For the first time since 2010, the University of Iowa won the NCAA National Championship. The Hawkeyes clinched the championship midway through the placing rounds Saturday morning, finishing with 129 points. Penn State finished second with 113.5 points. Iowa had three national finalists, but only Spencer Lee, who revealed that he wrestled the entire tournament on two torn ACLs, won his championship match. The Nittany Lions had four wrestlers in the finals, and all won their matches, setting up an interesting 2022.
However, the story that captured the attention of the sparse crowd came at 165 lbs.
— NCAA Wrestling (@ncaawrestling) March 21, 2021
Shane Griffith is a red-shirt sophomore at Stanford University. Last spring, citing budgetary concerns and the COVID-19 pandemic, Stanford Athletic Director Bernard Muir decided to cut 11 of the Cardinal varsity athletics programs, including the wrestling team. All of the dropped programs were allowed to complete the 2021 athletic season. Head Coach Jason Borrelli immediately went into action. The coaching staff understood they needed to fundraise enough money to keep the program not only fully funded but financially independent from any of the University’s budgetary shortfalls. In that time, the @KeepStanfordWRE movement fundraised more the $12 million. However, Muir has refused to reinstate the wrestling program and misrepresented just how much money cutting these teams will actually save Stanford.
According to Alexander Massialas, a supporter of 36 Sports Strong, “Bernard Muir should start being honest with the facts. He falsely claims the cuts will reduce the deficit by half. The reality is, based on the department’s own numbers, cutting teams only saves $4.5 million. This is hardly enough money to close the gap.”
“Given that some sports were backed by generous endowments, you have to question whether Muir cut teams so he could use the existing endowments to pay for other priorities such as bloated administrative salaries. Muir also misjudges the damage he has done to future donations. The truth is donors will be less likely to give if they fear the team will be cut next season based on Muir’s bad math, and we’ve already seen evidence of this in the reversal of several sizable donations as well as prominent donors writing Stanford out of their will in response to this decision.”
Despite the turmoil, the Cardinal Wrestling team preserved. Due to California’s rigid COVID-19 restrictions, the program was not allowed to train together until mid-fall. Once Stanford was able to practice again, they were forced to train outdoors until early December. With an uncertain future, Shane Griffith entered the NCAA transfer portal in December. After a conversation with Borrelli and Griffith’s father, the New Jersey standout decided to stay at Stanford.
He stated, “We’re gonna rip it. We’re gonna win NCAAs this year.”
The Stanford team headed into the NCAA Championships, possibly their last, needing to make a statement. The coaches dressed in solid black. The athletes wore black singlets without any Stanford or Nike logos. Not a drop of white or cardinal would be seen this weekend. But rather than mourning their inevitability, the Cardinal grapplers became dark ronin warriors embracing the darkness rather than running from it. They wanted everyone in America to see the Bernard Muir’s mistake. Shane Griffith would put their plight on ESPN.
Griffith won the 2020 PAC-12 title but lost in the finals of this year’s conference championship to Arizona State’s Anthony Valencia. Griffith did secure a bid to the NCAA tournament, where he was seeded 8th at 165 lbs. In the opening round, Griffith defeated Jake Tucker of Michigan State 5–2. In the next match, he defeated 9th seeded Luke Webber of North Dakota State 7–5. The quarterfinal round saw Griffith match up with the undefeated top seed, Alex Marinelli of Iowa. Griffith defeated the heavily-favored Marinelli 3–1, scoring a huge overtime victory in a shocking upset.
Griffith scored a comfortable 9–2 victory over Bucknell’s Zach Hartman in the semifinals, giving Stanford their first finalist since 2012.
In the finals, Griffith, now clearly a favorite of the sparsely packed crowd, faced Pitt’s Jake Wentzel in the championship match. The final bout was close until Griffith turned Wentzel to his back in the closing seconds, earning a 6–2 win. The Pitt coaches threw a video challenge, and while the referees reviewed the footage, the crowd broke into cheers of “Bring Back Stanford!” If this were a normal year with a packed crowd, the sound would have been deafening. On this night, the right people heard their cries.
Stanford's Shane Griffith has become a national champion after the school made the decision to cut its wrestling program.
Griffith and teammates wore black singlets in the NCAA championships in response to the program being dropped.
— ESPN (@espn) March 21, 2021
Eighth-seeded Shane Griffith was not just the 165 lbs. NCAA Champion, Stanford’s first since 2004, he was also awarded the Outstanding Wrestler of the tournament with this performance.
In a season where Spencer Lee and Gable Steveson dominated the mid-season discourse, the arena and the entire wrestling community had one thought at the end of the tourney.
“Save Stanford Wrestling.”
Shane Griffith is the 2021 NCAA wrestling champ. He wrestles for @CardWrestling. His singlet is inside out because @Stanford is dropping the wrestling program. They were told raise money, they’ve raised over 10mill. What more do they need? @KeepStanfordWRE retweet please pic.twitter.com/qoCRa7Zvhi
— Daniel Cormier (@dc_mma) March 21, 2021