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Penn State Wrestling’s Evolving Popularity Sparking Growth Within The Sport

After starting off the season 3-0 with another win over No. 22 Lehigh on Sunday, Penn State wrestling is off to a ridiculously strong start.

Despite the start with relatively local teams in the first three duals, the Nittany Lions will now face their first west coast rival of the season in Oregon State.

The Beavers don’t tend to have a lot of competition on that side of the country, except for Pac-12 rivals No. 6 Arizona State and No. 21 Stanford, so traveling has become a major part of their schedule.

But this type of commitment shows the growth that is coming to this collegiate sector, especially its streaming of the dual coming to ESPN this weekend.

“I think ESPN has continued to reach out and expand their coverage of wrestling, which has been great,” head coach Cael Sanderson said. “We’ve seen that at nationals and then the stool, but yeah, I think exposure has been great. The Big Ten network has done a fantastic job.”

The in-person attendance has even skyrocketed. Last season’s NCAA national championship, which resulted in an astounding Penn State win, brought together 106,000 total fans between the six sessions of the tournament.

Rec Hall also stands to be sold out almost every home dual with an average attendance of over 6,500 fans, while also being voted the second-best place to watch college wrestling in 2019.

Big Ten wrestling also continues to be the most dominant conference by a long shot, and it shows.

“Its popularity is continuing to grow, which is good. And, yeah, I think that’s one of the things we have as a sport in the Big Ten,” Sanderson said. “We feel like we bring pretty decent value to the conference and the network, and we just want to keep building that up.”

Notably, Penn State has to up its budget if it wishes to continue to foster these bigger duals, which could have its growing pains.

“I think that’s one of the things, too, that is important for the sport, especially with all the changes,” Sanderson said. “Recognizing that there is value in these matchups and there is value in the media rights and that obviously helps with the costs of and making these things worthwhile.”

Besides attendance and streaming views, NIL has also quickly taken its place in the wrestling world for the sports top athletes.

Fifth-year wrestler Roman Bravo-Young has a deal with SNAP Pizza in State College, and many other guys on the team have been working with multiple businesses and Penn State’s Success With Honor to profit off of their name.

“I think these guys — they’ve done a nice job, and they’re being rewarded for it,” Sanderson said. “But you know, we’re really a part of it, as you see in all sports, it’s just the way it is now and it’s part of all considerations. I think recruiting and competing are all [important] things.”

As wrestling continues to become more and more prevalent, the opportunities will grow exponentially for these student-athletes.

Sanderson and the Nittany Lions will be back in action at 2 p.m. on Sunday, December 11, at Rec Hall against the Beavers of Oregon State. The dual will be streamed on ESPNU.

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About the Author

Mara McKeon

Mara is a sophomore staff writer majoring in English and public relations. She loves all things sports and anything that has peanut butter. You can usually find her obsessing over country music and counting down the days until she gets to see Luke Combs at the Linc. Feel free to reach her on Twitter @MckeonMara, and for more formal affairs, her email is [email protected]

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