Abruptly, as if toppled by a taser-like double-leg tackle, Carl Adams and his Boston University wrestling program were pinned, counted out, and relegated to the scrapheap Monday afternoon by athletic administrators. Save for one last hurrah of the 2013-14 season, the program is toast, leaving 25 student-athletes out of luck and Adams at a loss for explanations.
“I had no inkling whatsoever,’’ Adams said Friday morning, still trying to reckon how 32 years on the job at BU vanished in an instant. “And quite honestly, I’m still trying to figure out . . . why? Maybe it’s just me, but given the kids we have in the program, given the history of the program, given alumni, given what we had to work with, what we were doing on the mat, and as a program . . . I am still trying to figure it out.’’
Based on Adams’s conversation with athletic director Mike Lynch, and the news release issued last week by the university, officials deemed “an immense infusion of resources’’ would be necessary for the Terrier wrestlers to be a top-notch, leg-twisting, half-nelsoning, title-challenging team.
Adams’s charges, though well-decorated through the years, didn’t compile enough wins, ribbons, cups, pins, plaques, and all the standard accoutrements that too often, and too tritely, summarize and validate a sport well done. It was simply a team that went about its business, saw virtually every team member graduate, a program that fit comfortably into the hustle and bustle of the worldly metropolitan college on Commonwealth Avenue.
Why pony up what it would take to be more ribbon-ready, when administrators could just call it a day? And why bother ask everyone, coaches and athletes included, to the table to discuss it, perhaps consider alternatives of how to fund scholarships and the existing modest budget of some $170,000? Decision made. Line item deleted. Back to counting beans, crunching numbers.
“I think the [news] release was going out,’’ recalled Adams, “as I was in the meeting learning about what was going to happen.’’
It doesn’t get more ham-fisted than that. Devoted coach, hastily called into meeting, told the facts, thanked for service, shown the door. On his way into Lynch’s office, Adams said, it flashed through his mind that someone had died. Not too far off.
“I don’t get the way this happened,’’ said Mike Moyer, executive director of the National Wrestling Coaches Association. “This was done without even an attempt to reach out to people involved — coaches, students, alumni. It just seems wrong. Most universities pride themselves on transparency and inclusiveness, but . . . ’’
No small irony that this happened amid just another stunning, if not bizarre, week of college athletic headlines. Exhibit A: Rutgers firing basketball coach Mike Rice after video aired by ESPN documented his verbal and physical abuse of players during practices. Exhibit B: Allegations of NCAA rules violations by the Auburn football program, accusations including that some players were paid to eschew the NFL draft and play their senior year.
Meanwhile, a tidy, honest, successful, and rather humble wrestling program on Comm. Ave. gets stamped with a March 2014 expiration date. But Adams last week wasn’t dwelling on irony. He was dealing with hurt, the bone-deep grief of mourning.
“Wrestling defines me,’’ he said. “It’s really all I’ve ever done.’’
Age 62, and a national champion during his competitive days at Iowa State, Adams is a man accustomed to grips and holds and the occasional stinging devastation of defeat. Wrestlers are a stern bunch, often with a threshold for pain and love of near-hopelessness that borders on the maniacal, if not masochistic. As I spoke with him Friday, Adams at times deftly slipped emotional holds, but even old wrestlers can’t handle every knot.
“I hadn’t totally digested it,’’ said Adams, asked how he responded Monday when Lynch informed him of the school’s decision. “I am still digesting it, to be honest. Each day I think it’s going to get better and it gets worse.’’
Asked the context of “worse,’’ Adams’s voice grew slower, dimmer, his words caught in a chokehold as he struggled for what to say.
“Well, there’s so many people hurting,’’ he said, “Alumni, parents, the kids in the program, wrestlers all across the country, other programs. I can go on and on, but this has had a ripple effect.’’
After a long pause, he added, “Excuse me, but I’m still a mess.’’
Though it runs contrary to what is happening throughout the country among youth and high school wrestlers, it is not unique for a Division 1 school such as BU to drop wrestling. According to Moyer, there are some 270,000 high school wrestlers in the United States, making it the country’s sixth-most popular high school sport by participation. Roughly 3 percent of those wrestlers are female. Pee-wee wrestling, according to Moyer, is also very robust nationwide.
“Overall,” he said, “the sport’s vital signs are very, very strong.’’
However, the Division 1 numbers continue to wither. In the early 1980s, 146 Division 1 colleges had wrestling teams. Today, BU included, the number stands at 77. All the while, said Moyer, Division 2 and 3 schools, along with junior colleges, have seen impressive increases. For the most part, it’s the big business of major college sports, and its unending lust to garner TV dollars, that prefers not to allocate time or treasure to what may be the world’s original sport.
Lynch did not respond to a Globe request Friday to comment.
Adams isn’t sure where he goes from here. Including coaching stints at Iowa State, Rhode Island, and these three-plus decades at BU, he has coached for 40 years. All wrestling, all the time. Until now.
“Quite honestly, I know, there’s life after wrestling,’’ he said. “I’ll always be involved in wrestling. But you know, my hope was to go out on my terms . . . and this is not it.’’