BOISE - Boise State President Bob Kustra admits that the decision to eliminate the university's wrestling program was a difficult one to make. But it was necessary, he said, as the university's athletic department looks to the future.
Kustra spoke with KTVB Sports Director Jay Tust Thursday evening about the decision to scrap wrestling as part of an effort to bring in a baseball program, one that would be more in sync with the rest of the Mountain West Conference.
Below is the transcript of the interview:
Those close to the wrestling program considered Tuesday's news a surprise. Is there a timeline for when the administration started to consider terminating the wrestling program?
"It was really months ago, but there were so many details to be worked out and there were so many issues that we had to resolve, that it just took a lot longer than we expected before we felt comfortable enough with the decision that would be a final decision. Had we done something prematurely, it could've created all kinds of consternation over whether or not it was really going to work. Not only did we decide to eliminate wrestling, but we also had to make sure that we were in good shape as far as gender equity was concerned (and) our plans for baseball. One of the things that really drove this decision was the Pac-12's decision - some three years ago - to move from a multi-year approach to our relationship to giving us a one-year contract. We've heard rumors from the Pac-12 that they were thinking about giving up the conference with only six teams in it. And only three of those are Pac-12 teams and the other three aren't even Division I, I don't think. When you get the rumors, along with the Pac-12 Conference telling us they're only giving us a one-year contract, the writing on the wall is that this wrestling conference in the Pac-12 might not have much of a future anyway. When you combined that with the fact that the Mountain West doesn't offer wrestling and does offer baseball, it just started to all come together as a decision that we had to make.
"It clearly is a decision that we made for the future, and we're going to do everything we can to accommodate these students when it comes to their scholarships and help them as they try to move along now."
Were any other programs considered other than wrestling? And what does the sustainability of the other programs currently look like?
"That's probably a better question for [athletic director] Curt [Apsey] and what he knows about the sustainability of each of his sports. But from the beginning, this really was a question of wrestling. When Greg Randle stepped down and the program was really on tough times, I think that's the reason the program was identified, it's one that was just not as successful as it had once been. Obviously we're always trying to improve all of our sports. With baseball, we get a sport that provides better brand recognition for the university. Even beyond sports and beyond baseball, I told the story earlier today, that when I attend my annual Mountain West president meetings in June, it's usually about the time there's playoffs in the baseball season. In California and a lot of the state where we recruit students - and I don't mean student-athletes, I just mean out general student body - baseball is getting a lot of attention. It helps us - as the media and fans and others - see the Boise State brand in these states that are absolutely critical to our success both from a budgetary standpoint and from the standpoint of offering students a very diverse western experience at Boise State. Without a doubt, that's what's really driving this."
What are your thoughts on how the news was delivered to the wrestling program?
"The compliance officers were there to help the players understand their options and to start creating options for them. I don't think there is a way that we can announce the elimination of a sport without catching people off guard. We cannot bring people into a decision as we're trying to formulate it or all of a sudden there will be a whole series of distractions around the battle to keep the sport instead of allowing us to focus on our budgetary needs and whether or not this program is sustainable. I asked somebody earlier today, 'has anyone ever heard of a university shutting down a program by first calling everybody in to ask them if it's okay.' That's not feasible. That's simply not the way we can do it. We pretty much have to keep this in the offices of the athletic director and of course my office and prepare a way that gives students and coaches options. The coaches are going to have extended contracts, so they're not being thrown out of their jobs as far as salary and benefits are concerned. And again, the players will get their scholarships, which I understand is not everything."
Talking with the Boise Hawks, they said they're considering adding an extra locker room dedicated for a Boise State baseball team. How have your discussion with the Hawks gone about sharing a ballpark?
"Frankly, you know more than I do on that score. We've never gotten into those specifics, but I'm delighted to hear them ... I think it's a great plan for us to play in that stadium. I don't know any details now. I don't know what that entails in the way of budget or expenses. We would be leasing from them. I do know that it's going to be a great opportunity for the city and for baseball fans.
"I know you've heard talk of a minor league soccer team, but even before I heard talk of a minor league soccer team, Chris Schoen told me that when he builds these stadiums, he builds them for soccer, and our women's soccer program could compete there."
Have you done studies on home much it will cost to have a baseball team?
"We have a pretty good idea of what it costs on an annual basis, just from talking to other programs. It's anywhere from $1-to-$1.5 million per year. For us I think it would be on the lower side. And I've been working with Curt [Apsey] on how I could free him up from some financial responsibilities that are pretty technical, but subtract revenue from the athletic budget that I think we can build back in to give him the support that he might need. But we've done nothing official or formally, just conversations about when the day comes that we want to add baseball, how we would go about it. I'm convinced that we can do that. The other thing, of course, that Curt and I have talked a lot about - we just haven't had time to do, we will now that we've got this part of the decision out of the way - but this is a valley where baseball is a pretty serious sport. I don't think I even watch one of your sportscasts where you're not mentioning something in the spring of the year about baseball and what's going on here. Too many of those kids don't feel they have options in Idaho, so they take off for some place else. I think it would really be great to have an opportunity for those kids to stay here and play Division I baseball. We're going to do our best to convene a committee of sorts; we have a list we've been build of people who are really interested in baseball and would be willing to provide some level of support at whatever level it might be. We think there's some fundraising opportunities her in the valley for baseball that you don't have in every sport that we offer."
Is there a could timeline at all for Boise State? Also, the Boise Hawks mentioned that Boise State had asked about using Memorial Stadium just in case a new stadium takes longer to build.
"That's right, we did. That would cover us. I think we're at least a year away from sitting down and saying, 'lets go hire a coach.' We need this next year to make sure we're complete on safe fiscal ground, gender equity ground, budgetary ground, anything we need to do to assure that this is going to work for us. We want to get all that straightened out, and I'm confident that we will. Then you got out and find a good coach to put it together. You're a good two years away after that, before you're ever fielding a team. The question becomes, whether or not a new stadium is ready by that date - lets say four or three years out - and that's why we at least checked in with those guys to see if we could use something out there, the old stadium, in the mean time."