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Five Thoughts on My Interview with Mike Holder

Thoughts on his plan, raising the money, and the overall momentum of the program.



Last week I sat down with OSU Athletic director Mike Holder to ask him about his plans on the new wrestling practice facility. If you missed it you can read the full transcript here. It was great.

I thought I’d sit back and dissect the interview a bit and lay out my five thoughts on the conversation and some of the things we discussed.

1. A $40 Million, 10-Mat Wrestling Room Is Incredible

If there was somehow a camera on my face during the interview when Holder said $40 million and a 10-mat room, I would have loved to see my reaction. That is a massive wrestling room and far and away the highest price tag you’ll see on any program that’s trying to do something similar.

For context, Ohio State built a combination wrestling, fencing, gymnastics, and volleyball facility that is both a practice facility, and will host events. This combined four-sport facility that will actually host events (OSU will still use Gallagher for all of its duals) cost $49.7 million.

A $40 million stand alone practice facility would absolutely blow anything Ohio State has off the map. When you consider the bulk of the money for the Ohio State facility is going into the Covelli Arena, with other big chunks allocated to the other sports, what Holder is talking about would far and away be the best wrestling practice facility in the country.

2. He’ll Make It Happen

OSU fans already know Holder’s track record on this, but for some wrestling only fans that may read this — or OSU fans that have been asleep the past few years — this guy gets things built. His first big project as athletic director was the massive renovation of Boone Pickens stadium, he followed that up by building one of the best tennis facilities in the entire country, a massive indoor football practice facility, a new soccer stadium, a track, and OSU is now building an incredible baseball stadium. It may take some time, but it will eventually happen and it will be everything he’s saying it’s going to be.

3. It Was Interesting to Hear How Engaged Holder Is in the Sport

He’s the athletic director, right? So naturally he should probably be paying attention to what’s going on with his teams, but for him to note that they’ve been recruiting well and to understand the details of Daton Fix’s final at the NCAA tournament was intriguing to me.

I think some of that is he’s just legitimately engaged in what’s going on with his teams, as an athletic director should be. Some of that is also this. A few years ago, John Smith made some big staff changes. Long-time assistant Eric Guerrero was let go, and they promoted Zach Esposito, and Chris Perry, and hired on Tyler Caldwell as the recruiting coordinator. It’s likely this was John’s decision, but naturally Holder had to sign off on it.

In the immediate year following, OSU had one of their worst finishes at the NCAA tournament in some time, two-time NCAA champ Dean Heil didn’t place, and there was certainly cause for concern as to whether or not the staff change were the right move. This year they had a major turnaround and even with injuries to All-Americans, Boo Lewallen, Chandler Rogers, Joe Smith, and Preston Weigel for most of the year, the Cowboys managed an undefeated dual season, set record attendance, and finished third at the NCAA tournament. They also put a wrestler on the Senior World Team for the first time since 2012 with Daton Fix. And as Holder alluded to, they’re set to have the top recruiting class in college wrestling for 2020. I’m sure that’s something he’s been keeping close tabs on and happy to see trending in a positive direction.

4. I Wish They’d Push the Crowdfunding Angle a Bit More

Holder is 100 percent correct that a project of this magnitude would never get off the ground with only donations from a bunch of average income earners. You need big ??? donors to make something like this happen and OSU is going to have to solicit those donations for this.

I still think you could potentially lessen the dollar amount you have to ask the naming rights donor for and get fans engaged with a broader crowdfunding push. Holder said one of the main reasons they don’t try it is their first similar campaign didn’t work. When they attempted to raise the money for football renovations he noted they only raised about $1 million.

I think two significant things have changed since Pickens’ made his big donations in 2003 and 2006 and the first crowdfunding effort failed.

1) Social media and the internet. These were obviously both around at that time, but social media was in it’s infancy, so no one was promoting things as they do currently. Since then we’ve seen sites like gofundme and others become commonplace and with the way social media works it’s not very expensive or complex to market the campaigns.

2) OSU has built a lot of stuff. With all the upgrades to facilities around campus that have been completed, there is a lot of confidence that Oklahoma State can and will build projects it sets out to build. There’s also a visibility of what the upgrades can do for the various programs. I don’t believe that was there when OSU attempted this the first time with the football stadium and that confidence and optimism could help inspire others a bit.

So again, without a doubt some crowdfunding push would not get something like this built. But I do think some sort of effort to raise maybe a few million using that angle would potentially be more feasible than Holder expects, even with small dollars, and at the least it could inject some money into the project and create more visibility on it for the broader fan base.

Fans can still pitch in though. As Holder noted, it’s not going to be what gets the dirt moving on this project and it’s obviously not the main angle they’re pushing, but there is a Wrestling Facility Renovation Fund with the OSU Foundation where smaller dollars can be donated to the project.

5. Talk about a Shot in the Arm When They Announce a Donation for This

Obviously there’s no timeline for when the announcement will happen as they’re still looking for a donor, but Holder has said previously, and in this interview talked about how wrestling has largely been ignored by the university historically. This is certainly true, but even understanding that, look what’s going on in the program right now.

Daton Fix just became the first Senior World Team member out of OSU since 2012. And Alex Dieringer has a strong chance to make No. 2 this weekend in Austin.

Attendance hit a record high this past season.

One of the most successful people in MMA, what has become the predominate professional outlet for college wrestlers, is Daniel Cormier, the UFC heavyweight champion and an alum that wears his alma mater proudly. He also actively takes wrestlers from OSU under his wing in their careers, which is certainly a positive thing for the program.

They will sign what will undoubtedly be the No. 1 recruiting class in the country this year with what they have already, and I believe will add more to that class before it’s complete.

When you look at all those trends and add a donation for a new facility. As Holder said to me on Thursday, “It’ll be like adding rocket fuel.”




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