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Feb. in review: BU wrestling supporters launch Boycott New Balance Facebook page

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The battle to save the wrestling program at Boston University took a new turn in February, as supporters have established a Boycott New Balance Facebook page.

The explanation for the Facebook page says, “Boston University dropped its wrestling program on 4/1/13. Details have since emerged linking New Balance's sponsorship of BU to the decision. Boycott NB.”

Art Donahoe, a Boston University wrestling alum who is involved in the Boycott New Balance Facebook page, told College Wrestling Examiner in a late February interview that the purpose of the Boycott New Balance page is “to let people know about the boycott, keep them informed, and to seek pledges from people not to buy New Balance shoes.”

“There’s a chain of evidence that New Balance donating to BU led to the school eliminating wrestling,” according to Donahoe.

In February 2012, Boston University announced its plan to construct New Balance Field, thanks to a $3 million naming rights grant from the shoe and sports apparel company, according to a Feb. 23, 2014 article in the Daily Free Press. It was at this time the school announced the addition of the lacrosse team was revealed as well. The field was completed in August 2013.

A few months earlier -- April 1, 2013 -- BU announced that it would be eliminating its wrestling program, at the end of the 2013-14 season.

Donahoe told College Wrestling Examiner, “New Balance chairman emeritus John Larsen said, ‘It sounds like a case of unintended consequences.’”

In recent months, details have emerged on BU’s decision to axe its wrestling program, most notably, in an Amateur Wrestling News’ late 2013 expose by editor Jason Bryant titled “Sifting through the bull at Boston U.”

Arguably the most damning was the revelation that the school apparently tried to raid a sizable endowment – currently valued at $800,000 -- established by Orin Smiley, Boston University wrestling coach prior to Carl Adams (who has coached the mat Terriers for 32 years), with the idea of sustaining the wrestling program in perpetuity. However, AWN quotes David Leonardo, a former BU wrestler from the early 1990s who says the school had planned to convince Smiley’s widow to allow her late husband’s gift to be used for other athletic programs at the school. She was alerted to the plan and refused to grant the school its wish. According to Leonardo, fellow alumni have tried to work with BU administrators to try to build on Smiley’s endowment, but without any success.

Boston University administrators also misrepresented the state of college wrestling today, basically painting the sport as dying (a false statement, as over 100 new programs have been launched since 2001). What’s more, they had labeled the wrestling program “mediocre” – and, therefore, presumably, not worthy of the school’s support. Yet, by various measures, the Terrier wrestling program had outperformed a number of other BU sports programs that continue to be supported by the school.

“BU has a male enrollment of about 40%” according to Donahoe. “Starting a men’s lacrosse program did not help the situation in complying with Title IX proportionality, and adding women’s crew didn’t alleviate the situation.”

Donahoe described New Balance as a “big supporter of lacrosse.”

“New Balance supposedly wanted to emphasize its lacrosse market by naming the field, then, ultimately, selling more workout gear.”

What is the ultimate outcome that the Boycott New Balance Facebook page seeks?

“We’re trying to get New Balance to participate in talks, along with the school and wrestling supporters,” said Donahoe. “We want wrestlers and their parents, alumni, Boston University and New Balance to all meet, to discuss reinstating the wrestling program without eliminating other sports.”

“We’re seeking a win-win-win solution.”

“Boston University was adamant that the decision could not be reversed,” according to Donahoe. “Unlike Brown (University), which after meeting with wrestling supporters, kept the sport.” (Brown, an Ivy League school located in Providence, R.I., reversed an initial decision in 2011 to eliminate its mat program, contingent on the program becoming self-funded. Just last summer, Brown hired former University of Maryland assistant coach Todd Beckerman as its new head coach.)

The Boycott New Balance Facebook page is just one of a number of efforts to preserve the Boston University wrestling program. One of the most notable is a documentary in the works titled "It Hurts To Win" which is chronicling the Terriers' 2013-14 season.

Founded in 1906, New Balance Athletic Shoe Company is a Boston area-based footwear manufacturer and marketer, selling products under the New Balance, P.F. Flyer and Warrior brands. In describing the company’s history, the New Balance website says, “For more than 100 years, New Balance has been a brand focused on understanding the needs of athletes and designing products to match. From the early days of selling arch supports to police officers and waiters, to our current research with world-class athletes in our Sports Research Lab, we have always been consumed by the body in motion and dedicated to Making Excellent Happen every single day.”

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