For parts 2 and 3 of our recent interview with Virginia Tech Wrestling Coach Tony Robie, we turned things over to the fans on our Wrestling Message Board and asked them for the questions they’d like Robie to answer. We couldn’t ask them all due to time constraints, but we did get some good answers and feedback.
In this part, Robie discusses what it takes to compete for a national championship, how he divvies up the limited scholarships the NCAA allows, how the middle weight classes might shake out, and his thoughts on the ACC.
We indicate which message board poster asked the question, and follow-up/clarification questions asked by TechSideline.com are noted by “TSL.”
techcabber: What do we need that we don’t currently have to compete for a national championship?
Tony Robie: I think that we need to continue to grow our training center. If you look at what the top programs in the country have … currently, Penn State, their facilities are really on another level. Ohio State, even Michigan … ours are good, but if we truly want to get in there and be competitive and put yourself in a position to win a national title every single year, we need to continue to develop and grow and expand our facilities, and we need to continue to attract blue-chip recruits.
I think one thing that we do have, we have a university where kids are, once we get them on campus, we’re competitive in recruiting with almost anyone in the country. One thing that is a little bit of an obstacle that’s not going to change is that the Big Ten is the best wrestling conference, and we sometimes lose kids because we’re not in the Big Ten. And that’s an obstacle for us.
TSL: I imagine for a lot of those programs crowd size is one thing …
Robie: Yes, crowd size is really important. Kids want to wrestle in front of huge crowds. Penn State, they sell out every match. Iowa, they sell out every match.
TSL: Does Penn State wrestle in the Bryce Jordan Center?
Robie: Once or twice a year they do, and they sell it out. They sell out Rec Hall every time they’re in Rec Hall. For us, we get good crowds, we average over 2,000 fans per match, and in the wrestling world, that’s pretty good. I wish Cassell Coliseum was more of a 4,000-seat arena than a 9,000-seat arena, but there’s not much we can do about that.
So I do think, continue to grow our crowds. If we could have four or five thousand people at every match, that would go a long ways in helping in that area.
One of the things that’s a little bit of a challenge for us … there are some things in athletics that a lot of people aren’t aware of, like institutional financial aid. There are some schools that have unbelievable institutional financial ad packages, so it helps augment their athletic scholarship dollars, and allows those dollars to go a little bit further. So that’s a challenge for us at Virginia Tech.
TSL: And you mean financial aid outside of athletic scholarships, from the academic side of the house?
Robie: Exactly. And that has nothing to do with athletic money and isn’t under our control. An athlete can’t receive both athletic and academic scholarship money, but some institutions can provide good academic aid packages for some of their athletes, allowing the athletic scholarship money to be applied better for other athletes.
This article is sponsored by The Southeast Regional Training Center (SERTC): The SERTC is critical to the success of the Virginia Tech Wrestling program. Our goal is to continue to grow the SERTC and add at least one more athlete/coach this season. In order to do so, we need all Hokies to get on board! Your donation can make a huge difference. Click here to learn more and to donate today!
Pylons: With only 9.9 scholarships [allowed by the NCAA] to give and nearly 30 guys on the roster, what’s the strategy for divvying them up?
Robie: I just think you have to be smart in terms of how you have to allocate your scholarship dollars, and it’s not an easy thing to do. When you go out and you recruit the best kids in the country, and they have full scholarship offers from other places, if you want to get in the game and be competitive with the very, very best kids, sometimes that’s what you have to offer. It’s a negotiation process.
Typically we try not to spend full scholarships on kids, and we try to get kids somewhere between the 60-70 percent range, depending upon what their credentials dictate and what else is out there for them.
There’s definitely a business aspect to that side of it, and it’s a challenge. Like we talked about before, we’re in a little bit more difficult position just because of the lack of institutional financial aid at Virginia Tech. With out-of-state students – and a lot of the kids we recruit are out of state scholarship students –it’s $44,000 a year to come to school here. It’s definitely a balance, definitely a challenge, but it’s no different than a lot of the programs across the country have to deal with, too.
TSL: Do your athletes generally know what the other guy’s getting? Do you have situations where you have to worry about, wow, what if so-and-so finds out I’m giving more scholarship money to another guy?
Robie: We don’t broadcast it, but it’s just like any other workplace or business, kids talk. That’s a good question, it’s nothing that I discuss with them, and as far as I’m concerned, that’s between me and the student-athletes.
wrestlingfan/Rokie08: What is the status of Solomon Chishko and Andrew Dunn? And is there any further developments as far as the 165 and 174 weight classes? If not when will that whole situation clear itself up?
Robie: Andrew Dunn will not be back at Virginia Tech next year. I’m not sure where he’s going. He has decided to transfer and continue his academic and athletic career somewhere else. I’m pretty sure he plans on wrestling, I’m not sure where or what division, but he’s not returning to Virginia Tech.
Solomon Chishko will be at Virginia Tech next year and is going to complete his degree. He’s making some decisions in terms of what his wrestling future holds. He was a junior this year; he’s got one more year left.
Rokie08: At 165/174, there is a logjam of talent and I just want to see if the situation has cleared up any.
Robie: If I had my best guess at what our lineup will look like in those areas next year, and again, this is just a guess, we’re a long way away from next fall, but probably Mekhi Lewis 157, David McFadden 165, Hunter Bolen 174. I think that’s going to take care of itself.
HokieLifer2: Thought on the National Duals … is it dead for good?
Robie: Yeah. I would say for the immediate future, yes, the NWCA, despite some really good efforts, and what I thought was a really good idea, it was difficult to get all the programs on board, and you know, until you can get everybody on board, it’s a tough model to follow. I think unless the NCAA comes in and takes that over and creates some kind of team championship, then it likely is.
TSL: It seems like the existing model for deciding the national championship is alive and well.
Robie: There’s been a lot of talk about creating a dual meet championship. I don’t know where that’s going to go, where that’s at with the NCAA, but the current model at the NCAA Championships is a pretty good one. They sold out every single round at the NCAA Championships in Cleveland, and not only did they sell it out, there wasn’t an empty seat at any of the rounds. You’re talking about Thursday at one o’clock in the afternoon, there’s 20,000 people there, so it’s pretty cool.
VTDante: What is the ACC doing to support the participating schools, and is there the possibility of expanding wrestling membership outside of current conference members?
Pylons: Is there potential for growth within the ACC (non-wrestling schools adding the sport)? Is bringing in existing D1 programs as “affiliate” wrestling-only members an option?
VPIGUY: I would think the ACC Network provides some great incentive for smaller programs to gain exposure and revenue and help the ACC at the same time.
Robie: That’s not likely, in my opinion. The ACC doesn’t have what you call affiliate members in other sports that I’m aware of, so I think it’s likely that it’ll be the same six teams participating in wrestling in the ACC, unless another school decides to add wrestling, which is very unlikely.
TSL: Because of Title IX.
Robie: For a lot of reasons, yeah. You haven’t seen a Power 5 school add wrestling in some time. Would we like the ACC to be bigger? Sure, but we’re doing just fine as we are.
TSL: You do not see the ACC adding affiliate programs, like Lehigh, Edinboro, App State, etc.
Robie: I’m doubtful.
vtdadingf: Virginia Tech was the first ACC team to ever reach the podium at the National Championships, finishing fourth in 2016 in New York. It has since come close in 2017 and 2018. NC State just reached the podium for the first time this year, finishing fourth. What do you think about the competition between Tech and NC State going forward and the overall level of competition in the ACC?
Robie: I think it’s a really good thing. It’s a very competitive, healthy rivalry that we’ve developed with NC State, and their program is in a very good place. I think it’s really good for us and for NC State, and for the sport of wrestling.
Within the ACC there’s been some coaching changes recently. UNC is definitely a program that is on an upward trajectory. Pitt I think is going to be much improved with the new coaching staff that they have in place, and Duke to be honest, they do a really good job for some of the resources that they have in place.
I think the ACC, if you ask anybody within the sport of wrestling, is a damn strong conference. There’s no question about it, especially with us and NC State leading the way as two of the better programs in the country. It’s definitely an exciting time to be a fan of ACC wrestling.
In part 3, more questions from our readers as we wrap up our interview with Tony Robie.