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Duck wrestling backers face long odds

June deadline looms to raise cash, develop financial plan
by: , KEARNEY

EUGENE —Oregon Athletic Director Pat Kilkenny says the Duck wrestling program faces long odds. The planned termination date: June 30. But supporters, grouped as Save Oregon Wrestling, continue to fight back. They want to raise $1 million by the Pac-10 tournament in early March for next season, and $5 million to $6 million to privately endow the program, former UO coach Ron Finley says. “I think we’re making headway every single day,” says Finley, who wouldn’t give a dollar amount raised. Another supporter put the figure at $250,000. With money and a financial plan, the supporters would then try to negotiate continuing to use Eslinger Hall as the team’s home and practice building. “All the president (Dave Frohnmayer) has to do is say, ‘You’re staying there,’ ” Finley says. And, arguments are being formulated for Oregon to keep wrestling and stay Title IX compliant. The common thinking: Oregon would have to add one women’s sport to keep wrestling, as well as work toward adding another sport to become proportionate, male athletes to female athletes. “Well, the women’s sport should have to fund itself,” Finley says. “If we had to fund a women’s program, I suggest we fund women’s wrestling. It’s an Olympic sport.” Meanwhile, coach Chuck Kearney’s team continues to compete this season. But Kearney has not done any recruiting, and his roster has dwindled to 16 competitors — about half of what it should be. Kearney says the UO program and its supporters simply want Kilkenny and Frohnmayer to give them an opportunity to become self-sufficient. “We can do things that, if given time, can get us to the point where we’re too good of a bargain, too good of a program, too good to the athletic department and too economical” to drop, Kearney says. Wrestling has a budget in the $650,000 range, but administrators say private backing usually has amounted to a small sum. And Oregon, like many wrestling programs, hardly generates enough gate receipts for the sport to pencil out. Finley says the athletic department has not encouraged fundraising strictly for wrestling before, instead directing money to the Duck Athletic Fund. Finley has set up a private account with Smith Barney, which he says will yield a higher percentage for the future wrestling budget. “It’s never been spelled out to us exactly how much we need to raise,” says Hank Hosfield, a Portland resident and former UO wrestler. Kearney says: “We think there’s a segment of the population that’s willing to give to our program. That’s what we’re betting on.” As far as Title IX, Hosfield says that Save Oregon Wrestling has reached out to U.S. Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., to review whether Oregon is compliant, and any favorable ruling is surely going to help the cause. If given a reprieve, Kearney says he can recruit and coach a team of about 30 wrestlers next season. Only two seniors will depart, with Shaun Dee of Southridge and Zack Frazier of Gresham two of the expected returnees. Supporters hope to spell out their plan to Kilkenny this spring. Kearney says he understands the dynamics surrounding the decision to drop wrestling, while adding baseball. “The University of Oregon should have baseball; in the Pac-10, we were the only school without it,” he says. Kearney can appreciate the intent of Title IX, even though the federal law has damaged his sport across the country. “Athletics are important to sons, why not daughters?” he says. And, he fully realizes why wrestling needs to fund itself and not be entitled to UO money. “You get 60,000 people to show up to watch you wrestle seven or eight times a year,” he says, explaining why football is king at Oregon, “and I’m sure we’ll have the same perks and benefits.” (Donations for the Oregon wrestling program can be made at www.saveoregonwrestling.com.) This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.