Back in the 2000s when Troy Sunderland was at the helm of the Penn State wrestling program, it was common for fans to walk up to the Rec Hall ticket window just minutes before a dual meet. Obviously, ever since Cael Sanderson was hired before the 2009-10 season, those days are long gone, and there is now a higher demand for PSU wrestling tickets than ever before.
Of course, there will be no fans this season in Rec Hall due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and it’s a shame. But once we get on the other side of the pandemic, presumably by the time next season will be here, Penn State should strongly consider moving more dual meets to the Bryce Jordan Center.
Before I get too ahead of myself, I want to clarify that they shouldn’t move all dual meets to the BJC. There is still something to be said for the great atmosphere wrestling in Rec Hall, which has always been home for decades.
But if Penn State wants to play a part in expanding the already wrestling-crazy culture around the state of Pennsylvania and beyond, huge crowds for every dual would go a long way in creating more popularity.
One of the reasons that they should consider this is a no-brainer: finances.
There’s no doubt the loss of revenue from no fans at any sporting events lately, especially football, is putting a damper on Penn State athletics. A move to the Jordan Center would probably double its profits, at least.
The Lions usually wrestle a few duals outside of the Big Ten schedule every year that probably don’t generate nearly as much fan interest in terms of attending the dual. And there are always a couple schools in conference that just aren’t on PSU’s level. Those dual meets should be reserved for Rec Hall.
But any time you see the Iowas or the Ohio States coming to State College, there’s going to be plenty of interest.
One of the major ways to keep growing the popularity of wrestling is through children. Many young wrestlers, myself included growing up, would take in a Penn State dual meet early on Sunday afternoons, then take a short drive to Boalsburg to go get a workout at former PSU All-American Ken Chertow’s facility, before going home Sunday night.
That’s not possible at Rec Hall, where season-ticket holders fill the place for every match.
I don’t buy the argument that the atmosphere at the BJC would be any worse than it is at Rec Hall for wrestling. I have been to plenty of events at the Jordan Center, and it’s a wonderful place.
The men’s basketball team is coming off one of its best seasons in recent memory. They drew over 15,000 fans at least once for a game last year. I’ve heard from multiple people it was amazing to see for an event at the BJC.
And this is for basketball, which hasn’t always been the most popular sport on campus.
Last season’s BJC dual against Ohio State had an attendance of 15,995. Mark Hall, who was ranked No. 2 at 174 pounds at the time, had a pin of the Buckeyes’ No. 7 Kaleb Romero in under a minute. The reaction of the BJC crowd erupting was reminiscent of Grant Haley’s touchdown off the blocked field goal against Ohio State in 2016, albeit with many more people attending the football game.
Penn State should not be afraid to be innovative. In 2015, Iowa held a wrestling dual in Kinnick Stadium, home of the Hawkeye football team, against another national power in Oklahoma State. The meet had over 42,000 fans for an early season dual meet in November.
I’m not saying Penn State should also host a meet at Beaver Stadium, but there shouldn’t be any concerns about being different.
In the days leading up to the dual meet with Ohio State last season, Sanderson said the Bryce Jordan Center is starting to feel more and more like home each passing year.
There is an Irish blessing that says, ‘May your home always be too small to hold all your friends.’ Rec Hall has become just that for Penn State wrestling.
What is stopping that from happening at the Bryce Jordan Center?