Boise State drops wrestling program, intends to add baseball – Idaho Press-Tribune

BOISE – Boise State athletic officials announced Monday that the school is immediately shutting down its 58-year-old wrestling program and is now focusing on adding a baseball team to its roster of men’s sports.

The decision to end the wrestling program, which produced two national champions and six Pac-12 team titles between 2000 and 2011, left former Bronco wrestlers stunned and a little bit frustrated that a sport with a rich and successful tradition on campus is being swapped out so abruptly.

But Boise State Athletic Director Curt Apsey said the decision was made with an eye on the future of the department and bringing back a sport the school dropped in 1980.

“This was not an easy decision, but one that needed to be made as we consider the long-term vision for Bronco athletics,” Boise State athletics director Curt Apsey said in a statement.

University officials on Tuesday provided few details on the future of the baseball program.

A fixture in the athletic department since 1959, the wrestling program produced two national champions in Kirk White (1999) and Ben Cherrington (2006). During it’s impressive run from 2000 to 2011, the team was ranked in the top 10 numerous times.

The announcement drew negative reviews from local high school wrestling coaches, many of whom coached young talent that has bolstered Bronco teams. Eight of the 24 wrestlers now on the Boise State roster graduated from Treasure Valley high schools.

“It’s heartbreaking,” said Kuna wrestling coach Pat Owens, a former Boise State wrestler. “ I think about all of the kids that love Boise State wrestling and will never have that opportunity now ever. I think about those kids that the administration is robbing right now.

“I just don’t think they pay attention to the popularity and the support that wrestling has in Idaho. … It’s something as a college wrestler and a former college athlete, it’s one of your biggest fears, knowing the trend in college athletics. It’s a huge fear. We love our program, we followed it passionately, and the way it all played out makes me angry,” Owens told the Press-Tribune.

Athletic Department officials said they will honor the scholarships of the wrestlers currently who wish to remain at Boise State or will help those who want to continue wrestling elsewhere. The school also said contracts for the coaching staff will be honored.

“When it became clear that the university could not support both baseball and wresting from a budgetary and structural standpoint, it was decided to simply make the tough decision in hopes of giving our coaches and student-athletes ample time to pursue their careers elsewhere in they choose,” Boise State said in prepared remarks about the decision.

Officials noted that baseball is the only Mountain West-sponsored sport not offered by Boise State.

“We believe baseball will strengthen the long-term brand and reputation of Boise State at a national level,” officials said.

Boise State offered no target date to officially launch the baseball program, saying “there is no timeline, but we are committed to moving ahead as quickly as possible.”

School president Bob Kustra told the Idaho Press-Tribune in June 2015 that starting a baseball team was one of his goals for the university. He said at the time the school would not need to eliminate another sport to stay in compliance with Title IX, saying instead the decision would be fueled by economics.

Boise State didn’t confirm if Title IX compliance was a factor in the decision, but confirmed finances were part of the equation.

“The elimination of wrestling alone will not be enough from a budgetary or structural standpoint, but it was the first step that needed to be taken to build the future structure of the athletics department,” the school said.

The decision to explore men’s baseball comes as Boise city officials and economic developers ponder building a new multi-use stadium in the city’s downtown.

The Boise Hawks announced the purchase of land downtown last month and plan to build a new multi-purpose baseball and soccer stadium that could be ready for use by as early as the 2019 baseball season.

The two sides have had discussions in the past about Boise State sharing the stadium with the Hawks should they start a baseball team. It’s not known yet if that is the plan, but it would seem likely the Broncos could launch their new baseball program with the start of the new stadium.

“One of my pet projects has been a baseball program,” Kustra told the Idaho Press-Tribune in June 2015 when Apsey was hired as athletic director. “It’s tough to talk about that to an AD when they are forced with all these new budget pressures regarding cost of attendance, but I really want to raise some money for a baseball program.

“I think it’s great that we have such solid high school programs across the valley, and yet if somebody wants to go on and play Division I ball, they have to go someplace else. I think we have a great talent group of student athletes at the high school level in baseball, and I’d like to see them come here,” Kustra said in the interview.

The addition of baseball could be a boost for high school baseball across the region and for baseball programs at Northwest Nazarene University and The College of Idaho.

Boise State and the College of Idaho played every year in baseball starting in 1936 until the Yotes dropped baseball in 1978 but brought it back in 1987.

“I think this would be a great thing for our kids to be exposed to, not only to Boise State, but the teams that would come in and play Boise State,” Middleton coach Pat Jones said. “It would be great for mine and everyone else’s players to watch and be up close and personal with division I players. It’s more exposure and more opportunity at the next level.

“It’d also be neat to see some of our local kids get to play here and have that personal touch with the program. I’m really looking forward to potentially seeing all of it come together and develop in our great baseball community here.”

Idaho Press-Tribune sports reporter Brandon Walton contributed to this report.

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