Boxing has been described as the world’s most brutal sport, even when properly refereed. Dating back to the early 20th century, Penn State has trained more than 50 All-Americans and 22 National Champions, and boxing was once championed as the cornerstone sport of Penn State.
The success carries on, as Penn State had three All-Americans last year.
Although these accomplishments are just as grand as any sport at Penn State, the unisex boxing club has not made the impact at Penn State that its achievements would typically merit. The reason being is that the boxing club is just that — a “club,” rather than a “varsity” sport.
Boxing is now going on its 35th year of being a “club sport” rather than being sanctioned by NCAA as a varsity sport. The club title is attached to every collegiate boxing program, and what this entails is little-to-no NCAA control over the on-goings.
However, no athletes are being rewarded scholarship money for their work in the ring, forcing most of the best boxers in the nation to decide between a college education or pursuing a boxing career.
Little-to-no high schools still sponsor a boxing club citing health concerns. According to a study by the Center for Injury Research and Nationwide Children’s Hospital, eight percent of 18-to-24-year-old boxers have had a head injury, including concussions.
On the other hand, a study conducted by the NFL based on the 2010 season found that 37 percent of players missed a game due to injury, with the average injured player being sidelined for 4.7 weeks.
“There are far more serious injuries in college football,” said Matt Woodward, both a boxer and treasurer of the club. “There hasn’t been a major injury in college boxing in a long time, now the referees under the NCBA [National Collegiate Boxing Association] are top-notch.”
The varsity label was nationally abandoned in 1960, shortly after Wisconsin’s Charlie Mohr was killed in the ring. Mohr, a former National Champion, went down from a series of punches, and the referee stopped the fight, but the damage was already done. Mohr went back to the locker room complaining of a headache, and shortly thereafter suffered a series of convulsions before dying eight days later of brain hemorrhaging.
“The rules in place now are strongly on the side of safety,” Penn State’s boxing coach Dave Vacco said. “When Mohr was killed, it was the result of bad refereeing and different rules.”
Penn State and other colleges now compete in an independent organization for boxing, the NCBA. The NCBA was founded in 1976, 16 years after the NCAA stopped sanctioning boxing as a varsity sport.
Ohio State, USC, Air Force, Army, Navy, Coast Guard, Michigan and Penn State are among the near 40 teams in the NCBA, which is split into three competitive subdivisions (Eastern, Midwest and Far West).
The team practices six days a week with each session lasting roughly two hours. These practices focus on punching drills, sprints, pushups, situps, cut and thrust sparring and every other form of calisthenics imaginable.
“It’s a 24/7 sport. I weigh myself in the morning and all day I’m thinking, ‘I gotta train harder than the other guy,’ ” said All-American Dan Nysch. “Boxing is part of our life, it’s not our life. We do it because we love it.”
Everyone on the team seems to stand by Nysch’s statements about work ethic and affection for the sport. However, there are conflicting opinions on boxing being labeled a club sport, rather than being varsity sanctioned.
“We work really hard, but if this was officially NCAA, they’d be recruiting the kids who have been boxing since they were three,” boxer and club Secretary Will Morrill said.
Vacco agrees and mentioned the joy he gets when training a group of boxers that are raw and inexperienced when first joining the team. Since many high schools don’t offer boxing, many of the best athletes today — including high school dropout and world champion Floyd Mayweather Jr. — are limited to practicing in a gym out of their own pocket or not pursuing a life of boxing whatsoever.
“Too many boxers are missing out on scholarships. It’s a shame,” All-American David Martinez said. “There’s a lot of talent not being properly used or rewarded.”
However, there are no plans in the NCAA’s near future to reinstitute boxing. The official reason for NCAA ending its relationship with boxing was “not being able to field enough competitive teams,” as the sport was unable to fully overcome the mark Mohr left.
“Everyone trains hard for their sport, but it is unfair for us,” teammate Andrew Ezzat said. “Boxers are going to work hard anyway, we don’t need extra incentive, but it’d be good to be more recognized by NCAA.”
Source: Matt Bufano, Collegianonline