Ducks should be taken to mat
By TED MILLER
P-I COLUMNIST

THE ANCIENT GREEKS invented tragedy and wrestling, so perhaps it's not surprising the two seem intertwined these days.

No, this isn't a column about pro wrestler Chris Benoit allegedly killing his family and himself. If that is what popped into your head, that goes a long way toward explaining why so many college athletic departments seem so willing to kick real wrestling to the curb.

On Friday the 13th, there was another death in the college wrestling family. Oregon, under the cover of announcing that it would reinstate its baseball program after a 26-year absence, added as a footnote that its wrestling program will be no more after the 2007-08 season ends.

But here's a nice parting gift: In order to maintain the appearance of gender equity, the Ducks will now have a competitive cheerleading team. Women's sports advocates everywhere surely are flashing their spirit fingers over that.

Oregon athletic director Pat Kilkenny said "these changes will be in the best interest of the future of the university."

They most certainly are not in the best interest of the approximately 33,000 high school wrestlers in the Northwest. They certainly are not in the best interest of the 25 young men, including two from Washington, currently on the Ducks wrestling roster.

They certainly are not in the best interest of Trevor Hall, the two-time Washington state champion from Battle Ground who signed with Oregon thinking he would be the cornerstone of a rebuilding program and now is scrambling over his options.

Of course, wrestling advocates are getting used to this. There were only 86 Division I schools sponsoring the sport last year. Oregon will become the 448th wrestling program to be shut down since Title IX was introduced in 1972, according to the NCAA.

"It makes me sick," said Brent Barnes, coach of five-time 4A state champion Lake Stevens.

Added former Oregon wrestler and current Oregon State assistant coach Kevin Roberts, "It was a punch in the gut."

Washington long ago shuttered its squad. Last year, Fresno State axed its team. Only three Pac-10 schools -- Oregon State, Arizona State and Stanford -- still compete.

Kilkenny is not a typical athletic director. He's a big-money booster who helped force out Bill Moos last fall. He spent three undergraduate years at Oregon but never earned a degree. He had no previous experience in athletic administration before he was hired, but he apparently is better at, er, "handling" Se?or Swoosh, Nike Pooh-bah Phil Knight, the Ducks' ATM, who didn't feel like Moos was enough of a sycophant.

So perhaps folks should have seen a leadership failure coming.

Why did he do this? Well, he didn't return a call Monday, which followed a pattern of dodging people that he established over the past year with the Oregon wrestling community. That, however, is a good thing because it prevented him from again voicing the silly reasons he gave when making the announcement.

He said the wrestling team lacked a practice facility. True. But only because it was booted from its facility shortly before this past season because the school wanted a new, $8 million athletic treatment facility -- read: an unnecessary luxury that will entice football and men's basketball recruits.

He said that most of the Pac-10 had already turned its back on the sport. True. But only because strong leadership is rare.

Is it a money issue? Shouldn't be. The Ducks' wrestling budget was $629,000 within a profitable athletic department, according to the Eugene Register-Guard. That's about half of the combined salary of the Ducks assistant football coaches.

Is it a Title IX issue? No. The school was compliant with gender equity rules.

Kilkenny also ridiculously said this has nothing to do with Oregon State garnering national acclaim for consecutive national baseball titles. Please. Ducks boosters believe Knight's certain -- and self-interested -- investment will soon knock the Beavers off their pedestal.

If Kilkenny were a real leader, he would have reinstated baseball without cutting wrestling.

How? He would have tried to be innovative, not a copycat. He would have tried something ahead of the curve. Such as being the first AD at a big-time Division I school to announce that he was starting a women's wrestling program.

If you're over 30, that probably knocked you for a loop. But six smaller schools, including Pacific University in Forest Grove, Ore., already offer women's wrestling scholarships and rumors are Stanford is considering it.

About 5,000 girls wrestled for high school teams last year, and more than a few have been successful competing against boys. Alaska's Michaela Hutchison won a state title in 2006, and girls have finished second in Maryland, Wisconsin and Maine. In Washington, the WIAA sponsors an all-girls state championship.

So why not look forward in regard to women's sports as opposed to backward, particularly if it helps save a worthwhile asset?

Wrestling is a special sport, and not just because of its mythic roots, see Hercules.

It costs almost nothing for a person to suit up and compete. And it's about the only sport where size is irrelevant. At least on the outside.

Wrestling folks insist the battle isn't over.

Kilkenny would be wise to listen and brave to reconsider a decision that smacks of putting (Nike) dollars before people.