SIUE wrestling existent – for now

By Gus Bode

SIUE wrestling existent – for now

After budget cuts, it seemed almost certain the Cougars were all but gone until outside organizations intervened

Three months ago, it appeared Michael Jackson would have a better chance to resemble a man before the SIUE wrestling program would retaining after massive state-imposed budget cuts.


But now there is a mild flicker of a hope after massive support from the National Wrestling Association and other outside groups have attempted to ante up some money in order to save the once-proud Cougars program.

SIUE’s athletic budget stands annually at $1.4 million, but after budget cuts, the institution was projected to lose nearly $125,000.

Being a firm believer in rating programs by tiers, which has the two basketball programs at the top and the wrestling program in the third tier, the administration decided to cut just the wrestling program instead of cutting across the board.

SIUE athletic director Brad Hewitt insisted the budget has not been affected by the proposed bill to split the association between the Edwardsville campus and Carbondale.

In an effort to tighten its belts, the program decided to cut the wrestling program, which would free up nearly $100,000.

“Everyone was up in arms about the decision and I really didn’t have to do a lot to rile them,” SIUE wrestling head coach and former wrestler Booker Benford said. “The situation came up when they wanted to drop us and boom, everyone started coming to matches and supporting us.”

With the increasing support came a larger organization with some power to influence the administration’s decision – and money.


“We have a group of outside people who have made a proposal to keep the program,” Hewitt said. “They have offered up some money and have asked the university to also provide some money. We want some closure, but it depends on how much they want to sponsor.”

The outside organizations have produced an offer to the tune of $100,000 to save the Cougar program that can boast three NCAA Division II national championships from 1984 to 1986.

But Hewitt wants a long-term investment from the organizations. He recently received word that in 2005 another $25,000 will be cut from the budget.

“At present they have made a $100,000 commitment, we are looking for something more long-term,” Hewitt said. “It is difficult to recruit for a program when you say, ‘We have a program this year, but might not next year.'”

With a meeting between the athletic department and the organizations in support scheduled for Tuesday, much more information will be provided and a clearer picture will be developed.

“It is leaning toward the program staying around for at least one more year,” Hewitt said. “We are going to need a polished plan from some group that says they will make this amount over a length of time. We can’t just play it by ear. That just puts everyone at this institution in limbo. Everything we do is all integrated.”

For Benford and his athletes, that is all they need to hear. They could not imagine Edwardsville without something it once had so much pride in.

“I couldn’t lived in this town or drive through it knowing this program has been dropped,” Benford said.

Reporter Zack Creglow can be reached at