On March 16, Northern State University Director of Athletics Josh Moon and President Jim Smith announced a two year suspension of the school’s wrestling program. Coming only three days after the Division II national tournament, where sophomore Joe Gomez was named All-American and Coach Pat Timm received the Bob Bubb National Wrestling Coaches Association (NWCA) Coaching Excellence Award, a NSU news release stated the suspension would last for the seasons 2015 – 2017. The announcement was met with shock and disappointment from students, faculty, and members of the Aberdeen community alike. Critics of the move took to social media to express their disappointment, urging everyone to “#saveNSUwrestling”. A Facebook page in support of the movement appeared within hours, asking supporters to sign a petition to save the program. At press, the page had over 3,000 “Likes” and the petition nearly 800 signatures. Gomez told the Aberdeen American News that he feels lost and emotionally broke down when he and the other wrestlers received the news after their March 16 practice. Though the team has been encouraged to continue their education at Northern, with the promise of sustained athletic scholarships for the 2015-16 school year, Gomez is one of those who might take the full transfer release offered by NSU. In response to the many negative comments he’s heard regarding the suspension, Moon took to the Aberdeen American News, writing a guest column in an effort to better explain the reasons behind what was ultimately a financial decision, one absent of malicious intent. For the past seven years, funding challenges that include scholarships, operating budget, and staffing have been reflected in Northern’s low standings during the regular wrestling season. According to Moon, these challenges have made it hard to recruit top athletes, thus rendering it even more difficult to maintain consistent winning seasons.
The suspension, however, effects not only the university and its wrestlers but could also have serious consequences for the Aberdeen community. Every four years the Barnett Center plays host to the South Dakota State Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) Youth Wrestling Tournament. Aberdeen was chosen as a location specifically because of Northern’s wrestling program, as a mission of the AAU is to help college programs fund wrestling. The tournament is scheduled to be held in Aberdeen in April of 2016, and losing it could mean a huge loss of revenue for the city. According to Moon, there is still a great deal of optimism for the future of the program. Because the decision was made to suspend rather than terminate, NSU wrestling has time to rebuild. The next two years will be spent reviewing options and attempting to restore the wrestling program to a more successful and financially stable level. With help from both the Northern and Aberdeen communities, as well as from NSU wrestling alums and boosters, the program could bounce back.
…the next two weeks are crucial to helping restore the wrestling program for the 2015-2016 season. NSU Director of Athletics, Josh Moon
Even though this is not a death sentence, as President Smith assures, there are still many who doubt the success of completely restoring Northern’s wrestling program in only two short years. In a March 25 message from its Editorial Board, Aberdeen American News criticized the delay in announcing the suspension. They are not alone in their belief that had the difficulties facing the program been publicized earlier fans and supporters would have had more time to rally and save it. Taking steps forward to do just that, President Smith and Moon met last March 26 with Mike Moyer, executive director of the NWCA, to create a proposal that will hopefully restore and sustain Northern’s wrestling program in the next few years. The plan is to improve team competitiveness, increase roster size, and create stable funding, with a goal of $70,000 pledged annually. Just one day after the meeting, Coach Timm announced that the program had received its first pledge: $10,000 a year for five years from North Dakota business man Gary Tharaldson. In the latest update posted on Northern’s athletic page, Moon said they were considering the possibility of reinstating a team for this coming fall. However, he also warned that “the next two weeks are crucial to helping restore the wrestling program for the 2015-16 season.” It is only through the continued support from the community that this has become an option. In a March 26 email sent to the Northern community, President Smith expressed his high expectations for the future of NSU wrestling. “We have a rich history of success in [wrestling], including many national champions and All-Americans. We hope to . . . take the proper steps forward to continue just that tradition.” Contributions can be made by filling out and returning a commitment form, or through the NSU Foundation giving page. Links to these can be found at northern.edu or at nsuwolvesathletics.com. For more information, call 605-626-2550.