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Manning Says Nebraska Wrestling is Safe



With the news that the University of Nebraska, one of the largest athletic departments in the country, was dropping two men's sports the question of the safety of the wrestling team exists. After all, in today's age of tightening athletic budgets and gender equity concerns, no non-revenue sport can be safe from these questions. On Monday, Nebraska Athletic Director, Bill Byrne, announced the University would be ending the Men's Swimming and Diving programs. With the approval of the Chancellor, Byrne made the unprecedented move at Nebraska to drop these two sports. The University cited two reasons, a growing financial burden, and the need to continue to battle the numbers game of Title IX. The University of Nebraska is an anomaly in that it's athletic department actually helps to fund general education programs. The University of Nebraska receives no state funds for athletics. The athletic department for Nebraska increasingly is asked to give more and more money back to the University. Additionally, the athletic department is under the burden of having to pay for new construction of facilities such as a new softball and baseball complex. Nebraska, like most schools nationally, also has to keep one eye on the numbers game of proportionality. Proportionality, one prong of Title IX, requires that a school's athletic department gender ratio mirror that of the student population. Nationally it is not uncommon for a school's general population to be above 55% female participation. Therefore, if a school has a high female ratio of students, such as 55%, then 55% of the athletic slots must go to women according to the proportionality prong of Title IX. Proportionality has become the only clear safe harbor for athletic departments in fighting off Title IX lawsuits. Unfortunately, athletic departments have cut male sports to get closer in line to proportionality. Nebraska's move to cut Men's Swimming and Diving clearly reflects the need for a University to avoid expensive legal entanglements with Title IX lawsuits. Nebraska's athletic department has taken creative steps to keep up with the proportionality numbers game. In the past few years Nebraska has added women's soccer, bowling, and rifle shooting. In Nebraska's high schools not one high school offers rifle shooting as a competitive sport for girls. The University's decision to single out Men's Swimming and Diving obviously reflects the concern with proportionality. Non-revenue sports at Nebraska will definitely be under the microscope. A year ago the University of Nebraska's wrestling program went through a coaching change when thirteen year Head Coach Tim Neumann resigned. The University replaced Neumann with Mark Manning, the Head Coach from the University of Northern Iowa. In speaking with Manning on Tuesday, he clearly wanted to assure the wrestling supporters of the Huskers that he felt the team was not threatened at this time. Manning stated wrestling in Lincoln is "positively safe". "When I was hired a year ago I asked the Athletic Director that question straight out, and his reply was straightforward as well. He said in words that if the University of Nebraska and the University of Iowa were the last two wrestling teams standing-Iowa would drop wrestling before Nebraska." Other sports will probably be under the gun before wrestling at Nebraska. Nebraska's Men's Gymnastics team is one of only 20 teams left nationally. Also, the Men's Tennis team has only 4.5 scholarships and operates with an annual budget of over $200,000. Manning notes that even though Nebraska's athletic department operates with a large budget upwards of $40 million annually, the days of the blank check for sports are over. "Wrestling is a sport that is very low cost compared to many others, our facility upkeep and equipment budgets are very low." The low cost for keeping a wrestling program going surely will help the security of Nebraska's wrestling team. However, Manning notes that it is important for Nebraska Wrestling to continue to reach out to the community of high school and youth teams across the state. "Wrestling is a thriving sport at the younger levels, and we are working hard to be a positive influence on these younger athletes and programs." Coaches and wrestlers at Nebraska are strongly encouraged to get out in the community and work with kids and coaches ensuring wrestling continues to be strong. Manning, who will serve as the Head Coach for World Championship Freestyle Team in the fall in New York City, also points out that there are many great athletes that are training to pursue Olympic dreams at the University. "We have a great group of coaches and volunteers that are still actively wrestling on the international level, Terry Brands, who placed 3rd in last summer's Olympics, Tolly Thompson, who was a National Champion for Nebraska, and Eric Akin, who was an alternate for last summer's Olympic team are all training right here in Lincoln. Nebraska senior Brad Vering is also expected to continue to train in Lincoln as he begins to wrestle internationally in the Greco-Roman style. Manning says, "We expect to build a great wrestling team at Nebraska and with the athletes and coaches that we have here we are well on our way to doing that." The sport of wrestling has experienced rough times at the collegiate level. In the past week Capital University and Seton Hall have announced the end to their wrestling teams. Many people were surprised that an athletic department as large as the University of Nebraska would be forced to cut sports teams as well. In the days of tightening budgets, and proportionality concerns colleges will continue to struggle to keep athletic opportunities available for non-revenue producing sports.
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