Gable: Wrestling community needs to reach key decision makers

Updated: April 19, 2011

Editor’s Note: The recent dropping of men’s wrestling by programs like Nebraska-Omaha, UNC-Greensboro and Cal State Fullerton has had a big impact on national wrestling community. Dan Gable, who coached for 20 years at Iowa and won 15 national championships, spoke with WIN editor Mike Finn about what should be done to make sure this does not continue to happen.


WIN: With all the programs that have been cut recently, especially the Division II powerhouse University of Nebraska-Omaha, it seems like fight to keep programs is becoming a hopeless proposition. Is there any hope for the future of college?

GABLE: College wrestling is not going to go away. The only way it would go away is if the world stopped existing. It’s a form of expression. It’s a form of natural movement that people are going to wrestle. We’ve been going 100 years of combative wrestling where we now keep track of wins and losses, not life and death as it was a long time ago.

But if we don’t keep working at it and if we don’t get concerned, there could be more problems. I think Mike Moyer (the executive director of the National Wrestling Coaches Association) would like to go to work and have more positive things happen and I think there are. We are down to the point where there is a lot of passion in the people who are in certain positions like Moyer’s. I don’t think it’s ever been this point in the sport where there actually full-time people working on a daily basis for the increased visibility of wrestling. When you do that, you get emotional and there are highs and lows.

Mike Moyer need to get help from everyone involved in wrestling. (USA Wrestling’s executive director) Rich Bender needs to give it more attention. (National Hall of Fame executive director) Lee Roy Smith needs to give it more attention. And so do all organizations that are functioning for wrestling. It’s not just about whether someone gets their hand raised or not. It’s hard for any athlete or a coach to see that.


WIN: How does wrestling get more respect from those outside wrestling’s organizations especially if there is a lack of respect from some within the sport?

GABLE: People must realize what people are working on what area of the sport. The deserve respect, especially if they can back it up. We need to point out that some people have good things working for them and our organizations have good things working for them.

We’ve waited too long to get organized. We are getting more organized. We have so many more groups now working for the sport, whether they are in Washington D.C. or in different states. And instead of some saying Mike Moyer or Rich Bender are not getting the job done, we have to be more united in the effort to say, “I want to jump aboard to help and not battle every corner and point out if someone makes a mistake.”

There are going to be mistakes made but not intentional mistakes.


WIN: What percentage of Division I programs are safe from being eliminated?

GABLE: No program is safe. We just found that out. But things are being done. It’s just not in place yet. Will it ever be in place perfectly? No. But we have to keep working towards that system that helps solidify. You need to make issues non issues, whether it is administratively or within the sport. There are a lot of rules and regulations that have been made by a lot of positions of authority only because they are in positions of authority. We still have a long way to go from having a structure to help solidify our system


WIN: Are you saying that the wrestling community is not reaching enough decision makers in college wrestling?

GABLE: I don’t know if we’re not reaching them or they are not educated in that area, but apparently we have to do a better job of making wrestling more important to them. But I tell you this, we had no shot of reaching them 15 years ago.

I think a lot of decision makers are exactly that: decision makers. They think they go through a process that makes them think they are well informed. There is so much misinformation out there that it is very tough to get all the good information unless there is a connection. At one of the smaller programs at was cut, the athletic director did not know all the things that were being offered out there for a wrestling coach.


WIN: So who should be reaching those decision makers?

GABLE: The National Wrestling Coaches Association but its structure is not as strong as it could be. But if you look at where it is now, compared to where it was, they have done a tremendous job. It’s just not that far along and we’re working on that every day.


WIN: But isn’t the NWCA just too small to handle this challenge? Frankly, there is just one person with the NWCA (Mike Moyer) and a few people like yourself helping out.

GABLE: Yes, it is too small, but the resources are not there yet. The structure is not there yet. But if not everyone has the same passion about this, it may be harder to work that many hours with that little pay. It’s almost all volunteer-type work. We are making progress and want to make sure we don’t go backwards. That is what’s happening now. Mike Moyer needs to become as dramatic as he can to catch attention.


WIN: There is the NCAA Wrestling Committee that has been more focused on rules. Shouldn’t that group be more focused on the sport’s survival?

GABLE: They should. They are valuable for what the sport’s entertainment is  and for the safety of the wrestlers. But they need to add another piece to solving this problem. The U.S. Olympic Committee should also be concerned about this too, because if wrestling is not flourishing at the college level, the sport will not be as good on the higher Olympic level. I also think the media should be part of this solution and today’s technology should be part of it. Look how many people use the media and social networks to protest today. In the past, we never would even known about such a problem.

Another reason why wrestling need to regain its footing is that we need more coaches and more administrators. Right now we have less than half as many graduating who could make a difference.


WIN: What roles should Division I coaches have in fighting this problem?

GABLE: I think a diagram should come out from the NWCA and show what should their duties be and what percentage of their responsibilities be towards helping this cause. There should also be a committee within each conference and get all the coaches within the conference involved. Coaches have to go to a conference meetings at least once a year for things like scheduling. This should be part of those meetings.


WIN: Since Penn State just won the NCAA championship, should Cael Sanderson make a point of becoming more of  a spokesman in dealing with this problem?

GABLE: All the top coaches should.  This year’s NCAA tournament was a great event, but I bet there are some fans who attended the NCAA tournament, who have no idea that Cal State Fullerton dropped its program.


WIN: If the goal is to reach every college administrator in the country to remind them what is important about wrestling, what should be the No. 1 message?

GABLE: They need to deliver a message that would make administrators say, “Wow!” One thing to tell them is to go back to the principles of every good foundation and now what we take for granted and that is freedom. With that in mind, who protects America? Those men and women will be produced by a lesser degree by eliminating a sport like wrestling. People may not understand that at first because they wouldn’t even know who are these people who protect us.


WIN: Are you are saying is the tough mentality that comes out of wrestling is also the foundation of our country’s defense?

GABLE: Exactly! And with that in mind, administrators should be saying don’t touch a sport like wrestling. Some may say any sport can create that principle. No they can’t; not like wrestling.