ORANGE PRATTLE: Past time for OSU to commit to Cowboy wrestling

Jason Elmquist/Stillwater News Press Oklahoma State wrestling coach John Smith has led the Cowboys to top 10 finishes at the NCAA tournament 25 – and 15 times finishing in the top 3 – during his 28 seasons as coach. Despite the program's success, it is trailing the top Division I wrestling programs in facilities.

Division I wrestling has become an uphill battle of three teams – Ohio State, Oklahoma State and Iowa – trying to track down the behemoth of Penn State.

The problem the Pokes face, is that unlike the top teams out of the Big Ten, their athletic department has forgotten about them.

Oklahoma State wrestling has found itself in an arms race – both within the college wrestling landscape and within it’s own athletic department – and it is still standing at the starting line.

The Cowboy wrestling program has been treated like the kid brother of the family, being given third-generation hand-me-downs and asked to win at the highest level with it.

The locker rooms the Cowboy wrestlers now use – after having been crammed into a cubby adjacent to the wrestling room for years – is the locker room vacated by the Cowgirl soccer team once they moved into the $20-million Patterson Stadium built solely for soccer.

That same locker room was previously used by the Oklahoma State football team as the home locker room for Lewis Field. Of course, their locker room is now in the glamorous West End Zone of Boone Pickens Stadium.

The current state of Gallagher-Iba Arena was built with only basketball in mind. More space for hoops fans – which has slowly dwindled in numbers since the renovations – willing to pay for a seat for a once thriving program, and impressive locker rooms and team spaces for both men and women.

In fact, every single Oklahoma State athletic program – outside of wrestling – has, or is going to have, a renovated or new facility within the past 20 years.

Cross country, which received new locker rooms as part of the track expansion north of the Smith Indoor Facility, is undergoing renovations to its home course in preparations for hosting the 2020 NCAA Division I National Championships.

Even equestrian, which is no longer an NCAA-sanctioned sport, has even received recent renovations to Totusek Arena – which hosted the Big 12 Conference championships this weekend.

“Unfortunately, I think in a lot of ways since 1938 when they built Gallagher Hall, we have done nothing for wrestling,” Oklahoma State athletic director Mike Holder said during the announcement of the new baseball stadium last spring. “We have taken it for granted. We just assumed it would be the best in all the world. It has won 34 national championships in spite of us. That needs to change.

“We need to make a statement that OSU wrestling is the King of the Hill. We plan on doing something to give a physical manifestation to that commitment, to that responsibility.”

At the Big Ten schools in which Oklahoma State wrestling is attempting to compete against, money has been spent in the millions this millennium for their thriving wrestling programs.

Penn State put $4 million into a wrestling complex – an expansion to Rec Hall – in 2005. Iowa expanded Gable Wrestling Complex in 2011 and has recently announced fundraising plans for a $20 million wrestling complex. Ohio State is in the process of building a state of the art wrestling practice facility as part of a new multi-sports arena. Minnesota, which finished fifth at the national tournament this past weekend, just this year opened a $2.6 million renovated wrestling space.

Another Big Ten program is working to improve improve its wrestling facilities. Rutgers, which just won its first two individual national titles in program history, is getting a new practice facility – as part of a multi-sport training center – including a “wrestling training area that will be one of the finest in the country” according to the Rutgers Athletics website.

Even a smaller wrestling program such as Lehigh – which finished 12th at the national tournament – has received a multi-million dollar wrestling complex renovation this decade. And Lehigh has fewer individual national champions than OSU has team titles.

And within Oklahoma State’s own conference, South Dakota State – a Big 12 affiliate – has announced a fundraising initiative to build a new wrestling practice facility.

If Oklahoma State, which boasts the most NCAA championships in college wrestling, wants to continue to compete at the highest level – and try to win the program’s first national title in nearly 15 years – it must be on a level playing field in the facility arms race. A program with 34 national titles, over 130 individual national champions and more than 200 individual All-Americans shouldn’t still be waiting for its first real facility upgrade since the original building of Gallagher Hall 80 years ago.

Holder admitted last spring that wrestling has been forgotten by the athletic department for generations. And he, the builder of all things new in Oklahoma State Athletics, needs to move now to help get the wrestling program back in title contention from the ground up.

If he wants Oklahoma State Cowboy wrestling to truly be “King of the Hill” in college wrestling, that commitment needs to be more than a repurposed locker room. The program needs a dedicated wrestling complex that dwarfs that of those being built by wrestling programs that have nowhere near the tradition of Oklahoma State wrestling.

Jason Elmquist is sports editor of The Stillwater News Press. He can be contacted at jelmquist@stwnewspress.com.

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