If you watched Friday’s epic showdown between the No. 1 Penn State and No. 3 Iowa wrestling teams on television — or if you were one of the brave few who trekked to Iowa City and took a seat surrounded by more than 15,000 rabid Hawkeyes fans — take a minute and close your eyes.
Imagine a similar atmosphere, where the guy next to you screaming, “What’s he doing on bottom, ref!?” is clad in blue and white.
Allow a few more moments where your imagination takes full control. Someone slaps high-fives with you as David Taylor finishes off a swift technical fall on a mat emblazoned with a Nittany Lion logo. Shortly thereafter, the arena announcer is drowned out by deafening bellows — “Ruuuuuuth!”
Minutes later, over 15,000 fans harmonize as the referee raises Ed Ruth’s hand following one of his cradles — “We are!”
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It would be electric — an appreciative nod to a sport that thrives on this gladiatorial environment. It would be the right thing for Penn State to do — move a dual or two to the Bryce Jordan Center next season.
“We’re talking about that and thinking about it every year,” Penn State coach Cael Sanderson said. “As long as we continue to entertain and perform at high levels, I think our attendance will grow and that’s definitely something we have to consider.”
What are the hurdles?
1. Penn State would have to find a marquee opponent.
That might not be too difficult. The Nittany Lions’ schedule isn’t yet set. Although Iowa is not on it, things could be shifted around. Afterall, Friday’s dual was originally scheduled for Super Bowl Sunday, but was moved to Friday to accomodate a national TV audience and draw as much attention as possible. With the right pitch, maybe Sanderson and his crew could convince Tom Brands to bring his Hawkeyes up to the BJC for an exhibition to kick off the season? How about a home-and-home?
Remember when Penn State traveled to Stillwater, Okla., in 2007? Maybe the Cowboys would head up this way? Why not? Wrestling coaches are always talking about
growing the sport, right?
2. Penn State would have to pay a multi-thousand dollar rental fee to use the facility.
But profit would likely outweigh the cost in this scenario, especially if Penn State slightly raised the prices of its tickets for this match. You have to figure Penn State fans would pony up to spend $12 or even $15 for a ticket to watch a defending national championship squad battle one as vaunted as the Hawkeyes in the BJC. Nowadays, you would pay that kind of money to see a movie, and let’s face it — sometimes the movie sub-par. Penn State wrestling is not and tickets are only $8 apiece, and $6 if you are lucky enough to get season tickets.
Comparatively, Iowa sells its wrestling tickets for $10 each, except if you want to watch a marquee dual like the one that took place on Friday. Tickets for that were $15. Iowa charges the same price for duals against Ohio State and Iowa State. Oklahoma State tickets are $10 each and were $15 for the Cowboys’ dual against the Hawkeyes. Minnesota charges an Alexander Hamilton for each dual. Factor in that Penn State could sell more concessions in the wide BJC concourses than in the often overcrowded Rec Hall corridors and the dual could pay for itself and turn a profit.
3. Rec Hall has character that the BJC can’t replicate.
There’s no doubt the little old building on the corner of Curtin and Burrowes has its charm. Ironically, some Penn State basketball fans continue to propose a reverse idea — move basketball games back to Rec Hall — due to the building’s mystique. At Rec Hall, fans are right on top of the athletes and although it has its open spaces, gets quite loud and rowdy in its own right. It’s a short walk for the Nittany Lions from their practice facility — the Lorenzo Wrestling Complex — to the Rec Hall mats. Sure, this is convenient, but Rec Hall wouldn’t lose it’s primary draw all season. Remember, this is a one or two-dual move.
4. Would the fans come?
Consider that the two-time defending national champions have sold out every dual at Rec Hall for the last two seasons now. We’re talking 6,000-plus showing up for cakewalk duals against teams like West Virginia (6,078) and Bloomsburg (6,059). This season, 6,353 packed Rec Hall to watch Penn State batter Michigan State. If you get to a Rec Hall dual early enough, you’ll see plenty of fans disappointed when they can’t hit up a scalper in time and can’t get in for a dual against an Iowa (6,796 last season) or Ohio State (6,728 last season).
In reality, you wouldn’t know until the opening whistle, but with the star power this team has coupled with the star power of an Iowa, Oklahoma State or Ohio State, I wouldn’t bet against an announced attendance between 13,000-15,000. Don’t count out the resolve of a program’s fans to live up to the others’ passionate displays. It was near zero degrees in Iowa on Friday. That didn’t discourage Hawkeyes fans.
“We definitely want to make progress as a program,” Sanderson said. “If that’s the future, time will tell.”
But next season presents a perfect opportunity. It’d be a crying shame if Penn State let a chance to send Taylor and Ruth to the mat in front of nearly 15,000 strong slip away. After all, both will be seniors and are the faces of the Penn State wrestling program. They finished first and second in the Hodge Trophy voting and have a combined four losses to on their collegiate resumes.
The truth is, the time is now. Hopefully, I’ll see you in the BJC next winter.