What happened?In what can only be described as unbelievable to any Cyclone fan, Iowa State lost it's wrestling coach today when Cael Sanderson accepted the same job at Penn State. Sanderson, the greatest collegiate wrestler ever, had been employed by Iowa State since he graduated - first as a "special ambassador" while he trained for the 2004 Olympics, then as an assistant coach for one season, and finally as the head coach for the last three years.
Cael, the only wrestler to ever go undefeated in collegiate wrestling (159-0), is the third Sanderson brother to letter at ISU. The last Sanderson brother, Cyler, is a senior on the current squad.
Cael is a wrestling icon and until today was viewed as a Cyclone stalwart. He was the highest paid wrestling coach in the country at about $130,000/year. Penn State was rumored to have offered him $500,000 per year which is obviously a big jump and something that would be hard for anyone to turn down.
Wrestling, an obscure non-revenue sport, has a tradition of pride at Iowa State. While the news of Cael leaving made was barely mentioned in the national sports media, it dominated the Iowa State sports news for the last two days. Iowa State is one of the top five wrestling schools nationally and under Cael's leadership had won the Big 12 title three consecutive years.
Penn State has a much larger athletic budget than Iowa State and is looking to bring its wrestling program from irrelevance to prominence by buying the Sanderson name. While unparalleled as a wrestler, Cael has not achieved such dominance as a coach, yet, though his iconic status attracts recruits like few others.
If the $500k rumor turns out to be true, Penn State will likely have hastened the demise of collegiate wrestling. By not only buying their relevance but effectively raising the bar 5 times, other top schools will be forced to match.
Penn State conference rivals such as Iowa, Minnesota and Ohio State, who've had considerably more success, will have to raise salaries either to keep their current coaches happy or at the very least out of pride. Thanks to a great revenue model, they'll be able to do this.
Several of the Big 12 programs will match suit and raise salaries, too.
The impact will come at others schools - the ones that are already on the verge of cutting the sport. Many schools, most recently the University of Oregon, have cut wrestling due to concerns over Title IX equity and shrinking athletic budgets. The ones trying to make the death knell decision will have a harder time when they consider what will become an "arms race" in coaching salaries just to be competitive. Arms races exist all over collegiate sports (football coaching salaries, basketball facilities, etc) but for the most part haven't touched the non-revenue sports such as wrestling. They hurt football and basketball programs, too, but these programs have the capability to recoup somewhat through ticket fees and TV revenues, wrestling doesn't have that option.
I'm sure the choice wasn't easy for Cael but his decision has been made. I'm sure the money is a blessing and I'm sure that Penn State is tickled at their fortune. The news is not so good for collegiate wrestling and is terrible for Iowa State but it's time to move on.