February 5, 2008

Friedman Center Sets Precedent for Excellence

Print More

Everyone at Cornell knows about the tradition and excitement surrounding home ice hockey games at Lynah Rink — the hockey fan experience is practically a Big Red rite of passage. But if you were to take a short walk farther down Campus Road you would come upon an athletic center with a fan base just as enthusiastic and an atmosphere just as electric. This little-known Cornell gem is the Friedman Wrestling Center, the nation’s only stand-alone facility devoted to collegiate wrestling, and home to Cornell’s nationally ranked wrestling squad.
Opened in 2002, the state-of-the-art Friedman Center is everything the Red, ranked No. 12 in the nation at 2-5, according to wrestlingreport.com, need in terms of both practice and competition space. The brainchild of head coach Rob Koll, the center has immensely improved the training capabilities of the team, as well as provided a thrilling and very personal experience for the new generation of fans Koll is attempting to introduce to this somewhat unconventional sport.
It was an uphill battle, Koll said, to convince the University that wrestling was worthy of the same type of facilities as other marquee sports. Koll said his request was mocked by those who assumed that the University should be spending its money on sports like football and basketball.
“It took years and years of work to get this,” Koll said. “I dreamt of it, but I never expected it to come true.”[img_assist|nid=27288|title=Say uncle|desc=Freshman DJ Meagher dominates during the Red’s Feb. 2 meet against Hofstra. The sold-out match was held at Cornell’s state-of-the-art wrestling center.|link=node|align=left|width=|height=0]
When Koll first started coaching at Cornell, wrestling was little more than an afterthought in the grand scheme of the University’s varsity sports. And Title IX legislation meant that, for a while, women’s sports received a higher priority when it came time to decide which teams would receive funding.
“I’d walk in from our hole in the wall to the gymnastics arena, which was just so beautiful, and be really jealous,” Koll said.
But donors came though for Koll and his wrestlers, giving a total of 3.5 million dollars, plus an extra half million dollars for extra costs, completely funding the construction.
The university allowed Koll relatively free reign during the construction process, something Koll said he was happy to take advantage of.
“We got to design pretty much [by] ourselves,” he said. “I told the architect how big I wanted the rooms to be, how much space should be in the lobby. … I learned a lot about value engineering.”
The Center includes a strength and conditioning center, a private weight room, a lounge, a locker room and 6,300 square feet of available space.
Six years after its inaugural season, Koll still treats the Center as if it just opened. He still comes in on weekends to clean up, and he says his guys know better than to drop trash around the floor.
The multiple amenities offered by the Center achieve a number of goals, including setting a precedent for the treatment of Division I wrestling programs.
“We changed the complexion of wrestling across the United States with this building,” Koll said. After 2002, top-ranked schools such as Missouri and Virginia extensively remodeled their wrestling facilities.
“Now it’s OK to spend money on a non-revenue male sport,” Koll said.
From a practical standpoint, recruits are much more likely to choose a school that shows its willingness to support them. Koll’s “frat house without vices,” with perks such as a concert-quality sound system makes his athletes want to come to practice, and gives them a competitive advantage.
Koll works to make the fans happy almost as hard as he does to keep his athletes happy.
In past years he has greatly stepped up his marketing campaign, inviting community teams and youth leagues to compete in the facility as a way to cultivate young fans. Senior Doug Weidner has even been known to sprint around the mat in face paint, stirring up the crowd and leading cheers.
His efforts seem to be paying off. Last weekend over one thousand fans crowded into the Center to watch Cornell upset No. 12 Hofstra in a competitive and entertaining match.
The home fans at Friedman were every bit as engaged and supportive as the student section at Lynah, something that wrestlers, including junior Steve Anceravage, picked up on and appreciated. “The energy in here was unbelievable,” Anceravage said, following Saturday night’s match. “I couldn’t imagine it being any better.”
Koll said that his goal this year is to sell out every home match. A lofty goal, maybe, but just like bringing home a 2008 Ivy League title, it’s a goal he is committed to achieving.