According to Kelly Hines of the Tulsa World, the University of Tulsa Athletic Director Rick Dickson has said the school is considering adding new sports in an effort to grow enrollment.
Unfortunately, in the D1 wrestling world, we’ve seen countless programs get dropped as universities flood money into their revenue sports of football and basketball.
On other levels, that has not been the case. Wrestling is growing at a very high pace in D2, D3, NAIA, and on the Junior College level. The reason this works for those smaller schools is those programs in a unique way end up paying for themselves.
The massive growth of women’s wrestling has been a game-changer for the sport. Many smaller schools can add both a men’s and women’s program with a fairly minimal investment. And as these schools add a small contingent of scholarship athletes, they also add several walk-ons or partial scholarship recipients that are paying their own way. So, when a school makes the investment of hiring a coach, purchasing equipment, and paying other basic costs for their program, those are all offset by the additional revenue generated when they grow their student body and tuition revenue.
This is seen all over college athletics, but in our part of the country, you can look at schools across Texas, Arkansas, and Oklahoma, and see they’ve taken note.
Arkansas has added Little Rock, Ouachita Baptist, University of the Ozarks, Lyon College, Central Baptist, Williams Baptist, and Arkansas Baptist.
Texas went from having zero college wrestling programs to adding Wayland Baptist, Texas Wesleyan, Schreiner University, Texas Women’s University, and most recently Jarvis Christian.
The state of Oklahoma has been a traditional power in wrestling from youth to college to International wrestling. But they’ve still seen some similar growth at the college level recently with NEO bringing back their program a few years ago, Oklahoma Wesleyan starting a program, and Carl Albert State College adding a men and women’s program just this past year.
If Tulsa were to add a wrestling program, it would be dwarfed by its two in-state rivals Oklahoma and Oklahoma State, who are both long-time traditional powers. But there is a very real benefit and enticement to having those programs nearby. If the University of Tulsa were to host a dual with Oklahoma State it would be a huge ticket draw and likely their biggest sporting event outside of football and basketball. Oklahoma State averages over 5,000 attendees per dual. It’s tough to expect a road dual to do those numbers, but the large contingency of OSU fans and alumni in Tulsa would show up for a dual at Tulsa and would bring in a large chunk of annual revenue for the program.
There are also a lot of solid programs in the region to build early schedules with. Tulsa likely wouldn’t immediately be a superpower in the sport. Building a program takes time, but even with putting OSU and OU on their schedule, they could still schedule Arkansas Little-Rock, UCO, NEO, and other schools to help get matches early with minimal travel costs that still put up a solid challenge.
One other added benefit would be the possibility of joining the Big 12. There’s a large amount of conversation about what’s going to happen with the Big 12 as OU and Texas are headed to the SEC, and no one really knows at this point how things will play out. But as most reading this know, the large majority of the wrestling schools are affiliate schools, and the conference tournament is hosted annually in Tulsa.
Tulsa would fit perfectly into the Big 12 conference for wrestling geographically, would have no cost at all to travel to compete in the tournament, and it may even get their foot in the door to potentially join as a full member of the conference if the Big 12 were to ever explore further expansion.
Tulsa could fill a roster fairly quickly. There are now two JUCOs in the state that would act as feeder programs with NEO and Carl Albert State College, and as always, a fair amount of talent in the state high school programs that could be kept in-state instead of going to schools outside of Oklahoma.
Oklahoma has been a bit behind some other states with developing their women’s programs but is trending in the right direction currently. This year the USA Today and National Wrestling Hall of Fame Women’s Wrestler of the year was from Oklahoma, and our neighbors to the south in Texas are one of the top talent pools for women’s wrestling in the entire country. The right coaching hire could find a way to get that talent to Tulsa and develop an elite women’s program very quickly. They would be one of the few D1 schools with a women’s team and though they’ll take time to catch up with OSU and OU on the men’s side, they could be out ahead of them in the growing trend of women’s D1 wrestling.
Ultimately this is all a bit of speculation. Who knows what sports Tulsa is looking hardest at? But when schools look at adding sports to increase enrollment, wrestling has been at the forefront recently and is a great tool to execute that. Oklahoma State currently has a roster of nearly 40 wrestlers just for their men’s team. Add both a men’s and women’s program and they’re looking at as many as 80 new student-athletes, home events with in-state rivals drawing large crowds, and a potential conference tournament in your own backyard every year.
That gives plenty of reason for Tulsa to take a long look at adding a wrestling program.