Brilz ‘Praying for a Miracle’ After Wrestling Power UNO Drops Program

By Mike Whitman Mar 17, 2011
The University of Nebraska at Omaha has decided to cut its wrestling program on the heels of its third consecutive Division II national wrestling title, a disappointing fact for UFC light heavyweight talent and UNO alum Jason Brilz.

Along with fellow Octagon talent Jake Ellenberger, Brilz (Pictured) currently serves as an assistant coach for the team, which has won six national titles in the last eight years.

“It hurts. I’ve been there coaching for 12 years. The administration handled it with extremely poor timing,” Brilz told on Thursday. “I don't think they looked at all at the options. They sort of had a game plan where they were going, and now they're painting a picture around that game plan and saying that this is their only choice.”

The decision to drop wrestling came as a result of the school being offered a spot in the NCAA Division I Summit League, which does not offer wrestling. As the league does not offer football either, that program will also be dissolved. Replacing those sports will be men's golf and soccer, respectively.

UNO Chancellor John Christensen and Athletic Director Trev Alberts both announced the news on Sunday at a press conference, just one day after the Mavericks won their third straight wrestling title.

According to Brilz, however, the wrestling team found out about the change that same night, recalling that head coach Mike Denney received the bad news over the phone in the wake of the championship celebration.

“Our coach got a call seriously an hour after we won the title. I guess it points to what sports are becoming. Our coach has been there 32 years. He built this program. He made it dominant. He's been loyal to the school,” said Brilz. “He could have gone to Division I if he wanted, but he was loyal to the program and he worked his butt off.”

UNO currently competes in the Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletics association with the exception of the men's hockey team, which plays at the Division I level in the Western Collegiate Hockey Association. According to a report from the Associated Press, Alberts asserts that the decision was made in order to save the athletic program from financial deficiencies.

"This was an effort to look at UNO achieving long-term sustainability and relevancy in this market. Heretofore, with the exception of our hockey program, we haven't been able to do that," said Alberts in the report. “Our current structure was not sustainable and, in all likelihood, we wouldn't have an athletic program in five years.”

While Brilz says he can see how the financial woes of the athletic department -- especially in regard to the football program -- might be cause for concern, the light heavyweight believes that there are alternatives to dissolving the sports, such as the wrestling team competing in a different conference.

“We've always been under budget. Our budget is $21,000. That's what the school pays for all our travel and everything. So we raise almost $80,000 every year by putting on clinics, tournaments and golf outings,” said Brilz. “We could go move into the Missouri Valley Conference or the Western Athletic Conference. One of those. We could go in there and compete. I think another conference would welcome us with open arms.”

Though Brilz will be out of a part-time job as assistant coach of the squad, the fighter says that any negative financial impact inherent in the situation is the least of his worries.

“I told Coach Denney from day one that I would do this for free, but he gave me money. It's not really going to affect me financially at all, maybe [a little bit], but it was never about the money for me in any of the sports I do.”

The University of Nebraska Board of Regents is holding a special meeting to review the university's decision to drop the programs. In order for the move to become official, the panel must approve the university's decision. The Board of Regents will vote on Friday, March 25 to decide the fate of UNO wrestling and football.

“I think we'll go to Division I. That's a given right now, but whether we can keep the program will hinge on the Regents, who are elected officials,” said Brilz. “So when we crowd that place out, and they're getting bombarded with letters and telephone calls and emails, and people start speaking their minds, I think the Regents are going to realize, 'If I want to [be elected] for another term, we had better at least try to keep wrestling.'”

“Other than that, we're just praying for a miracle.”

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