David White: Fresno State must do the right thing by 'Mat' and his wrestlers

Special to The BeeFebruary 22, 2014 

A record crowd was on hand to watch Fresno State and Iowa State compete in a wrestling dual on Jan. 6, 2004, at the Save Mart Center.

KURT HEGRE — THE FRESNO BEE Buy Photo

Psst. Mat wants to know if it's safe to come out to play again.

You remember Mat, as in Fresno State Wrestling Mat. Blue on the outside, red on the inside, with a big, bad Bulldogs mug for a face plate.

We all thought Mat was a long goner sometime around 2006, back when Fresno State Athletic Director Thomas Boeh went nuclear-option on the wrestling team and disappeared the entire program.

Some thought Mat may have been hawked off at an Athletic Department yard sale, along with the men's soccer balls and Silicon Valley Classic trophies.

Maybe Boeh flipped it into a throw rug at some mountain chateau above Shaver Lake. Or, was it actually sleeping with the Shaver Lake fishes alongside Pat Hill's Fu Manchu and Jerry Tarkanian's chew towels?

"I don't know where it was," former Fresno State wrestling coach Dennis DeLiddo said with a knowing smile, because suuuure he doesn't. "I can't remember."

Here's what we do remember: the shock in everyone's eyes when, after years on the lam from the public eye, Mat showed up for a Clovis-Buchanan high school wrestling match last month.

There Mat lay, cushiony and spongy as ever, serving as a red-and-blue carpet for Fresno State President Joseph Castro. You know Castro: he's the guy at Fresno State who wants to un-cut the wrestling program, and is working toward that end as we speak.

Which is another way of saying, Mat's comeback could be more than a one-night stand at Clovis High. If Castro follows through on his promised desire, Fresno State will unroll Mat once and for all.

If Castro gets his way, Mat will never have to go back into hiding, in perpetual fear that Fresno State's Athletic Department will send Repo Rick over for a search-and-seizure.

"I don't know, I think maybe Fresno City borrowed it or something," DeLiddo said.

Except, Mat doesn't belong at Fresno City College, or Clovis High, or someone's back-alley lounge.

The Fresno State wrestling mat belongs at Fresno State, upstairs at the North Gym, with a roomful of wrestlers on top.

Talk about Title IX and GPAs and budgets all you want. We all know Boeh walked into an Athletic Department horror show when he replaced Scott Johnson. We also know his job was to fix all those said problems.

But, the first option never should have been go straight to the death penalty without passing go. Fresno State wacked the wrestling team like it was auditioning for "Goodfellas."

I remember getting a phone tip that something was about to go down at Fresno State and it involved wrestling. I went by the North Gym to ask first-year wrestling coach Shawn Charles if something was up.

Nothing at all, he said. Just a budget meeting the next day with Boeh. He said to bring ideas and plans for the next season. Why, Charles asked?

Because, you are going to lose your job at that meeting, I would report a day too late.

An entire team of wrestlers swelled the unemployment rate, too, at a time of year no school had any scholarships left to give -- so good luck continuing that All-America dream next season, kids.

All because the Fresno State powers had neither the time nor inclination to do the right thing, which is to say the hard thing. That required creating long-term solutions to fix the budgetary, academic and discipline problems of the wrestling program. We said fix, not flush, and there is a difference.

Instead, they chose to take the route of least difficulty. They took a piano string to the entire program and took its canola, too. Goodness, they could have hired Timeout the school mascot, if all they wanted to do was shove programs off the clock tower.

Still, Fresno State didn't kill everything off. There's still a foamy square out there, waiting for Castro to undo the wrong of 2006.

It's been eight years. Free Mat, already.

The columnist can be reached at bydw@sbcglobal.net or @bydavidwhite on Twitter.

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