Working on an Island

Working on an Island

Tim Jackson, the Head Editor of the school newspaper, has agreed to join the wrestling program for a season-long series of articles highlighting the program and it's wrestlers through stories from both on and off the mat.  Tim has put together an extensive series of article topics. Below is the sixth story in the series.

"Sometimes, we're on an island."

Both head wrestling coach Mike Rogers and assistant coach Matt Greenberg face something of a unique challenge when they go to work every day. While the F&M wrestling program may be on the rise and may be gaining attention from others around the EIWA, the bottom line is, F&M isn't like all those other schools.

As a primarily division three school, F&M's wrestling program can sometimes be on an island when it comes to the unique challenges and requirements that come with competing at the division one level. There are advantages and disadvantages to being in such a situation, but the bottom line is F&M wrestling operates a little differently from not only the other athletic programs at F&M, but other division one programs as well.

"The benefits are, recruiting wise, we can offer the best of both worlds," Rogers said. "We can offer a small school atmosphere and we can offer top of the line competition."

"The downsides are, sometimes we're on an island in terms of the issues we face," he continued. "We have fewer resources, in all aspects. Sometimes we have justify why we're division one. Sometimes we have to answer those questions."

The wrestling programs at Cornell, Princeton, Navy, or Maryland never have to justify their status as a division one program. Being the lone division one program at a college is a one of a kind challenge that few coaches have to face, primarily because their programs lines up with the other programs at the school in terms of what division they're in.

Unlike bigger schools, which can raise millions of dollars, build state of the art wrestling specific facilities, and hire an entire staff of full-time coaches, F&M doesn't have that luxury. Perhaps it was for this reason, when Greenberg first arrived, he noticed the program needed a lot of work to catch up with the other wrestling programs around the EIWA.

"When I first got here, the whole [program] needed to be overhauled," Greenberg said. "In the last two years, we have caught up or gotten back on track with the other schools. To do as well as F&M has with all of its sports is impressive."

One of the biggest challenges facing Rogers and Greenberg was taking F&M wrestling and turning it into a year-round sport. Before they arrived, F&M wrestling was more of a part-time commitment, which made it difficult to keep up with the other bigger schools in the conference.

"We had to take [the program] from a six-month program and turn it into a 12-month program," Greenberg said. "They can't take the summers off."

In order to keep tabs on what some of the bigger schools are doing, Greenberg said both he and Rogers ask recruits what they like about the other schools in the conference and what they're attracted to at other institutions.

When it comes time to sell F&M to recruits who may be looking at bigger schools, Rogers says he almost always comes back to F&M.

"What we sell is the school," Rogers said. "The advantages of a small school such as the academics. What I can't do is sell them a big time experience. But some kids don't want that, so we try and sell them on F&M being a smaller school with a smaller campus."

Unlike some of the other major division one programs around the country, Rogers doesn't have the same staff or economic support they do. While some division one schools have their own compliance officers and academic support staff, Rogers and Greenberg have to be versatile in the sense that, at F&M, all of those jobs fall into their laps.

"We have to look at what resources we do have," Rogers said. "Coaches who are at schools like ours have to wear many different hats. Coaches at schools like F&M tend to be hard workers. Coaches who go from a situation with tons of resources to a school like F&M sometimes struggle. It's a challenge [to make the switch]."

What is both unique and exciting about division one wrestling is, unlike other sports, there is no major professional league wrestlers can go to once their college careers are over. With the exception of Olympic wrestlers, division one wrestling is as high as the vast majority of wrestlers can hope to reach.

"Division one wrestling is basically the pros," Greenberg said. "For 99 percent of wrestlers, this is their pros."

Ever since Rogers arrived, the F&M wrestling program has been on the upswing. What has helped is that, in Greenberg's eyes, Rogers could coach at any major division one program in the nation.

"I love working for Mike," Greenberg said. "He's a division one coach. When he came on board, it made me believe [we could turn the program around]."

Although there are certainly some unique challenges coaching at a primarily division three school, Rogers has focused more on the opportunity F&M has given him to mold what was once a struggling program into a winner.

"What's unique here is that Matt and I can start fresh," Rogers said. "We can look back and say we [turned the program around]. I look at Matt as a co-head coach. We complement each other well. We stay here because it's our stamp. We believe it's going to be something special."