its athletic department financial data to the NCAA. Secondly, not every team has an affiliated regional training center; nor is every regional training center registered as a tax exempt nonprofit, rending its tax returns unavailable to us for now. 

Additionally pertaining to the NCAA rankings, there are large discrepancies between what and how the individual schools report their athletic budgets to the NCAA. For instance, Ivy League schools do not have scholarship expenses, often one of the largest cost centers for an NCAA wrestling program. 

For the wrestling clubs, it should be noted that many of them encompass responsibilities and missions beyond that of supporting the college program. As such, not every dollar spent at an RTC correlates to a dollar spent on the affiliated NCAA program. 

Nevertheless, the club expenses give us a rough estimate of the amount of money being poured into programs that does not show up on a university's athletic department budget.

With that said, let's now look at the top 10 programs ranked by their combined NCAA and club expenditures from 2015. 

1 Penn State Nittany Lion Wrestling Club $2,769,822
2 Iowa Hawkeye Wrestling Club $2,689,115
3 Arizona State Sunkist Kids Wrestling Club $2,283,429
4 Ohio State Ohio Region Training Center $2,203,962
5 Missouri Missouri Wrestling Foundation $1,876,029
6 Lehigh Lehigh Valley Athletic Club $1,774,969
7 Oklahoma Sooner Wrestling Club $1,632,346
8 Michigan Cliff Keen Wrestling Club $1,627,115
9 Virginia Tech Southeast Regional Training Center $1,589,566
10 Minnesota Gopher Wrestling Club $1,537,350

So what takeaways can we glean from our peek into the previously hidden college wrestling arms race? For one thing, if you want your team to climb into the top 10, or even top 20, plan on tacking on an extra $200,000 to its total program costs. 

Also noteworthy is Oklahoma State, which, despite its success in developing senior-level athletes, apparently did not file the Cowboy Wrestling Club as a nonprofit in 2015 -- or at least not under a name that we can locate. As such, any expenses it incurred are not reflected in our analysis. 

Finally, although it is encouraging to see such tremendous amounts of money are being funneled into wrestling in the United States, the distribution of these resources is uneven. How healthy that ultimately is for the sport is debatable. Also debatable is how much a revved-up arms race helps the smaller programs or less supported geographic areas via a trickle-down effect. 

In the meantime, we can all at least be thankful for the increased number of opportunities for wrestlers in America available as a result of the increased support for both NCAA programs and clubs.

5 Crucial Keystone Contests

Austin Bernard Matt McCutcheon

Hundreds of NCAA wrestlers are headed to the historic Palestra on UPenn's campus for the 2017 Keystone Classic. 17 top 20 wrestlers are registered. Here are the five potential matches we're looking forward to most.

FloWrestling Login Procedures

Tony Rotundo NCAA Finals green carpet

Hello wrestling fans! If you are experiencing difficulty logging in to our updated website, it maybe because, for security purposes, the site no longer recognizes usernames. Please use your email address to login.

Five Ranked Matchups In Minnesota At Oklahoma State Dual

Austin Bernard Nick Piccininni

We've got a Sunday matinee for you, and the slate is full of intriguing matchups.

What 2 Watch 4: Iowa Returns To Carver-Hawkeye

Tony Rotundo Brandon Sorensen Iowa

You know it's definitely wrestling season when (a) Whiteboard Wars return and (b) the Iowa Hawkeyes kick off their season with the Iowa City Duals.

T-Row & Funky Episode 91: Live and Worldwide

Tony Rotundo 17CMWOSUASU6562.jpg

Ben is in Singapore for his retirement fight, but that won't stop the T-Row & Funky Show from breaking down the week in news and NCAA Wrestling results!

Flo Kickoff Classic 15u Preview

John Sachs 27399452111_e48958f288_o (1).jpg

By Ryan Lance, Youth1

The 2017 Flo Kickoff Classic is bringing together some of the top youth wrestlers in the country for its 21st annual tournament this weekend at the Expo Square Pavilion in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

Boise State President Bob Kustra To Retire

© Brian Losness-USA TODAY Sports BSU Bob Kustra

Bob Kustra, the long-serving president of Boise State University and the driving force behind the school’s decision to abruptly drop the varsity wrestling program last spring, has announced that he will retire at the end of the school year, effective June 30, 2018.

Notable Competitors At Lindenwood Open

Tony Rotundo Jaydin Eierman.jpg

The Lindenwood Open is providing the first look at some very talented freshman and a few of the NCAA's best this Saturday at Robert F. Hyland Arena in St. Charles, MO.

Marquee Matchup: #3 Bryce Meredith vs #6 Chad Red


This Friday night, one of the most exciting freshmen in the country takes on a former NCAA finalist in Lincoln, NE.

The Leaderboard: Best Celebrations In Wrestling

Austin Bernard D4S_5397.jpg

Celebrations. In the wrestling community, fans either love them or hate them. At FloWrestling, we LOVE celebrations. Spontaneous or choreographed, brilliant or amusing, big or small, we love them all.