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Fight continues to save program

The battle to save the University of Oregon wrestling program wages on despite a firm stance from the school's athletic department.

"There will be no intercollegiate wrestling at Oregon next year," said Neal Zoumboukos, the UO's special assistant to Athletic Director Pat Kilkenny. The UO axed the program in July. "That is the definitive statement."

That hasn't deterred the Save Oregon Wrestling campaign. Headed by former UO coach Ron Finley, the group has raised $2.5 million in pledges and cash, excluding one company's gift to build the program a new practice facility.

The group hopes to reach the $6.5 million mark, enough to endow the program, which operates on a $650,000 annual budget.

"We're not going away," Finley said. "We have totally answered ever objection the athletic director has. Every time we come up with an answer, he moves the target. There's absolutely no good reason to get rid of wrestling. It's an uneducated and misinformed decision and we're not going to stand for it."

Zoumboukos identified four areas that ultimately led to the decision to end the program's 54-year run.

One of those issues is not related to gender equity, he added.

"This is not a Title IX issue," he said. "There was some misrepresentation in the newspapers that it was. As it turns out, that is not correct. There are other issues at play."

Those include a lack of a strong following — the UO consistently averages 500-600 in attendance for home meets — the sport's lack of potential revenue gain, the lack of a facility (the team was moved from its former facility, in order to build a new athletic treatment facility, and have been housed in the student recreation center), and the lack of support from traditional Pac-10 Conference schools with only four of them, including Oregon, fielding wrestling programs.

"Those four factors, in and of themselves, are not significant enough," Zoumboukos said. "But when you combine all four, they become significant enough. The thought of dropping wrestling has been in play for quite some time. It's unfortunate but a hard decision had to be made."

None of the UO athletic department's reasons for discontinuing the program sit too well with current UO wrestlers.

"When you start looking at that list, they have nothing to do with the spirit of athletics," said former Crater wrestler Jeremy McLaughlin, a junior 149-pounder for the Ducks. "There's no reasoning behind that. Those terms just seem petty. To me, it's almost like they are scrapping for reasons to get rid of the program."

And those fighting to save the program, don't expect the battle to end any time soon.

"We'll keep going for another three years, at least," Finley said. "We'll wait until the athletic director leaves and wait for the new athletic director."

Reach reporter Luke Andrews at 776-4469, or e-mail landrews@mailtribune.com