In the two weeks since Stanford University reversed course on its plan to drop eleven Olympic sports programs, the face of the Cardinal Wrestling team is dramatically different. The entire Pac 12 has taken notice in an effort to bolster its member enrollment.
After this past spring’s NCAA Championship tournament, head coach Jason Borrelli, unsure of the program’s future, took the head coaching job at American University. However, one month after Borrelli officially left for American, the university changed plans leaving a coaching vacancy.
Many Stanford insiders and wrestling minds thought the likely candidate to pilot the next phase of Cardinal Wrestling would be Associate Head Coach Ray Blake. The Chicago-native had been with the Cardinal since coming to Palo Alto as a freshman in 2001. However, it seemed that leading the charge to keep Stanford Wrestling and putting pressure on Athletic Director Bernard Muir possibly put a damper on those hopes.
Instead of hiring from within, Muir hired Rob Koll, the architect behind the ascension of Cornell University. The four-time All-American from the University of North Carolina and 1992 US Olympic Alternate is an inspired hire. It shows that the university has no choice but to commit to the program’s success. Koll is uniquely prepared for the challenges of running a team in what many would deem a complex academic environment. Under Koll’s leadership, Cornell collected fifteen top ten NCAA finishes and six times in the top five, including runner-up finishes in 2010 and 2011. Koll also developed ten NCAA individual champions in his tenure, including 2021 Olympian Kyle Dake, who won four titles. In addition, Cornell has served as the jewel of Ivy League wrestling for nearly two decades. Koll collected three Ivy League Coach of the Year (all sports) three times, along with four Eastern Intercollegiate Wrestling Association Coach of the Year trophies, and was named the National Wrestling Coaches Association Coach of the Year in 2005. Koll brings an extensive resume to the West Coast as he tries to reshape the Cardinal. Whether returning NCAA Champion Shane Griffith will remain in Palo Alto or transfers remains an unanswered question.
— Stanford Wrestling (@CardWrestling) May 29, 2021
The Pac 12 announced a new initiative to encourage its member institutions to foster wrestling programs of their own. Currently, only six Pac 12 schools (Stanford, Oregon State, Arizona State, Cal State Bakersfield, Arkansas-Little Rock, and Cal Poly) support wrestling. Wrestling on the west coast and in the Rocky Mountain region has seen multiple programs fade in the last decade-plus. Schools like Boise State, Oregon, and UC Davis have seen their teams cut. Stanford joins Arizona State and Cal State Bakersfield as programs that have survived attempts to dismantle their programs. Fresno State, which returned after being eliminated for more than a decade, is still currently set to cut its program this summer.
The state of Washington currently has the highest number of high school wrestlers in a state without a Division I program. The USA Wrestling-affiliated Washington State Wrestling Association boasts thousands of athletes in the youth and high school levels. All of them need to leave the state to compete in the DI-level. Certainly, this initiative is meant to inspire both the University of Washington and Washington State to restart their long-dormant programs.
The Big Ten is currently the only major Division I conference that requires member schools to sponsor wrestling.