Boise State President Bob Kustra talked with the Idaho Statesman on Thursday morning to discuss the university’s decision to drop wrestling and pursue adding baseball.
“This was not an easy decision, but one that needed to be made as we consider the long-term vision for Bronco athletics,” Athletic Director Curt Apsey said Tuesday. “We will continue to honor the scholarships we provide our student-athletes, and will do all we can to help those who want to continue their collegiate wrestling careers elsewhere.
“Additionally, current coaching contracts will be honored.”
When Apsey was hired in June 2015, Kustra brought up the return of baseball, which was last played in 1980 as a varsity sport, saying he had hoped to reinstate it one day and calling it “a pet project.” He discussed why baseball is important to him and to the university, along with how the decision to cut wrestling came about and his feelings on the reaction.
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Q: There was a short statement Tuesday from Athletic Director Curt Apsey, but what is your reasoning for the decision?
A: This is a decision that was made for the future that I know is falling very hard on those in the present. We’re going to do everything we can to alleviate those uncertainties it creates for student-athletes, their families and the coaches.
This is a decision that aligns us more effectively with the Mountain West and will allow us to eventually consider adding baseball. ... I’ve seen the role baseball has played in building recognition for (Mountain West schools) beyond athletics and beyond baseball in attracting students who may enroll. Clearly, it’s a decision based on our Mountain West Conference sports and a decision based on how we can best use the athletics program to build recognition for Boise State and its future enrollments beyond student-athletes as well.
Q: Was it possible to keep both sports?
A: Unfortunately, in Division I athletics these days, which has become more and more expensive each year, it’s really difficult. We did the math. We tried to think of every way that we could be all things to all people. But in the end, there’s no way we could figure out how you build one by maintaining the other. I don’t want to pit baseball against wrestling, and I know it looks that way. Both are very competitive sports and have passionate fans. We appreciate that and respect that.
In a sense, it’s similar to other sports we have at Boise State. We have students arriving at our door every year anxious to play lacrosse or hockey. I go to hockey games, especially when they play the U of I. It’s a great opportunity to compete in club sports. ... They don’t have to think of the shutdown of the program as the end of wrestling here or anywhere else. The U of I, ISU, they have club teams, too. It will continue that way here. From a budgetary standpoint and a conference standpoint, we just couldn’t make it all happen.
Q: Why is baseball important to add, and why is it feasible now after being gone since 1980?
A: I think if you take a look at the role baseball plays in our society, and especially in recent years where there’s been a resurgence in interest in baseball, it’s clearly a sport that attracts media and fan attention.
I’m not here to tell you that we’re going to fill up the stands every time the Boise State baseball team comes out ... but reading the Statesman, I know that high school baseball is really a big deal here. We have many student-athletes at the high school level that leave the Treasure Valley and leave the state of Idaho because they don’t have a place to play in Division I.
By giving this opportunity to students across the Valley and across the state to stay in Idaho, it’s going to be an asset for them and for us. It’s still America’s pastime — for good reason — over the summer months.
Q: What is the next step in pursuing baseball?
A: I think there’s a lot of internal work that Curt and his staff will be doing over the next year in terms of making sure we’re totally compliant as far as gender equity is concerned.
We’ve been talking with the new owner of the Boise Hawks. He’s interested in our participating in the new stadium. We understand there’s a possibility for the women’s soccer team to play there. Whether it’s that stadium, or another around here, we’ll find a place to play baseball.
I’ve said before it’s a five-year plan, but who knows, it could be a three-year plan. We don’t know what it is at the moment, but it [takes] a year or so to line things up and I think people in the Valley will be quite impressed with what we can do in baseball at Boise State.
Q: Financially, it’s more expensive to have baseball than wrestling. How do you see it being possible from that aspect?
A: I’ve had an opportunity to meet people in the Treasure Valley and have gotten to know the Hawks and their management, fans and people of means that enjoy baseball. I realized it’s possible to raise money for the sport in the Valley. It’s another project we’ll be spending time on over the next year. Curt and I will put together a very informal committee — people we’ve heard over time that have a real interest in it and the ability to help us raise a baseball budget that will be ongoing and sustainable.
Q: There has been criticism on how the announcement Tuesday was handled. Do you wish it had been done differently?
A: I deeply regret the fact that these wrestlers were caught off-guard, and I regret the timing. The timing was something that was the direct result of taking time over the last few months and deciding how to do it.
It was not perfect in the sense that the signing deadline passed. Curt and his staff had made available their scholarships. If they want to compete in Division I wrestling, it’s an awkward time, and they may have to stay here a semester and then seek out another place to compete.
We’ve had this relationship with the Pac-12 for a few years now [and] it was always a multiyear agreement. This last year, for the first time, they gave us a one-year contract. The relationship between the Pac-12 in wrestling and Boise State became year-to-year, and that makes long-term planning very difficult. When I learned about that, it really contributed to us having to make the decision now ... rather than one day having the Pac-12 tell us it’s over.
There’s been rumors the Pac-12 might not sponsor wrestling. There are only three [full] Pac-12 members in the wrestling conference. They’ve only had six members overall. When I visited with the commissioner a few years ago, I asked him about that, and he wasn’t going to tell me at that point. We have to plan for the future and be certain of it. I just don’t think the Pac-12 was the place for us to be.
Q: On the subject of rumors, there was a report the decision was put on hold. What’s your comment on that?
A: This is the final decision. I appreciate the fact that student wrestlers and their families may want to petition and want an explanation. We’re going to reach out and answer all of their emails.
This isn’t a decision that’s revocable. This is a final decision, one we’ve worked on for many months, it’s been two or three years in the works. The actual decision didn’t come until recently. It’s not the kind of thing that I, or any member of the Boise State staff, would’ve spent this much time on and just do in a flippant fashion. We have to move forward.
Q: Moving forward, you’re losing one sport and won’t have the other compete for a few years, so what’s next?
A: I think the future of the athletics program is very positive. On the other hand, we’re in a conference that isn’t getting easier to compete in.
Whether you want to look at football, basketball, baseball or any other sports, it’s tough. We do very well, but in some sports we can do better.
I want to build an athletics program that’s not only a symbol of excellence in athletics, but a badge of honor for the entire university, so when we recruit students from across the West, they know something about Boise State because of the excellence we demand in athletics and they know therefore the excellence will pervade academics as well.
Some responses have been edited for length and clarity.