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Lift The Ban Watch: Tennessee Wrestling Earmark Edition

The Tennessee state House passed a bill that would create an athletic commission to regulate and oversee mixed martial arts competition in the state, but a similar ball has stalled in the Senate. Why? Earmarks for a local wrestling program. Get a load of this:

But the companion bill was delayed for a week in the Senate Finance Committee because of concerns over an effort to direct some of the proceeds to the wrestling program at the University of Tennessee in Chattanooga.

Sen. Bo Watson, R-Hixson, argued that the wrestling program at the school near his district should benefit because many professional fighters have a background in collegiate wrestling.

"It is a sport that is very popular within the state of Tennessee," Watson said. "I think it's a great amendment, I think it's a great idea."

"If that's an earmark, then so be it," he said.

The proposal would direct any money above what is needed to pay for the operations of the new commission to be deposited into an account to fund scholarships at NCAA Division I wrestling programs in the state. UT-Chattanooga is the only public school that competes at that level.

The money would be generated from a tax on licensing fees, ticket sales and televised fights.

Senate Democratic Leader Jim Kyle of Memphis objected to directing money to specific programs - especially amid a growing budget shortfall.

"Earmarking ties our hands," he said.

Sen. Douglas Henry, D-Nashville, argued that the money could be better spent on trying to alleviate potential layoffs of state workers.

Watson responded that his proposal wouldn't go into effect for two years after the creation of the commission and that the budget situation could be different by then.

I'd have to agree that earmarking for wrestling scholarships seems to be a misplaced priority, although I'm torn on this issue. God knows in the age of Title IX funding I'm all for the promotion of collegiate wrestling programs. But there is documentation (most recently in the Washington Post) that the popularity of mixed martial arts is causing a boom in the interest of high school wrestling programs. That interest gets narrowed somewhat by the lack of wrestling programs even at Division I powerhouses due to budget cuts and Title IX, but the interest is still there and climbing. My dilemma is that in principle I find earmarking to be back door funding for special interest - in this case, my special interest. I would love to see wrestling programs protected, but it's hard to justify that at the expense of programs that could help Tennesseans in serious need.

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