Last Tuesday had been a good day for Ethan Rotondo.
With no homework to do, the Union High School senior retreated to his bedroom. His to-do list? Chill out during what he thought would be a stress-free evening.
Then his mother knocked on the door with news that would change his life.
She had just read a news article online that Boise State University had abruptly disbanded its wrestling program on Tuesday.
Suddenly, Rotondo’s plan of wrestling at Boise State on scholarship was thrown into disarray.
“I could tell by her voice that something was up,” Rotondo said. “When she told me what had happened, I kind of started laughing. I was thinking ‘there’s no way this is happening.’ ”
Rotondo said it took a few hours for reality to hit him. The two-time state champion would be studying and wrestling somewhere unknown. The stressful recruiting process had been thrown back to Square One.
It’s an uncertainly Kyle Bounds knows all too well.
Bounds, an assistant coach at Union, was a sophomore on the University of Oregon wrestling team when it folded in 2008. The three-time state champion at Columbia River went on to wrestle at Michigan State, where he posted a 25-15 record his senior year.
“Just not knowing, that is the hardest part,” Bounds said. “I felt like I had this plan and all these goals in front of me, and it was just ripped away.”
The abruptness of Tuesday’s announcement by Boise State touched a raw nerve for Bounds. Oregon wrestlers and coaches learned their program was being shelved through a report on the local TV news.
Similarly, Boise State wrestlers and coaches had no warning that their program would be eliminated to make way for baseball.
Therefore, it’s no surprise Rotondo and Bounds are taking a tandem approach going forward.
“He just told me to keep my head up,” Rotondo said.
Bounds is also reaching out to see what opportunities are available at other colleges.
But the timing couldn’t have been worse for Rotondo. Most colleges have a May 1 admissions deadline, after which enrollment becomes more complicated. Also, most wrestling programs have already filled their scholarship allotments for next season.
Rotondo could take a “grayshirt” year and go through the recruiting process with an eye on 2018-19. He could also compete at the Division-II or NAIA level.
“But I would feel like something is missing,” he said.
At Boise State, the wrestling program had $115,705 in revenue for 2015-16 and $467,655 in expenses.
Scheduling is tough, since Division I NCAA wrestling programs are few and far between in the West. The 2017 Pac-12 Championships involved just six teams, three of which aren’t in the conference. (Arizona State, Stanford, Oregon State, Boise State, Cal Poly and Cal State Bakersfield).
Whether wrestling should be on the chopping block is debatable. What’s not, however, is the abrupt and ham-handed handling of the program’s demise.
If university officials truly put student athletes and faculty first, then those people wouldn’t have been blindsided by such life-altering news.
Phasing out the program gradually should have been considered, especially since the Boise State baseball team won’t play for another five years.
Rotondo doesn’t deserve the bump in the road that Boise State has put in front of him.
But anyone who knows Rotondo is sure he will end up being a successful collegiate wrestler.
Bounds is chief among them. He knows, having traveled that same bumpy path.
“Obstacles are always going to come in front of your goals,” Bounds said. “You can let those obstacles defeat you or you can keep working and overcome them.”
Micah Rice is The Columbian’s Sports Editor. Reach him at 360-735-4548, firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @col_mrice.