Jordan Gagliano was kind enough to take a few questions I had offered and put a tremendous amount of work and time into his responses. Please be good enough to not only read through it all, but provide some feedback on the writing and if you'd like to see more of it, and please leave any other questions you might have, as I am hoping this is a continuation of the work he has already provided to Armchair and I. Big thanks to the MU AD and Wrestling coaches for their support of Jordan in allowing RMN to work with him on the past couple of pieces.
Thanks so much for taking some time to answer our questions. First things first; congratulations on the completion of your wrestling career at Mizzou. At a really high level, what have the last five years been like in balancing all the elements which go into being a student-athlete?
I have to say the last five years have been tough. First things first, I wouldn't give up the experiences I've had as a student athlete for anything and would go through it all again if I had the chance. Going through the college athletic experience is rare and people would kill to have the opportunities I've had, but on the flip-side, student-athletes would love the chance to go through a normal college experience at times. I love my sport, I love my school, and I love my team, because they have made me the unique individual I am today.
I have been tested time and time again, having a demanding practice schedule, balancing school work, doing career searches, and sacrificing my personal time. It’s extremely hard to balance all four, and when some areas of my life were going very well, some areas were always lacking. The biggest challenges to athletics are easily competition and traveling. The mental drain competition takes out of an athlete is immense, especially when adding in tests to study for or the daily work required by being a student. Traveling on the other hand requires you to miss classes and tests and somehow make up the work on your own. I personally have had great teachers who have been extremely supportive of my athletic responsibilities and have worked with me through the troubled times, but there are many horror stories. Teachers failing a student for missing a test due to competition, missing out on daily points, and just being jerks as if you have some control over it.
As a student-athlete I am thankful for all the opportunities I have been given, as well as having a great support system of teammates, coaches, and friends to get me through the difficult times. Besides all the challenges to being a student-athlete, there are many positives. I’ve made my best life-long friends through athletics, been recognized for my successes, had academic staff dedicated to helping me do well, and basically have a family made up of around forty guys. Of course the athletic gear is pretty cool as well.
I could go on forever about the experiences of a student-athlete, but I’m sure every person has a different story.
Looking at your final season, you had a solid record of 25-12, seeing action in numerous tournaments, as well as five dual meets. As someone who has been a jack-of-all-trades in terms of lineup placement (both from a weight class and match status) for basically your entire career, how did you manage to stay focused from week to week in the wrestling room when maybe you were not sure when next you would see action on the mat?
It’s extremely tough to stay focused at times when you are sitting on the sidelines. It’s frustrating when you aren’t having the success that you would like, and even more so when you’re doing all of these things to fix it but still failing. Wrestling is an extremely difficult sport because it’s a one-on-one game of reactions. There are no constants in wrestling and every match is different. You are required to practice all of these skills and know when it is the right time to use them. Being in and out of the lineup was much of the same. I had to know that any moment I could be called up to represent the University of Missouri and my team, and by any moment I mean days or hours before a competition. To a certain point with wrestling, you have to be extremely disciplined with your dieting and weight management. Injuries or other issues can never be predicted and I’ve had times where I had to step up in a moment’s notice.
What remained constant through my career was my dedication to my team. These guys are my best friends and I never wanted to let them down. When you put on that black and gold singlet, you are no longer representing you, but the University of Missouri and the past champions before you. Still, I valued every moment I had on the starting lineup as you never know when it’s going to be taken away. I had some great matches with some very high level guys in the nation, but I can say my career wasn’t as successful as I would have liked. I appreciated the journey and being on the cusp of success, but it’s a win or lose match.
As the program has continued to turn out All-Americans and National Champions, how often do those guys who achieve that and then graduate from the program come back and work out with you all? What do they bring to the program at that point?
As a team we are very fortunate to have some very successful alumni of our program. Many are still competing internationally, fighting in mixed martial arts, or are still involved in the sport somehow. I think we all wish they came more frequently, but when they do they bring a splash of excitement and fun into the practice room. To see people who were built in the same wrestling room is inspirational and humbling. With their own professional lives and obligations, certain alumni return more than others, but we are extremely proud of our guys for succeeding with coaching jobs at other schools, or into the business world.
Two of our biggest name alumni would have to be Ben Askren and Mike Chandler who are currently fighting mixed martial arts. These guys bring in such personality to the wrestling room because Askren was one of the most unorthodox wrestlers of all time, while Mike Chandler was just ferocious and tough. We are the number one supporters for these guys and we take a lot from their instruction and advice. Wrestling in-shape and mixed martial arts in-shape are much different, so we really try to beat up on them if we get the chance.
As a student-athlete, you went through a once-in-a-lifetime change as Mizzou moved from the Big XII to the SEC. For wrestling, that was even more complex, and Mizzou now finds itself in the MAC. If you can think back to that time, what was it like in the room not knowing the future of the program?
It was a scary time being a part of a sport that wasn’t really apart of the SEC. Were we going to be the next dropped wresting program in the nation? Was men’s tennis going to replace us as a more SEC friendly sport? Those were questions that we really didn’t know the answers to. Our coaches assured us we had nothing to worry about, but it still was a bleak thought. While we were waiting to find out the future of our program, two of our assistant coaches actually transferred to other schools. They were great coaches who were taking better job opportunities, but it still made for a lot of questions about the future.
One of the best reasons to be a Mizzou athlete is Mike Alden. In my opinion, he is the best athletic director in the nation and we are lucky to have him. Throughout the whole transition for wrestling, Mike Alden communicated his support to us and I knew we were in good hands. The next couple months after that were still nerve wrecking, but we knew we had a place at Mizzou in the future, but we didn’t know where we would be competing.
Since then, I have had the opportunity to go to several SEC athletic conferences and meet student-athletes from all of the schools. Even though I performed in a sport that they didn’t have, I’ve never seen more support than what they showed me. A couple of the guys had wrestled in high school and everyone was genuinely interested in my sport. I also learned of other sports in the SEC schools which were in separate conferences, Men’s soccer being one of them and playing in the Conference USA.
Going through this experience, it assured me that wrestling had a place at Mizzou and the SEC going into the future. I also learned a little about the history of the SEC and the fact that they did have college wrestling programs in the past. It is my hope that in the future more programs will be added, including in the SEC.
The landscape of collegiate wrestling continues to change. There is now discussion about the ACC and the Big 12 merging for qualification purposes. Boston University is fighting to keep their program. While MU certainly looks solid (and comfortable I might add) in the MAC, is there ongoing concern about the sport (in general, not at Mizzou)?
I think the wrestling community as a whole is aware of how close we were to missing the 2020 Olympics. The Olympics are the version of our Superbowl, World Series, etc. and losing that questions why wrestle at all? Losing its automatic spot, we had to petition to get ourselves back in, competing with several other sports. I’ve spoken to hundreds of non-wrestlers who were appalled by the IOC’s decision, but I think it actually helped the sport a lot. As a community we had to come together to help keep our sport relevant. The same goes for college wrestling.
While we are comfortable in the MAC, a lot of programs across the nation are vulnerable to being dropped. Most of these are economic decisions, which are hard to argue, but it’s tough being a non-revenue generating sport. There are several schools fighting to keep their programs, but on the other side, some schools have actually added wrestling to their schools. It’s heartbreaking when a program is dropped, but inspiring when a program is added. It will be a tense issue for the next decade as college wrestling figures out the direction its going.
When our conference change was happening, we really thought we might be staying in the Big 12 as a sport. There was talk of having a regional qualifying tournament as well, but I think that is still years away if it happens at all. Wrestling conferences are pretty confusing as all teams in the Big 10 have wrestling, while I believe four schools in the Big 12 have wrestling. The wildly contrasting sizes of conference tournaments are confusing and create an uncertain future about how qualifying for the national tournament will take place.
I think as a wrestler, compared to other sports, it is extremely important to be an advocate for your sport. Wrestling is a confusing sport to watch for spectators, unless they have been around the sport for a while. Going forward, I think college wrestling has to work harder at promoting itself in order to ensure a solid future.
Give me your thoughts on the idea of the NCAA creating a second Championship weekend, where instead of an individual tournament (with a team title winner), it would be wrestled in a dual format (similar to the National Duals). As a wrestler, would that be something a program would also buy into?
The idea of a championship dual tournament has been thrown around for a long time and there are arguments for and against the idea. Certain collegiate wrestling programs are against the idea, citing that smaller programs would be at a disadvantage, while proponents of the idea believe that the playing field would be leveled between larger and smaller programs. These contrasting beliefs make it difficult to choose. The goal of leveling the playing field between larger and smaller wrestling programs, arises from the relatively small number of programs who have won NCAA wrestling team titles. Just recently, Penn State has won their fourth straight national wrestling team-title and before that Iowa won three straight. Over the 86 years there has been a national championship tournament, only 11 different teams have won it, five of them winning the title only once.
Personally, I believe a dual tournament format would level the playing field for college wrestling programs, but not to a "March Madness" extent. Wrestling duals put a much greater emphasis on the team as a whole, rather than a couple select individuals. The outcome of duals can be more difficult to predict than an individual championship. Still, the top programs in college wrestling dominate because of their ability to recruit the best talent each year and in turn would mostly dominate the dual tournament.
I would be very interested in a dual format national championship, and I think a lot of other wrestlers feel the same. From the perspective of a wrestler, the format doesn’t change at all how you wrestle, competition is competition. You still are stepping up to the mat and wrestling whoever is on the other side. The real issues a college wrestler would consider is how this tournament is going to work. How many matches will I be wrestling this weekend, how quick will this tournament be run, will I have to weigh in multiple days and what are the different qualifying factors making a team eligible to compete? Wrestling season is a long season, practically from the beginning of September to the end of March. Another major tournament like this would be a challenge if it were simply added to the season.
What is next for Jordan Gagliano?
Jordan Gagliano is a man of many interests, a renaissance man in his own eyes... I've recently accepted a summer internship offer with Chico's FAS in Fort Myers, FL to work in finance/strategic planning and analysis. I will graduate with my MBA from the University of Missouri in December of 2014, and will most likely start working in January or February of next year full-time. I hope to continue to be involved in athletics on some level and I am still considering a career working in college athletics. Doing what and where are questions still left open, but I expect to start another thrilling adventure.