Viewpoint: Wrestler Burk now has tough decision to ponder
Sometimes the truth has many sides. Two of the biggest parts of Northern Illinois redshirt sophomore wrestler Duke Burk's life - wanting to teach and his love of wrestling - looked like they met an impasse a few weeks ago. When I spoke with Burk's father, Kevin Burk, more than a week ago he sounded like a distraught father, one looking out for the best interests of his son as any good father would do. He wanted to see his son complete his education, realize his dream of becoming a teacher and wrestle for a top program. Northern Illinois wants the same thing for Duke Burk. But the university wants him to complete that goal in DeKalb. Earlier this week, Burk was granted a release from his scholarship to a Division II or Division III school. And therein lies the crux of the disagreement between the two sides. They both want the best for Duke Burk, but the Burks wanted a full release; NIU wouldn't grant it. After taking a harsh angle against NIU for what I gathered as a complete denial of any sort of release for Burk, I side with NIU with the case completed. The offer is more than fair and is all Northern Illinois can do without wounding itself. By granting a release to one of the lower divisions, Northern Illinois did all it could to ensure Duke Burk's academic future while protecting its own wrestling program. A full release would have set a dangerous precedent for the future of NIU wrestling by allowing wrestlers to go to competing schools without sitting out for a year. For all that Kevin Burk says they care about academics - and I believe it's a legitimate concern - they care about wrestling, and wrestling for a top Division-I program almost as much. The Burks asked for too much, and the inflammatory nature of how the case played out fractured relationships in the NIU community. Burk will sit down this week with NIU wrestling coach Dave Grant to talk about the future and where they go from here. Burk has options at this point. He can transfer to a D-2 or D-3 school, enroll in its education program and wrestle there. He can transfer to a Division-I school and sit out a year of wrestling. He can stay in DeKalb, tough it out academically and repair the relationships with his coaches and teammates. I hope he chooses the last option. From all accounts and my own personal experience with him, Duke Burk is a good kid. He's worked hard to get to where he is. He's revered by his teammates for his wrestling prowess and has a bright future ahead of him. On top of that, he has a scholarship and the support of the university. Burk put in three years of work on the mats in DeKalb, and Grant has been there every step of the way to coach him. It appeared to be a great working relationship. The most important thing now for both sides is that they come together, agree to put what's happened in the past and move toward building a close relationship again. Too often in college sports when we see an athlete and an athletic program at odds, the only resolution occurs when the athlete leaves. It's a cold way to do business for both sides. After all that's happened, Duke Burk and Grant shaking hands on the medal stand at Burk's third consecutive NCAA Championships next year - with both wearing NIU colors - would cure the bumps and bruises of the last month. I hope we get the chance to see it.