Suddenly and swiftly, wrestling gets the axe

What to lead with today. The end of Boise State wrestling, or the return of the Big Dance in 2021? Let’s go with the former. Wrestling has been a strong performer in the Boise State athletic department dating back to the Boise Junior College days. Although this seemed possible if the Broncos were ever to pursue a baseball program, there was no hint it was coming—but the university is dropping wrestling and planning to reinstate baseball “in order to better align its programs with the Mountain West.” Baseball was discontinued at Boise State after the 1980 season. Now, it’s the only Mountain West-sponsored sport not offered by the school. The obvious target venue would be the new Boise Hawks ballpark planned for the property at Americana Boulevard and Shoreline Drive.

A lot of people will be upset over this. There was an uproar over the demise of wrestling at Fresno State in 2006, and rabid boosters helped raise enough money to reinstate the sport beginning next season. It’s unlikely that we’ll see a similarly passionate push in Boise. And so ends a sport that had just three coaches the past 46 seasons: the legendary Mike Young for 31 years (1972-2002), Greg Randall for 14 more seasons until he was fired last year, and Mike Mendoza this past winter. Mendoza had just been hired away from Cal State Bakersfield to rebuild the struggling program. His contract will be honored.

Now for the other big news of the day. Could Boise be on a three-year rotation again as an NCAA Tournament first and second-round site? The city has waited nine years for the NCAA’s to return to Taco Bell Arena—which it will next year. The drought shrinks after that, as the NCAA announced yesterday that the first and second rounds will be back in Boise in 2021. It’s the shortest gap since 1998-2001, and it’s a testament to the city’s friendly populace, its clean and efficient infrastructure, and its rapidly-improving hotel scene. This will be the 10th time the tournament has visited the city since 1983, the first full season the BSU Pavilion was open. The dates will be March 18 and March 20, 2021.

Three years isn’t very long. The NCAA Tournament’s return keeps a basketball buzz going in town and can only help Boise State hoops. That it boosts Bronco season ticket sales goes without saying. San Diego State, which is also hosting the first two rounds next year, gets the NCAA Tournament back in 2022. This will be the fifth time the Aztecs have hosted the event since Viejas Arena opened. And Idaho will serve as the host school when the first and second rounds return to Spokane in 2020.

And there was more yesterday. When Rathen Ricedorff played only a handful of snaps in the Blue & Orange Game a week and a half ago, we wondered if he wasn’t 100 percent, or if he had been passed on a dead run by sophomore Jake Constantine in the quest to be the Broncos No. 2 QB. It’s a moot point now. The statement from the university: “Rathen Ricedorff rendered himself ineligible for the entire 2017 football season due to an NCAA rules violation, and is no longer part of the Boise State football team.” Last December, it looked like Ricedorff arrived as a first-team JC All-American with the expressed purpose of becoming Brett Rypien’s backup. Perception was certainly not reality.

There’s been a premium placed on the things that matter most to Boise State. Literally. The school is asking the State Board of Education for increased incentives in coach Bryan Harsin’s contract. The Broncos have not won the Mountain Division of the Mountain West—much less the conference championship—since 2014. Hence a jump in the bonuses: $50,000 for winning the division, another $75,000 for winning the MW title, $100,000 for making a New Year’s Six Bowl (or $125,000 for being one of the four teams in the College Football Playoff). Harsin’s base salary of $1.35 million remains unchanged. The Broncos are also seeking raises and contract extensions for offensive coordinator Zak Hill and defensive coordinator Andy Avalos.

The Idaho Steelheads have won Game 1 but lost Game 2 in seven of their last eight playoff series dating back to the start of the 2013 post-season. It’s déjà vu all over again going into a pivotal Game 3 of the first-round set against the Colorado Eagles tonight in CenturyLink Arena. The hidden gem for the Steelheads is their goaltending. Idaho has not surrendered more than two goals in a game since March 31, a span of six games during which Branden Komm recorded two shutouts and Landon Bow one. Bow handled chores between the pipes for the Steelies in the two games at Loveland last weekend. Komm is fresh.

For the first time in 18 years, College of Idaho has an NAIA Baseball National Pitcher of the Week. C of I leftie Zach Draper was honored yesterday after tossing a one-hit shutout last Saturday in a 5-0 win over Oregon Tech at Wolfe Field. The senior from Salt Lake City walked just one batter and struck out a career-high 12, the most by a Coyotes pitcher since 2006. The Yotes return to action this weekend with a key four-game series in Lewiston against defending NAIA champion Lewis-Clark State.

This Day In Sports…April 19, 1987:

The birthday of Maria Sharapova, the Russian tennis star who has been ranked No. 1 in the world in women’s singles five different times during her career. Sharapova is one of 10 women to achieve a career grand slam—victories in the Australian, French and U.S. Open and Wimbledon. She also shot to stardom as a model, but her reputation took a hit when she revealed she failed a drug test at the 2016 Australian Open. Sharapova was later suspended from the tour; she is set to make her return to competitive tennis at the WTA Stuttgart Grand Prix next week. Maria Sharapova…30 years old today.

(Tom Scott hosts the Scott Slant segment during the football season on KTVB’s Sunday Sports Extra and anchors five sports segments each weekday on 93.1 FM KTIK. He also served as color commentator on KTVB’s telecasts of Boise State football for 14 seasons.)