You’re going to see Olympic hockey very soon if not already. This might cause you to wonder why the University of Iowa doesn’t have hockey.
Maybe a bigger question is why Iowa doesn’t have women’s wrestling, but let’s talk about Iowa adding a sport, any sport.
It’s not happening.
In summer 2016, the Iowa Economic Development Authority committed $12 million toward key additions at the Iowa River Landing, a 180-acre development south of Interstate 80, between the Iowa River and First Avenue in Coralville. Ground soon will be broken.
Coralville wants hockey for its 6,000-seat arena and city officials have talked about the USHL. The Cedar Rapids RoughRiders have territorial rights and would have to sign off on a USHL team playing there. Theoretically, Newco Riders, LLC, the RoughRiders ownership group, could own the Coralville team as well, if the league approves. Last month, RoughRiders ownership would not comment on Coralville, saying that is something that would have to come from the USHL.
Iowa athletics director Gary Barta is from Minnesota and grew up playing hockey. He could see women’s wrestling being a “natural fit” — he also threw lacrosse into this conversation — but the fact of the matter is Iowa doesn’t plan to add to its menu of 24 sports.
“My answer is the same since I’ve been here (since 2006), we have 24 sports,” Barta said, “if and until we’re funded at a competitive level in every sport that we currently have, it’s really hard for me to look a team in the eye and add another sport, especially when I might say to a couple of our teams, ‘I just can’t fund you the way I’d like to.’”
Iowa’s athletics budget is eighth in the Big Ten, Barta said. Iowa athletics’ 2017 fiscal year budget grew to $102.1 million, a 9 percent increase and the first time in school history Iowa projected an annual budget of more than $100 million.
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“Our budget is eighth in the Big Ten, so there are a lot of our sports where they’ll come to me, just about every sport will come to me, and say, ‘Ohio State, Michigan, Penn State, they have more. I need more.’ So, it would be really hard in that scenario to add a sport.
“The pie would have another piece out of it.”
Hockey is one thing. The state of Iowa is the current home of five United States Hockey League teams, with rosters comprising mostly upper midwesterners. But Iowa’s high school participation has never risen above club level. Iowa and Iowa State have club teams.
Hockey is one thing in Iowa. Wrestling is another.
Last summer, Iowa men’s wrestling coach Tom Brands wrote a letter to the NCAA Board of Governors imploring the group to add women’s wrestling to its list of “emerging sports.” The NCAA created the “emerging sports” list 23 years ago “to provide a fast track for eligible women’s sports to become full-fledged NCAA championship events.”
“For more than 100 years, the University of Iowa has recognized the benefits of wrestling and has seen firsthand how the sport impacts athletes of all shapes, sizes and backgrounds,” Brands wrote. “Since 1911, the Iowa Hawkeyes have pioneered wrestling’s powerful role in developing young men into leaders, within our institution, for our state, and throughout the nation.
“It’s long overdue for women to share in the opportunities afforded by this great sport.”
Last summer’s Rio Olympics brought the spotlight to women’s wrestling. Helen Maroulis won the United States’ first Olympic gold in an upset victory over Japan’s Saori Yoshida, a 13-time world champion and three-time reigning Olympic champion.
Eleven NCAA institutions, including Maroulis’ alma mater, Simon Fraser University, provided letters of commitment with budget information in an effort to persuade the NCAA to grant women’s wrestling emerging status, with the ultimate goal of attaining full NCAA varsity sponsorship.
That remains a work in process. If the emerging sport status is met favorably by the NCAA, in-person presentations will be made in April and each division at the NCAA level will make their decisions known in mid-June. The earliest women’s wrestling could become an emerging sport at the NCAA level would be next summer.
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The next step for Iowa would be budget information. Brands’ letter of commitment doesn’t need explanation. Clearly, he’s committed.
According to the National Wrestling Coaches Association, the number of women who wrestle in high school has grown from 804 to over 11,496 since 1994. Alaska, California, Oregon, Guam, Hawaii, Massachusetts, Tennessee, Texas, Hawaii and Washington sponsor a state high school championship.
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