Atta-Boy Rich

It’s only fair that I come out of retirement for this particular blog to congratulate USAWrestling and their staff for a wonderful championship performance. World Champions!

It was great fun getting to watch all the amazing competition and the various storylines unfold. To all who gave of themselves to make this happen . . . well done!

Moving forward, as most of you know, I’ve been on Rich’s case for decades now, pointing out how his anemic understanding of how to win has produced even more anemic results. Yes, the gentleman has increased the amount of capital contributions to USAW which no doubt helps programming but there’s more to winning than just revenue production. He’s also amazing at maintaining his power base while navigating the very difficult waters of huge egos. And he’s obviously respected by his counterparts at the other 39 National Governing Bodies. But if we look at the organizations primary goal of dominating in international competition, his understanding of what that means continually falls woefully short.

So you know where I’m coming from, if you subtract the successes and titles of Burroughs and Snyder who would win even if they grew up in Sierra Leone, we have only had two World Champions (men’s freestyle) and three World Champions (men’s Greco) since Rich became the Executive Director almost two decades ago. So we garnished 5 out of 188 Gold Medals that have been awarded during his tenure.

But we won the team title this time around, so what’s changed?

Four things come to mind.

The first is the mentality of our freestylers who represent us in world competition. In the past there’s been little confidence radiating from our athletes or for that matter much buzz from the wrestling community about our chances internationally. This has to do with a shortage of hopefulness that must first emanate from those who oversee our programs.

As a parallel, when Gable coached, he had amazing teams but not always the best athletes. What made the black and gold so feared, and dominant, was an unbeatable mentally that was Dan Gable. He had a specialness about him that drove everyone who came in contact to believe in themselves and as a result wrestle in many instances above their capabilities. The Hawks weren’t always the best, but they were the ones that won. Gabe had the same effect on his teammates who accompanied him to Munich in ’72.

Our international teams since the current leadership came to power has never seemed to believe in themselves, and the Greco program still has that problem. It’s not that they’re inferior athletes, or don’t train as hard as the competition, or are as bad as their performances seem to suggest . . . it has everything to do with a lack of internal belief, not what they say when they’re in public but what they think when they’re alone.

It’s similar to your big brother always thumping you when you were young. Then years later when you finally grew up and were quite possibly the better of the two, you still struggle to win because that’s what you grew accustomed to expecting; being second best. Or the baby elephant that had his leg tethered to a post for so long that when he finally grew up and could pull it out of the ground he didn’t; because he knew from experience that he couldn’t.

This is why we’ve struggled for so long, it has everything to with expectations; there’s no one in Colorado Springs that has been able to make believers out of our Greco guys or the freestylers for that matter; and there still isn’t.

Fortunately for America, we now have a second coming of Gable in Snyder and Burroughs just like we had in Bruce, Curt, Kendall and Tom in Atlanta. Those were wrestlers who believed in themselves beyond anything our administering leaders could muster and their belief was so polarizing that they lifted every boat in our harbor because they became the tide. Sanderson is doing the same thing at Penn State as Gable did in Iowa and the Lions are reining surpreme.

And even though Dake, Taylor and Stieber weren’t in the line-up in Paris, America now has about 10 wrestlers who know they’re going to medal and about 5 of them are certain they’re going to win Gold. It’s all about perception and expectations; something America now has in spite of Colorado Springs, not because of it.

And I’d be remiss here not to mention Helen on the women’s side. She comes from the same egg as the men I mentioned above. Hopefully her poise and self-assurance will become contagious within the women’s program but I’m afraid she can’t do it alone just as Burrough’s couldn’t before the arrival of Kyle.

I really spent a lot of time analyzing what’s happening in Colorado Springs before putting any of this to paper. And I would love to be able to write wonderful things about their efforts but they seem to be like Congress, more interested in doing less than more. Sure you catch arrows for doing less, but there is far more danger in doing more. Less probably upsets about 25% of our community but it maintains jobs; doing more moves the needle above 50% and puts the decision makers at risk.

Fortunately for us, and USAWrestling, the end of the rainbow is the addition of 2 new weight classes that on all accounts puts Taylor and Dake in the line-up. I’m sure some other wrestlers will have something to say about that but regardless, we’ll have at least one if not two more wrestlers joining the team who know they’re going to win because that’s the way they train, the way they act and the way they believe. And maybe the two of them will win it all, maybe they won’t, but if they don’t, it won’t be due to a lack of confidence.

The second has to do with what I suspect the IOC knew about but was afraid to act on; the unforgiveable, inexcusable, indefensible and reprehensible use of the performance enhancing drugs by the Soviet Union, now Russia. Although everything hit the fan just prior to Rio, I’m of the mindset that Russia’s pharmaceutical capabilities have either been one step ahead of those who were responsible to monitor such things or it is possible that the IOC knew and were deathly afraid of the explosion that would occur if they exposed the offenders.

If it’s the latter you might wonder; how could something like that happen?

Well, remember the East German gymnasts in the 70’s and the IOC’s Salt Lake City Olympic allegations of bribery scandal? And all the questions that have arisen over the decades regarding hidden accounts and influence peddling that are attached to enough of the IOC leadership to make any logical thinker shake his head. Should I mention the recent arrest of the Head of the Rio Olympics for corruption, money laundering and participating in a criminal operation that has the IOC in the middle of yet another embarrassing fall from grace? And this new Olympic setback is bound to make the one in Salt Lake look like a Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade by comparison.

So could it be fair to assume, or say, that the Soviets have been doping for decades? I think that’s more of a “daaa” than a “that can’t be”! Personally I don’t doubt it for a second because I wrestled my share of those athletes just as I competed against some of the strongest wrestlers in American history; and in every instance there was no comparison; the Soviets were bears and sub-human when it came to power.

And if I’m as correct as I think I am, it makes me sad and then furious to think how many of our greatest wrestlers never won a Gold medal, or any medal for that matter due to the competition doping?

I wonder if or maybe a better question would be how long the IOC knew about the Russian’s use of performance enhancing drugs. They couldn’t possibly have had their heads in the sand for decades. But due to the Olympic Committee’s history, what could they do given their own personal past of under the table inducements, pay-outs and voting irregularities; for it’s really hard to point a finger at someone else when in the same hand they have three other fingers pointing back there way.

Now this is pure conjecture on my part but if I were to guess, I’d say that the IOC, given their history, told the Russians before Paris (and possibly the Iranians too) if anyone of their athletes gets flagged for drug use moving forward, there’s going to be hell to pay. That might be why three Russian World Champions and three Iranian World Medalists didn’t compete in France which was certainly a head scratcher. Had they attended, it would have more than likely changed the team scores. But given their absence, without a better athlete through chemistry advantage, they were forced to outwrestle us; and they couldn’t. That’s why I believe, along with the exceptional quality and the newly developed elevated expectations of our athletes; there’s a new sheriff in town.

The third is . . . USAW spends zero dollars marketing or promoting the sport outside of their own organization. Sure they support their programs and athletes through their publications and fund raisers but do little to grow the sport outside of the sport.

To me, USAWrestling is like a fleet of fishing vessels that are catching as many fish as they can without regard to how it might hurt the sustainability of the oceans bounty. Why doesn’t USAWrestling feel they have an obligation to give back, to help the sport grow beyond its small and narrow confines?

For those who think I may be off base here, may I remind them that USA Today didn’t print one sentence, or one word about our world team title and yet in last Friday’s paper they ran a huge story about USA Soccer losing to a country of 173 people. Okay, you caught me, Trinidad and Tobago is larger than 173 people but I’m trying to make a point here; that wrestling is less important to those outside of our family than a second tier sport who lost to a country that has less people in it than the state of Delaware. Why didn’t USAW take out a full or half page of advertising in the paper to congratulate themselves and our athletes; alert people outside of the sport that we’re alive and well, doing great and worthy of their attention? Colorado Springs has the money, why aren’t they trying to keep our fisheries healthy instead of just pillaging the stock?

And the fourth is the development of Regional Training Centers which are a tremendous boost to our international efforts but unquestionably hurtful when it comes to collegiate programming. Again, they’re willing to take because the RTC’s provides immeasurable benefits without a cost to them but at a huge price to the health of folkstyle.

As some of you might remember, I’ve written about this before so I won’t bother you by repeating myself. But for those who didn’t read my opinions about the RTC’s, please refer to a previous blog over on the right entitled; Regional Training Center . . . A Cause For Concern.

But regardless of my opinions on these or any subject I cover, I’m always in awe of our athletes and fully supportive of their futures. Go USA.    

Hmmm

Earlier this Spring wrestling formed a Blue Ribbon task force for the purpose of examining who we are, what we’re doing and how can we improve the sport’s long-term health. Each of the four conclusions they came to and voted unanimously to approve came from my previous blogs. So it might be fair to say that I might have had a much larger impact on the wrestling community that I originally thought.

To my detractors, relax. I’m not trying to take credit for what’s happening but with well over a million of you reading my words in the last year; it has to be more than a consequence given that all four recommendations, complete with why they’re critical to the sports health can be found over on the right.

They are . . . 1) Wrestling will become a one semester sport, with competition starting during the Christmas break and end in late April with 2) An “official” dual meet championship. Then 3) The individual tournament would be moved to later in March and away from March Madness and 4) Is the realization and total support of the notion that our sport has to return to its dual meet roots and away from all day events.

The only problem I have with any of these recommendations are 1) They’re only being recommended for Division I programming and 2) There’s not a firm date set for any of these changes to be implemented.

But I’m optimistic here because every member of the task force is well known and respected within the leadership of the NCAA. So here’s to crossed fingers.

Boise State

Wrestling’s Loss

I was saddened to read the President of Boise State’s review of his wrestling program and the stated reasons for discontinuing the sport, plus the pledge to keep the program on the sidelines as long as he’s in his role as head of the university.

The reasons he used for his decision included declining ticket sales for Bronco football, the yearning of some school supporters to start a baseball program and worst of all, his very painful pronouncement that wrestling is a dying sport.

If one steps back and takes an objective appraisal of what was just said, the President made some very good points. If revenue is down, obviously something has to go. And given that ticket sales for wrestling are almost non-existent at his school, and all the financial pledges to support the program came in after his announcement to drop the sport, it’s not hard to understand why he’s holding his ground. No administrator worth his salt will reverse a decision of this kind once it’s made.

Now here’s where the hard part comes in with regards to writing this blog. I have to say that the President was right; wrestling has done little to nothing to keep its programs safe. Now to his perception and pronouncement that wrestling is a dying sport; oh my gosh folks! That view point alone is worth its weight in gold. It’s the shot that should be heard around the world of wrestling and into each of our locker rooms. What he just said is worthy of his induction into our National Wrestling Hall of Fame.

Granted, the announcement was an unintended favor, but as usual the sport is missing the point. We continually fight the “what” while missing the “why”. Losing the Bronco program, and all the others before it, has been our own doing! President Kustra just said as much and instead of hinting at it, or blaming Title IX, he said it very loudly to make sure it sinks into our thick skulls.

If you’re missing the point here, put simply, the President of a major university just pronounced in a very public forum that “wrestling is dying” . . . and still, besides not listening, we’re helping spread the narrative. Think forfeits for a moment. Coaches purposely forfeit weight classes, because in most instances it makes tactical sense. True the team still loses 6 points but not the accompanying momentum that occurs when they’re forced to watch the carnage of a superior athlete taking apart one of their own. Of course there are always legitimate injuries that might cause a forfeit to occur but a vast majority of them are either tactical or apathetic in nature.

So here’s the question; how does this perception that teams who are unable to field full teams play into the hands of administrators who hear from one of their own that wrestling is a dying sport? I get it; we want what we want and who cares about the consequences until another program is dropped, then it’s way too late to bitch.

Instead of seeing the much larger picture, the sport is still fighting anyone and everyone they perceive had a hand in the Boise State decision. While all this is taking place not one member of any of our leadership teams has begun to develop a post mortem analysis asking such questions as: what happened, why did it happen and how can we keep it from occurring again?

But for USAWrestling its business as usual, just as it is for the NCAA Rules Committee, Brute, WIN, The Hall of Fame, the AAU, Cliff Keen, Nuway, the National High School Federation, Amateur Wrestling News, Wrestler’s in Business and so on.

From my perspective, none of these organizations or businesses realizes they have a dog in this fight, when, in fact, they do, and the dog is getting its butt kicked.

Fewer programs mean fewer fans and smaller numbers of athletes; all of which translates into a downturn in memberships, subscriptions, donations and equipment sold.

We’re all in this boat together. Wrestling needs to understand that what just happened at Boise State is a tragedy and embrace it as such, and then come together to restructure our thought processes.

But I doubt that’ll happen, because it’s as if, the sport is anesthetized to losing programs; we’re like deer in a car’s headlights, frozen in place. Maybe it has something to do with us setting the bar so low for so long that we’ve become used to it. Our way of thinking has come to a point that we don’t even realize what’s possible anymore or how bad we’ve let things become. It’s a frog in the pot of water analogy. We’re piddling along at 26mph in a vehicle that’s capable of going 112mph and yet we think the old buggy is full open.

Well, it’s not full open, and we’re not even close to what we could be; that’s the problem we have to overcome. No one is dreaming of the possibilities or has a willingness to restructure how we do business. For God sake people, when hasn’t mano-e-mano been the best form of entertainment on the planet?

Think gladiators and the coliseum in Rome and packed houses; think about the largest crowds and most important sport in the ancient Olympic Games; think professional wrestling of the early 20th century and every seat in Wrigley Field being taken to witness Frank Gotch and George Hackenschmidt slug it out; think boxing from Marciano to Ali to Tyson and how the UFC is less than 20 years old and worth billions today. People love fights and that might have something to do with the popularity of ice hockey. A good old fashioned scuffle brings out the warrior fan in all of us.

Wrestling could be king but we’re happy with it being the three of clubs.

We’ve sissified the sport to death. We’ve developed so many regulations over the term of being man’s oldest sport that winning is as much about manipulating the rules and playing to them as it is about switches and stand-ups; maybe even more. It’s about making every new fan we attract feel inept and leave the arena perplexed and unsatisfied because they didn’t understand or enjoy what they just saw.

How could we have screwed up the most basic of sports . . . two people fight; one wins, one loses. That’s it, it’s that simple and yet we can’t even get that right.

Boise is dead because of us, it’s not the President of the University’s fault. Wrestling has always refused to study why programs drop and do something about it because it’s far easier being a reactive failure than a proactive success.

And somehow wrestling is okay with that . . .

Incredible

Before I begin here, I’d like to say for the record that I’m not looking for any responsibility that will infringe on my free time in retirement and I don’t want to be seen spitting in wrestling’s punch bowl but . . . really? The NWCA is assembling a Blue Ribbon Task Force to tackle high school wrestling’s participation slide and I’m not being asked? That means, as with the 6 or 7 previous Task Forces that I’m aware of, there’s little sizzle and mostly fizzle.

At the very least I bring to the table a creative mind. I’m a thought leader with 55 years of experience and a perspective that wrestling needs, mainly because I see the entire picture. I don’t get pulled into arguing the merits of riding time or the benefits of creating a push out rule. I’m also not easily awed by the bright and shiny which is why the NCWA is only expanding and Beat the Street’s is growing.

There’s a stark difference between the two.

One is run using business principles to increase programming with the end user in mind and the other is a conglomerate of coaches who, like Congress, look at things from their perspective, certainly not how their constirutients sees things.

All too often when committees like these are formed they’re typically made up of a dozen or so likeminded individuals who are each afraid of invoking the wrath of the others by stepping away from the go-along to get-along agenda. This creates an epidemic of imaginational loss and leads to a perilous state of groupthink where false beliefs are propelled forward as a means of getting along. As a not so distant example; the explosion of the Challenger shuttle right after take-off.

And we wonder why Boise State dropped; why the NWCA Duals are dead; why the sport hasn’t had a major school add wrestling since Clemson in 1975; why forfeits at both the collegiate and scholastic levels are reaching epidemic proportions; why no major Network will even talk with us let alone broadcast the sport* and why wrestling has the poorest retention rate of any youth activity.

If we don’t begin to do the uncomfortable, if we don’t initiate change in the way we’re doing business, if we don’t begin listening to viewpoints different from the norm and find out how all the major sports vary from us; then we’re going to hear a lot more administrators say that wrestling is a dead sport.

*ESPN’s coverage of the NCAA’s doesn’t count because they’re forced to broadcast our national championships as part of a much larger contract they sign with the NCAA.

This Will Be My Last Blog

The more I write, the more I realize how little my blogs have achieved other than to entertain my friends and annoy those who have been a target of my angst.

But I have to admit I have taken great pleasure not only in the topics I’ve tackled but the writing style I’ve developed. I’m probably my own favorite writer which I guess is why anyone writes.

However, though this is my last posting, I do plan to leave the web site up for those who would like it as a resource tool.

As to my immediate plans; I intend to attack the few remaining items I have on my bucket list. The first is to co-author a book on raising children with my lovely wife Deb while continuing to struggle with a 300 page novel I started over a decade ago. Jacob’s Cradle, a story of love, heartache and the struggles an Olympic athlete has to endure while being a clandestine operative for the CIA. It has great potential but what I’ve learned so far about a project of this nature is how much respect I have for the John Irving’s of the world. Writing columns and short stories are a piece of cake. Novels are another thing all together.

In closing I’d like to say thank you to all the 1.4 million visitors who over the last year made my blog the most successful one in the sports history. And if you’d like to help resuscitate our “dying sport”, please grab a pen and write something bold on your Facebook, Twitter or Instagram accounts. I’d love to read your thoughts for a change.

 

IOC Cuts Wrestling Participation

The International Olympic Committee recently announced sweeping changes to its program for the 2020 Tokyo Games and presumably on into the future, trimming the field for wrestling by 56 competitors across the three divisions. What this means to us is one of two things.

Either there will be 5 weight classes instead of the current 6 or I imagine wrestling could decide, which I hope they would elect to do, to reduce the number of qualifiers in each of the 3 divisions by 56. That sounds like a big number but actually it means we would only have to cut 3 qualifying slots per weight class, per division, to comply with the mandate.

It’s definitely the better of the two options, assuming the IOC will go for it.

Reducing the number of qualifiers in brackets of roughly 20 competitors isn’t perfect, but it does preserve the total number of weight classes. That’s a good thing especially when the athletes who are being denied, and I hate writing this, probably shouldn’t be there in the first place if the object is to find out who the Top 8 are in each weight. Those who “just” qualify for the Games aren’t likely to have a break out moment but regardless, I really dislike anytime opportunities are lost for competitors in any sport.

So I wonder; were we forced to go to 8 weights from 10 in 2000 and then in 2004 to 7 when the ladies joined our ranks, only to lose another weight class in 2012 when there might have been an option of dropping our qualifying numbers to maintain the weight classes? Probably not, but I bet FILA (now the UWW) didn’t even try to persuade the IOC to give the sport that flexibility; given they’re certainly not known for showing much interest in anything other than what might feather their nests. Remember, this is the same organization that agreed several years ago to find a way to increase scoring so they doubled the number of points for a takedown and said, promise fulfilled. But back to the question of qualifying numbers, what’s paramount to the IOC is not the number of medals given out as much as it is the total number of athletes who are present at the Games. So why should they care how we satisfied their directive?

If it’s the cost of additional medals that concerns the IOC, which I doubt is the case, the UWW could offer to absorb any additional expenses. They couldn’t cost very much, we’ve all seen how well they were made given the ones from Rio are currently decaying and turning black in spots.

As to how all this came about, the IOC had no choice but reduce the field given they recently chose to add 3 on 3 basketball and BMX freestyle to the 2020 family of sports. Consequently, given their athlete numbers are maxed out, there had to be a corrective shift.

So why us, why wrestling?

If I were to take a guess my money would be on the UWW’s arrogance, sense of importance and inability to make the sport as fan friendly or media attractive as they promised. Of course wrestling’s very obvious and inexcusable cheating (the athletes for monetary and political gain) scandal in Rio hasn’t helped much either. And of special interest, proportionally, wrestling lost more qualifying numbers than any of the other sports. And that means exactly what you think it does, which should send shock-waves throughout our community. Not the UWW though . . . I would be willing to bet not one of their leadership team has done the numbers yet to realize that we’re back at the front of the line for termination.

So if we’re to feel offended by this latest slight by the IOC, everyone’s index finger needs to point to, you guessed it, the UWW and then USAWrestling given that the second most powerful man in the world of wrestling is an American. There’s certainly a lot of blame to go around but most of it has to take roost in Luzerne and Colorado Springs. The sport hasn’t cleaned up wrestling’s governance gang or their reign of error so they’re right back doing whatever they want and whenever they like and the IOC can go pound salt. That might have something to do with how our recent reduction in numbers came to be.

Now, if anyone is offended by my inclusion of USAWrestling above, or would like to defend the IOC by saying that cuts were going to be made regardless of anything we did or didn’t do, are you sure? Yes, the International Olympic Committee had to make some tough decisions, but there are 22 other sports that were ignored and escaped the axe. To my point, had we done what we promised to do in 2013 when wrestling was doing its reinstatement genuflecting, the IOC would have given us a pass and trained their sights elsewhere.

Without a willingness to fall in line, the fact remains, wrestling still has a bull’s eye on its chest. And with every event the UWW administers and each rule they adopt, counter to the assurances they made in 2013 to clean their act up, add excitement to the sport and keep our rules constant for a while; the rings on our chest keep getting larger and the red brighter.

New Rules, Old Themes

Recently the NCAA rules committee released their latest set of changes. Although they’re still insistent on applying Band-Aids to wounds that require stitches and transfusions, and still overlooking topics that are certainly uncomfortable to discuss, I’ll give them some credit here for effort.

Regarding this year’s agenda items, I rated each of them as being either a Gold, Silver, Bronze or DNP (did not place) attempt at improvement. Let’s see where you might agree with me?

Facial Hair; DNP

I have an issue with any rule that specifies what length of facial hair is acceptable? It’s not the length, but the simple fact that they actually invested intellectual energy debating something that shouldn’t be an agenda item? What if the ladies decided not to shave their legs for competition, is the Rules Committee going to decide what length is acceptable there as well?

Yea, that was a silly parallel but seriously, aren’t there larger issues we need to address than getting sidetracked by the actual acceptability of facial hair and then what length works best? All this could have been handled with a simple statement that everyone has to be clean shaven; discussion over. That would have been too logical; keep it simple and make it a black and white decision. Instead they chose gray and with it will come future debates and political posturing such as; “what’s wrong with five eighths of an inch long, it’s only one eighth more than the current rule? What’s the big deal?”

And you can bet this debate will continue; all to accommodate less than .05% of collegiate competitors who feel they are somehow being denied a right to go into battle without a meaningful sized mane.

I guess my position here makes me old fashioned but like clothing, appearances are important and how the Rules Committee spends their time makes me question their ability to prioritize that which is important from that which is not. All they’ve done instead is open a door that should have stayed closed.

The Rules Committee should be focusing things like the length and timing of the season, not the length of an athlete’s facial hair. And in the absence logic, the RC has earned their first DNP.

Third Party Video;   

As I wrote in one of my blogs, allowing the same referee to review contested calls is like asking someone who’s about to receive a speeding ticket if they were actually going faster than the posted limit . . . with the driver’s response determining if the officer can issue a summons.

The same official that makes a call shouldn’t be expected to validate or overturn his own decision; just as our legal system has an appeals court that doesn’t include the trial judge whose judgment is in question.

The NCAA has needed, from the inception of video reviews, to employ a fresh set of eyes, a third-party registered official to be exact, to determine the outcome of protested calls for two very good reasons.

The first is the anxiety that is always generated by the protesting team and their fans. They know from the onset, whether it’s true or not, that nothing positive is going to come out of any protest. But at least the hope is there. Is that actually the case, no, 15% of all protested calls at the NCAA’s are reversed. But looking at it another way, it means that 85 out of every 100 protests are not upheld. And of the 15 that are, most of them are ones where the referee could back out gracefully due to being out of position as was the case in the Valencia – Hall match where the former used his opponent’s headgear to set up a takedown.

But regardless of the situation, it’s still this helpless feeling that any reversal will involve the referee who made the call admitting very publically that he somehow erred. Now I realize that any individual who makes the NCAA’s is an outstanding referee and yes, it takes a big man to admit when he’s wrong but we all know how human nature tends to work.

To that end, most of us believe that officials will always support their calls; as long as the video evidence isn’t conclusive, because who wants to admit they screwed up in the eyes of the fans or in plain view of those who are evaluating them. Granted a small number of calls do get reversed, but only where the video replay is so obvious there’s not really an option.

The second reason why officials always tend to support their calls has to do with competitiveness.  Reversing any protested call might very well be the difference between being selected to referee one of the championship finals or being one of the judges. You need to look at this as they do; its competition! 20 referees start Thursday morning with their names on a bracket sheet. Two days later half of them are in the consolation rounds judging the finals.

Whether you thought about this or not, as much as our officiating corps is a group of professionals, they are also highly competitive or they wouldn’t be here. Having a mat judge, who is never blamed for the final outcome of any decision, provide input to the referee who is accountable, does little to assure a harmonious and collaborative effort.

The bottom line for me is every athlete deserves our best and why I’m giving the Rules Committee a Gold Medal here for doing the right thing. Having a neutral third party decide protested calls is best for everyone and makes the road to fairness all the smoother.

Headgear;

It’s about time that headgear go the way of the Dodo bird. I can see the need to wear them in practices, but at the collegiate level, if these athletes are old enough to vote and give their lives in defense of their country, they should be able to decide whether headgear is something they want to wear.

If you think about the exposure to injury for a minute; the typical athlete wrestles over 10 hours a week in the practice room compared to maybe 30 minutes total of actual competition. So, if you were going to develop a cauliflower ear, where might that be? Now with that answer, I have another question. If the health and safety of athletes is the prime directive of the Rules Committee, why didn’t they ever make a rule that headgear had to be worn in practices? Could it be that the reduction of injuries wasn’t the goal and it was all for show? Hmmm

Dumping headgear, which has been long in coming, does several things that the fans should cheer. First, it eliminates all those irritating readjustment timeouts that we have always been forced to endure while second, eliminating an athlete’s ability to use them to set-up a takedown.

I’m glad headgear is now an optional item and for that the RC receives a Gold Medal.

Weight Assessment Protocols;

I find the Rules Committee’s handling of weight assessment protocols intriguing. They’re not very resolute when it comes to making the sport attractive to new fans but when it comes to weight loss practices and medical examinations they’re dead serious. I’d love to see more consistency and focus when they talk about making the sport great again.

Here’s what they did.

During their annual meeting in Indianapolis, they recommended a penalty change that would require a wrestler to miss eight consecutive competitions on any first offense regarding weight management protocols or prohibited weight loss practices. Wow, they’re putting teeth into this, plus the offending athlete will also be required to recertify their weight at some point during the suspension period. Some examples of no-no’s are urine manipulation during weight assessments, use of rubber suits, saunas, diuretics, intravenous rehydration and skin check forgery or deception.

I wish they’d make penalties as stiff for coaches who don’t wear a coat and tie for competition and be as serious about the epidemic of forfeiting weight classes. An example might be, at the collegiate level, if you want to stop forfeiting; any team short an athlete can’t compete in that dual meet of tournament. Draconian you say, maybe. But is that any harsher than missing eight consecutive competitions for a weight reduction violation? I’ll never buy a coach saying he couldn’t find someone for a weight class. They’re just not looking hard enough but if the entire team had to forfeit when they’re short an athlete, those can’t find athletes would quickly become found.

But either way I like the practice the Rules Committee is demonstrating here that they do take some things seriously. Had they done more of this, I would have awarded a Gold Medal. But in the absence of that they receive one of silver.

Funk Wrestling;  

It’s about time that the rules committee addressed the use of stalemates to neutralize the excitement that funk wrestling can produce. In the past, when the Rules Committee couldn’t wrap their arms around anything that was creative or didn’t fit comfortably within their standardized approach to scoring, they’d find a way to cancel out whatever they couldn’t understand.

This time around, finally, after years and years of overused and misused stalemate calls, which made Funk unpopular, the rules committee decided to embrace this style of wrestling for what it can be, an exciting and non-traditional way of skinning the cat.

Here’s what they decided . . . when in the neutral position, the referee will verbally announce a danger signal to any wrestler who becomes stationary on his back with his shoulders at an angle of 90 degrees or less to the mat surface. The verbal announcement will be followed by an audible three-count. If the referee reaches the third count and the wrestler is still on his back within the 90-degree angle, control will be considered to have been established and a takedown will be awarded.

Is this perfect, no, but it is a far cry from where we’ve been which was . . . if you can’t explain it, stalemate it. To be honest, I don’t know of a single position that athletes can get into which would actually qualify as a stalemate; someone always has the ability to improve their position. They just choose not to because the rules committee has given them a non-physical and a non-intellectual way of escaping a bad position. All a wrestler has to do is stop wrestling, act frustrated and wait for a stalemate call. By encouraging referees to take this way out, the Rules Committee was successful in killing some of the best scrambles a fan could ever hope to see while giving this style of wrestling a bad name.

It’s really simple, all referees have to say is, “I’m not going to call a stalemate but I am going to give green (or red) the takedown if nothing has happened after I count to 3” and sit back and watch the athletes scramble.

The idea of stalemates has always been a “millennial let’s be fair to all” rule that should never have come into being. Nothing is fair in war, it’s either kill or be killed. Nothing should be fair in competition, either you score or are scored on. Stalling calls are nothing more than a “we can’t figure out what to do so let’s have a restart.” And coaches have used that since day one and regard it as a very important strategic option.

It’s all very frustrating but it doesn’t have to be. When wrestling comes to a standstill all the referee has to do is decide who has the upper hand, not control, just the better position and start awarding points. Once everyone realizes that stalemates are no longer in play, things will change forever; and for the better.

This new attitude regarding funk is definitely a move in the right direction but it doesn’t go far enough and why I’m giving it a Bronze Medal, mostly because it’s taken the RC too long to even get to this point.

But Overall; DNP

In closing, I’d like to address those who I know will defend the Rules Committee by saying it isn’t their job to market, or promote, or advance wrestling; they’re just there to manage the rules.

And they’re probably right; well . . . kind of, but not really.

Doesn’t each rule have as a baseline a certain philosophy that triggered the need for the rule in the first place? Maybe they don’t realize it but the RC is already marketing and promoting; everything they do has a direct impact on our survival or advancement as a sport. The weight assessment protocol is a good example of developing major marketing and promotion components. And the number of losses we continually have in youth retention, income production and the preservation of programs, they can all be directly linked to the RC’s actions or inaction.

If you think I’m off base here about the RC, if not them then who; if not now, when? If they were actually serious about helping the sport, they could expand their reach in a New York minute and the sport would be all the better. The NCAA has already given them the right, they’ve said, “you’re in charge, go do good for the sport.” It’s the RC that hasn’t been willing to take on that task. And God help any other group who might try because the RC will be the first to scream foul and say, “that’s our job.”

Well, if it is your job, then do it.

Wrestle Where You Belong

If we look for any additional benefits that might arise from adopting a point earned is a team point scored system that I covered in a previous blog, (on the right) it’s that schools would be compelled to wrestle where they belong.

I’ll explain.

No one knows better than I how objectionable what I’m about to say is going to be with many of you. I don’t like it either but I see where the sport is heading and it’s foolish to keep building carburetors when technology has the world running on fuel injectors.

Teams need to reconsider how they schedule opponents and especially where they wrestle at year’s end. It doesn’t help Lock Haven as an example, a D-II school, when they get blown off the mats by a Penn State, Virginia Tech or an Ohio State. Bald Eagle fans; please, we’ve been friends for decades now, no screaming. No one respects your program and coaches more than I do, from Hubert Jack to Simons to Cox to Poff and the list continues. It’s not that you’re doing anything different, it’s that the other teams you have been playing with for decades have grown up financially and now dwarf your efforts on every front.

As to those three big boy schools I just mentioned, I realize that two of the three aren’t on your schedule but I was trying to use some examples of what not to do, and give my readership a sense of perspective.

The challenge we face is although many of us don’t mind watching a blow-out, or we’ve become numb to it, it’s not in the sports best interest. But we attend these mismatches anyway with fingers crossed that the far better team might pass under a ladder or walk past a black cat on their way to the mat.

However it happens, the challenge we face is administrators aren’t as blind as wrestling coaches are when it comes to evaluating the programs they administer. They base everything by the amount of return on resources invested.

So if any D-II program touts their program as being Division I and pushes the administration to provide D-I levels of financial assistance, which compromises an already stressed athletic department budget, when the rest of the teams are being asked to subsist on D-II budgets, while the wrestling program is winless against Top 20 teams, well, departmental resentment ensues followed by the AD being forced to take a hard look at his commitment to wrestling.

As you can imagine, none of the run-on sentence above is good for the sport. Which begs the question, what’s easier for an AD; cut the budget back to the level at which a program’s preforming or eliminate the sport? If he chooses to keep it, the unhappy wrestling coach will squawk incessantly because his program has been severely wounded. However, if the AD terminates the sport, the parrot will only squawk for a month or so before finding another job. So which is easier to digest if you were in charge?

Now I realize coaches feel the need to get high end competition for their athletes but blow outs and lethargic post season outcomes aren’t good either.

So, can the two ever be balanced?

The simple and reasonable answer might not be very popular here; but it is what we’re facing. Wrestling programs need to compete where they belong. Sure, keep some of the tough duals because steel does sharpen steel but at the very least at season’s end programs should wrestle in the same division as their institution. In the example of Lock Haven, along with maybe 15 other programs I can think of, they should be part of the D-II nationals.

Whoa now folks, wait until I put my noise canceling ear buds in before you start in on me.

I use to feel as many of you do about this topic because I remember the good old days as well when David could, and did, slay Goliath; and a great many of the smaller programs walked away with more than their share of D-I hardware. And yes, they still do it often enough, all be it considerably less, to be able to point out how off-base I am here. But, and this is a huge but . . . at what expense when these coaches are wrong and I’m not?

Sure, LHU had Cary Kolat 20 years ago and no question he’s one of America’s legends and a great source of price for those who follow the Bald Eagle program. But in order to provide Cary with a vehicle to achieve at the highest levels, how many athletes have graduated from Lock Haven during that time or since then who could have and would have been a Division II National Champion or All-American; but never had the chance to be that because they were participating at the far more competitive D-I level?

I guess the eventual question has to be; what’s fair and reasonable? Then we have to compare that with what’s right? Should the potential achievement of 1 varsity athlete overshadow the potential achievements of the other 9? Is one 5th Place finisher at the D-I’s worth not having a 5th place team finish, an NCAA Runner-up, one 4th place and two 7th place athletes in D-II? This is what happens when coaches either refuse to compare resources or they do and prefer to be selfish rather than prudent.

We need to get a grip. I get it that everything we do in our sport is measured by the D-I microscope. But given that the country has a population of 325 million and out of that, maybe 1% knows anything about wrestling, it makes a strong point about how unimportant our opinions really are.

So as a result, when a person indicates he was All-American in college the respect he receives is always universal. No one asks, “In what division”, they just say, “wow”. So maybe we should consider dropping our own divisional prejudices and simply respect every All-American for achieving at the highest levels. We’re our own worst enemy in this regard.

I guess as long as everyone knows what’s going on and the ramifications of wrestling at the D-I level when the school is D-II . . . it’s still not right. How can anyone be okay with taking away a majority of the team’s chances to graduate as an All-American so the squad’s best athlete might be able to say he was a D-I All-American?

Then we have the issue of putting thousands of wrestler’s ability to wrestle in college at risk because of dropped programs for the sole purpose of coaches being able to sit in the corner during Thursday’s rounds at the D-I’s. If you didn’t notice, I was trying to be nice here and not mention that most D-II wrestlers don’t make it to Friday’s rounds.

I believe most of you know that I wrestled at Clarion under one of the greatest coaches the sport has ever had, and I’d do it again but that was then, a time when our budget was the same size as many of the Top 20 teams. But that equality no longer exists with the possible exception of Edinboro, and that’s only due to their Athletic Director being a World and Olympic Champion in wrestling. Today, the worst team in the Big 10 which was 2-16 last year and 0-9 in the conference has a budget that is 3 times greater than the size of Clarion’s and why I’m writing this segment.

Personally I still prefer to remember the days when Penn State refused to schedule the Golden Eagles, and for good reason. But that was then . . . today the landscape is totally different.

I wish I was wrong about all this and sure, there will always be examples that will fill my inbox with “see, you were wrong” emails but in the larger picture, we must think of how to protect the sport and all its athletes even when it’s not popular.

As to how A Point Earned is a Team Point Scored will help, it should be obvious given the rule’s name. You score a bout point; it becomes a team point, just like any other sports you can name. So, instead of the Bald Eagles losing to Virginia Tech this past season by 29 points, they would have lost by 53 points. This is a far more effective way of pointing out to coaches who should stay on the porch and who should be running with the big dogs.

Mea Culpa

I’ve received a few comments over the last year asking if I might consider spending more time on stories that uplift.

And believe me when I say, nothing would please me more.

But our desire to read about wrestling’s glass being half full comes at the expense of knowing that it’s also half empty. We crave the feel-good; we want to know that our passion and belief in the sport is justified.

I would like that as well.

But I also realize, as much as some might not want to believe it, to take our next step forward, we have to also identify the ones that have been tripping us up.

As a case in point, in 2020, the NCAA has decided, unwisely; that our national championships will be held at the Brick House, the University of Minnesota’s domed football stadium. It seats almost 57,000 spectators. That’s just wonderful; can anyone say binoculars? But the largest point here is even if we attract an NCAA record crowd of 20,000 fans, the facility is still only a third full. That’s what our distractors will see. “Wrestling is a dying sport, they use to have sellout crowds,” they’ll say. “The sport had way more empty seats than ones being used.” But if there’s something that’s good about the Brick House, at least there won’t be a shortage of parking spaces.

And it doesn’t matter why we had empty seats; when anyone attends a play on Broadway or a bowl game on New Year’s Day and half the seats are empty, they don’t think how lucky they were to get a seat, they wonder what everyone else knew that they didn’t?

I can just hear administrators who are under pressure to get their finances in order, “why do we have wrestling, the sport can’t even fill half the seats at the biggest event they have every year!”

I’m sorry but this is a very big deal because administrators and every other non-revenue sport have an appreciation for self-preservation greater than their compassion for others. So when the time comes and someone has to go, everyone points out the weaknesses of the other guy? A football stadium, regardless of how you format it, is a terrible idea but it does help the NCAA with their bottom line. For those who might know, all profits are theirs to keep.

And it doesn’t help us that wrestling is mostly made up of hard working optimists, but having a few realists within our ranks doesn’t hurt. When an institution comes to the conclusion that they have to drop a sport or two, of course football and basketball are never mentioned, they look to members of their non-revenue family. Then the question becomes, who goes and who stays? It’s simple, those with the lowest scores and highest levels of political impotence disappear.

So during all this, what do you think the tennis, track and swimming coaches are saying; “pick me, pick me.” Heck no, instead they’re doing their best to highlight their positives while quietly pointing out the limitations of those around them, the ones they perceive to be weakest. It’s a dog eat dog world and no one understands that more or does it better than we do . . . but only within our own ranks. We wouldn’t think of positioning ourselves above others and that’s a moral strength wrestling has but politically it’s very foolish.

Regardless if we decide to do battle or not, we have to look at wrestling for what it’s not, and be aware of how those who wish to do us harm see the sport.

And why I write the way I do. Because I love rainbows as much as the next guy, but I’m also aware that they only exist because their parents are storm clouds.

Yippee

The National High School Association that governs scholastic wrestling just approved an alternate uniform to compete with the singlet and it couldn’t have come at a better time; a two-piece form-fitting compression top paired with either compression shorts or a looser version similar to what the MMA community wears.

Was it something I said or is this coincidence? Maybe my writings have begun to reach those who decide. Whatever triggered this break from tradition doesn’t really matter; it’s most definitely a step in the right direction.

We are finally forcing our traditionalists to take a back seat to what has to be “new and improved” if we’re to ever rebound from the sports non-voluntary downsizing. If that means dragging the weak of vision kicking and screaming into the light, then so be it.

There’s no doubt that this uniform variation is going to take a few years to catch on but the sooner the better, especially at the elementary levels. I’m not so worried about our older athletes who have the physique to make a singlet look good. It’s all about the little Johnnies and Janies that concern me; especially the ones who decided not to give the sport a try in the first place.

How many Burroughs’ and Stieber’s have we lost; how many champions of life like Mike Novogratz, Abe Lincoln and Norm Schwarzkopf decided against the sport because of how they felt they would look in a singlet?

Or maybe not knowing is a blessing?

Heck, I bet Kyle Snyder didn’t look like the Kyle Snyder of today when he was 7 years old. Folks, this is a great move forward, it’s time we divorce the singlet; surrender the house, the car and a generous monthly stipend so we can move in with new appearance altering, body enhancing uniform option.

And if you think about it, what would be so wrong if we allowed the sport to become a fashion show for the human form; multi-colored fight shorts or tights, long or short legged singlets, various designs and materials of long or short sleeved compression tops; this could be so much fun, the men creating a look for themselves, the women doing the same. I get it, the traditionalists will hate this too but they would still come to matches. But what we’d gain is the attention of a new group of fans who’d want to see what all the hubbub is about?

And regardless of the outfit a team or individual selects, as long as it meets safety standards and a reasonable level of decorum, why not bring the fashion houses of Paris and Milan into the mix while curtailing one of the largest barriers to entry we have.

Traditionalists need to get a grip here; wrestling is a sport, it’s an entertainment source and it’s also a business. Actually, reversing the order is more precise. We’re a business first, an Entertainment source second and then a sport if we’re serious about developing into a media supported industry.

And as we saw at Boise State, when you think you’re only a sport . . . bad things happen.

Speaking of Boise State

Boise, ID — Attorney General Lawrence G. Wasden today filed an enforcement action against Boise State University alleging that the University engaged in misconduct, fraudulent and unlawful practices against tens of thousands of Idahoans.

The suit alleges that BSU engaged in serious misconduct against tens of thousands of Idahoans that pay taxes with in the State of Idaho and should have been given due process of notification.

BSU haphazardly assembled its official decision. This deprived Idahoans of the ability to have their voice heard. Attorney General Wasden has action seeks to halt all actions in regards to the Elimination of the Boise State University Wrestling Program until the Tens of Thousands of voices within the State of Idaho, with 4 different classification levels of high school wrestling have their opportunity to be heard. As your Attorney General, I believe that everyone should have their Day in Court.

Consumers who believe they have been victims of this misconduct may submit a complain on-line: http://www.ag.idaho.gov/index.html

This is great news . . . and I guess that makes me 2-0 now. Someone obviously received my memo regarding the need to be professional (along with the singlet) when doing battle with professionals. Boise is fighting an institutional decision with a judicial remedy. That’s the only way to get the attention of anyone who aims to do us harm.

Wrestling has never really defended the sport in this manner, at least at this level. Typically we like to confront problems of this nature with pitch forks, 4-letter words and t-shirt sales; all of which may feel good at some level but in the end guarantees not only the loss of the program we’re trying to save but probably others as well. It’s our lack of being combat ready that emboldens college administrators to select wrestling as a place to begin cutting when revenue is scarce. Every time we demonstrate how lowbrow we are and politically inept the sport can be; we become even larger targets.

At least going through the court system will get people’s attention and I applaud those who have their hands in this pie; maybe it’s a golden apple moment for us, a blueprint for future successes; even if it is reactive.

Now if only we could combine that with a proactive approach to survival we’d have something. Especially when we never have the resources of those who will do us harm. And if you think about it, there isn’t a military General that wouldn’t tell you if you’re attacked, without warning, and have the inferior force; the battle is over before it begins. That’s where wrestling has been for decades, and it’s reactively sad. We will always be that lesser foe. And administrators with very, very few exceptions have always won the battles they started with us because wrestling has never seen a need to be proactive.

Why do you think that is? Are we so used to getting kicked around that we’ve resigned ourselves to always knowing we’re going to lose? Could it be that our naivety is so blinding that we unconditionally trust our administrators up until the point when we take a torpedo amidships? Or might it be that we don’t like being proactive because it takes too much energy preparing for the worst while hoping for the best? And coaches, don’t count on your colleagues who compete in your conference lifting a helping hand. They can’t, it’s too difficult to do when they’re busy dialing the phone numbers of your best athletes.

Actually I happen to believe that wrestling knows there’s a battle going on; it’s just that we’re too busy being competitive with one another to see any threats outside of those the opposition poses.

The plight of wrestling is winnable, it really is, but we have to focus our energies on two fronts; being proactive and having available a nuclear option.

We must protect ourselves from outside attacks by developing the type of defense that North Korea has adopted. Basically acknowledge that any battle we undertake with administrators is going to end badly for us BUT it won’t be without both combatants getting hurt. Those who want to hurt us need to know that we won’t go gently into the good night. We need to have our artillery pointed at the administrator’s desk and make him or her aware that we have nukes; and we’ll use them if need be. The fear of mutual destruction is the key; administrators need to understand that it’s far better to tackle anyone of the other non-revenues than pick on us.

More on wrestling’s Star War Defense Shield in the next blog.

Attendance Says It All

The attendance numbers are in for the 2016-2017 collegiate wrestling season. The Top 20 Division I teams in America averaged not 15K, or 10K, or 5K fans per event, but a paltry 2,844; with the 20th best team in America drawing less than 1000 fans. These numbers include Penn State who continues to attract record numbers as are Iowa and Ohio State so you can imagine what the other institutions aren’t doing that makes this average so pitiful.

And even though I’m unaware of the exact numbers for the other 55 Division I schools, it’s fair to say as a group they don’t average 500 fans per event; with a majority of those schools not even charging admission fees given the cost for ticket sellers, takers, parking attendants and security guards would be greater than any revenue generated.

Attendance numbers for Division II (61 programs) and Division III (101 programs) are even more sobering. There are a few divisional leaders with programs in states like Ohio, Minnesota and Iowa but their numbers aren’t worthy of publication either.

So say what you want, but until wrestling addresses our excitement and entertainment issues, administrators will continue to forget that their wrestling team had several All-American’s and finished well in their conference meet as they drop the program.

Revenue talks . . . loudly, deafeningly so and a team that hasn‘t won a dual meet in 25 years or had any athletic or academic AA’s will never become a causality if they’re revenue neutral. Money talks and, well, you know the rest of that adage.

Excitement and Entertainment, the two E’s of survival, pride, power, influence, bragging rights and as a reminder to my coaching friends; mid six figure salaries.

Putting all this in perspective, and why administrators are looking for ways to make difficult cuts, there are only 20 athletic departments in the entire country where income exceeds expenditures. And these numbers are getting worse as income grows at an annual rate of 3% while expenditures are increasing 3 times as fast.

That’s the bad news. The good news for wrestling is society is becoming more and more sedentary with the exponential explosion of technology. Everyone’s life has been made easier in one respect and at times more difficult in others. But either way, American’s are looking for more and more convenient ways of being entertained; either for the purpose of reducing stress or filling a void in daily routines.

And it doesn’t matter why that is; this is a huge opportunity for wrestling, the likes of which we’ve never seen before. Whatever sport or source of entertainment adapts the quickest to the needs of the consumer, they will be the ones who receive the lion’s share of a very large pot of gold.

Sports like the NHL and UFC are rolling in dough for that very reason. Commercial free shows on Hulu and Netflix are booming because they adapted with technology as has Amazon, Uber and Airbnb. They all have leaders like Elon Musk from Tesla; individuals who think out of the box and don’t change with the times, they make the times.

But not wrestling, we do whatever we can to stay the same as the revenue gap between those who get it and those who don’t widens.

We can do better and I will always believe we have the right vehicle.

The only difference between wrestling and the UFC is leadership and vision. Our sport has the possibility of being terribly exciting and very entertaining if we let it. But we’ve grown so accustomed to sub-standard levels of action that what we believe to be our most exciting and entertaining bouts are really average. We’ve just gotten so used to the bar being so low for so long that we mistakenly accept ho-hum for yippee.

If we ever expect to survive we have to think differently.

Why not make Zane Rutherford our poster child for what’s average in wrestling and go from there? Crazy, maybe not.

Remember all the great wrestlers America had in the 1950’s and 60’s? Every one of them knew, beyond any doubt, that their training methods and level of conditioning was beyond reproach, clearly they were all 10’s on a scale of 1 to 10. No one could possibly work any harder or get in better shape. Then came along a guy named Gable and it became apparent that what was considered a 10 was actuality a 6 on Dan’s scale.

So is it possible that Rutherford is a 6, could we be doing better? We won’t know unless we look at other ways of creating excitement.

Up until 1954 it was believed that the human body was simply not capable of running a 4-minute mile. Folklore had it that someone even released a group of bulls behind a bunch of runners to increase the incentive to do the impossible. But within a year of Roger Bannister breaking the 4-minute mile, 24 others did it as well. All it took was someone who could create a certainty in himself, even without seeing any proof that it was possible. Today high-schoolers now run sub 4-minute miles on a regular basis so maybe Zane is a 6 . . . I happen to believe we have so much more to offer than we’re currently doing.

But it begins with a willingness to see what’s currently not visible.

Thought for the Day

It’s not actually a thought, probably more of a “what do you think?”

Given that most everyone agrees that forfeits aren’t good for the sport, and given that too many of them occur as a result of one team having a very good wrestler facing off against an opponent who is far less accomplished, maybe the rules committee should consider the following:

Anytime a team forfeits a weight class, the wrestler who receives the forfeit may move up a weight class and compete there should he and his coach choose to; in essence receiving two opportunities to score points for his team but actually only wrestling once.

Is this perfect, no. Does it eliminate all forfeits, not even close. But it does move the needle in the right direction. Too many times teams will forfeit to superior athletes for no other reason than to keep them off the mat. And when that happens the sport is knowingly cheating our fans out of matches they drove a distance to see and bought tickets to enjoy only to be disappointed.

If there’s one thing I believe we can all agree on it’s the sport has to showcase its stars. There is no reason, short of a medical emergency that should keep the best of our best on the sidelines. Of course that’s if we want to see the sport continue.

Can you name any other sport that works as hard as we do at keeping our stars out of the heavens? I wonder why the UFC has 8 undercard bouts leading to a Main Event; why not just say tonight there is going to be 9 fights? Because it’s obvious, the last one is different; it’s the headliner that involves the best two fighters that are available. You never see one of the undercard competitors forfeiting his bout, ever!

Why does LeBron James play in at least 80% of each Cavalier game; and the entire game most of the time? So the fans will buy tickets and attend the game. If he wasn’t playing, does that help or hurt attendance?

What would happen to a Broadway play when people are paying big bucks to see Nathan Lane in the lead role and every night end up with his understudy?

When coaches forfeit to a superior athlete for no other reason than to keep him off the mat its consumer fraud; and it’s rather obvious how that would hurt any company, organization or sport that provides entertainment for a fee.

Heck, wrestling doesn’t even play the bait and switch game using my Broadway play as an example; we just bait and cheat.

This rule eliminates some of which ails us; except at heavyweight. Those athletes can’t move up a weight. But if we improve 90% of something that needs serious attention, why shouldn’t the sport “go for it?”

Boise State, another Casualty of Ignorance

The struggle before us is enormous and the fight begins with words that I hope will help us navigate through that which is holds us back. As you know, wrestling is taking a beating and for some reason we’re still cheering. I’m not sure what we’re cheering about; it could be the great wrestling we’ve seen of late or Penn State’s meteoric rise to national prominence, or something as simple as our eternal optimism that being part of the sport instills in us. But whatever the reason, we might want to consider taking our rose-colored glasses off to look at the sport not for what it is but for what it’s not; which is exactly what the nation’s Athletic Directors are doing while we continue to lose programs.

I’ve been writing for some time now that for wrestling to survive we need to consider some substantial ideological changes in our thinking. One in particular is the absolute need to return to the days when dual meets made up a majority of a team’s schedule. Tri’s, Quad’s and the various forms of all day events are killing the sport and need to disappear. Spectators will never come to all day events and those who do aren’t in the numbers we need to make a difference. And without customers, those who purchase tickets and sit in the stands, we’re just another business who’s bleeding red ink; with bankruptcy looming on the horizon.

It’s critical that we reestablish institutional rivalry’s while limiting most of our events to 2-hour windows of time. No one wants to sit in the stands all day, and to think we can attract the casual or curious spectator using that metric is beyond ludicrous. Heck, the NFL, NBA, the National Hockey League and Major League Baseball, as popular as they are, would all go belly up if their events all lasted 10 to 12 hours. It seems to me if we don’t back off from our “more is better” approach to competition, the athletic directors are going to continue thinking that “less is better” regarding the number of programs they offer.

Look at gymnastics, their events always last at least 4 hours with the awards ceremonies seemingly longer than the competition. And like our sport, you had to be a serious fan or a parent of one of the competitors to be crazy enough to attend. They are still as resistant to change as wrestling is now.

So where is gymnastics in 2017? As a collegiate sport they’re way ahead of us in their decline but we’re competitors, I’m sure we’ll find a way to catch up. Currently they have 17 teams and that’s counting all 3 NCAA divisions. Scholastically it’s not any better; they’ve lost over 1500 teams or 87% of their programming.

As to our specific challenge of shortening our events by creating more dual meets; our coaches are not so inclined. They’d rather follow the lead of their gymnastic brethren by ignoring the sound of crickets in the stands.

But I do understand the coaches, and why they prefer multiple event days to individual dual meets. They realize that more matches mean more experience, and combined that leads to a stronger chance of post season successes. But what coaches must also understand is their athletic administrator’s power derives from the Golden Rule; without Gold you don’t rule.

So if our coaches can’t see that the sports survival hangs on their ability to understand the absolute need to reestablish dual meet rivalries, and with it revenue streams, then what has been the norm for us will continue to be.

Here’s what Flo had to say about Boise State and how a shortage of dual meets played into their decision.

When statements were released by the Boise State administration about the falling success of the program they made no mention of their NCAA appearances or PAC 12 finishes, they only talked about their dual record. Duals are just easier to digest; only total wrestling nerds like me (and probably you) are going to sit down and watch an entire wrestling tournament. There must be a standard for dual meets at a division one level. As a coach if you are not automatically identifying your school’s biggest rival and putting together a game plan not only to beat them, but to get as many eyes on that match as possible you are doing yourself, your team, your institution, and the sport a serious disservice. When you judge the vitality of a program the amount of money generated from dual meets must be taken into account. 

Unfortunately for us, our coaches have no interest in changing . . . and neither does our Rules Committee because they are one and the same. It’s a typical fox-hen house scenario. That’s the reason why we’re in the pickle we’re in, and will be tomorrow; those who should have the best interest of the sport at heart have the best interest of their programs at heart; because a fox is a fox and chicken is on the menu.

The problem isn’t that the Rules Committee creates, alters and adapts rules; it’s that they overlook those that are the most painful to discuss, hard to pass and will do the most good.

And Flo is right on track about athletic administrators not giving a fig about the number of wins a program has or All-American’s they produce, they care about one thing, the income that rivalries produce. For those in doubt, ask Boise State; or Auburn; or UCLA; or Oregon; or William and Mary and the list goes on.

The Bronco administration, in defense of their recent action, asked two questions of themselves and then answered them in a press release.  Here they are and regarding baseball, notice the school didn’t say “are” adding the sport, but “intends” to add the sport which is a significant difference of adjectives.        

Why is Boise State discontinuing wrestling? Because we intend to add baseball. The elimination of wrestling alone will not be enough from a budgetary or structural standpoint, but it was the first step that needed to be taken to build the future structure of the athletics department.

Is there a possibility for wrestling to return to Boise State? Highly unlikely.

Something’s not right here when you look closer at the schools rationale for dropping the sport? They indicated that they intend to add baseball; really, in Idaho? When during the school year doesn’t it snow there? I can just see the shortstop chasing down a grounder in snow shoes.

Besides, were you aware that their state has so few scholastic baseball teams that the high school association doesn’t even offer a state championship in the sport? Wrestling on the other hand has so many high schools competing that the state not only holds a state championship but does so in 4 different classifications.

I wonder how their athletic department is going to justify the use of state funds to help develop a sport that will need to be propagated almost entirely by out-of-state athletes while denying opportunities to thousands of in-state wrestlers whose parents pay taxes there.

That is unless Boise is using baseball as subterfuge to hide what they are least proud of divulging, or have the most difficulty in defending. That’s what 65 years of life has taught me; never believe any of the reasons that are given as to why someone gored your ox, look to what wasn’t being said and you’ll be close to the truth. Administrators always select whatever justification is easiest to defend and pokes at the beehive the least.

So baseball; hmmm, I don’t think that’s the real reason for their decision.

Maybe the school is jumping on the hostage-taking bandwagon as other institutions have done in the past, waiting for some Sugar Daddy or group of well-to-do alumni to come to the program’s aide. That makes more sense than the baseball excuse.

But back to the Rules Committee. This may not be a popular statement, and maybe a little draconian, but if our coaches can only manage the sport without growing the sport, they need to lose their rights of leadership. The NCAA, not our NCAA Rules Committee, has to step in and save us from ourselves.

Which begs the question; since they haven’t stepped in, and they have to see the trend, why haven’t they?

Could our plight be so dire that they’re allowing our coaches to administer our sport out of existence? Remember, they’re administrators too and might this be another politically expedient way of achieving an unspoken agenda? Ask yourself, if wrestling were to die tomorrow, which NCAA administrator would come to the viewing? You already know the answer, you just haven’t thought about asking that question of yourself before.

By allowing our coaches to call the shots, the NCAA isn’t poking the beehive that’s wrestling, just the opposite actually; they’re allowing the sport to think its respected and special, and that they believe in us. Maybe they do . . . but if that’s the case, then we have more than one group wearing rose-colored glasses.

In closing, for those who feel I’m off base here, I am. That’s if you judge me by wrestling’s metric but it’s not if you see things as I do. Wrestling is so used to having their hat in hand that we are not only overjoyed, but empowered when we add 4 Division III programs a season, have a 40% retention rate instead of 50% for 1st year wrestlers and fill all of the seats in one arena; once a year.

But that’s not the way skyscrapers were built, Fortune 500 companies created or cancer cured. You have to dream much larger than you ever thought possible and then roll up your sleeves.

We need to focus on making wrestling as financially successful at the UFC; they did it, why not us? We need to set a 5-year goal of creating 7-figure salaries for the Top 20 coaches in America, why not, football and basketball has them. What’s wrong with signing a 7-year contract with CBS Sports for 200 hours of annual coverage like auto racing has done? We can you know, but we have to plan much larger and execute much bigger than we’re currently doing. Why not set a short term goal to looking forward to having fights with fire marshals over occupancy numbers for matches?

We can do all this and more; why not? I’m tired of hearing . . . “it’s only wrestling.” The WWE never felt that way. Neither should we but it takes a willingness to dream bigger than logic dictates. Then act on it.

To an Earlier Point

Over a decade ago, in order to upgrade the NBA’s image, Commissioner Stern put in place a mandatory dress code for both players and coaches. It directed that everyone must dress in business (coat and tie) or conservative (sport coat and collared shirt) attire while arriving and departing during a scheduled game, on the bench while injured, or when conducting official NBA business (press interviews, charity events, etc.). The dress code also specifically mentioned items of clothing that are not considered appropriate such as jerseys, jeans, hats, do-rags, T-shirts, large jewelry, sneakers and Timberland style boots.

The National Hockey League has a similar policy.

Penalties for non-compliance in either sport usually involve fines such as having to pay for one’s own airfare to wherever the team was going, rather than flying on the team charter.

Maybe the Rules Committee for wrestling should consider doing something similar and institute a matching set of guidelines. At this year’s NCAA wrestling championships, as is always the case, there were far more coaches without coats or ties than with them. And if you’re wondering about the athletes, the numbers are depressing.

But isn’t the bottom line; if we don’t have enough pride in ourselves and our sport to dress appropriately, how can we possibly get upset when we’re treated as we dress? Even if we have to mandate how we look, which it appears we have to, isn’t it something that’s needed? We already know the overall image of wrestling is far from stellar, and it doesn’t matter if that impression is earned or imagined; it needs a serious upgrade.

And yes, for those of you who knew me during my younger days, I would have fought such a mandate tooth and nail; but I would have been wrong. And I would have gotten over it and learned to enjoy the attention I now receive from dressing beyond the expectations of others.

The USOC is Wrong

I learned a long time ago that if you say something often enough, regardless if it’s correct or not, everyone eventually believes it. So is the case with the USOC inaccurately naming USAWrestling America’s National Governing Body for the sport of wrestling. The fact is they’ve never been the National Governing Body for the sport and it’s not fair to their organization to be accountable for such a huge responsibility. The point is we’ve never said anything, we’ve always allowed the USOC to continually suppress the achievements of USA Wrestling by the silence.

Here is how the USOC has always phrased it; USA Wrestling is the National Governing Body for the Sport of Wrestling in the United States and, as such, is its representative to the United States Olympic Committee. Simply, USA Wrestling is the central organization that coordinates amateur wrestling programs in the nation and works to create interest and participation in these programs.

All this is impressive but when you actually look at what USAW does, they’re a domestic event operator who is also responsible to select athletes to represent the United States in international competition. They have no say or control over anything that happens within the borders of the United States, in any style, unless it involves other countries. And then it’s only relative to freestyle and Greco-Roman wrestling so the USOC is overstating both the capability and reach of USAWrestling.

If you think about it, Colorado Springs doesn’t oversee Jack Roller’s Reno World Championships because that event is being held in folkstyle wrestling. They have no control over anything the AAU does with freestyle or Greco-Roman wrestling as long as it is confined to our borders. They don’t oversee the operations of Nuway or the NCAA. They have nothing to say about what the National High School Association does or doesn’t do with wrestling and they certainly don’t control the WWE.

The problem is it doesn’t help the sport or their organization if we believe they’re the overseer of amateur wrestling. This claim provides the sport with a false sense of security that USAWrestling has the sports back in all things wrestling when that’s simply impossible given their limited resources and organizational structure.

When was the last time you heard their name mentioned in the battle over Title IX? Are you aware of anything they do with regards to utilizing their influence to develop new collegiate programs or offer assistance to help other event operators become more successful?

Now some of you might think I’m taking a shot at USAWrestling because I’ve been critical of them in the past. I do feel they could be doing things far better than they are but I’m a big fan of the organization; they do a lot of good.

As an example, let’s look at our amazing comeback on the international stage. Since the fall of the Soviet Union’s “better athletes through chemistry” program, which one might assume their satellite states were doing as well, and for decades, plus the recent development of some very talented and mentally strong American wrestlers, the Red, White and Blue is now the country that the competition doesn’t want to see in their half bracket.

What appears to have happened, besides the IOC catching up with those who duped by doping, is the development of 4 or 5 truly world class athletes in both our men’s and women’s freestyle programs who unconditionally believe in themselves. We’ve been missing that final piece for decades now. We’ve always had the athletes and were technically proficient enough; we were just missing the absolute belief in ourselves, something Gable had in the 70’s. He taught those around him to believe. His poise and assuredness was so contagious that athletes who might not have world championship talent won in spite of it. That was the secret sauce that also made Iowa so great during the 80’s and 90’s; Gable simply made believers out of those he touched.

But since his retirement from competition we lost that aspect of championship performances. Individually we had it with Schultz and Kemp, Smith and Baumgartner and certainly a few others, but not as a team. You could always see it in the big matches; we just didn’t wrestle with an “I’m number one, get off my mat” mentality. And now in hindsight, I sort of feel that we were cheated out of accomplishing a lot more over the decades given the competitions chemically induced performances.

We were so used to losing to the Russians and more recently the Iranians that they became very much our big brother. No matter how good we were, in the back of our minds, we always remembered the beatings they gave us as a country and were never able to overcome that mindset. It was that mystique they had that defined their successes.

But today, things have changed for the better with the IOC’s ability to finally match the steady advancement of performance enhancing drugs with an equally advanced system of checks and balances. Combine that with a serious uptick in confidence that our athletes now possess and great things are continuing to happen.

Today, Burroughs doesn’t have exactly what Dan had but when you combine his coolness under fire with the certainty of Kyle Snyder we end up with the James Green’s and J’den Cox’s of the world. From there Logan Stieber rises to the level of his talent just as Taylor has done and Dake could do at any moment. The United States is now a world power because we’re entering competition with an “I wonder who’s going to take second” attitude against others who are no longer juicing.

Our women’s program is also very close to accomplishing the same thing but their big sister, Japan, has always loomed large. But since Helen put a noticeable dent in their armor of invincibility I feel comfortable that things are about to change for them as well.

God Bless the USA.

Years to Remember

This is how I remember high school wrestling where I lived; packed gyms and enthusiastic crowds. The photo is representative of a typical District Championship in the state, a week before Regionals and two before States.

During these golden days of wrestling in Pennsylvania if you were lucky enough to snag a pair of tickets to anyone of these events, and you let people know you had them, you were opening yourself up to a home invasion. The sport was that popular.

photo 1

And yet, what you can’t see in this photograph is the hundreds of fans that were turned away after standing in line for hours hoping for a ticket. Support of high school wrestling in America was that strong and at its zenith during the 60’s and collegiately in the 70’s when almost 800 campuses had wrestling. Today you can find a seat at almost any scholastic match and anywhere you’d like to sit regardless of when you arrived while there are only 77  Division I wrestling programs left. Oops, now it’s 76 and falling as you read this . . .

So what’s going on; how did all this happen?

Probably the largest reason is the sport hasn’t kept pace with America’s insatiable hunger for quality entertainment in connection with the planet’s rapid growth of technology.

Today, the number of diversions available as a result of this technology is mind boggling. What can’t you watch in the comfort of your own living room? What can’t you find to read on a Kindle or learn from Siri that between the two of them has made libraries virtually obsolete?

The world now has Play Stations, iPhones, iPads, iTunes, iPods and iCan do whatever I want, whenever I want at almost wherever I want; but not us, no sir, not wrestling. We’re man’s oldest sport and if people don’t see wresting’s greatness, that’s their issue. And that’s exactly the attitude that companies who are no longer in business embraced. Where’s Sears now, once the leader in retail sales who thought they were too big to fail is owned by K-Mart, a company whose current slogan is “We Still Exist.” Seriously, that’s their slogan . . . sounds like someone from wrestling gave them advice.

The bottom line is if you’re not finding ways to make your product faster, higher or better you’re about to get passed up or swallowed by those who are.

As to the outdoors, kids have motorized skate boards, drones, blue toothed sound systems and the opportunity to compete in anyone of 741 sports that didn’t exist 40 years ago; everything from 3D Archery to Zui Quan which is a form of boxing with a twist, of lemon that is, given that the competitors must be inebriated to participate.

There’s even one called Aquathlon that I can’t imagine you’ve heard of before. I know I hadn’t. It’s a water sport where two competitors wearing masks and fins wrestle underwater in an attempt to remove a ribbon from the other person’s ankle. The match consists of three 30 seconds periods; I assume a 3-2-2 would be out of the question if they wanted to end the competition with the same number of combatants as they had when it started.

Now granted, wrestling has gotten better but by comparison to the competition that is listening to the consumer and doing something about it, we appear slower, lower, and worse. All you have to do is look at the number of empty seats we have at our events, the percentage of young men who don’t return to the sport from one year to the next, the record number of forfeits we’re registering at duals, and the dramatic drop in program numbers. What else does anyone need to know; or dare I mention, there’s not a single program in America that’s making money.   

The point is, global competition for eyeballs is exploding exponentially and the hunger for entertainment options has never been greater. But only those who are actively working to provide faster, higher, and better will manage to exist. Wrestling, on the other hand, spends its time focusing on what coaches want or believe they need, and if anything positive happens after that, it’s by mistake or as an afterthought.

This might be one of the reasons why FloWrestling doesn’t always get great reviews from wrestling’s elite; they thumb their nose at traditional thoughts, and you might say, go with the Flo regarding faster, higher, and better. Some don’t like Martin due to his roguishness, but it’s made him a millionaire several times over and that’s in spite of wrestling’s decline. Maybe treating our sport as a business really works; we should try that someday.

Here’s what I believe I know . . . in order to get back in the race for survival, we need to focus on the consumer and have an aggressive business plan. No wait; that would mean we’d have to have something that resembles a corporate structure and leadership team. Sadly, neither of those has ever existed and why the photo above will always be reminiscent of the best we could do.

Mea Copa

Regarding the negativity I expressed above, it’s clearly a fault I have when I’m frustrated. And it’s maddening because our community always sees the glass as being half full just as I do in my personal life. But we’re talking about the future of wrestling and don’t have time for rainbows and lemonade. It’s our lack of goal setting that’s so strange and funny if it weren’t sad. Talk about a dichotomy, there isn’t a member of our sport who hasn’t set lofty goals when it came to their days as a competitor – or as a coach. But they turnaround and seem clueless – or apathetic when the future of the sport is on the line. It’s confusing and it’s discouraging.

Dome Stadiums, Bad Idea

God help us, the NCAA is kicking around the idea of taking our NCAA tournament to some of the nations domed football stadiums. Talk about a terrible idea but I do have to give the NCAA two thumbs up for looking at alternatives, it’s more creativeness than our leadership is showing.

But I have to ask them to think twice before they pull the trigger on this idea. I understand the pluses, yes, you would have more space to spread the mats out and be able to place the scoring tables a safer distance from the action. Both sound like good ideas but are minor when you consider the number of injuries that tables haven’t caused over the years. And why would anyone want to wear silk scarfs to minimize the chaffing that would occur from swiveling their head from Mat 1 to Mat 8 and back again for 3 solid days? Having the mats closer together only enhances the spectator experience.

One NCAA Executive, who’s in charge of our championships, recently expressed that the use of dome stadiums may be appealing from an ascetic standpoint so when you look down on the 8 wrestling mats on the first day of the championships, you see all of them perfectly framed by an acre of artificial turf. In addition, the athletes would have more space to warm up as well as additional space for the media personnel to set up. But are any of these really pluses?

Me thinks this executive is missing the obvious – which is servicing the needs, wants, and desires of the fans while enhancing the spectator experience. Sadly, that was never mentioned. The conversation was only about the athletes and event logistics.

Why are we always overlooking the important? No one cares where the athlete’s warm-up or if they do, as long as it’s not in one’s line of sight. K.I.S.S. Keep it simple . . . spectators want, expect, and demand a reasonable return of enjoyment for their expenditure in time and money. Allowing athletes to warm-up anywhere except in the tunnels means someone is getting cheated out of seeing what is taking place on at least one of the mats. And if the tunnels are used for warm-ups, isn’t that two to three times farther away for the athletes to walk to get to their mat? Why is that a plus?

And think about it, in a football stadium – the best seats in the house will be over 100 feet away from the nearest action and 250 feet away from the outside mats. Then add to that those impossible to read Lilliputian sized score clocks; how are the folks going to see without binoculars or have a clue as to who is actually wrestling and winning? To really enjoy wrestling, you have be able to see where a hand is placed on a leg, notice how each athlete is fighting for inside control, heck, for those who did see how Valencia’s fingers ended up inside Hall’s headgear you can forget seeing that again if you’re in a football stadium. Sitting in the upper deck of a basketball arena makes the combatants look like ants, can you imagine how small they would seem in a domed stadium.

If anyone wants to point to the Iowa – Oklahoma State dual meet two years ago as an example of what’s possible with fan support, many may not realize that dual preceded one of the Hawks football games. So having an impressive number of spectators, although memorable, might be a little misleading.

None of this will increase our fan base and will only frustrate those who bought into the idea. The old adage about seating for events has never been truer. “If you’re only going to have 2 people show up for your event, hold it in a location that seats 1. That way you’re assured to have a sell out and standing room only crowd.” That’s Economics and Marketing 101.

As an aside, the first location the NCAA is considering is the yet to be a constructed stadium in Las Vegas for the Oakland Raiders. Vegas might be fun if we weren’t in session afternoons and evenings for three straight days. Two things to consider here . . . 1) 80% of all the college programs in America and their fan bases reside east of the Mississippi so why are we flying out west and 2) how many more seats will be unoccupied during the opening rounds on Thursday and the consolations Saturday morning by those who are sleeping in because they enjoyed the city too much?

As I mentioned in my last blog, we aren’t filling all the seats at the NCAA’s now, and they’re being held in stadiums that average around 17K seats. So tell me one more time, why in God’s green earth would we want to put 15K fans in a 75K seat stadium? Who’s been smoking what? Think for a moment when you watch some of the NCAA Bowl Games on TV and you see the end zones and upper decks devoid of fans, what goes through your mind?

Folks, it’s a football stadium, are we really going to allow the NCAA to pick a location where 70% of the seats are guaranteed to be empty? It’s ludicrous and almost laughable until you realize they’re actually serious.

Might it be time to reach out to our wrestling fans to determine what they want and need and then be creative in the fulfillment – why are we guessing?

The NCAA Tournament

What’s not to like; certainly not the wrestling. The competitors did their job and the fans responded in kind. For me, the real fun began in the semi’s when the number one seeds in the first two weights found themselves in the consolation bracket; and then in the finals when two out of three wrestlers who were shoe-ins to win their third NCAA titles had to settle for second place.

I especially enjoyed watching Cory Clark win his first title in his final collegiate match. The Hawkeye competed all season with a severe shoulder injury that would have sidelined most wrestlers and a much higher percentage of athletes from other sports. Cory was the epitome of toughness which defines our sport and an Iowa coached wrestler; and why the Hawks finished a few places higher than the pundits thought possible.

Then there were the Cowboys from Stillwater with 8 All-Americans coming in third place when in any normal year that would have been good enough to win it all. But I guess there’s a new normal that the Midwest and west is going to have to get used to.

Then we have the city of St. Louis who was again a very gracious host. I’m sure those who took the time to attend the event left pleased with their experience.

Television Coverage

This year ESPN recorded their highest ratings ever for wrestling; 8.6 million viewers in all tuned in over the 3 days and combined with their internet streaming viewership increased by 24% from last year.

For the individual markets Columbus, Ohio was first with a 1.60 ratings followed closely by Pittsburgh with a 1.40 and then Philadelphia and Oklahoma City.

In laymen’s terms, ESPN loves covering wrestling, especially when you consider that a lot of the consumption occurs on digital and mobile devises which is where the younger generation resides. And since ESPN’s coverage is a made for television event where they air every single match, these numbers are great for both groups.

Now if you’re like me and don’t have a clue how to evaluate ratings, I asked Chris Bevilacqua, accomplished son of Al Bevilacqua and an All-American wrestler from Penn State to help out. Because he knows television like no other as founder of CSTV which later became CBS Sports and then the model for the BIG 10, Pac 12 and Mountain West Networks. Here’s what he gave me.

“In relation to our 1.60 Columbus ratings, the cities NHL hockey team, the Blue Jackets, average 1.97. In Pittsburg the Penguins pull a 5.56 rating to wrestling’s 1.40 so you have an idea where wrestling ranks in the larger picture.”

We Are . . . Penn State

“Wow” is probably the best adjective to use if you were from the east. Again, Penn State and their neighbors to the west walked away with a “lion’s share” of the hardware.

So kudos and salutations to both Coach Ryan and the other guy the country knows as Cael . . . each of them came from dynasties and are obviously busy building their own.

I believe Gable had his share of success to go along with 6 NCAA Finalists and 5 Champions in 1986 but no school has ever had 5 returning champions like the Nittany Lions do, or two from the same team that were freshman, or 5 that won in consecutive weight classes.

That is until now.

And as a native Pennsylvanian I can’t begin to tell you how much this shift in power pleases me. The Midwest had their day in the sun, now it’s our turn.

And given what’s happening on the recruiting front with athletes de-committing from some of the nation’s previous powerhouses, I’m not sure there will be another day when those who wrestle for programs west of Ohio will have an opportunity to crow again.

Someone asked me this week what I thought the definition of dominance was in wrestling? I responded, “For next season, if all the other Division I schools in America put together an All-Star team; they won’t be able to beat Penn State in a dual meet. The Nittany Lions are that dominant and will probably begin the season with 6 of their athletes ranked #1 in their respective weights.”

Think about that for a moment, can anyone remember a time or a sport where that’s ever happened? Football, basketball, track, swimming, baseball; is anyone aware of another institution or sport that can say, “bring it on” and then whoop the rest of the country?

Interestingly, I had another conversation with a coach who has to compete against Cael. He mentioned, in passing, (that if I didn’t know better may have been mistaken for a bitch), “with all the 5-Star recruits that want to be a Nittany Lion, everyone else will be fighting for second.”

After thinking for a moment I replied, “you’re right, they’re certainly firing on all cylinders but there’s a danger here that Cael has to be aware of that most coaches never have to worry about; it’s called too much success. You can actually have too many studs in your stable, and at times that’s as difficult to handle as having too few.”

To which he responded, “how can you have too many studs?”

Well, when you’re three deep in every weight class with athletes who all have multiple state titles and only have 10 starting slots, there’s a problem. Given that almost all of them are regarded as Mr. All World by their high schools, family and friends want to know why their star isn’t wrestling. Seldom will those who are second, third or fourth string say they’re not good enough to break into the lineup. So they come up with reasons why they’re not wrestling. They might say, “the coach won’t spend any time with me in the room” or “I was cheated in eliminations.” They’ll say almost anything that sounds plausible but you can bet whatever it is, they’re not admitting to not being good enough. You can see how this might cause a few dark clouds of doubt to form over a program.

Then what typically happens is those who are frustrated sitting the bench will start forming cliques among other teammates who are in similar positions. None of this is ever pretty and it has nothing to do with anything the coach did or didn’t do; other than have too many studs. But the biggest reason this is a serious threat to mega programs is there are so very few coaches who ever reach this point in their careers that you’ll find it as a chapter in any “How To Coach” manuals or as a topic of discussion at coaching seminars. So it’s basically uncharted territory in sports but regardless, my money is on Cael to figure it out.

Now Some Not So Positives

Before I begin my less glowing observations of the NCAA tournament, I feel I should apologize to each of you but then I wonder why I feel that way? If we can’t speak openly among ourselves, how can the sport possibly improve? If all anyone wants to read are highlights, then it’s quite possible we’re destined to live the lowlights.

But either way, I have one rule to live by when I write. I absolutely refuse to mention anything that’s negative without counterbalancing it with at least one suggestion for improvement. Anyone can bitch, that’s easy to do. The hard part is coming up with potential fixes while enduring the arrows that invariably come your way from those who disagree. Oh well, here are my thoughts.       

NCAA Tickets, Diminishing Numbers

It’s probably not a good sign when the NCAA was selling tickets the day before the championships started and the NWCA still had a bunch of lower bowl tickets they needed to dump.

I mention this as a reminder to everyone that our spectator numbers are melting faster than the arctic icepack. So I wonder if and when we need to panic? Or have we already passed that juncture and prefer denial or indifference to the energy that’s necessary for change? Either way please don’t point to the incredible number of spectators that Penn State is attracting as evidence that all is well with our sport. Any team that’s America’s best will pack their arena just as Iowa, Oklahoma State, Iowa State and Oklahoma did decades before; but sadly no longer. Our collegiate numbers are so bad that it would take a combined effort by the last three universities I just mentioned to fill a gym for one dual meet. And that still might not get it done.

The fact is wrestling shouldn’t point to the flavor of the day as evidence that all is well just as we shouldn’t point to the worst institution for the opposite reason. But if there’s one thing I know; when consumer numbers drop that’s never good for business.

Here are several photos of this year’s NCAA tournament that you might find enlightening. Each was taken at the beginning of a new session. Note the empty seats; I hope you find these photographs worth a thousand words.

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Second Round Thursday Evening

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Friday Evening Semi-Finals

2

Friday Evening Semi-Finals

1

Saturday Morning Consolations

What isn’t so noticeable is the average age of those in attendance. Now I don’t have any evidence to support this but it certainly appeared from walking around the arena that the average age of our fan base is heading north faster than the number of millennials are back-filling our losses.

Solution: we need a bigger dream and then work the dream. Wrestling has far larger problems than our feeble attempts at improvement will fix. We don’t have a vision for what we want the sport to become. We coach our kids to reach for the stars but can’t find a way out of our atmosphere when setting our own goals for the sport. We’re a ship without a rudder and that’s everyone’s fault; leadership for not caring enough to elevate the sport and the fans for not forcing them to care.

Here’s where I would start if I were leading . . . I’d develop a model that had the sport increasing its participation rate by 10% every year and a five year goal of improving our spectator numbers to a point where the salaries of college coaches would range from a low of 6 figures to almost a million dollars. And that’s only to get started.

But I refuse to see why we can’t be like the UFC; have our own television network and become a multi-billion dollar industry. The only thing that’s stopping us is the size of the dream. If you dream big, you’ll plan big and then execute big.

Hoping things will get better is where we are now and that clearly isn’t working.

Officiating

The referees were consistent; and for any wrestler that’s their biggest wish. No one wants to be on the wrong end of a “what the hell was that” call. From season to season this aspect of the sport has gotten even more efficient and professional; so kudos to those who make the calls and of course those who administer them.

Now for the however . . . there has to be a better way of handling video reviews other than having the same person who made the call evaluate his own decision. This is inherently wrong given the nature of man being what it is, that we seldom admit to ever being wrong regardless of any evidence to the contrary and of course our extreme refusal to stop and ask for directions when we know we’re lost.

Now I get it, 18% of the calls that are protested do get overturned but it’s the appearance of either impropriety or obstanance that doesn’t do the sport any favors. Wouldn’t you think it would be wise to bring in a fresh set of eyes to evaluate protested calls? And it doesn’t help that the video review isn’t shown on the larger overhead screens for all to see. Why not, we’re all curious and would love to get a second look at whatever the point of contention is just like football does but in the absence of that, one begins to wonder? We know the technology exists, so why not? Could it be that this, like so many other things in our sport, seems too logical for logic to dictate?

Customer Service and Sales

As anyone who’s in business will tell you, poor customer service doesn’t help the bottom line or the sustainability of any company. Even with a solid marketing campaign no one can survive when the business fails to develop repeat customers.

With that said, once again this year, and last year and the one before that the NCAA set those @#$%& clocks on the floor next to the mats with large white mat numbers stacked on top of each one. Why? Movie theaters don’t place obstacles in front of the screen; restaurants don’t have dividers on the tables so you can’t see the person you’re eating with so what the heck are we doing?

I’ve been nice over the last several years in my attempts to nudge the tournament committee along on this issue but it still hasn’t worked.

How inconsiderate of them, why, why haven’t they taken those blankity blank numbered signs off the tops of the clocks and put them on the floor and lean them against the tripod clock bases? Don’t they like us? Get them out of our line of sight. We can’t see the matches! It’s so simple and it’s even less expensive; they only need 3 pieces of foam board per clock instead of 4 so please let common sense and consideration prevail.

As to the clocks in general . . . why hasn’t anyone figured out it might be nice to hang them from the ceiling and center them over each mat? I’m assuming that blue tooth technology has reached wrestling by now so what’s the issue. Maybe come up with a projection system that would display times and scores onto something much larger than our current scoreboards which hasn’t changed in 40 years and can’t possibly be read by people over the age of 50 or those in the upper deck.

Damn guys, there are solutions, why do I have to come up with them. Stop being inconsiderate at $245.00 a ticket; we want to watch the wrestling and know who’s winning and if there’s any riding time.

I get it, none of us are perfect and I’m okay with that; but refusing to attempt to make even the simplest of improvements is not a good sign (pun not intended).

Why Not

There is little question that wrestlers are America’s cream of the crop when it comes to being the toughest and best conditioned athletes. This image we’ve earned is really something to be proud of – but, with this comes, responsibilities.

The first is to be aware that society tends to believe that anyone who falls into those two categories can only speak in single syllables while scratching unmentionable parts. So, it becomes terribly important for our sport to be disciplined when selecting the words we use and the way we present ourselves because big brother is always watching as is all the little brothers who look up to us.

This line of thinking brings with it the thought . . . why don’t coaches’, assuming they don’t already, tutor their athletes on how to handle interviews with the media? Nothing says more (or less) about a sport, the person or the institution they represent than the way one handles him/herself in front of a camera. What is being said and how the message is delivered speaks so loudly that it becomes a seminal moment that either elevates the sport or keeps us scratching.

It’s all about perception – and doing a lot of small things right. This changes the narrative in our favor when everything is added together.

For example, can anyone explain why the sport finds it acceptable for any coach, trainer or member of any institution to sit in an athlete’s corner during competition without wearing a coat and tie? Yes, we’ve gotten better over the years but we still have too many instances where it appears we simply don’t understand the level of admiration that wearing a coat and tie brings to any profession; and coaching is a profession, or could it be that we don’t respect wrestling enough to change?

I just don’t get it. How tough it is to own a tie and then decide between a Windsor or Half Windsor? If it’s the cost, Good Will has them for a dollar, slightly less if you don’t mind food stains.

I just find this to be somewhat sad and without question confusing. Why doesn’t everyone realize that those who wear a coat and tie receive the benefit of any doubt when their actions fall into gray areas? And given how feisty and opinionated those who sit matside can be, not looking professional only hurts their chances at helping their athletes. Not to mention the sport.

So I have to think that if the coaches won’t demand it of themselves and those who represent their institutions, then the rules committee needs to step in and attach a penalty to each level of attire.

Wouldn’t that be a sad state to have to do that but maybe its day has come.

If you wear jeans, it’s a 10 point team deduction. A polo shirt costs the coach 7 points. And then there’s the ugly tie rule, anyone having a modest sense of fashion has to forfeit 2 weight classes. Now I’m obviously kidding but this is so important for the sport. If we can’t see the need to appear professional then we deserve the way we’re being treated and whatever happens to the sport.

We should be proud that we coach the toughest athletes in the hardest sport; but if we don’t combine that with professional attitudes and appearances, we’re surrendering our destiny to others.

March Madness is Madness

Please someone, anyone, tell me why we’re still wrestling our NCAA tournament in the middle of March? I’ve never heard one good reason from anyone other than, “we’ve always done it that way.”

And that ladies and gentlemen is the nitty-gritty of our struggles. It’s exactly how the sport responds to any suggestion that is made for change.

To the question of March Madness, why are we still fighting Men’s and Women’s basketball for media coverage and losing our pants, it’s beyond logic? Name an NCAA sport that holds its championships in April? The media is starved for events to cover then, why not give them wrestling? Why are we still pulling our athletes away from their families during both major holiday dinners (Thanksgiving and Christmas) so they can make weight? Why are we still thinking its smart (and safe) to drive our athletes to matches in the snow when we could trade the last half of November and first half of December for April? Why haven’t we looked at the benefits of having access to more football players who might consider wrestling if we started the sport a month later? Why haven’t we thought about the benefits of increasing our end of the year attendance numbers given that the scholastic season would have ended at a minimum of a month earlier? Why haven’t we thought about why our academic averages are in the toilet, especially for freshman? Might it have anything to do with the first competitions of the season and the first time down to weight takes place during final exams?

Why do we continue to be stupid or stubborn? Anyone, someone, why are we continuing the Madness in March; the logic escapes me.

Our Bubble Is Opaque

I was watching the Big 10’s last week with my wife. During a commercial break one of our wrestling suppliers had produced a video that showed Jordan Burroughs doing dips with a massive length of ship-sized chain around his neck.

I didn’t think anything of it, but I started to when my wife said, “wrestling never learns.”

I said, “what?”

Deb replied, “Wrestling’s always living in a bubble, and they’ve been doing it for so long that it’s become opaque.”

Then I got her point. In today’s world of PC, millennials and sensitivity training, the idea of having a man of color being shown with chains around his neck . . . well, that’s probably not the visual wrestling wants to portray.

As members of the wrestler community we’d never see anything more than a tremendous athlete in training. Strong, proud and determined through his work ethic to remain one of the world’s best.

But there are a great many more in society that see something entirely different. We could argue even if we granted those individuals some latitude; is this really worth anyone getting their tail feathers ruffled over?

I’m afraid the answer is a resounding yes.

We shoot ourselves in the foot enough as it is, why are we giving all the other sports who, like us, are trying to climb the ladder of relevancy, a saw?

So the logic follows, if we want to be accepted by the press and society, outside of the very, very small .0023 percent of the American population that understands our sport, can we afford to be, or appear, to be insensitive?

When I was the administrator in charge of AAU Wrestling, our President, who understood the American public, always made me pass around, before going to press, anything I was producing for mass distribution.

He beat into me, “Get as many eyeballs on it as you can before it leaves our building! Ask them to tell you what they think the message is you’re trying to convey? Then check to see if the photographs you’re using are representative of our diverse membership and society in general? Think as others think, not as you think.”

The image they had of Jordan training might not be a big deal to us, but I can assure you it is to others. So the question becomes are we happy with the way things are or would we like them to be different? If it‘s the latter, then it has to happen first from within.

In conclusion, I feel badly that I didn’t initially notice anything being inappropriate regarding Jordan’s workout attire. And as much as I disliked the conversation, the point my wife was making was a valid one; wrestling must understand there’s a very large world outside of our bubble that we overlook way too often.

NBC Coverage, Not

The following article appeared recently in FloWrestling which I find consistently to be the sports leader in original journalism. They always cover stories that others shy away from with a writing style that is always smart and crisp.

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Recently, United World Wrestling announced a multi-year partnership with NBC Sports — an agreement that will land the World Championships, Continental Championships, and, yes, the 2017 World Cup on the broadcasting network.

In August, Willie Saylor wrote about how NBC slapped wrestling in the face. NBC Sports chose to not show Helen Maroulis’ thrilling and historic Olympic finals victory against three-time Olympic champion Saori Yoshida in the primetime NBC broadcast. Instead, it elected to air an interview of Ryan Lochte (who failed to earn even an individual medal at the 2016 Games) regarding his fabricated story of getting robbed in Brazil during the Olympics.

NBC’s coverage fell short in Rio and is currently non-existent while the world’s eyes are focused on the World Cup in Iran. This incredible script writes itself: President Trump signs the order banning immigration from seven different nations, including Iran. Iran reciprocates and the U.S. is unable to attend the World Cup. A judge overturns Trump’s decision, and Team USA is back in.

This week, Iran welcomed the U.S. and showered our athletes with admiration and open arms. Two days of incredible wrestling ensued, and it culminated with a storybook finish: Iran versus the USA in the World Cup finals.

CNN even took notice of the magnitude of the event, sending a reporter to Iran and producing content around the World Cup.

During Friday’s finals in Kermanshah, Iran, would NBC Sports at least acknowledge the event that they had ignored up to this point?

Apparently not. This screenshot was taken during the finals of the World Cup:1

That’s the NBC Sports homepage. Here’s a glance at their Olympic sports homepage:2

The  lead story on the NBC Sports Olympic page during the World Cup finals is an article that was posted Thursday at 11:53 AM.

This is confusing after reading a quote from NBC’s president of production and programming, Jim Bell, in the United World Wrestling press release. Bell mentioned being “thrilled” about the opportunity to showcase more wrestling. 

“NBC Sports Group is thrilled to showcase more wrestling, one of the world’s oldest, and best Olympic sports,” said Bell to United World Wrestling in the press release. “This is great news for us and for wrestling fans alike, as more content will now be available on more platforms than ever before.”

What did Bell actually mean when he said the words “showcase more wrestling?”

If our sport is truly the “one of the best Olympic sports,” why does NBC Sports so frequently ignore it — especially on its Olympic page during a time of the year with minimal Olympic sports storylines? Whether it’s laziness or just apathy toward our sport, wrestling deserves better.

The most recent piece of wrestling-related content was an Associated Press release regarding Iran lifting the ban against USA on February 5.

NBC has shown a reluctant or, at best, apathetic approach to covering wrestling. We hope that improves during the life of the current contract. We’d like to see wrestling, and its premier events, elevated to their highest potential.

As FloSports CEO Martin Floreani said on FRL in response to NBC’s poor Olympic Coverage, “When wrestling wins, we win. If the tide rises, then we rise.”

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Martin has a point but I would have preferred to see another paragraph or two covering why NBC continues to overlook wrestling. It’s not always helpful to cover what without mentioning the why. And in this case I believe the why is:

Wrestling doesn’t have a product worthy of coverage.

Now I know that wrestling thinks it does, but no one outside the sport feels that way. And it’s those “no one else’s” that matters most to NBC. If we had half the spectator numbers we think we have, but don’t, we’d see NBC at many of our events. If we had the demographics and purchasing power that Chevrolet, Coors or Target finds meaningful, our events would be televised in prime time. None of this perceived snub is NBC’s doing because wrestling always looks everywhere except within. It’s always someone else’s fault. We point fingers wherever we can without realizing that every time we do that there are 3 other fingers pointing back at us.

Regarding Rio, no one else cheated the wrestlers; it was FILA’s (now the UWW) refereeing corps that did the dirty work for the organizations leadership. And NBC was watching. It wasn’t the IOC’s fault that they washed their hands of the sport 4 years ago. It was FILA’s deafness to IOC concerns and their amazing sense of importance that sealed the deal against us. NBC was watching once again.

As for the recent World Cup, I wonder, did the UWW enter into a contract with NBC or just had a conversation with their leadership? They used the word “agreement” in Flo’s article but is that the same as a handshake or was it a wink, wink, nod, nod sort of arrangement that the UWW is so familiar? If we have something in writing, then the sport has a way to be made whole again. If we don’t, what was anyone thinking to announce a relationship that kind of, sort of, is but isn’t? It sounds like our friends in Switzerland just got put on their backs again, so don’t blame NBC.

Summing this up; our international program and the world’s governing body doesn’t care enough about the sport to do what’s necessary to endear them to any network or major media outlet. And that’s the back story behind the perceived snub.

Some Domestic Thoughts

Similar to our international challenges, domestically we shouldn’t blame Title IX for our decline in programming numbers; might this be an internal issue. It’s not the ladies who are decimating our ranks, nor are they responsible for the loss of over 500 programs. Instead we need to look to the coaches of those institutions who didn’t illuminate their programs in the eyes of their administrators. Once again, Title IX has not been responsible for the loss of a single wrestling program so we need to stop blaming those who just want equality in sports. It was, is and will be the Athletic Directors who decide which sports go and which ones stay in order for their institutions to become Title IX compliant. Painfully, wrestling has become the preferred sport for elimination as it is the weakest of the non-revenues socially, academically and politically. And as we all should know, Athletic Directors are not inept, they keep their jobs by 1) doing their jobs and 2) being able to identify which sports have the strongest support base. The ones that don’t have a team of politically active alumni become the path of least resistance when decisions are made.

Regarding the sports lack of excitement as defined by our fan base, it’s not the athlete’s fault they have to wrestle to misguided rules that encourage, and almost demand, inactivity. Of course my apologies to Nolf, Rutherford and Nichols on the collegiate side of things and Stieber, Dake, Taylor and Snyder internationally. They make any match they’re in worth watching. But if we’re looking for the reason why wrestling fails to fill gyms and the media ignores us, it’s the other 12,243 athletes who wrestle to the rules.

For those who think I’m off the mark here; have you ever been to a sports bar when someone is broadcasting wrestling and taken the time to look around? If you have, you noticed that no one is paying attention to the television airing wrestling. Instead, the patrons are watching the ones that are broadcasting golf, auto racing, soccer etc. etc.; exactly what NBC executives are noticing as well.

Recently we even have a sport video parody out there on YouTube regarding a summer wrestling camp that specializes in stalling. I get it, it’s meant to be funny. But the closer something is to being true the more humor people find in it. That’s why a parody is popular and this is so funny; it’s a satirical look at something we consider as serious. So what does that tell you about our sport?

You can watch it at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cZbIOOpLuds

We also have to do better at reading between the lines when our leadership shares numbers with us. As an example, it was exciting to hear that in the last 15 years the sport has added 170 new collegiate programs. Great news indeed! But then I began to wonder, what weren’t we being told? Then it dawned on me; how many of those new schools are marquee institutions? That’s the one fact that tells us all we need to know.

To the best of my knowledge Auburn hasn’t started wrestling, nor has UCLA, Notre Dame or LSU. Wake me up when Alabama decides to start a program or Syracuse University. I’ve never seen a Kansas singlet at the NCAA’s or one from Washington, California or the University of Arizona in the last 30 years. Why is that? Where’s the University of Colorado, the University of Georgia, Florida, Miami or Yale? The fact remains that most, if not all of our newest programs are D-II and D-III schools with names most of us have never heard of. That’s not a bad thing, nor are these numbers as exciting as one might think.

Now I’m not saying that we’re not doing our best to improve our numbers. We are, but until the time comes when some of those previously mentioned big boys decide to field teams, we’re still not relevant and this is exactly why the media is ignoring us.

Another thought might be, why would any company hitch its wagon to wrestling when opposing coaches have the power to keep their opponents best athletes on the bench as a result of forfeiting? Think about that for a moment, how many sports are there where that’s possible except in wrestling? And name any network that would be crazy enough to invest in a sport that on average doesn’t put a full team on the mat or wrestles in front of crowds that are 1/8th as large as a women’s NBA game?

How can we possibly get better when all you hear coaches say to every suggestion for improvement, “I don’t know what we should do but that’s not it!” How can anyone in their right mind look at how we’re trending and say “wrestling’s okay, let’s do more of what we’re doing.”

Were you aware that in 1985 the sport had 146 Division I wrestling programs and today we have 77. And unfortunately those numbers are a little misleading because we’ve added 10 Division I programs during that time. So actually we’ve lost 79 programs or over 50% of our strength since the days of Jim Jordan and Barry Davis. And of those 10 programs, they’re mostly mid-major in size in relation to marquee losses.

Maybe a suggestion to those who make decisions for the sport . . .

Hope is not a good strategy.

As to our NCAA D-I tournament and the belief that the sport is doing well because they sell-out every year, well, is that actually true? I always hear the tickets are gone come February but when I look around the arena, other than during the finals; there are always plenty of empty seats. And that is exactly what potential sponsors see and care about, numbers of eyeballs, and in the absence of those, so too is Sports Illustrated, the New York Times and USAToday absent.

Did you know that approximately 60% of those who attend the NCAA’s are either coaches, former coaches, wrestlers or former wrestlers? And most of the remaining 40% are family members of those who are competing. That shouldn’t be a surprise to most of us but it does explain why sponsors and networks aren’t interested. If you can’t attract fans that find the sport entertaining on its own merit as opposed to being a participant or supportive family member, why should NBC be interested?

Maybe something to think about, in economics, when the market is flooded with a particular product, prices drop proportionally. If there’s a shortage of product, prices rise. Might there be a parallel here with regards to the number of matches and tournaments wrestling offers the consumer? The short answer is yes, we wrestle way too many times a season which doesn’t help the sports academic average, injury numbers or budget expenditures.

In closing, if we can’t get our own house in order, and that seems to be an impossible task, we have no right to expect anything more from NBC than we’re willing to do for ourselves.

Have You Ever Seen A Time When

The swearing in of the next President of the United States involved two men who sharpened personal skills in the sport of wrestling: Donald J. Trump and Chief Justice John Roberts. It certainly was a memorable day for the country and the sport.

Intermat; Foley’s Mail Bag

The following question was recently asked of T.R. Foley at Intermat and you can read his response below. I agree that making the sport as much fun as possible is always a positive for the younger set and safety a reasonable ambition all around. But I feel he should have spent a little more time explaining why we have the problem we do with first weight class forfeits. So I did . . .

Question from Mike: I coach high school wrestling, and have seen the 106-pound weight class turn into a forfeit fest even against some of the best teams throughout the Southeast. Even if it’s not a forfeit, there isn’t a lot of talented depth at the weight class like many other weight classes. Do you see any chance this weight class moves to 110 pounds in the near future?

Response from Foley: Evidence is pointing to larger children and your anecdote is further substantiation for the realigning of high school weight classes. We don’t need 106 pounds (once 103 pounds) as a number; we need athletes healthy and happy to compete in the sport. If there is a good reason for keeping the number at 106 I’d love to hear, but asking a 14-year-old to put on a few pounds shouldn’t be that difficult and is certainly better than the alternative.

Wade’s Thoughts: I have three. If low numbers and forfeits are currently a high school issue in the first weight class, just think of the number of problems the sport would have if we discontinued the 106 pound weight class? Didn’t those who are now wrestling at 112, 119 and 125 start out at 106? Drop that first weight class and those younger, smaller kids will simply walk away from the sport because today’s millennials aren’t near as willing to pay their dues and wait their turn as the baby boomers were.

Next, if we discontinue 106, doesn’t that make 112 the first weight class? Wouldn’t there still be a problem trying to find a wrestler for that weight? The issue isn’t the size of kids in the room; it’s whatever the first weight class is because there’s nothing below that by definition to pull a kid up from to fill the void. If wrestling had a 98 pound weight class, and I’m not suggesting we should, you’d see far, far less forfeits at 106. Because as I mentioned, in every weight class, other than the first one and at heavyweight, coaches can either push a kid up a weight class or pull one down a weight. So as long as 9th grade is considered high school (and in many states 8th graders can move up to varsity), the first weight class should be 106.

This challenge we have isn’t a forfeit issue as much as it is a matter of recruitment and retention. It seems to me that high school coaches are relying on middle school programs to propagate their rosters. They aren’t making the effort that’s necessary to walk the halls and find the athletes they need to fill a starting line-up. There has to be a lot of little guys who would love to have a shot at being a varsity wrestler if you’d ask them? And why wouldn’t they give it a try, given their size, they’re not swimming in a sea of sporting opportunities.

Why Our Rule Changes Fail To Increase Wrestling’s Entertainment Value

To begin, most of us are under the impression that rule changes are designed to make matches 1) safer and 2) to a greater extent more enjoyable. At least that’s the goal. But regarding safety, most of what has been implemented at the scholastic and collegiate levels reflects a slow creep toward millennial softness. That’s never a good thing for a combative sport if spectator numbers and entertainment dollars are important.

Regarding enjoyable, a vast majority of the current rules being instituted for the purpose of making the sport more attractive to fans aren’t getting it done. If there’s a why here it has everything to do with the athletes being the ones that are expected to implement whatever rules are made with minimal involvement from the coaches.

Let’s back up a minute. The business of wrestling has a Board of Directors which is our Rules Committee. It also has a management team which is the coaches. Then downstream from there we have our worker bees, the athletes.

As everyone knows, in a typical company business structure, decisions made by the Board are given to management to implement. That’s pretty standard in corporations with personnel bonuses and vertical promotions based on how well each member of management accomplishes their tasks. The Board never communicates with those who perspire on the assembly line – just as those in the mail room never make presentations to the Board.

But in wrestling, the Rules Committee overlooks management and goes straight to the athletes. That’s never a winning formula just as the fox having the keys to the hen house doesn’t work well either. It’s actually a rare company that survives in business without middle level management motivating (pressuring) the workers to execute corporate directives.

Now for those who are glassy eyed trying to follow what I’ve written so far, maybe an example will help. When our Board of Directors decides to make a rule or clarify an existing one, they make the athletes directly responsible. They basically say, “Here’s what we want. If you don’t do this, we’re going to penalize you. If you do that we’re going to penalize you. Or you have to change this because that no longer counts.”

As much as I understand where they’re trying to go, no one does what’s in the best interest of the sport; they do what’s in their best interest. If both can be accomplished simultaneously, that’s great, but as we’ve seen, athletes take umbrage at being told what to do by the sports administrators. And given the pressure for athletes to comply and having skipped over the coaches, both the athlete and the coach will work together to find workarounds. And why not, they’re on the same team.

Now, I understand when rules penalize an athlete for something he did or didn’t do it could mean the difference in winning a match. So coaches are somewhat involved – but typically, those 1 or 2 bout points seldom affect the outcomes of a dual meet or tournament finish.

The point is . . . the penalty or the pain that’s associated with the “bad” behavior needs to be placed on the entity (the coaches) that’s directly responsible for managing the behavior. If stalling meant a team point instead of a bout point, coaches would get involved and become highly motivated to protect their interests.

So the implementation and enforcement of rules should be the responsibility of those with the greatest egos (which isn’t a bad thing) and the most to lose: the coaches. My proposed solution of a point earned is a point scored is a prime example of giving leverage to getting coaches involved. The adoption of this one rule, I believe, would transform wrestling forever. Why, because it places athlete performance squarely on the shoulders of coaches. If you haven’t read about a point earned is a point scored, look to the right and drop down 16 blogs. It’s worth the visit.

In closing, wrestling will only take its’ next step in becoming a viable entertainment product when those in power reinstitute the chain of command. They have to place the onus for change on those who sit matside. From there, you can bet they’ll pass the pressure downstream.

This is the way small businesses become big businesses.

An Olympic Challenge

Were you aware that the IOC (International Olympic Committee) just added Baseball, Softball, Karate, Skateboarding, Sports Climbing and Surfing to the 2020 Tokyo Olympic program calendar? That’s certainly great news for the 474 athletes these sports will add to the ten thousand plus that are already a part of the Games.

As exciting as that may be, I have a question, “What does that mean for wrestling?” Is the IOC sending us yet another unstated message that we’re bound to overlook again? Are there any alarm bells going off in Colorado Springs or Switzerland?

It’s obvious, at least to me, that the International Olympic Committee is fine tuning their programming – which is their right and responsibility to do. They’re looking for the greatest possible mix of sports that will maximize profits while increasing their global exposure. And if they can eliminate a few sports who might be considered liabilities in the process, that works for them.

So, is there a message in all of this for wrestling – especially when we received only 49 votes for reinstatement out of the 96 that the IOC’s Executive Committee cast? This means, if my math is correct, that there were 46 members who didn’t want us back or care that we’re man’s oldest sport.

Doesn’t that suggest that we’re either daft politically or our negatives outweigh our positives? We already know that wrestling can’t give away enough tickets to the 500,000 tourists that the Games attract, or the 10,000 plus athletes who are present, or to millions of local residents to begin to fill whatever small wrestling venue the IOC gives us for competition. So given our rather non-existent popularity that has to be strike one; strike two and three has to be our own in your face posturing of – we’ll do what we want to do with total disregard for the UWW’s parent organization.

It will be interesting to see how all this plays out in Tokyo. Should we be given the green light for 2024 and 2028 then kudos to USAWrestling and the UWW. But from where I sit, given the IOC’s policy of having no more than 28 sports, and seeing that they’re testing the waters with 6 new sports, maybe we should be paying attention.

A Bonus Thought

Regarding funk wrestling and the frustrating frequency of stalemates that occur from those positions, what do you think about . . . a 3-count 1-point rule? If the person being “funked” can hold his opponent on his back past the 90 degrees for a 3-count, that’s 1-point. Control isn’t necessary. That doesn’t dissuade those who funk from diving between someone’s legs to gain control, but doing so, for the purpose of hanging on for a stalemate, it will cost them a point. This rule gives both supporters and opponents of funk the ability to have their cake and eat it too.

Child Abuse or Child Development

Wrestling is still wearing its shirt inside out, and our leadership seems to be okay with the look. Somehow they feel it’s fashionable to show everyone ragged seams and a wrinkled tag when it comes to the sport in general, and specifically for this blog; youth wrestling.

So as I attempt to turn everything right side out, welcome to another partisan and I hope thought provoking installment of How Wrestling Wins.

Protecting Our Youth

It shouldn’t be a shock to anyone when I mention how catastrophically abysmal our annual retention rates are for youth wrestling. When we retain in many regions of the country less than 50% of our newcomers, we become the #1 sport in America for chewing up and spitting out little guys. In some years that percentage might be a bit higher, in other years a bit lower but either way, the problem is obvious and it’s not going away.

And regardless of your position, the fact is numbers don’t lie.

Now if any company in America had those statistics, and wrestling had better start figuring out it‘s a company, they would immediately fire the entire management team for incompetence. No organization can continually lose half of its customer base year in and year out and expect to remain viable. So I guess I should ask, why do we allow it? Aren’t we the sports majority stock holders?

Think about what’s happening, is it too much of a stretch to refer to how we handle the sports youth as bullying at a minimum or child abuse to the extreme. It’s actually quite amazing how many kids actually survive our sports culture of cruelty.

Now I’ll give you that what I just typed might seem a little over-the-top and brand me as you’re a mean one Mr. Grinch but bullying is bullying which is defined as; a form of aggressive behavior in which someone intentionally and repeatedly causes another person injury or discomfort. As for child abuse, it’s; any type of cruelty inflicted upon a child that includes mental or emotional cruelty or physical harm? So based on Webster, and knowing what happens in many of our wrestling rooms, where am I off base here?

To be clear, it’s not the sport that drives children out of wrestling rooms; it’s their absolute aversion to humiliation and being subjected to repetitive thumping’s. Whether it comes by way of practice or competition, no one likes to train at Olympic levels during their first week of practice or be embarrassed in competition a month after buying their first pair of wrestling shoes. And the idea that all this is somehow fair because we pair children by age and weight is so far removed from reality when experience is the sports trump card and deciding factor. It’s the first thing a coach should consider when pairing athletes.

Just as troubling for me is the speed at which we tend to forget the names of those we’ve lost as we lump all of them into a category that isn’t appropriate to type here.

I’ve also wondered how many potential World and Olympic champions we’ve run out of our wrestling rooms because they weren’t ready for the sports culture of total emersion? Or the number of adults who are a little less than they could have been because the sport decided they were expendable. And of those we might call the discarded many, how often do you think they go out of their way to support any of their children when they ask, “Dad, can I try wrestling?”

Don’t be confused, it’s not that children don’t enjoy wrestling; they do. What back yard, in any neighborhood in America hasn’t doubled as a wrestling mat at one time or another? What child hasn’t wrestled his brother or tussled with the kid next door? But the difference between organized programs and neighborhood play is, when it’s up to the children, they instinctively understand two things that many of our coaches don’t: 1) If it’s not fun, they aren’t going to do it for long, and 2) They know who to take on and who they should leave alone.

So if the sport’s to grow which it won’t and if wrestling wishes to expand its base and it can’t, we have to change. So instead I write for the pleasure of writing, not for the hope that something miraculous will happen.

As to Practices

In a report recently released by the Aspen Institute on reimagining sports for today’s youth it recommended that specialization should be delayed until adolescence and practices need to be geared to the children’s ability.

I guess that means we’re still on the wrong road because pairing youngsters in practice with others who are of the same age and weight but with considerably more experience borders on the criminal. An eight year old 80 pounder with 4 years’ experience wrestling another 8 year old 80 pounder with 4 weeks experience isn’t a fair fight and it’s exactly how we deplete our ranks.

And no I’m not saying that we should buy a litter of therapy puppies and hand them out to every child along with crayons and coloring books but I do want to see coaches using their judgment centers more often.

As to the makeup of practices, every program should be centered on Fun, Friendship and Fundamentals; the 3-F’s of childhood development. If practices aren’t at least 50% fun, coaches need to rethink their lesson plans. If the students aren’t making new friends because of the sports adversarial mindset the program won’t reach its potential. If students aren’t encouraging the boy next door to give wrestling a try due to the programs lack of enjoyment; that should be a huge red flag.

As to fundamentals, sure we want every child to learn how to wrestle. But you can only achieve that when you have kids to coach. Losing half of those who come out for the sport each year isn’t a strong model for success. Coaches must remember what it was actually like when they started wrestling and how many of their teammates didn’t survive the experience, and not what they conveniently remember or choose to forget.

And don’t get me started on weight reduction at this age . . . that’s shouldn’t even be a consideration. And if you think all I’m trying to do here is make everyone feel good, you’re right. Our little guys can get competitive later.

But I get it; society does judge the success of a coach and his club in terms of medals garnished and championships won. But do we ever look at the costs of that success and could it be that more success would have been possible with larger club numbers? Isn’t the old adage true that if the object is to produce more cream, you have to produce more milk? Everything is a numbers game, and we need to start at the bottom to build the pyramid of winning – children win because they are having fun, therefore, the coaches’ win because they have children to coach, and finally, the sport wins because the wrestling rooms are filled with coaches coaching and children learning – make sense?

But none of that is as important as how the sport handles competition.

Regarding Events

No child should be forced to endure the overwhelming experience of competition during his or her first year of participation. Period.

Have we all forgotten what it was like to walk onto a wrestling mat for the first time, all alone, no Mom or Dad to hold our hands; where every fiber of our beings begs to be back in the safety of our bedroom. To glance over at the other kid and suddenly realize that in a few minutes, or possibly seconds, one of us is going to be considered a loser. Gulp. And to hear your Mother say, “Just do your best” when the look on her face says something quite different is very unnerving. Then you think; when this is over I’m going to ask Dad if it’s too late to go out for soccer?

None of that can be the best way to grow a sport or treat God’s little creatures.

So I’m afraid it’s up to the parents to protect their offspring since the sport seems to be incapable of it. They shouldn’t have to say “no thank you,” to the coach, there should already be a rule in place that outlaws competition during an athlete’s first year.

What effects would this have? Well, the first thing we’d accomplish is reduce most of the anxiety children feel while trying to learn a sport that requires combative aggression when the last thing they learned to do along those lines was playing dodge ball at recess. No wait, that’s right, dodge ball isn’t allowed any longer. Schools have deemed it to be far too aggressive and belittling. So I wonder what the Department of Education would think about our sport if they put it under the same microscope.

Instead, children should learn the rules of the game, some basic techniques all the while learning body awareness skills, participating in drills that coaches have made into games, and learning how to protect oneself through gymnastic like tumbling routines. Finally, the children should be learning fun facts about the sports’ rich history and the tenets of sportsmanship.

Success at this stage should be measured by the number of children who return to the sport the next season.

But not us, most everything we do is backwards; we teach wrestlers how to throw someone before anyone learns how to tuck their head and roll. We scold them for locking hands before telling them when it’s legal and when it’s not. Coaches should be happy with athletes who can sprawl and circle back to their feet when two weeks earlier walking with gum in their mouth was a challenge. Coaches have to stop measuring success by the number of wins an athlete can accumulate. Instead, they should make a big deal out of their athletes being able to shake a person’s hand with a firm grip while looking them in the eye. That’s a skill worth learning and one we should be proud we were able to help them develop; or just being able to do 5 push-ups when 3 were impossible just a month earlier.

So are you saying that we shouldn’t take 1st year wrestlers to tournaments? No, I didn’t say that, I said they shouldn’t enter competition for a year. But they should go to events. They need to be a part of the team, they need to see how events are run and get familiar with their future surroundings. And yes, they’re there to participate . . . just not compete.

Here are two possible participation options. The first is to develop a series of Katas for wrestling and make them a part of tournaments for first year students, just like the martial arts community handles their events. For those who aren’t familiar with Katas, they’re individual exercises, drills or techniques that consist of specific movements that are demonstrated in harmony with a passive partner. It’s still competition, just not under live fire conditions. Employing this alternate type of competition assures that events still receive entry fees from the little guys while eliminating the ugliness of children collapsing into their mother’s arms in tears or having their warm-ups thrown in their faces by some south end of a horse going north.

A second option is to create a round robin scenario with let’s say 8 children in a weight class and divide the mats into 4 equal sized quadrants. Each child wrestles for a minute of running time before rotating to his or her next opponent. There’s no scoring whatsoever and the officials are only there to protect the wrestlers. At the end of four minutes with each child having wrestled 4 opponents, they shake hands and every child has his hand raised signifying the completion of effort, not because someone won by score. Instead each child overcame the unknown which defines winning.

Then if the numbers warrant it, time permitting, the tournament director could repeat the process so each child would receive another 4 sets of matches. The idea is to start each tournament with the little guys going first and a goal of having them at the local Dairy Queen within 3 hours after weigh-ins. Remember the first of the 3-F’s was having fun and nothing does that better than ice cream.

These are just two examples of what the sport might consider if the goal is to stop the bleeding. However it’s done, whoever decides it or takes the credit I don’t care but one thing’s for certain, what we’re doing now isn’t working.

And if there’s one thing we can count on, it’s that the Russians won’t be hacking our sports database or interfering in our programming anytime soon; why would they want us to change anything we’re doing with our youth?

Circle America Tour; 2017

Once again this summer I’m planning on touring the country teaching the power of down wrestling. So I wanted to ask; would you be interested in me stopping by for a day or two? I’m finalizing my dates now so if you think this might interest you, contact me at wschalles@cfl.rr.com or at 407-616-4250.

Now for some shameful commercialism; you won’t find a better clinician. At least that’s what I’ve heard after every clinic I’ve ever done. Coaches enjoy my abilities to entertain and teach what they thought they knew about pinning and down wrestling.

As to my fee, I’m way below what today’s headliners receive. So what’s there to lose, let’s see what’s possible.

A Potpourri of thoughts . . .

Did you know . . .

  • That the average roster size for college programs has shrunk in size from 37 wrestlers in 1975 to 23 today?
  • Scholastically almost 1/3rd of all high school matches are forfeits. Yet the sports leadership, at all levels, is operating under the assertion that all is well.
  • There isn’t a single Division I wrestling program that makes more money than they spend. That means were a red sport, not Democratic, just broke.
  • Academically, wrestling ranks at the bottom or near the bottom (depending upon the year you check) in relation to all the other collegiate sports. Reason; we have too many competitive dates on our calendars and the coaches care more about expanded schedules than elevating athletic department averages.
  • Medically, wrestling ranks at the top or near the top of all sports (depending upon the year you check) in relation to sport injuries. This doesn’t endear us to anyone but the Cramer tape company loves us.
  • At USAWrestling, the national governing body for wrestling, you don’t want to know what percentage of their card holders this year won’t renew their memberships next year. The number is actually staggering, not quite half, which is reflective of not being a customer service organization.
  • Instead of always saying how well we’re doing collegiately, let’s look at a list of big time schools that don’t offer wrestling and maybe we can then see how well we’re doing. LSU, Florida, Mississippi State, Colorado State, USC, Oregon, Washington, UCLA, Arizona, Georgia Tech, New Mexico, Texas, Baylor, Kansas, Notre Dame, Florida State, Clemson, California, Alabama, Arizona, Kentucky, Boston University, UTEP, Tulsa, Utah State, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, UConn, Rice, Yale, Houston, Idaho, San Diego State, San Jose State, Utah, Vanderbilt, Arkansas, Texas Tech, Kansas State, TCU, Georgia, Syracuse, Tennessee, Texas A&M, Colorado, Boston College, Mississippi, Georgetown, South Carolina, DePaul, Villanova, East Carolina, Xavier, Gonzaga, Creighton, Cincinnati, Seton Hall, Dayton, Butler, University of Central Florida, Washington State, Louisville, SMU, Memphis, Temple, Montana, Miami, Duquesne, Auburn and Tulane.

Of the Top 25 Junior Colleges in America, there’s not a single school from Pennsylvania which is the hands down best state in the union for producing All Americans. I know what that says to me, what does it say to you? Whatever it is, it can’t be good.

Of the Top 30 collegiate women’s programs in the country there isn’t a single one from PA either. Yet the Keystone state with 33 intercollegiate wrestling programs can’t convince a single Athletic Director to help their Title IX numbers by adding a women’s program? What message do you think they’re sending us?

Rule Changes . . . just thinking with a glass of scotch in hand.

  • Given that most of us believe stalling has a negative connotation, what do you think about the offending athlete’s team losing a point along with the athlete? If we actually want to stop stalling, let the coach whose wrestler is being passive handle it. You can bet stalling would become extinct, and quite quickly.
  • Allow every wrestler to wrestle 2 weight classes per dual if they want to, but no more than three times a season. Why? Because our stars typically pin their opponents in the first or early second periods and are done for the night. This is akin to paying a bunch of money to watch LeBron James play for half of the first quarter and then sit the bench for the rest of the evening. That doesn’t sound like a great marketing move on the part of the Cavilers just as it isn’t a wise use of our resources either.
  • And how about the concept that an athlete can’t be saved by the buzzer if he’s being pinned? If someone is on his back at the end of the period the referee may, at his discretion, allow the action to continue. If and when it becomes obvious that the pin isn’t going to occur, the action can be stopped.

Random Thoughts . . . I usually have a few.   

  1. The more I look at collegiate wrestling I can’t help but marvel why teams like Ohio State, Oklahoma State and Iowa haven’t thought about hiring assistants who have pedigrees in pinning? Let’s use Penn State’s successes at the NCAA tournament as an example. It’s not that the Nittany Lions always dominate the competition with regards to the number of wins they have or All-Americans they produce at the NCAA’s; they’re just dominant in the bouts they wrestle. That’s what sets them apart from the competition; they typically score about two dozen more bonus points than the next best team. That’s been the difference in most of PSU’s title runs; they simply outscore the competition . . . and by a lot. Hopefully I’m not telling coaches something that should be obvious but if they’re not teaching pinning and developing bonus point mentalities, finishing ahead of Penn State becomes very problematic.

To prove my point, as of the end of November, of the wrestlers who are nationally ranked, Penn State has pinned 45% of their opponents as opposed to 17% for Oklahoma State. If this trend continues, which history would suggest, the Nittany Lions should be able to count on receiving at least 15 more bonus points than the Cowboys at this year’s NCAA tournament. That’s a lot of points in a close race.

  1. I wonder what it says for USAW that both freestyle medalists in Rio on the men’s side were collegians who were coming off successful folkstyle seasons. Isn’t it Colorado Springs that always explains to everyone that their international failings are a direct result of America’s love of folkstyle? Maybe I’m off base here but if anyone counted the number of shots that Cox and Snyder took on their way to the medal stand it would be in excess of twice as many shots as their 4 teammates took cumulatively. Myth debunked.
  2. Given that we finished ahead of Russia in men’s freestyle, I have to wonder how that occurred. It certainly wasn’t that we had a good performance or even a fair one so was this the first Olympics where the soviets were actually wrestling “clean?” Hmmm. We know their track athletes haven’t been playing nice for quite some time and it’s been recently determined that their whole Olympic program is riddled with performance enhancing drugs. So were they always better than us or just superior as a result of chemistry?
  3. I was dismayed to see one of our Greco coaches in Rio lose control of his emotions and throw the protest brick when it was obvious to everyone (except him) that he should have let sleeping dogs lay. Instead of reversing the 2-point call he questioned, the judges decided that he was right about questioning their call and instead awarded 4-points which was enough to end the bout and eliminate the American wrestler from competition. It seems to me if we ask and expect our wrestlers to do everything humanly possible to be ready for world level competition, shouldn’t USAWrestling hold their coaches to the same standard? Those who can’t help the athletes should be in the stands; and those whose actions might cause negative outcomes should be at home watching the competition on TV.
  4. How about the Mongolian coaches stripping down on world-wide television in protest of an official’s call. I understand that removing ones clothes is an acceptable form of protest where they come from but that’s not the case in any other country that I’m aware of. And we wonder why the IOC feels wrestling might not be a sport they want in their stable. Can you imagine Coach Krzyzewski at Duke dropping his drawers at mid-court over a questionable call? Behavior like that combined with internal corruption is exactly why the IOC’s executives have placed wrestling on their soon to be extinct list. I can’t believe it took the UWW 6 weeks to discipline that coach. This isn’t good. It’s the same as spanking a puppy for soiling your rug 6 weeks after the occurrence. I understand due-process and going slow but the IOC is watching. President Lalovic should have walked onto the mat and taken our exhibitionist by the arm and escorted him to an exit. Social decorum has to rule the day. Now we learn that Mikhail Mamiashvili, the president of the Russian Wrestling Federation and Vice President of the UWW is under investigation by the Russian Olympic Committee and United World Wrestling’s ethics committee for punching one of his women wrestlers after a loss. I know wrestling is combative but we also need to be civil, especially in the court of public opinion. This is just another death by a thousand cuts occurrences that hurts what we all fight so hard to achieve. We have to remember that there are three very competent spectator-friendly sports who would love to replace us in the Games and if they can help the IOC decide our fate, they will gladly do so by handing us a concrete life preserver.
  5. USAWrestling might want to consider filling a few of their positions with people who don’t always agree with leadership. The greatest growth in any organization comes from hearing the uncomfortable while understanding the way others see you and the job you’re doing. I understand that surrounding yourself with “yes men” comes with amazing levels of comfort while you’re being fed disinformation, ineffective viewpoints and distorted signals. But you can’t get ahead when all you hear is “you’re right.”
  6. Remember in 2013 when we first heard of our dismissal from the Games how fast FILA began saying they were going to change their image? So they changed their name but not the organizations leadership. They changed the colors of the singlets and mats but not how they do business. They promised more scoring so they increased the number of points a person could earn for a takedown from 1 to 2 points. Amazingly that single change doubled the number of points scored in the finals in Rio compared to those in London. But in math according to Wade if the points for a takedown were doubled from one event to the next, that doesn’t mean the action has doubled. Even a fourth grader can see through that attempt at deception. So has anything really changed? Half empty stands are still the norm and they don’t even try to hide the corruption anymore . . . but we do have different colored mats. Yea for us.
  7. Television and the Games; it’s not NBC’s job or any other network to cover a sport or make it popular. Rather it’s the sport’s responsibility to make itself popular which in turn draws the attention of television executives. Wrestling doesn’t seem to understand that and the fact that the UWW can’t even find a way to structure their events in a way to keep all their mats operating at one time only adds to the sports Ambien moments. None of this is what the UWW promised or NBC is interested in covering.
  8. If you have a restaurant that’s known to have sub-par cuisine, if you upgrade to linen tablecloths and lay new carpet down you still have the same problem. The food sucks and that’s why people pick one restaurant over another. Ambiance is secondary and only adds to the experience if the food is yummy. In wrestling our problem is the sport’s not exciting which is the equivalent of food to a restaurant. That’s where the sport needs to focus its attention. Paying television to broadcast events only points out, with great clarity, how badly we cook. Charismatic announcers, music, cheerleaders, fog machines and elevated platforms won’t make us a meaningful entertainment source even though it does give everyone a sense of accomplishment for doing something, even if their efforts are all false-positives.

Last Words on Rio

Should the IOC Keep Wrestling in the Olympics

Of course they should, but will they? After you read this you decide.

But to start, I’d like to take my hat off to Martin Floreani and FloWrestling. They’re the only media outlet we have that has the nerve to do investigative pieces in areas that wrestling would prefer to keep hidden. It’s actually refreshing because they don’t hesitate to point out that the King has no cloths on those occasions when he forgets to put them on.

Without Martin’s team of journalists and video professionals wrestling would be far less than it is today. In many ways he’s like Bob Ferraro, the father of the National High School Coaches Association. They both march to their own drummer, are extremely successful in what they do and each does it their way regardless of what others think or who’s toes gets stepped on.

Flo always reminds me how much the sport is an enigma of contradictions. Wrestlers wouldn’t think twice about jumping in a ring with a grizzly bear but at the same time they’re as thin skinned as earthworms. When anyone is critical of some aspect of the sport or those in leadership they immediately circle the wagons and collectively attack the accuser; regardless if the information being shared is valid or not. This is the largest challenge wrestling has because great changes always follow noticeable failures.

If WIN, Amateur Wrestling News or any other member of wrestling’s communication family reported on the issues that Flo tackles we’d be a much stronger sport. Martin understands better than anyone that openness and controversies create desirable outcomes and why his company is worth more than all our other media outlets combined.

An example of this was the breaking story of the massive corruption which took place in Rio with the officiating. This story was broken first by Flo writer Christian Pyles who reported on this injustice after the very first matches were wrestled in Rio. (http://www.flowrestling.org/article/46587-how-uww-s-chief-referee-rigged-the-olympic-games) As a consequence, many officials were sent home. But, what about those wrestlers who’s Olympic games were over as a result? To paraphrase one fan’s reactionary tweet, “what are we supposed to say, thank for training for 4 years, coming here to wrestle, and if you want to try again, there’s always Tokyo.”

Never before has our international leadership been so brazen in the way they exercise their power. I’d like to think their actions were honest missteps but it appears that the UWW is still FILA by any other name.

When a group of men knowingly cheat athletes it’s beyond disgraceful and the equivalent of breaking the most sacred of commandments in sports. It goes beyond shameful and I doubt very much if any member of the UWW can say, “I didn’t know what was going on.” Actually each one has to be complicit at some level because anyone who is clever enough to make their board couldn’t possibly have watched the competition without noticing the blatant chicanery. And now, for their organization to collectively stick their heads in the sand and pretend nothing is wrong is the equivalent of waving a red flag in front of the IOC bull.

And for all of you who care about the future of wrestling, especially with us remaining a core sport in the Olympics, you need to go to Flo and read the story. And when you do, you’ll be shaking your head before the end of the first paragraph.

Maybe this isn’t as serious as I’m making it sound but wouldn’t you agree that both knowingly and systematically cheating athletes is the kind of action, and now inaction that could very well affect our Olympic status? What message does this send the IOC who has had their own issues with scandals and corruption?

Remember, it wasn’t that long ago that we were shown the door for our various sins; none of which had anything to do with the sport itself. But it did reflect directly on our leadership’s inattentiveness to repeated requests by the IOC to operate more professionally and end the corruption.

What still amazes me is it was only after we got the boot that FILA reigned in their self importance and dropped to their knees promising change; finally realizing the IOC was serious.

Here’s what was expected:

  • A change in leadership.
  • Being more responsive to IOC requests.
  • End the corruption.
  • Work to create more excitement and spectator friendliness.

So let’s take a look at what they did in the last three years to turn things around. They changed their name because the old one had lost its luster. They redesigned the attire that referees wear and then made a few tweaks to each countries singlet.

But after enduring that exhaustive work they seemed to have stopped.

As to the IOC’s expectation for change in leadership, President Martinetti resigned under protest but was allowed to stay on as a member of the board which remained in tack. Only later when the IOC cleared their throat over promises not being kept did FILA finally force Martinetti out. But other than that, the faces of leadership remained the same; so essentially there was no change – again thumbing their nose at the IOC.

As to ending the corruption, given what we witnessed in Rio the only change they made was to shine a bright light on what they were doing. I guess you’d call that a change.

As to excitement and being spectator friendly, the UWW decided the best way to accomplish this was to double the number of points for a takedown. From that they did chest bumps proclaiming, “Look at what we accomplished! The average number of points scored per bout has doubled in the last three years.”

Really . . . of course there’s more scoring. If you double the number of points for a takedown and have the same number of takedowns, the point totals have to double. Maybe I’m wrong but isn’t that 3rd grade, 2nd month math?

Now following Rio the UWW has decided that par terre will no longer be forced on athletes in Greco matches. That means more defensive posturing and less attacks from standing. I’m confused, is that the direction the sport should head. What could they be thinking when a majority of all the points scored in Greco come from the down position?

All this reminds me of what Pelle Svensson, a two-time World Champion and 17 year member of the UWW Board said about them as he resigned in disgust. They are nothing more than “an inherently corrupt organization.”

And although I don’t agree with the street theater we saw from the Mongolian coaches in Rio, their protest was a direct result of the corrupt officiating. So one might be swayed to say that the UWW is partially responsible for the black eye we received here as a result of the coach’s actions.

I’m worried that so little has happened relative to the UWW’s assurances to reform that bad things are about to befall us. It’s still business as usual for them; political favors and financial inducements flowing upstream while the sport heads downstream and over the dam.

As to the question I posed at the top of the page; IOC President Thomas Bach has promised to fight all corruption, wherever he finds it with zero tolerance. So I’d have to believe he’s going to take a close look at wrestling and be compelled to act.

Now I get it for those who want to defend our sport that the IOC isn’t without sin; or willing to hold themselves to the same standards as they will judge us by. Yes, they had their issues in 2002 with the Salt Lake City Olympics followed by an ongoing string of allegations regarding bidding and voting irregularities. None of that is shocking but we should be very concerned about it because there’s a difference in the microscope settings when a mother judges herself versus one of her siblings; especially an insignificant one like wrestling when zero tolerance is promised. This is a “you or mother” scenario and I’d put money on the IOC deciding that it’s better to clean our house than to shine a negative light on theirs.

To help the IOC with a decision like this, there are several other sports who have been patiently waiting in the wings to become the next member of the Olympic family. And what do you think each of them is saying to every IOC board member they encounter?

”Why are you keeping wrestling? They’ve embarrassed themselves and you once again while cheating their own athletes. I would imagine that Pierre de Coubertin is turning over in his grave right about now. Do you really need the media taking a closer look at your group over wrestling’s transgressions? You have enough problems as it is and they’re continuously demonstrating that they can’t be trusted. Give us a chance, dump wrestling; we’ll bring honor, excitement and twice the number of spectators to your events.” 

And if USAWrestling doesn’t force the UWW to jump on these transgressions with both feet, what message does that send, especially to our athletes here at home; that it’s okay to devote an entire career to that one moment in time when one is inches away from an Olympic medal to instead end up with a ticket home as a consolation prize. All because someone with a whistle got his palm greased.

Here are a few interesting posts on Flo’s website about the corruption in Rio;

“It’s time for entire cleansing of the wrestling world from the bottom to the top!!! To include our very own….”

“Where were the American officials at when this went down?”

“It’s time to get an official statement from UWW on what they have to say about the allegations and how they plan to respond to them.”

“So I guess the Mongolians were onto something.”

“Our country’s great sense of fairness make us gasp in disbelief at the blatant corruption possibilities that play themselves out on the wrestling mat.”

“Sadly this is the kind of stuff that gives the IOC ammo to throw wrestling out of the Olympics…”

“So if this is true they should pull the $50,000 fine they issued to Mongolian team for there protest on the mat seems unfair to fine a team when the officials were cheating.”

“And the decline of my beloved sport continues.”

Adeline and Jordan in Rio . . .  

I’m not aware of what happened to Adeline on the women’s side of things but in talking with people who know Jordan, it seems the consensus is there were way too many distractions. Only JB knows for sure, and maybe he’s not completely aware of how each one added to the letdown but I believe we can agree that Rio wasn’t his best performance.

Actually it was painful to watch . . . to see such a great athlete and spokesman for the sport trying to regain his composure after the first loss and then again after his second. I can’t imagine what was going through his mind. But even if he’s one Gold Medal short of what he prepared for, he’s still our champion.

So what were the distractions? Before we talk about that we need to remember that JB is no longer the same person who won the worlds in 2011 or the Olympics in 2012. There has been a few changes in his life. To begin he married his sweetheart in 2013 and has become the father of two lovely children with all the associated responsibilities while trying to maintain the moniker of being the most popular wrestler in the world.

Besides those things what appeared to have sidetracked him the most is the media. They were so enamored by his intelligence and pleasant demeanor that they pulled him in every direction possible except the one that pointed to the winners circle.

If there was a fifth distraction it was the half million dollar Gold Medal incentive package he was offered. The pressure to win in Rio meant that if he was successful the Burroughs family would become financially comfortable for quite a few years to come.

And finally there was the stress that comes from knowing that your fans are expecting not only the Gold but to win each match by even larger margins than before.

I have to believe that Adeline had similar issues, especially with the media and the pressure that’s associated with being America’s flag bearer for the women’s program.

Combined, each one of these time consuming entanglements moved both Jordan’s and Adeline’s psyches away from the envious position of being the hunter to the exposed position of being the hunted.

When I watched Adeline’s first match it certainly appeared she was just trying to get through it against a women she had defeated 9 times before. The match was simply a matter of her under performing by keeping the bout closer than she was capable of and ended up on the losing end of a last second 2-pointer.

This shocked me because every match I’ve ever watched her wrestle she’s never been that conservative. I place the responsibility for that on the coaching staff. She just wasn’t ready to shake hands, kick fanny and take names.

For those who might take exception to that comment about the coaches, I’ll give you that it’s ultimately the athlete who’s responsible for their own success but keeping them focused and away from the pitfalls of distractions is the coach’s job. It couldn’t have been that Adeline wasn’t physically ready to wrestle or wasn’t emotionally capable of winning her fourth world title so through the process of elimination the easy conclusion is that the coaches simply did not step up to help her with the outside distractions.

In the case of Jordan who was 2-0 against his Russian opponent and beat Abdurakhmonov 9-3 just a month before the Games, I wonder if anyone grabbed him after his first loss and said; “Do you know what’s worse than going home and having to explain to everyone how you lost?” Then after a pause follow that with, “Going home and having to explain to everyone how you lost twice.” As much as we might not believe it, our Olympians are still young adults with quite a bit more to learn. It’s our senior level leadership who should be the ones to provide it. Something they clearly failed to do.

Writing this portion of the blog reminds me of watching Gable wrestle his last collegiate match against Larry Owings. It was probably the most shocking loss I’ve ever witnessed in sports. This defeat had nothing to do with physical preparedness but had everything to do with the number of distractions Dan endured before the match.

Every media outlet imaginable wanted time with our Golden Boy, even the ones that never covered wrestling before because he was that big, his accomplishments were that well known. Never beaten in high school and undefeated throughout his collegiate career the media just couldn’t get enough of Dan. And from what I’ve heard over the years, Coach Nichols blamed himself for not doing more to protect his star from the distractions. He was probably right because the media and all that surrounds them are, by definition, the things that pull a person away from their goals.

Don’t get me wrong, Owings’ was very good but not Dan Gable good. So whatever those things were that pulled Dan away from doing his best caused the greatest wrestler America has ever produced to under produce.

As to Rio, had Dan been the coach I doubt very much if Adeline or Jordan would have lost. For coaching is imparting the wisdom gained from what typically is 40+ years of competing, coaching and life experiences to those who have less than 20 years of competitive experience; regardless of how successful the athletes are.

Dan never forgot the lesson he endured in 1970; how expectations and distractions reduced his level of performance. He took those lessons to form the basis of who he became as a coach. I can’t remember a time when a Hawk wrestled below his capabilities; can you? That had everything to do with Dan continuously controlling his athlete’s access to external disturbances and a major reason why they won so often.

And when the time comes that Jordon and Adeline retires from competition, I’m sure they’ll both remember how dangerous an overabundance of distractions were and like Gable, become exceptional coaches.

So What’s A Person To Do . . .

Have you ever wondered what you could do as a member of USAWrestling if you wanted to express your concern (or displeasure) at our performance in Rio? Or for USAWrestling closing their eyes to the corruption within the UWW without exposing yourself to reprisals; or hurting the organization?

If you have, then maybe this might appeal to you?

Given that nothing significant happens at USAWrestling from September through November why not delay the purchase of your membership card until December? This action won’t hurt the organizations bottom line, but it is a way to express your concerns regarding our senior level programming and how they’re allowing the UWW to bury our beloved sport with the IOC.

This form of organized revenue disruption is temporary but it definitely sends a very strong message to USAWrestling’s Board of Directors and their half dozen or so senior level contributors. It tells them they have your support should they wish to force change.

This is the only way I can think of where everyday individuals like you and I can make a difference without actually hurting the organization or our access to their programming.

Thought for the day . . . things that matter the most must never be at the mercy of things that matter least.

USAWrestling; Red, White and Feeling Blue

Before USAWrestling has much of a chance to spin the results of the Games, you might like to know a few facts. Out of 72 medals that were awarded for wrestling in Rio America won 3 of them. That alone should tell you where we stand in the world and the job Colorado Springs is doing in relation to international competition.

In Rio there were 19 wrestlers in each weight class, 12 of which received first round byes. It’s hard to believe that we can’t do better given all the wrestlers had to do was win their first match to move into the medal round.

Now I’m not suggesting that winning matches on this stage is easy, but if our athlete’s preparedness was equal to their levels of talent, success shouldn’t be a stretch. That’s my point here and where USAWrestling falls short; we have the talent but the athletes aren’t ready and the sad part is they’re not even aware of it because they don’t know what they don’t know. Their unpreparedness is leaderships fault. I’ll take a more in-depth look at this point in the next blog.

As to Greco, of the 138 matches that were wrestled in the Games, Team USA won 2 of them.

We had two 3-time World Champions in Rio and all they could manage was 1 win apiece. Both exited the Games without a medal. So what happened, it’s not that they won their previous championships by mistake? This too will be discussed in the next blog.

Between 1972 and 2000 (the year that the current administration arrived in Colorado Springs), America averaged 5.7 medals per Olympiad. Since 2000, we’ve dropped to 2.25 medals for an embarrassing 250% decrease in performance.

But Wade, there were 10 weight classes per style back then and we only have 6 today so you’re not comparing apples to apples. You’re right about the number of weight classes then but there wasn’t a woman’s division in the Olympics prior to 2000 so the slide in our competitiveness is still over 200% and certainly signifies we’ve fallen off a steep cliff.

In some regards what we’re going through is like death by a 1000 cuts. We’ve grown so accustomed to slowly decreasing performances that we’ve grown numb to the lethalness of our decline. If you wonder why that is it’s because we’re Americans and always prefer to see the glass as being half full versus half empty, to see what we’ve accomplished rather than what we haven’t.

If America has anything to hang its hat on during this Olympic cycle, which granted isn’t much, it’s that we weren’t the only team that did far less than expected. Perennial powerhouse, Russia, finished behind us which is a first as far back as I can remember not counting the Games in Los Angeles that were boycotted. I would imagine their coaches belongings are already boxed and on their way to Siberia as a result of their failings.

Now before I continue I’d like to apologize to the staff of USAWrestling for a comment I made two blogs ago, when I complimented Pete Isais and followed it with . . . “he’s the brightest star we have within a constellation of white dwarfs.” My words clearly suggested something I didn’t mean, and I see how they could be mis-perceived. I was trying to point out that leadership was not preforming to the levels we expect or the athletes deserve. These shortcomings are probably a result of administrative non-decisions rather than poor decisions but either way, the buck stops at the top and my words missed the mark. I’m very sorry.

The staff at USAWrestling is professional, efficient, and devoted to the growth of the sport. Without them we’d be in a real pickle.

And further, to be very clear, every time I criticize leadership I don’t mean that every single decision they make is off the mark or any specific department within the organization is poorly run. To the contrary, USAWrestling as a whole is the envy of many of the USOC family of sports. It’s just that when they fall from grace in competition, as they so often do, they do it in spades, which is reflective of the entire organization.

When it comes to CEO’s or Executive Directors, they’re ultimately accountable to their investors or in our case, membership. In Colorado Springs Mr. Bender has the unenviable task of keeping a wide and diverse organization pleased which isn’t an easy job. And he does it well when it comes to Operations and Finance, Sales and Marketing, Capital Improvement, Human Resources and Employee Training but unfortunately appears clueless with regards to athlete development. Or quite possibly he’s so deep in the political swamp that it’s impossible to win for losing.

So here’s the problem . . . he’s the Executive Director in charge of the entire organization and is the man in charge of finding out when a ball is dropped who dropped it? But if he knows, he’s not saying but regardless he’s the one responsible to fix it.

Here’s the solution . . . Rich needs a buffer, he needs to hire someone who understands his weaknesses who can take the hit when teams have sub-par performances and give the credit to the organization when they succeed. That person should have the title of Director of National Teams and be responsible to provide strategic leadership to the coaches while overseeing athlete training and qualifying tournaments. If that position already exists under a different name, I think we’ve found the person who isn’t doing their job or possibly knowing how the organization works, isn’t being allowed to do their job? We need to approach leadership in today’s fast paced, information overloaded environment like a gardener approaches gardening. Gardeners tend to their gardens and find success when they create an environment where plants flourish, and the gardener only has to perform maintenance as all the ground work was done up front.  However, this type of leadership is not passive but active and requires the leader to lead from the front where the actions of the leaders speak louder than the words.

So if I were in that position, and I’m definitely not lobbying for it, here are a few examples of what I’d insist take place. Most of them will be vehemently opposed by coaches and rejected by the athletes but that shouldn’t be a concern. Greatness in sports never happens by mistake and it certainly doesn’t happen when you allow the athletes or coaches to do their own thing or dictate the curriculum.

1) Insist that every wrestler who receives stipends train at the OTC or lose their funding. I know this idea is not going to be a popular initiative but we aren’t running a popularity contest. Winning is about setting goals and then achieving them. May I remind everyone that Lombardi was hated by every member of the Green Bay Packers until they won a few Super Bowls then the old coach was loved. If championships were easy, everyone would be a champion.

It’s simply impossible for any athlete to be at his/her best when he/she trains with others who aren’t currently at his/her level of development. NFL players don’t become All-Pro by working out with players from their old college teams. You can’t compete with lawyers in New York City when you practice law in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. It’s simply impossible for a David Taylor who I happen to believe is one of our greats to reach his potential by working out in the Penn State room. He needs global level competition on a daily basis with people like Burroughs, Dake, Dieringer, Howe and Cox all who are well within reach of obtaining international greatness. As steel sharpens steel, we must insist that our best toughen one another just as other countries do. What do you think would happen if every member of the Iowa team decided to go back to their high schools to train during the week and then show up on the weekends to wrestle? How crazy is that, Tom would never allow it to happen but if he did, he’d only have to endure four months of losing before he was replaced. Does anyone else see the futility of allowing America’s best to train apart with those who have yet to step on the world stage? Getting along, being politically correct, having the individual freedom to do what you want when you want isn’t how anyone becomes great in a combat sport. It takes discipline, sacrifice and for those who just want to whine; to retire.

Our most successful years in wrestling were when everyone who was anyone lived in Iowa City and trained with Gable. My joints still remind me when the barometric pressure drops of those daily workouts with Dziedzic, Schultz, Kemp, Peterson, Keaser, Campbell and of course “the Gabe.” It wasn’t pleasant, and it wasn’t easy, but it did put all of us in the Hall of Fame. A day of relaxation for me was facing off against Carl Adams, and I can tell you that wasn’t a vacation. But today, everyone trains apart, and the results reflect that.

If anyone’s curious how Jordan, Kyle and our amazing women won championships training apart, remember I said “for athletes to be at their best they need to train together.” It’s just that the best those athletes have is above the line that’s necessary to be a World Champion. They’re that good and would become even better if they worked together while, at the same time, elevating those around them which is of equal or greater importance as USA Wrestling looks to improve their position on the world stage.

Taking this idea a step further, if I had the power to do so I’d add a second criterion for making a World, Pan Am or Olympic team. Instead of just winning the trials, each athlete would be required to fly to the OTC for a predetermined period of time to train. This wouldn’t be optional. Failure to show up means the athlete forfeits his/her position and the second place wrestler immediately replaces him/her. If we want to be serious about winning, then we have to be serious about winning.

2) One size doesn’t fit all and how we coach our national teams should mirror that fact. For the sake of argument let’s say there are three completely different wrestling styles. The first is conservative and hard-nosed like Ramos, Molinaro, Howe and Snyder. The second is moderate and creative which are your Pico’s, Cox’s and Burroughs’. The last one is unorthodox and imaginative like Taylor, Dake, and Rutherford. By the way, this last style is the most fun to watch, the most difficult to compete against and the hardest to dissect if you’re a foreigner.

In my opinion the second largest challenge USAWrestling faced leading up to Rio was every member of our freestyle coaching staff were disciples of conservative and hardnosed. Slay would do wonders with Snyder types but struggle to understand Dake. Zadick could improve Ramos but doesn’t speak Rutherford very well. Burnett believes that basics win matches and he’s right; however that doesn’t always help develop America’s imaginative wrestlers.

Now none of this is to say or insinuate that these men can’t coach, they’re some of this country’s best. I’m just trying to point out that in any organization if you have 3 people with the same mindset, it’s believed that 2 of them aren’t necessary. And if there’s one thing that makes America special it’s our creativeness and innovation. To stifle that for the benefit of conservatism is to witness what we saw in Rio.

Success development of our athletes means matching mindset with mindset, skillset with skillset and that can only take place when you pair athletes with likeminded coaches. This is exactly what Lombardi did when he built the Green Bay Packers into Super Bowl Champions – he used a framework built on what he called the seven blocks of granite; 1.Spartan qualities of sacrifice, selflessness, competitive drive, and perseverance; 2. The American Zeal to compete and win to find their better selves; 3. A man’s commitment to excellence and victory; 4. Too much freedom and not enough authority bringing us close to chaos; 5. Lack of disciplined leadership where people want to be told what to do but also to have freedom – effective leaders needed to understand this paradox; 6. A great leader is one that identifies himself with his group and backs his group even if it means displeasure from the superiors and to give a sense of approval as well as belief in teamwork through cooperation – a balance between mental toughness and love; and 7. The two inseparable qualities that make great leaders stand out are character and will – will is character in action – leadership is in sacrifice, self-denial, love, loyalty, fearlessness, and humility to build the winning team. Bottom line, USAWrestling needs to do a better job in diversifying their coaching staffs and learn from our own history of what makes people and athletes great.

3) Know your enemy without duplicating them. The former is where we score high marks, the latter produces losses. USAWrestling has done great work at gathering and analyzing videos of the world’s best wrestlers. But the question is how to handle this treasure trove of information? Obviously we should use it to identify those techniques the opposition will throw at us and then develop a) counter measures and b) counter attacks after blocking their shots. However, I’m not so sure that counter attacks is part of USAWrestling’s curriculum. If it were, our non-medalists would have done better. Cox and Snyder were successful, in part, to their counter attacks, a staple of collegiate wrestling – a fact which should be noted since those two still have collegiate eligibility remaining. It could be coincidence that they medaled where those who graduated several years ago didn’t but I think I see a pattern. What is obvious to me is we’re missing defensive offenses; ways to score from our opponent’s shots. This is as American as apple pie and exactly the area where the Europeans and Asians have trouble figuring us out. They have all learned to train by the step 1 is followed by step 2 methodology. That’s all well and good for them, but if you throw step 4 in-between steps 1 and 2 you’ll often notice smoke coming out of their ears as their circuitry is fried. No one knows chain wrestling like Americans do, yet, it appears that we’ve shelved it as not being “the way the Russians do it.”

What videos shouldn’t be used for are learning tools to duplicate our attacks to mirror theirs just because “the Iranians or the Russians win with it.” Americans need to wrestle the way we’ve always wrestled. But as an example to tell Ben Askren in ‘08 that he had to completely change from his “give them a leg and win from there” style to an elbows in, square stance, down block and push away philosophy took him from being the favored to win Gold and turned him into a spectator with 1 win and 2 losses. Misguided coaching by the staff of USAWrestling cost him his dream. That’s sad and I’m sorry but it’s also unforgivable.

Now if I offended anyone here, once again I’m sorry but I stick by my one size doesn’t fit all philosophy. It took me years to figure out that how I wrestled shouldn’t be shared with conservative hard-nosed types. That was a miscalculation on my part just as Gable learned after a couple of years at Iowa that his crunch style of coaching didn’t work well for those who were unorthodox and imaginative.

4) Fire any national team coach who sits in an athlete’s corner opposite another American. No exceptions, one strike and you’re out. You cannot have a cohesive program when sides are drawn by individuals who are paid to know better. This is one of the primary reasons why a vast majority of our greats won’t show their faces at the training center in Colorado Springs. They know if they do, they’ll more than likely be scouted, and their weaknesses used against them. Now it doesn’t matter to what degree this feeling is real or imagined, it’s an outgrowth of observing members of the national coaching staff choosing sides during matches between Americans. We can’t be at our best when coaches show favoritism and the athletes don’t trust them, or the organization, for allowing it to take place.

My next blog will go into depth regarding Rich’s more inhibiting challenges and how he might see them in a different light. It should be fun.

Olympic Notes

Maryland On The Move

Besides being known for blue crabs, rock fish and black-eyed susans, Maryland can now claim to be the home of Olympic Champions. That’s important to the state because before Rio the only thing Maryland could say with regard to wrestling was it bordered on Pennsylvania.

Now it has two larger than life heroes.

Helen Maroulis; what a story, what a lady. She became the first woman in United States history to win an Olympic Championship in freestyle wrestling by shocking Japan’s Saori Yoshida, a thirteen time World Champion and three-time Olympic Gold Medalist.

When the final buzzer sounded she cried tears of joy, then she cried again on the medal stand as she sang the national anthem and together with the American flag over her head we cried with her.

Helen you are simply the best. The way you handled yourself throughout the years is an inspiration to us all. We’ve loved watching you mature and your passion for the sport is obvious.

Kyle Snyder; won and done, cool, focused, a man on a mission. You never stop pushing, reaching, creating, striving, persisting or dreaming.  Your performance was simply brilliant.

Never have I watched any of our champion’s march their way through the competition like you did. Elbows at your side, feet always moving, precise attacks and counters, never out of position, never a momentary loss of composure.

And most important of all, both of you are better people than you are wrestlers . . . and that speaks to the job your parents did and the choices you continually make.

Well done.

Changing Channels

I believe Ryan Lochte owes more than USA Swimming an apology. He single handily stole headlines from every Gold Medalist and their country after receiving his day in the sun as a competitor. Just as unforgiving was the way NBC and their affiliates handled the controversy.

Even today, 72 hours after the closing ceremonies and a week after the incident itself we are still being forced to ride Lochte’s shame train. Enough already. NBC wanted the story of the 4 swimmers who said they were robbed at gunpoint to be true. They wanted the ratings that such a scandal would produce. They wanted to validate what many were thinking; that a once proud and beautiful city was no longer deserving of such an exclusive event.

Granted, all was not perfect in Rio but what Games are? With millions of moving parts and with every event cycle locations and administrations change there’s going to be cracks, there’s going to be black holes not to mention a few oops’. But given Brazil is financially reeling as a result of falling oil prices and political scandals, the city still pulled it off and the event was something to watch.

In the meantime no one outside of wrestling could possibly understand what an amazing feat Helen accomplished and the odds that Kyle overcame to become the youngest American to ever win an Olympic Gold in our sport. NBC certainly didn’t. Both narratives of sacrifice, humility and triumph should have been lead stories for the network. But given that neither athlete urinated behind some building or lied to the police, those outside of wrestling will never know of their remarkable achievements.

Note to every media outlet . . . for Kyle to be the best in the world at the age of 20, that’s comparable to becoming boxing’s undisputed Heavyweight Champion of the World at the same age or the All-Around Champion in gymnastics at 12 . . . neither of which has ever occurred.

As for Helen, all she did with a little girl’s smile and enormous heart was the equivalent of besting Michael Phelps an hour after upsetting Usain Bolt.

On a different take, I wonder how NBC would have handled the Lochte story had it been 4 wrestlers instead of swimmers. Fortunately we won’t know because I can’t imagine our best putting themselves in that position.

As to the media coverage we received in general . . . remember it wasn’t that long ago we were thrown out of the Olympics. NBC was just taking their lead from the IOC . . . “if leadership doesn’t care about wrestling, why should we?” Unfortunately this snubbing and our continual fall from grace is just the tip of the iceberg regarding how people feel about our sport. And until our leadership sees fit to make significant changes in their attitude and the way they choose to administer wrestling, their myopic viewpoints and stubbornness will prove Darwin’s theory to be correct.

It’s all a matter of how quickly the UWW can clean up their image of corruption and make the sport spectator friendly and exciting. In the absence of those changes, wrestling is not going to make it past 2020.

Emails and America’s World Cup

The following is an exchange I had with one of the nation’s most recognizable wrestling officials. I thought you might find it interesting.  

Wade,

This note to you is long overdue – I’ve read every one of your blogs and your writing is spot on. Well stated – many times over.

I’ve shared your concerns about the slow, certain death wrestling faces if we continue down this same old path of mediocrity. Additionally, the “sports fan” we compete for has no reason to pay to watch us when there are many other exciting alternatives available.

I’ve written to the NWCA on several occasions about my concerns and the response is predictable – “ho hum, leave us alone.” They don’t understand how difficult it is to watch the sport anymore. From 1978 thru 2001 I have been slowly tortured to death by the boring nature of Division I competition.

I don’t think most coaches and wrestling fans realize how close we are to a funeral.

How big is your bandwagon, and how do you (we) attract more like minded souls? They’re out there!

Name Withheld

______________________________________________________________

Dear Name Withheld,

Thank you so very much for the kind note. It is appreciated and I share many of your sediments. We are close to seeing unpleasant things befall the sport. And as I see it there are only two ways that things will change.

  1. The sport totally collapses and our myopic leadership, without anyone left to lead finally quits and goes away. When and if that happens, it will be people like you who help us pick up the pieces and rebuild wrestling from the ground up.
  1. Or there’s a nationwide coup as a result of a colossus failure to perform in Rio and membership starts a “throw the rascals out” revolt.

The first one took place to some degree when the AAU was replaced in the ‘70’s by the USWF. That forced everyone who was anyone in the AAU, except for Newt Copple, to jump ship and become part of the leadership team in what is now USAWrestling. What was left at the AAU were non-political individuals who were only interested in doing right for those who remained. From there the Union was rebuilt to where it is today, 1/3 the size of membership of USAWrestling with a budget that is 1/60th the size of Colorado Springs’ and a staff that is 1/35th as large.

At the NCAA, high school and international levels what I’ve observed is leadership likes the way things are . . . they feel that the outcome of any change someone may make could have a negative impact on their standing in the sport. That uncertainty is too daunting for them to endure. It seems they would rather change professions after the sport implodes than take a risk with the unknown even if that unknown is predictably known.

As you might guess, all this isn’t rocket science. There are so many common sense approaches to change that are being overlooked . . . it’s really quite maddening.

One of them is to support the “a point scored is a point earned” approach to improving action and excitement. I’m really committed to that change.

(For those who haven’t heard of a point scored is a point earned before, look to the right and click on that title 11 blogs down from the top. It’s the most important change we can make in the sport.)

All this is a sad state of affairs but nothing we do is going to make converts out of coaches. Just as a mind is a terrible thing to waste, so too are they impossible to change.

Consequently I’ve resigned myself to the way wrestling operates and I’m cataloging their inactivity in my writings so I can say “I told you so” sometime down the road. That may be a childish approach but I don’t know anything else to do.

Wade

______________________________________________________________

Wade,

I agree, your treatise on “a point earned is a point scored” is a huge step in the right direction. One of the reasons I gave up collegiate officiating was too many of the finest trained and conditioned athletes in the world would beat their best opponent by one point, and then an average competitor by two. Seldom was there any real risk taking, and most dual matches would yield one or two good to great matches, two or three matches with a few flurries and four or five matches that were quite frankly duds.

I don’t blame the athletes – they simply wrestle to the level the rules permit and that which their coaches insist on . . . basically that means get a 1 point lead and sit on it.

I stated something similar to a comment I believe you made a while back that goes like this: the athletes will wrestle to the rules but seldom do more – but as referees, administrators and coaches we need and we must find a way to reward attackers. A point earned is a point scored does exactly that.

And regarding another one of your opinions you are correct – get the coaches out of the rules meetings. That’s most definitely the fox in the hen house scenario.

Frankly I had never considered your point earned is a point scored idea – and every time I read it the more I like it. It’s all about continued scoring and attacking – all the way to a fall. Under that concept a great wrestler and his team is rewarded for continuing to do what he or she does best; and that’s to be spectacular!

And can you imagine what would happen when a great collegian joins the international ranks after his developmental years – he’ll be more than ready for the Iranians and Russians.

Stay tuned,

Name Withheld

______________________________________________________________

On a different subject, did you see where the United States finished 4th at the World Cups in Los Angeles this month? We were defeated by Iran in the semi-finals and then Georgia in the match for the Bronze medal.

You can imagine how Colorado Springs feels we did when they spend most of their time in post mortem talking about how well the event was received and how smoothly everything ran. But not how we finished.

Everything did go well administratively and as a result kudos to Pete Isais from the national office; he’s the brightest star we have within a constellation of white dwarfs.

Just as important to wrestling is the Titan-Mercury Club. Their invaluable assistance smoothed over any rough spots the Cup had while providing a certain level of refinement that’s seldom seen at events run by Colorado Springs. It’s too bad the TMC isn’t the National Governing Body; they actually know how to make things happen at the upper levels.

Speaking of USAWrestling, where was USAW-California regarding the work that had to be done to make the World Cup successful? One of the event managers was overheard bemoaning how little they did for the event . . . and “they didn’t even sell one ticket.”

As to the competition itself, there were certainly some memorable moments and a few great bouts. But note to USAWrestling; you lost to a team for 3rd place whose country is half the size of our state of Georgia with a population that’s 1/4th as big not to mention we were enjoying home court advantage! And if Azerbaijan had brought their first team, it’s quite possible we would have been wrestling for 5th and 6th against Mongolia instead of Georgia for 3rd.

Why is any of this acceptable and why doesn’t this outrage everyone who loves wrestling and America? We outnumber and outspend the rest of the world in wrestling by a lot and continually look to Burroughs as the face of our program and the sports lone Superman. Apologies to Kyle and Adeline here, they both have S’s on their chests too but 3 stars in a galaxy of 18 isn’t very blinding.

As usual our leadership failed us, the coaching staff failed us. The athletes did what they could but without proper training, which they aren’t receiving, the results speak for themselves.

Frankly it’s embarrassing. But am I the only one who feels this way? Are we actually that bad or is something else wrong? Our numbers and resources should give us at a minimum the equivalent of 2 Burroughs, 1 Snyder and 1 Grey . . . per discipline.

In the absence of that I’m confused, what magic wand does Colorado Springs have that they wave over membership that numbs everyone into accepting one dismal performance after another year after year? Or did they buy some pixy dust from Disney to use on their Board of Directors? I can’t believe that 40 very accomplished and intelligent men and women don’t see this for what it is . . . everyone being afraid of offending someone so the tough decisions are never addressed.

If USAWrestling’s medal count were numbers on a spread sheet for any Fortune 500 company stock holders would being going absolutely bananas. Leadership would be shown the door so fast their heads would spin. But instead the Board of USAWrestling keeps giving its Executive Director raises and annual bonuses for what one must assume is a job well done.

Hugh, what?

Leadership should not receive financial at-a-boys for having an impressive handicap in golf, but to produce in wrestling. Compensation should be determined by international performances, not managing three dozen or so self-motivated employees. What did the Board see regarding our performance at last year’s World Championships that made them vote for another raise and bonus? With home court advantage, we only had 3 wrestlers in the finals for all three disciplines in the Olympic weights. That’s 3 out of 36, not an effort worthy of writing home about.

In contrast did you know that at one time in the 1970’s, when America’s folkstyle programs were twice the size of what they are today, we won more World and Olympic Gold Medals than all the other Olympic sports with the exception of track and swimming which had twice as many athletes competing in twice as many events.

J is J

I’ve known J Robinson since the early 70’s and he has always marched to his own drummer. He’s an opinionated winner, a stubborn and rugged individualist, a person you can count on to reject political correctness while he embraces discipline and personal responsibility. I’ve always found J to say what he believes and believe what he says. I like that about the man and I’ve have always admired the bond of trust and respect he builds with his wrestlers. And as tough as he is on his athletes, he’s equally as tough on himself. J is the person you want to share a fox hole with and be in your corner during competition.

He’s the person who helped Gable become the coach he was and then the individual who challenged Iowa’s dominance after he moved to Minneapolis.

But somehow you knew as long as he continued to win big while the rest of the school’s programs won small, his uncompromising temperament and say it like it is demeanor wouldn’t be an issue. But with the combination of this year’s mediocre season with what appears to be a scandal of federal proportions, those who have never subscribed to J’s view of the world have attacked.

And this Xanax scandal is about to get uglier before it gets better, but not in the way some may think; so pass out the ice packs and salt, there’s going to be a few black eyes and individuals eating crow.

Now for those who haven’t heard or may not know much of the story, here’s what’s being reported and I’ve deduced from reading between the lines.

“A source with the wrestling program told the (Minneapolis) Star Tribune’s Joe Christensen that Robinson learned this season that his athletes were using and selling large amounts of Xanax. Robinson, according to the source, tried to handle the crisis internally. He reportedly did not tell his superiors.”

From this and a majority of other articles I’ve found online, J is getting crucified Joe Paterno style for trying to handle a very bad situation internally. And yesterday he was put on administrative leave by the universities newly appointed Athletic Director which in political speak usually means . . . you’re gone but we’re allowing you to save face for the outstanding service you’ve provided the university over the years.

What hasn’t been reported, but will become apparent when the authorities dig through the emails on his athletic department server, that J did what was expected of a man of character and followed university protocol.

So basically there appears to have been a rush to judgment here and knowing J, I believe he’ll deal with this in the same way he handles everything in his life . . . by powering through it. And given that this attack on J’s reputation occurred prior to being given an opportunity to defend himself and provide timelines, everyone is about to lose something. This is as predictable as it is indicative of the man who believes that conflict is good because it strengthens character.

A Combination of Thoughts

I’d like to start by complimenting USAWrestling and for some that might mean breaking out the smelling salts. It’s something I’ve wanted to do for a while now given I don’t hesitate to call their leadership out when their priorities get out of whack.

So to begin, I’d like to recognize their staff and every one of their volunteers who work tirelessly not only for the sport but the children in their care. I can’t begin to tell you how much I respect what they do, why they do it and believe their unselfish sacrifices shouldn’t go unnoticed. Wrestling has always been a solid family unit and they’re all part of what’s good about the sport.

In a nutshell, USAWrestling is simply one of the best NGB’s that the USOC has in their stable. They are to wrestling what Secretariat or Sea Biscuit was to thoroughbred racing. Even its leadership is functioning close to Triple Crown levels when it comes to administering the organization.

But notice I chose the word close to describe their efforts. They certainly should receive a great deal of kudos for growing their organization but I guess I have to ask, at what cost to others and are they fulfilling their role as National Governing Body?

For the answer to the second part I went to the USOC website. I wanted to see how they defined the responsibility of being a National Governing Body. Here’s what I found; USAWrestling has two basic obligations:

  • To generate resources in support of its mission statement to help American athletes achieve sustained competitive excellence.
  • To ensure that their resources are used both wisely and effectively to that end.

When I began above, my praise of USAWrestling was reflective of their capabilities to generate a level of resources that are the envy of most, if not all the NGB’s in Colorado Springs, even given the USOC’s reduction in performance funding due to a decline in medal production. But relative to measuring their “sustained competitive excellence” they’re falling woefully short and regarding “wise and effective” use of resources that I’ll cover later in the blog.

To be an NGB, sustained international performances are half of the equation.

It’s not the number of memberships an organization sells or the quality of USAWrestling’s monthly magazine which is amazing by the way or the robustness of their website. But rather or not are they developing competitive excellence, do our singlets evoke a sense of global respect like Iowa’s did on a national basis during Gable’s tenure?

This should be easy to answer; it’s a yes or no question. Are we or are we not being successful internationally? If the answer is yes, all’s good. If it’s a no, before pointing fingers we should ask two questions; are we close and are our programs moving in the right direction?

Unfortunately the answers are no and no. We’re not competitive and if I can say anything positive here it’s we’re not headed in the wrong direction. We’re just remaining constant.

Were you aware, out of the Top 72 ranked freestyle wrestlers in the world; America only has 2 of them; Burroughs and Snyder. That means the United States; a country that is #1 in the world in every support category imaginable only has 2.7% of the planets best freestylers. Yes that’s correct, less than 3% of the world’s studs are American.

And unfortunately we’re only half that successful in Greco with 1 wrestler in the Top 72 and he’s ranked 5th in the world. That means America is dominating 1.3% of the Greco field.

On the women’s side we do a little better with 3 of our ladies ranked in the Top 72 or 4.1% of the field.

How is any of this possible? With everything we have going for us in the Land of the Free and Plenty; these numbers are beyond excusable. And it’s NOT the fault of our athletes. They are every bit as resilient, talented and amazing as anything the Europeans can put on the mat; but the two groups as a whole are vastly different.

The developmental years for the Eastern Europeans is far more physically challenging than what we have to go through here in the states. As children they have to fight for their next meal and the word bullying doesn’t exist in their cultures; nor is politically correct something they understand. The result is their physical builds and mentalities tend to mirror the immoveable object in relationship to the irresistible force of the Americans. We tend to be more creative, stubborn and proud than our counterparts. These differences and the way we don’t train to take advantage of our skillsets should be a blog by itself.

Our system is broken and leadership refuses to bite the bullet and do what is politically uncomfortable to fulfill their obligation as wrestling’s NGB. To find out why not you have to ask the President and Executive Director, they control the organizations direction and narrative from their offices on Lehman Drive.

Continuing comparisons, in men’s freestyle Iran, a country that is 20% the size of America in terms of population, has every member of their starting lineup ranked in the Top 10. As for depth, Russia with a population that’s less than half that of the United States has 8 times more ranked freestylers in the Top 10 than we do; 8 times.

As a breakdown, they have 3 of the top 4 ranked wrestlers in the world at 97kg and they have the #1 and #2 guys at 89kg. At 65 kg they have a World Champion and a formerly ranked #1 in the world. At 61kg they have stabled a World Champion, a formally ranked #1 and an Olympic Champion all battling it out to make the trip to Rio. To give you even a better idea of their depth; the worst guy on their team is ranked 3rd in the world and rumor has it he’s being sent to Siberia to mine for that which has eluded him on the mats.

At last year’s World Championships in Las Vegas, with home field advantage we finished a disappointing 7th as a team; not a memorable effort. And for those of you who are statistic junkies, the combined population of all six countries who finished ahead of us is 10 million less than what we have in the United States.

Let me reiterate once again; USAWrestling is a wonderful organization and it’s important for everyone to know how I feel because it’s so easy to think the opposite given the number of times I write unenthusiastic things about our NGB.

I hate losing as much as I’m sure you do . . . that need for dominance is what makes America great and I suspect why you’re reading this just as it’s why I write. God knows it’s not that I’m looking for a job, applause or some political appointment; I just want our athletes to be the best they can be.

With that being said I work particularly hard at double checking my facts and being as open-minded as I can with regard to how I portray individuals, events and happenings. Being factual, fair and balanced is always my goal.  

But like beauty being in the eye of the beholder, what’s fair isn’t always seen as being balanced and what’s balanced isn‘t always seen as being fair. Way too often those whose ox is being gored turn to the weakest 2% of any article and spend 98% of their time challenging the perceived inaccuracy of the point that was trying to be made. But that’s fine; you can identify who those individuals are by reading the responses they post.

But the reason for this particular blog is not to appear displeased by the actions of USAWrestling’s leaders but to point out their deficiencies because I will never give up on the American athlete.

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As to the other 50% of being an NGB, using resources wisely and effectively, USAWrestling is not doing well there either.

Given that over half of the events they sanction are in folkstyle where they spend resources promoting and at times producing, one must question how that assists their athletes in the quest for international dominance; especially when Colorado Springs continually uses the excuse that folkstyle undermines their ability to be competitive internationally. Certainly developing folkstyle helps increase membership numbers which can’t be a bad thing. However that also has to divide their staff’s attention between the various wrestling styles and place a strain on budgetary resources. That’s not what an NGB is supposed to do and for those who might not know, the real reason why they got into folkstyle in the first place was to obstruct the operation and development of Nuway, the AAU and all the other independent event operators. To say otherwise would be misleading.

Regarding the latter, if it’s true that the more milk a dairy farm produces, the more cream they have available to sell, then I’m confused why USAWrestling is trying to kill all the cows in the country other than their own? Remember an NGB is supposed to be responsible for the health, safety and development of the sport they oversee which logic dictates would lead to sustained competitive excellence overseas. So given that fact relies on how much cream they have to work with, why are they purposely trying to put all the other dairy farms in America out of business? It sure doesn’t sound like USAWrestling is a National Governing Body if we use the USOC’s definition of what constitutes one.

On the subject of the recent events surrounding Frank Molinaro, I’m very happy for the young man and so looking forward to watching him compete in Rio. I think “the Tank” will roll because 1) He’s motivated and 2) He understands a great opportunity when he sees one.

In closing were you aware that USAWrestling recently spent somewhere in the neighborhood of $175,000.00 to try and punch the tickets of those athletes that hadn’t qualified for Rio. And out of that expenditure we weren’t very successful. Only 2 more athletes qualified which has to be a huge ouch to the budget. Good thing is doesn’t take $87,500.00 to qualify each of the 18 weight classes.

As much as I appreciate USAWrestling’s willingness to do whatever it takes to put Americans on the Olympic team, why weren’t those weights qualified earlier? Almost a fifth of a million dollars is a heck of a hit to take for leadership boo-boos. But then again, when it’s not personal money being spent, I guess that’s okay.

Regional Training Centers . . . a cause for concern.

I guess I should apologize for starting this by mentioning the good old days when wrestlers didn’t have to qualify their weights before going to the Olympics; to a time when our athletes had enough confidence to achieve their potential; and to a time when you could trust the leadership at USAWrestling.

Regrettably that’s not the case today; too many things have changed as a result of a single change. Gone are the days of believing we’re the best in the world and whether that’s true or not doesn’t matter. Iowa wrestlers weren’t America’s best in the 80’s either, but Gable made them believe otherwise. They not only won but dominated the competition because he instilled in them the resolve to impose their will on others. They knew absolutely, positively that they were the best and that belief put them at the top of their game. It’s the “thing” that carried the Hawks to more national team titles than other schools care to count.

Fast forward to today; our athletes, other than Burroughs, Snyder and a few of the women have a vastly different mindset. They might say they’re going to win but I’m afraid their words are more of a hope that expectation. And here in lies the problem. No one ever goes into competition hoping to win and comes out a champion. That doesn’t happen. It’s the total belief in oneself that we’ve lost as a country.

This shift in our performance chi is the direct result of the decisions and direction the administration at USAWrestling has taken us; from the Executive Director to the President to the organization’s Board of Directors. I realize that making mistakes or having a lapse in judgment is normal for to err is human. But to ignore mistakes when they happen is stupid; to repeat them is inexcusable.

Never before have American wrestlers worried about being left at home after making an Olympic team.  Granted this issue of qualifying weight classes is a relatively new one for Colorado Springs to worry about but the point is, had there been qualifying tournaments in the 70’s, 80’s and early 90’s I can’t think of a single weight class that wouldn’t have qualified because our athletes always focused on winning events, not qualifying at them.

Whether I’m 100% correct here isn’t the point. What is noticeable though since 2000 and the beginning of the present administration, our athlete’s belief in self has taken a nosedive. There are so few of our wrestlers who feel, actually believe, they can stay with the Russians, the Iranians or even the Cubans.

And one of the major reasons for our decline is the existence of the Regional Training Centers which we’ll cover together in a minute.    

Are you aware that as of this writing USAWrestling has only qualified 50% of the 18 weight classes we compete in? That’s 9 out of 18 very deserving and talented athletes who won our Olympic trials who won’t be competing in Brazil. Hopefully we’ll have more going as there are still two qualifying events left on the calendar. But even then, why has it taken us so long? Why does USAWrestling’s budget have to absorb an additional expenditure of over $100,000.00 to send athletes overseas to do what the organization should have done months ago when we had several qualifying events here in the states?

As an aside, here’s some other information you might find interesting. The IOC (International Olympic Committee) allows between 16 and 18 wrestlers to enter competition per style and weight class. So when anyone fails to qualify a weight class it means that country doesn’t have one athlete who is good enough in world competition to be ranked at least in the Top 16 .

That’s incomprehensible. America, a country that has more wrestlers competing than any country in the world, better nutrition than any other nation, more wrestling rooms and better sports psychologists and medical services than anyone else on the planet and we can only qualify half our athletes?

Were you aware that we used to place 76% of our wrestlers in the Top 8 in world competition between 1980 and 2000? Now we’re only placing 50% of our athletes in the Top 16. How does this happen, how does our success rate and global expectations fall that far?

In my opinion, it’s due to the failure of our athletes to believe in themselves and I put the blame squarely on the shoulders of politically ambitious leaders who bow to the wishes of those who keep them in power.

Before going further, let’s look at some statistics . . .

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Comparing performances in World and Olympic competition from 1980 to 2000 and then under the current leadership. Here’s what the numbers tell us:

World Championships . . . . . 1980-2000, only 24% of our athletes didn’t place in the Top 8

2001-2015, now 46% of our athletes don’t place in the Top 8

A 96% reduction in athletic performance.

Olympic Championships . . . 1980-2000, only 12% of our athletes didn’t place in the Top 8

2001-2015, 30% of our athletes didn’t place in the Top 8

An even larger reduction in athletic performances, 250%.

On the men’s side in both styles, since 2001, only Bill Zadick, Jordan Burroughs and Kyle Snyder have won World Freestyle Titles as Dremiel Byers and Joe Warren did on the Greco side. That’s 11 years of competition and 158 opportunities for a Gold Medal with a production rate of 4%.

Similarly during the previous 11 years from 1990-2001 America won 17 individual World Championships with a Gold Medal production rate of 11%. That’s a 250% decrease in performance between the two administrations even with budgets that are almost double what they were in the 1990’s.

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Shame on USAWrestling . . . did you watch any of the Olympic Trials? If you did, something you may not have noticed was the unacceptable behavior of members of our national coaching staff as they openly sat in the corners of OTC athletes and coached against others who happen to be fellow Americans and USAWrestling card holders. How can this possibly be permissible and approved of by our Executive Director and President?

One would think that any National Governing Body should be impartial toward their own during competition. Yet that hasn’t been the case for this administration that supports stacking the deck in favor of the few at the expense of the many. Shouldn’t the goal of USAWrestling be the resurgence of competitiveness, not the expansion of organizational mistrust?

Preferential treatment like this is indefensible. This is why so few athletes go to the Olympic Training Center for help and why we’re falling short when we compete overseas.

Instead of going to Colorado Springs to train and use the OTC as a place where steel sharpens steel, our athletes prefer to attend Regional Training Centers because a) They’re more convenient and b) They know it won’t be help they receive but scouted instead so “favored” athletes can succeed. When you pair this distrust of family with USAWrestling’s poorly conceived RTC program you end up where we are today.

What I find so disturbing is somehow this behavior seems to be acceptable to USAWrestling’s Board of Directors. If it wasn’t acceptable, the practice would have been discontinued years ago.

Now I realize when I expand my scope of blame that I’m offending many of my dearest friends. I wish that wasn’t the case but if they’re going to enjoy the perks and responsibility of power which they’ve earned and are entitled to, then they have an obligation to right wrongs where they exist and be accountable not to leadership, but to membership. For without a willingness to check and balance, the organization is destined to continue achieving what it’s currently lacking.

Now granted in the big picture, does the manipulation of athletes trust cause cracks to appear in the foundation of USAWrestling and destabilize programming while assuring subpar performances overseas; you bet it does!

And I wonder, would anything change if one of the Board Members sons were wrestling opposite an athlete who was being coached by a member of the national staff? Does anyone need me to answer that for them?

So why is this okay for any child when it’s not okay for a Board Members child?

I hope everyone understands I write these blogs as a result of my endearing passion for the sport and my need to remind USAWrestling that politics, albeit a very positive way to operate not-for-profits but when decisions are made that strangle the effectiveness of performance, leadership has crossed the line. All of this is why wadeschalles.com should be on your favorites list of must reads.

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USAWrestling’s 32 Regional Training Centers are at the heart of our demise.

As much as they were created for the right reasons, all of which were promising, they’ve slowly turned as toxic as the water in Flint, Michigan.

Since their inception in 2004 and the NCAA’s approval of them in 2011, these training centers were meant to broaden America’s interest in the two international styles while providing geographically convenient training centers. As impressive as all this sounds the outcomes have fallen short of their designs.

For the athletes the training centers are double edged swords. On one hand they’re convenient, typically close to most of their homes where athletes can sleep in their own beds while training in familiar surroundings. There’s also the financial assistance of Colorado Springs’ stipend program in addition to anyone of several revenue sources that the RTC’s have available to them.

Yet to receive those secondary and in some cases substantially larger sums there are a few unwritten expectations. One of them is to help train those collegians who are sharing the same wrestling room. Granted I understand the NCAA has specific rules about such interaction but the grey areas of this is so expansive that it’s not hard to stay on the side of right while violating the intent of the rules.

In essence, there’s a quiet understanding between athletes who are training in freestyle for the purpose of winning World Championships with their collegiate counterparts who are training in folkstyle to win NCAA titles.

Now I don’t begrudge any of these athletes the freedom to select the type of cake they like and be able to eat it too. But I do blame Colorado Springs who should know better than allow this to take place when they’re responsible to advance the sport through international dominance; not collegiate success.

America’s international aspirants should strive to be all they can be, not what they think is the best they can be. There’s a stark difference between the two and training with collegians, no matter how structured practices might be can’t possibly achieve international goals. By definition, world class means clicking at 100% of ones capabilities and at 96% because you’re working out with college kids it means DNP (did not place). There’s a pretty wide gap between the two just as finishing .02 seconds behind the Olympic Champion in the 100 meter dash keeps you off the podium.

Training in collegiate wrestling rooms with athletes who are striving for much smaller goals doesn’t put anyone near a World Championship. This is always the way it is unless your name is Burroughs or Snyder where 96% of their talent level is 10% more than is needed for Gold. For the rest of the field, they have to be at 100%.

America’s best should all be in the same wrestling room if we expect to reverse misfortunes. No one can elevate their game globally by playing paddy cake with those who think nationally.  

USAWrestling should absolutely rethink the way the RTC’s are being used or dump the concept all together. But they won’t because they serve a purpose beyond the obvious. You see the existence of the RTC’s helps USAWrestling stem their political hemorrhaging by soliciting the support of many of America’s most powerful collegiate coaches.

By approving collegiate applications to become an RTC, USAWrestling is assisting the rich in becoming richer by skirting around the intent, if not the rules the NCAA has in place to create parody. Basically the RTC’s have become a way for an institution to legally increase the number and quality of workouts partners that are otherwise forbidden. This makes those Division I coaches who have RTC’s very happy.

To give you an idea of who might be taking advantage of these training centers, 11 of the Top 20 and 20 of the Top 40 wrestling programs in America have them. By comparison, none of the bottom 40 teams have RTC’s and more than likely it’s the reason why they’ll stay where they are.

Now regarding USAWrestling, if being successful in world and Olympic competition is the goal, then the existence of RTC’s doesn’t make sense. You can’t keep America’s best athletes spread out all over the countryside and expect to develop finely-tuned competitors. It just isn’t possible and for the last 10 or so years there’s plenty of proof.

Again, back in the good old days when I competed and before sundials, America’s greatest would journey to Iowa City to train with Gable. For months on end we’d bang heads and I credit that with our international successes.

But to be clear, we hated every minute of it; but not as much as we loved realizing the outcomes of effort. Gable instilled a belief of self in us because of the ungodly tough competition we faced every minute of every hour of every day for weeks and months on end.

Day in and day out I helped Dziedzic along with others become a World Champion. He in turn helped Kemp win multiple world titles while Carl Adams was giving a young Dave Schultz and focused Butch Keaser lessons in double legs. When I wanted someone different to look at I’d move up to 180.5 and bang heads with Chris Campbell and John Peterson. This is how we all got tough, through the greatness of those we wrestled. And like the Green Bay Packers under Coach Lombardi, they couldn’t wait for Sunday because that was the only day of the week they had off by comparison. For us it was going to events. They were far easier than workouts under Gable.

Every day was the same; attack, defend and repeat the process. And if you stopped to catch your breath Gable would be in your face and no one wanted that because he had an unlimited gas tank, a fiery disposition and was a little crazy I believe.

But we loved him just the same. Well, it really wasn’t love, maybe it was more of a like, no that wasn’t it either. Whatever it was, no one ever appreciated what Gabe did for us until we returned from overseas with medals, and then none of us ever forgot him.

That’s what America is missing, a location like Iowa City where every one of our athletes can gather to advance the quality of their performances. That was how we became respectable in those good old days. But for over a decade now we’ve been enduring what the current administration feels will be one of their legacies; Regional Training Centers. And I’ll give it to them; they did look good when they were on the drawing board. So they get an A for effort and a B- for implementation but unfortunately the effectiveness of them has been an F.

As an aside, another reason why RTC’s are a bad idea is the revenue that alumni and friends dump into these training centers. I completely understand why they do it and wish to thank them for their kind assistance. But given that every collegiate wrestling team in the country is in the red, and there’s obviously money out there that the athletic departments aren’t seeing to help them with their budgetary challenges, while their facilities are being used by the RTC’s rent free, how do you think this plays out with Athletic Directors? This has also been a slick way for USAWrestling to alleviate the financial strain of training their athletes by placing a portion of that responsibility on the backs of the colleges.

The RTC’s have to go and while USAWrestling is doing that they need to start selling the athletes on the benefits of coming together as much as they might dislike what that means. Will it be inconvenient for a lot of them, yep, but if the goal is to win medals, production must be handled as a business. The athletes already receive paychecks; all that has to happen now is let them know that they’ve been transferred.

Winning is all about sacrificing that which is convenient by embracing that which is not.

And in return USAWrestling promises to stop the favoritism their coaches show toward specific athletes.

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A parting thought; if there are only a few dozen athletes training in Colorado Springs, what is USAWrestling doing with all the coaches they have on staff which costs the organization upwards of a million dollars a year in salaries? I don’t think I’ve heard of them traveling to the various RTC’s to help so besides coaching resident athletes against the rest of the country, it appears they may be overstaffed.

Now I know a lot of what I’ve written shouldn’t be a palm-of-the-hand-to-the-forehead surprise for most, but maybe it might be for Colorado Springs.

The NCAA’s that Changed Wrestling

Before I share my thoughts on this year’s NCAA Wrestling Championships, I wanted to remind everyone of the most important blog I have ever posted. It’s entitled; A Point Scored is a Point Earned and it’s the most significant alteration to the rules I’ve ever suggested and if nothing else ever happened in wrestling, and if I were fortunate enough to be selected King for a Day, enactment of this action driven policy would be my first decree. And I can say without hesitation that I’m completely convinced this one change would be judged by historians as the moment when wrestling started climbing back into relevance.

If you haven’t read it yet, you should. It’s over on the right, down 7 blogs, just click on the link. But readers beware; its tenets might be a bit startling, initially anyway. Think about what you’re reading in relation to all the other sports that are succeeding and then forget for a moment what we’ve always done, which historically hasn’t advanced our cause.

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As to Madison Square Garden, watching Penn State wrestle this season I’ve noticed that Cael’s coaching style is very similar to A Point Scored is a Point Earned. Every one of his wrestlers are bonus point addicts. So much so it has opposing coaches shaking their heads and wondering how they can close the gap. The answer is simple . . .  

Duplicate the Nittany Lions “score more and score often” philosophy or get used to losing.

In a way, both A Point Scored is a Point Earned and Cael achieve similar goals . . . they force coaches to adjust their perspective relative to putting points on the board. No longer is squeaking out a 2 or 3 point win acceptable.

If the teams in the Top 10 want to compete for the big prize they have to change what they’ve been doing. What choice do they have and for that huge kudos to Cael. He’s doing more for the sport in the way he coaches than he ever did as a competitor . . . and that’s saying a lot.

And staying on the Penn State train for another moment if I may; it seemed when every one of their wrestlers were interviewed they gave smart and thoughtful responses to questions. Without any appearance of being coached each athlete indicated competition is all about scoring points and having fun; something they all did for 3 straight days which has Happy Valley happy again for the 5th time in 6 years.

As for the other teams who aren’t in the Top 10, A Point Scored is a Point Earned will force coaching staffs to create scoring fest atmospheres in the practice room. If they want to succeed they have no other choice; it’s the price of success and relevance.

So given what Cael is already doing and what I’m attempting to do by modifying team scoring, wrestling might finally become a revenue sport in spite of the howling cries of coaches.

Which brings me to this point; if football has quarterback, linebacker and line coaches, why doesn’t wrestling have pinning coaches? It always seemed silly to me that Head Coaches would hire Assistants that mirror their skill sets? Wouldn’t you think that teams who are great on their feet like Iowa, Okie State and Minnesota would insist on hiring assistants that are bonus point crazy? In business it’s widely accepted that if you have three managers with the same skill set, two of them aren’t necessary. Why wouldn’t that be true for wrestling, coaching staffs should consist of “up” and “down” coaches; those who are proficient on their feet and those who can teach the boys how you rub their opponents noses in the mat.

The good news for those who live in Pennsylvania is that’s exactly what Penn State is doing and the bad news for everyone else, until they embrace a philosophy of bonus points, the odds of winning a Team Title has flown the coop.

Speaking of the NCAA’s, they were amazing, especially if you were watching them from home. I loved the competing noises of great matches being wrestled throughout the arena each round. The teamwork and efficiency of the officiating crews and the quality of the finals had to be some of the best wrestling I’ve seen in decades. I never thought I’d see such a shift in wrestling like was evident in Madison Square Garden.

Now I’m not suggesting that everything was peaches and roses, but the transformation I witnessed was a game changer, especially when you take in to account the glacial pace that wrestling typically travels.

All in all my heart soared for three full days of competition. It wasn’t all about Billy Baldwin’s trained professionalism or ESPN’s “take it to the next level” production of the event or the Buffer-esque arena announcers, the whole experience was simply a pleasant combination of the sum of its parts.

Hopefully our leadership is smart enough to embrace the changes we saw or at least clever enough to find ways to take credit for the transformation.

In the meantime I’d like to say thank you to Beat the Streets , Madison Square Garden, ESPN and the NCAA Championship Committee; for they were the ones who are largely responsible for what will be forever known as the NCAA tournament that changed wrestling’s course in history.

And then there’s Dave Martin, Chairman of the NCAA Rules Committee who saw the immense benefits of having Madison Square Garden host the event four years ago and pushed to make it happen.

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NCAA Facts That Matter, Or Not

  • Did anyone notice in the championship rounds which weight class was the most productive relative to bonus points? Care to guess? For the 5% of you who said heavyweight you’re right. They had 29% more than the second most productive weight class! Here’s the breakdown. 125-8; 133-10; 141-6; 149-9; 157-9; 165-10; 174-8; 184-9; 197-10 and Heavyweight-14.
  • In one of the craziest first days in NCAA history, we had 7 returning All-Americans eliminated from competition.
  • There are upsets, there are surprises and then at times you’ll experience both. The following is one of those times. During the first round 6 wrestlers who were seeded in the Top 5 went down to defeat.
  • Out of the 55 officiating challenges that took place, 14 were overturned. I’m not sure what conclusion we can draw from that but it doesn’t make a lot of sense to me for anyone to ask the person who made a contested call if he thought he was right? Paralleling that; it might also be interesting to see if any of the 10 officials who were chosen to referee the finals had a contested call and if they did, did they overturn it? That might shed some light into why only 14 challenges were overturned and one more reason why this self-policing practice should be rethought.
  • The sport had the most fans ever sitting in their seats for this year’s opening round. Previously the NCAA might have sold the same number of first session tickets but a greater percentage of the fans voted with their feet to be in their seats.
  • Total attendance for The World’s Most Famous Arena was 90,924, a number slightly south of ticket sales in St. Louis. TV viewership for the finals came in around 650,000, roughly 10% lower than last year’s event.
  • It was apparent that Kyle has wrestled more high pressure matches than Nick and it was the difference in their heavyweight bout. To me it appeared by the slimmest of margins that Gwizz was slightly better but his mind meld with 30 seconds left in the match opened the door for Kyle to get back in the match. As far as heavyweights go, that bout ranks up there with the Lou Banach-Bruce Baumgartner battle in 1981 as the best of all time.
  • A big shout out to Andrew Hipps, Senior Editor of InterMat and Ryan Holmes from Flo Wrestling. Both are insightful writers who always find interesting ways to pull the reader into their articles.
  • Three fun facts . . . 7 of the 10 champions scored the first takedown, 8 of the winners wore the red anklet and more points were scored in the third period of the finals than either of the first two.
  • While it might seem like a no issue to fans, the lack of accessibility to floor passes for journalists who wanted post-match quotes wasn’t well thought out. When you deny reporters the ability to access information that will punctuate their articles; that probably isn’t a good thing. Then to put press row in the end zone, what a boneheaded move. And we wonder why wrestling continually receives shoddy media coverage.
  • In closing, I was excited to see we made weigh-ins for the 20 finalists a television event like boxing and MMA does, even if it was staged. It’s a move in the right direction all be it somewhat disappointing. While they meant to draw attention to the sport, it seemed to be less about the athletes and more about those in charge of showcasing it. Promotion is a great thing, but intelligent promotion is far better.

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As an aside; why do we have collegiate team rankings for all 3 divisions but in high school we still only have 1; there’s something wrong here. How is it fair to pit exclusive private schools that in some cases have dormitories, scholarships and no travel restrictions against public schools that can’t recruit and many times aren’t allowed to leave their state for competition? If the various high school associations realize there’s a difference between A, AA, and AAA schools why can’t wrestling’s media recognize the differences? Having various classifications would have to attract more interest in the sport and fuel some wonderful discussions about who’s the best?

  

United World Wrestling Faltering

It really wasn’t that long ago that the International Olympic Committee asked our leadership; “isn’t there something you can do to enhance your sport, make it more spectator friendly, find ways to put more points on the board, make the experience more exciting?” The response they heard was, “absolutely, we’ll assemble a group of our most creative minds (minus Wade that is) and take a look at what we can do.”

Then after rather numerous conversations and most likely a consumable or two the group pronounced that it was doubling of number of points an athlete can earn for a takedown. They figured that moving from 1 point to 2 would have to double or almost double the number of points scored in a bout. So they appropriately patted themselves on their backs and went back to business as usual.

Does anyone think that the IOC isn’t capable of seeing this as nothing more than a numerical sleight-of-hand? The IOC has to feel like they’re being discounted because wrestling didn’t respond in kind to their level of concern. And it doesn’t matter if our leadership is either incapable of understanding political speak or they just ignored the IOC’s request, this might be the type of miscalculation that makes them reconsider our involvement in the Games.

All this makes me wonder, was the UWW actually trying to placate the IOC or do they really believe they accomplished what was asked of them? Regardless, it really puts wrestling in a precarious situation because the IOC made it quite clear, find new ways to encourage your athletes to take more shots, score more points. They didn’t mean double up on point values; they wanted to see an increase in scoring attempts and their request wasn’t a suggestion.

I guess we’ll see where this goes in the coming months.

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More recently I heard some great news that our international leaders were finally redesigning the look of the singlet. I immediately saw this as being extremely positive; finally a new and improved look, a way to stand out in the multi-sport world. This is just what we need, a way to elevate ourselves in the eyes of the world’s media and the fans we have yet to attract.

But when I went to the UWW’s website and saw the proposed design, my first thought was they were showing us before and after designs. But then I realized there wasn’t an after. With that my head dropped.

uww_singlets_2_men_sylverblue_stripes

I think we should be concerned. Nothing about this change is going to help wrestling become more relevant. It’s just another example of the UWW and USAW not being able to understand directives. The IOC wanted to see, no, they needed to see significant changes because they know what our leadership fails to see, that we’re no longer significant as an entertainment source.

This proposed singlet design is nothing more than a musical chair reshuffling of thread and fabric that couldn’t have taken more than 34 minutes to finalize. I’ll give it to them that the design is practical but wrestling doesn’t have time for practical.

Look at these photographs of swimsuits; the one on the left and in the middle are circa 1920 and the one with the lifeguard patch on the right is from the 1930’s. Notice any design differences between those and what’s being proposed today?

mUDuugtumTnhpQn1sSfOQQA (1)    m2yNxct6IJQ_mVPPlLzWmOg    swimred

Why wouldn’t the UWW just go to Milan or Paris to find two or three clothing houses who would be willing to sketch a few concepts for us? It couldn’t be that difficult to find a few designers who would jump at the chance to enjoy the notoriety of having their patterns used in the Olympics.

What’s the downside? Doesn’t it make more sense to let the type of people we see on Project Runway handle this instead of wrestling’s event managers? This is exactly what the USOC did for the London Olympics; they contracted Ralph Lauren to redesign all of Team USA’s official dress uniforms that were spectacularly accepted and showcased in the media all throughout the Games.

So why wouldn’t the UWW and Colorado Springs do the same thing? If our sport is to survive, if we’re to impress the IOC when it comes time to vote on our Olympic status, and of course for the media to support our cause, we must live outside of ourselves. Wrestling has to take into consideration the tastes of those consumers and sponsors we have yet to attract, not those very small numbers of people who are currently part of the sport.

Am I missing anything here? If your parents tell you to “grow up,” what does that mean; probably that it’s time to start thinking, acting and dressing like a mature adult. And of the three, which is the easiest to accomplish? Thinking and acting differently takes time but your appearance can change overnight. A quick visit to a barber and a professional clothier and out goes the child and in comes the adult. So if cloths make the person, why isn’t that true for how we look in competition as well? Being fashion trendy has only been in vogue for centuries, why wouldn’t we want to be both stylish and practical?

Maybe I’m opening myself up to criticism here but look where the fearlessness of design has taken men’s and women’s beach volleyball? How many of you actually watch volleyball for their diving saves and in-your-face spikes? Granted, it’s a great action sport with very talented athletes, similar to what wrestling has minus the action. But both the women and men have added another dimension to their sport that’s rather hard to overlook. The results are undeniable and the effect is beach volleyball has the hottest tickets in Olympic competition in relation to wrestling that struggles to give seats away.

th (4)    female_sports_uniforms_02

Now I’m not suggesting that we exploit our athlete’s sexuality because I find any type of exploitation offensive. But showing the world that wrestling is as much fun to watch as it is to see and we have some of the hottest bodies on the planet can’t be all that bad. But who outside of our sport is aware of our assets?

Wrestling has to focus its attention on the types of changes that create expansion opportunities and uniform engineering is easy to accomplish and a very noticeable beginning. This is exactly the type of expectations that the IOC was suggesting when they directed us to become more entertaining.

How about these pole vaulters, does anyone believe they chose their outfits based on wind resistance issues or a need to blend in?

th (2)     female_sports_uniforms_16     th (1)

Wrestling has to stand out and that’s something the sport is uncomfortable doing. We have to stamp New and Improved on every change we make across all media platforms. Then we have to make sure that everything we change and do match’s our tagline.

What’s wrong with allowing each country the freedom to design their uniforms, why is the sport being held to uninspired uniformity? Does it really matter if the various federations go different directions with their outfits? You might say it’s not fair for competitive reasons if various athletes are dressed differently but I’m not sure that’s true.

medium--00001_mma-rash-guard-top-ten-octagon-brown-sales   images (4)

Granted, if one country decides to wear long sleeve compression tops which really accents a human form, those athletes might have an advantage when applying a gut wrench to athletes from other countries that chose to go bare-chested. But in the reverse the sleeved athlete would be at an equal disadvantage if his opponent was proficient at arm throws. Having different uniforms is a give and take with no one design having an advantage over another without giving up something in the reverse. But wouldn’t it be fun to see what the various countries would come up with and then listen to the media buzz we’d create. Remember, all press is good press and that’s something very foreign to wrestling.

While we’re talking about sexuality, the sport confuses me. On one hand we’re very open-minded and comfortable with our bodies but on the other hand we’re very prudish when it comes to what we wear in competition. We have to loosen up.

Bottom line, if we ever want to see a wrestler on the cover of Sports Illustrated again (Danny Hodge being the first and only one 60 years ago) he or she won’t get there as a result of their achievements, but they might as a combined effort of form (apparel) and function (titles).

As to retaining a certain level of modesty or decorum may I remind everyone of their approval and society’s acceptance of swimming and diving, a sport whose outfits are often transparent and definitely sex defining.

th (13)    conor-dwyer-swim-suit

Does anyone remember how much press Flo Jo Joyner received for her cheeky and imaginatively designed competitive gear? What would be so wrong if both our men and women wore some of their own designs that accented, well, let’s say more than their skill sets? Even if you weren’t a track and field fan back in the 80’s, I’m sure you remember that the television ratings were off the charts every time Flo Jo ran and it wasn’t always to see her cross the finish line ahead of the competition.

flo jo joyner  ellas_han_hecho_posible_que_londres_2012_se_los_juegos_de_las_mujeres_877522501_800x1200  flojo-2  flo jo 2

I know change is difficult, but we have to bite the bullet if we’re to grow. Every country should be allowed to ask assistance from fashion designers for the purpose of creating their own look and style. Gone should be the days of re-purposing the old loin cloth singlet that was originally made from animal skins.

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Moving on to collegiate wrestling for a moment, I watched the Big 12 and Big 10 finals on TV and was dismayed to see that the NCAA didn’t find a need to advertise their championships in New York City next week during any of the commercial breaks. They promote championships in other sports; I wonder if they too feel wrestling is no longer relevant?

 

Wrestling needs a Donald Trump

In listening to the few who are trying to defend USAWrestling it’s apparent their organization desperately needs new leadership and of the type that brings a wealth of business knowledge to the table. Now I’m not talking about The Donald’s political positions or whether you prefer Democratic tenets to Republican beliefs, but if we’re to ever stop the bleeding, wrestling needs people with histories of business success, not those whose skills center around managing events.

Unfortunately there will be those who disagree with this opinion and feel that wrestling is doing fine. Maybe that’s true within the sport but not outside the cocoon where the rest of us live. Ask Athletic Directors in private what they think about our sport? Talk with any marketing group that has offices in New York City and ask them why wrestling isn’t on their radar? Do a personal study; compare how wrestling markets itself in relation to other sports and what you’ll find won’t be easy to swallow.

The fact is wrestling isn’t doing fine. Programs are disappearing, spectator numbers are dwindling except in a few geographical pockets, forfeits are increasing, retention rates at the elementary levels are the worst of any sport and we can’t even find one major sponsor in all of America who is willing to advertise with us. And all this is happening while sports who were non-existent 20 and 30 years ago are passing us by.

The problem is we’ve been doing things the same way for so long that it’s unfathomable to imagine what the future could be under effective leadership. Television contracts, six figure salaries for all collegiate coaches, international dominance, standing room only duals, athletes becoming house hold names and sponsorship dollars flowing in every direction. We could have it all but leadership doesn’t want it because there’s this little thing about losing one’s position when the company or organization he or she manages rises above their level of incompetence.

How many of you remember that domestically wrestling use to be bigger than soccer 30 years ago and that the UFC use to be nothing more than semi-organized brawls before Dana White took over? How about Rugby, the newest Olympic sport who most American’s can’t even tell you how they score points but it has passed us by along with Lacrosse and Squash, two other sports who want our spot in the Olympics.

Remember the IOC has capped the number of sports the Summer Games can have at 28, so for every one they add, one has to be subtracted.

That should make all of us nervous because I’m not aware of anything USAWrestling is doing outside the sport to keep wrestling off the chopping block come 2020, especially when heads didn’t roll when we lost the Olympics two years ago. Maybe I’m off base here but over 6 decades of life has taught me that the quickest way to change behavior is to attach consequences to failure. The reason why Wall Street controls the world’s economy is the word consequence, it dominates their culture. A simple downturn in company stock or a misstated phrase in the media is enough to have a CEO on the street looking for work. It’s accountability, it’s a dog eat dog financial corridor where only the best of the best survive as a result of consequences.

Now given the magnitude of wrestling losing the Olympics two years ago let me ask, who at USAWrestling lost their job or at the very least was demoted when we got the boot? The answer is no one so the next question should be; what’s the motivating factor for Colorado Springs to keep their eye on the prize between now and 2020?

Now you’ll hear they have it covered. But do they? It’s not so much about what the sport is doing internally, but how are we being perceived and compared to others like USALacrosse, a sport whose influence continues to climb that had 20,000 members 18 years ago and now has over 400,000 with a staff of 70 and a 17 million dollar budget. It’s the fastest growing sport in America and how we compare to them along with Squash will determine our Olympic future.

Let’s go over that again. If you’re a number’s person, USALacrosse has well over twice as many members, fans and momentum as USAWrestling, twice the staff as USAWrestling and yet is operating on a budget that is just a hair larger than USAWrestling’s bloated one. And Lacrosse has accomplished all this in the last 18 years! That sounds to me as if they’re operating as a business while our NGB is still in sport manager mode. These levels of achievement are the sort of things the IOC finds attractive when they begin the evaluative process.

Another issue worth spending time on is the area that the IOC listed earlier as being a dynamic failure of wrestling’s leadership, and that was the level of inequality between men and women in both competitive opportunities and positions of leadership. That was one of the most significant reasons why we lost our luster in the eyes of the IOC and subsequently our position as an Olympic sport.

So maybe we should ask, has anything changed because it doesn’t appear so.

The following sentence is part of the IOC’s Mission Statement and reflects the importance they place on the relationships between males and females in sport.

To encourage and support the promotion of women in sport at all levels and in all structures with a view to implementing the principle of equality of men and women.

In support of this ongoing commitment to equality the IOC Executive Board is comprised of 36% women whereas in wrestling, the UWW has 14% in leadership positions and USAWrestling has the following numbers:

Percentage of women in leadership roles at USAWrestling

Executive Committee . . . 7%

Board of Directors . . . 14%

Finance Committee . . . 0%

Ethics Committee . . . 0%

Executive Staff . . . 14%

Junior Olympic Committee . . . 17%

Freestyle Committee . . . 0%

Governance Committee . . . 0%

I think you’ll agree that these percentages are abysmal and don’t bode well for our sport when the women’s wrestling program here in the states, and globally, represents 25% of the programming. And why is it that the men’s freestyle team competes in 6 weight classes, the men’s Greco-Roman team competes in 6 weight classes and the women only get to wrestle in 4 freestyle weight classes? The IOC wants equality in sports, not explanations or excuses.

Back to wrestling and the importance of us operating like a business. Are you aware that each of the commissioners of Major League Baseball, the National Football League, the NBA and the National Hockey League never participated in the sport they administer? But most have either law and/or post graduate degrees in business from schools like Stanford, Harvard and Penn. That’s how major sports become major, by being smart enough not to hire from within and always reaching out for the best.

Wrestling needs an equivalent of Donald Trump the businessman to lead us out of our own ineptitude.

As to my latest Freestyle or Folkstyle blog, I’ve only heard from two individuals who felt my assertions were off base and interestingly both were USAWrestling personnel. In contrast, my go get’m Wade responders are running over 15 to 1 in favor of my willingness to share my opinions. To them I say thank you!

What I’d like to do now is clarify some of the misnomers that arose from the previous blog.

On the subject of National versus Regional training centers, I’m not sure the RTC’s are creating the desired effects if winning matches were the reason for their creation. There’s no doubt that having multiple training centers is exceptionally convenient for the athletes but does that convenience equate to success? So far no and why leadership can’t see that beats the hell out of me.

Remember, world class wrestlers must have access to two distinct facets of training.

  • The type of coaches who can provide technical skills that are equal to or greater than what the opposition is receiving.
  • And most importantly, daily steel sharpens steel workouts – in the international styles.

Of course it doesn’t hurt to have some of Jordan Burroughs skill sets but in the absence of those, quality coaching and solid workouts are a must. And once again, this is important, in the style you are going to compete in.

Let’s take a closer look at the RTC’s. To begin a few of them have tremendous staffs but far less than the 30 plus centers that USAWrestling is sanctioning. And given that these locations were developed more as a means of allowing our top flight athletes to train collegiate athletes in folkstyle than preparing for international competition, it’s not a wonder why we struggle against the world’s best. Regional Training Centers are a feel good, look good horrible idea.

Can you imagine how well Denver Bronco’s would have done this season had the front office allowed their 53 man roster to split into small groups and workout separately in 30 different locations across the country? Then on Sunday’s come together as a team just before kickoff. If you think that’s a stupid idea you’re right but that’s exactly what USAWrestling is allowing to happen. It‘s like they’re operating on a how can we position our programs to guarantee middle of the pack finishes?

Everyone knows wrestlers must have great coaches to succeed and we have them here in America but they’re spread out all over the landscape. Athletes also need championship caliber steel sharpens steel workouts because no one aspires to international greatness by wrestling athletes who are aspiring to national greatness; especially when the latter is being trained in folkstyle for NCAA competition. But that’s what Colorado Springs is supporting and we wonder why we’re not winning? None of this would occur if we had business leaders in charge because even with minimal knowledge of wrestling, corporate America knows how to evaluate what’s working, what’s not and then adapt.

Regarding my Folkstyle versus Freestyle blog, I’m still of the position that this debate is just a ruse that USAWrestling developed to hide their ridiculously poor performances internationally. But, if Colorado Springs really believes in what they’re saying, why in the last 16 years has the organization dramatically increased, and I mean dramatically increased the number of folkstyle events they offer? Prior to 2000, it used to be that springtime and summer was our international seasons, when everyone’s interest shifted from folkstyle to freestyle and Greco but not anymore. Go to themat.com and count the number of folkstyle events they sanction all throughout the year. If this is truly the evil discipline that they suggest it is, you won’t be able to tell it by their event calendar.

As to injustice, and another reason why top flight athletes stay clear of the training center in Colorado Springs is a little thing called impartiality. One would think that the reason why we have a national coaches and staff is to mentor and guide every American who is capable of competing at the international levels; and just not their favorites.

The next time you attend a senior level event look around. You’ll actually see members of the national coaching staff sitting in the corner for some athlete’s; but not for others. Why is that? They should be impartial and required to sit in the stands and watch the action, not be a part of it.

I understand why it happens; they want to coach the wrestlers they’re close to and in many cases the ones who live and train in Colorado Springs. But for the rest of the country, which is by far the majority of our talent pool, they expect to receive even-handed treatment. When that doesn’t take place, it fractionates our chances for success.

Let me ask, what do you think happens when a member of the national staff shows interest in a wrestler they just coached against? I would think they’d have questions about the sincerity of the persons willingness to help. Are they actually interested in me or are they just trying to learn more about my strengths as any opposing coach would?”

And I’m sure you realize that it doesn’t matter if this conflict-ridden method of operation is a perception or reality; no one wins here and now you have yet another reason why so few wrestlers want anything to do with training at the OTC and with it the death of steel sharpens steel workouts. This simply isn’t a way to run a company or in our case, become a dominant organization in the international wrestling marketplace.

Now as always, this is the way I see things. I hope you enjoyed the read.

Folkstyle or Freestyle

In one of the more recent editions of WIN Magazine I enjoyed reading an article by Jordan Burroughs addressing the issue of what we have to do to move USAWrestling and America back into competitive relevance.

I like Jordan; he’s a good man, a great wrestler and an outstanding ambassador for the sport. So when I saw his article, I knew it was a must read.

One of the first topics he covered was freestyle versus folkstyle. It was JB’s opinion that if we’re ever going to be competitive in world competition, we need to focus our attention away from folkstyle.

Of course that isn’t a new assertion; people have been expressing that for years. And it’s as wrong today as it was when USAWrestling began using it as an excuse to cover up almost two decades of international incompetence. To eliminate any confusion here, I’m talking about the leadership of USAWrestling and not the quarter of a million men and women that expect effective leadership. I’m referring to those who either enjoy the salaries and perks of power or those who are in line to succeed those who are currently enjoying the salaries and perks of power. This is how accountability gets skewered and status remains quo.

For the following statistics, I’ll be referencing America’s freestyle program for men at the World Championships which has always been the barometer we use to determine program effectiveness.

Did you know; that since 2000 when the present leadership at USAWrestling came to power we’ve only had 3 individuals win a World Freestyle Championship . . . just three. And in the same period of time prior to 2000, the United States won 22 individual World Freestyle Championships.

So if we’re to believe the excuse regarding the evils of folkstyle, how is it possible that we won 22 individual Gold Medals during those previous 16 years? I thought the idea was we needed to decommission folkstyle so we could concentrate on freestyle?

So I wonder if it’s not a folkstyle-freestyle issue, what could it be? I only see two options, either the leadership in Colorado Springs is woefully inadequate or someone drained America’s gene pool around the time our current administration took office?

Personally, I refuse to believe that starting in 2000 our athletes somehow became genetically inferior to their European counterparts. That only leaves the leadership option for those whose corner offices are on Lehman Drive. They simply don’t have a clue how to build a world class program or develop athletes for international competition. Isn’t that the most important responsibility for any National Governing Body; to assure its membership and in this case the USOC that the sport is in good hands? Failing the international performance tests as they repeatedly do has to put into question their capability of developing the sport here at home.

Even if it were true that folkstyle is getting in the way of effective freestyle performances, which it’s not, why would anyone want to kill a 200 year old combative style so 10 freestylers may or may not have a better chance of winning an Olympic medal once every 4 years?

Seriously?

Are we actually talking about the elimination of a wrestling form that hundreds of thousands of children compete in every year just so we might be able to benefit less than .000001 percent of our population?  Somehow levelheadedness isn’t part of this conversation?

Just so everyone’s clear on how bad it is; were you aware that we have more wrestlers competing in America than any country in the world? That we have more wrestling rooms, more officials and more registered coaches than any country in the world and while we’re on a roll here, better sports medicine, sports psychology and access to better nutrition than any country in the world and if that didn’t get your attention, should I mention that America spends more money on wrestling than any country in the world.     

And yet we’re continually losing matches to countries that are smaller than some of our states and have populations less than a lot of our cities.

We can’t even hold our heads up when we host World Championships; at least in the areas where it counts. When the event was in Las Vegas last summer, USAWrestling touted the outcomes as being a tremendous success, clearing over $600,000.00. However athletically, even with home court advantage and all that means from officiating help to partisan crowds, we only qualified 2 freestyle weights for the men, 1 for the women and 1 in Greco-Roman. In other words 4 out of 16 weights got their ticket punched for Rio.     

Boy has our priorities changed. We use to plan, prepare and expect to win world medals in every weight, now USAWrestling worries about how they’re going to qualify weight classes just to be able to say they sent a team or worse, almost a full team to the big dance. When this becomes the mindset of any leadership group, where they begin to focus on just getting by, everything is about to go south, if it hasn’t already.

There may be some of you who are thinking about, “now wait a minute Wade, what about all the Soviet Republics that are now sending athletes to world competition as a result of the breakup? You need to compare apples to apples here to be fair.”

Good point, however the Soviet Union collapsed in 1989 so for those 11 years leading up to 2000, I am comparing apples to apples. And prior to that, for those who remember back that far, the top 5 or so wrestlers in each weight class who didn’t win the Russian National Championships were sent to various Soviet Bloc countries to represent them. Not to mention others who simply defected for the chance to be free and compete under a different flag. So we’ve always encountered multiple wrestlers from the Soviet Union in world competition.

Another issue that is high on my of course they do list is we not only can’t win, too many of our bouts end up with our coaches trying to explain what happened with let’s see if I can keep my job statements like “we were close, we wrestled tough and I’m so proud of the way Johnny fought. We just have to work a little harder that’s all.”

Work harder? At what? Doing the same thing?

That philosophy only worked decades ago when matches were 9 minutes long, but not anymore. We’re so hard wired into thinking that being tough in the physical sense and/or in great shape entitles a person to a world medal that it’s all they think about.

Toughness is a state of mind, not a physical presence and being in better shape only helps the athlete if he or she attacks enough to make superior conditioning an issue.

Jordan succeeds because he’s extremely talented and skilled but his strength by far is his mental toughness. You see it every time he steps on a mat. The difference between Taylor and Dake is not talent or skill but the fine line between levels of mental toughness. The same is true for Dake versus Burroughs. It’s just that Jordan was raised on a different street corner than the rest of the field and it’s apparent. It’s always the difference in big matches. Being a physical bruiser or in great shape only qualifies wrestlers to be entrants in tournaments, it never puts anyone on the medal stand.

Right now there are several differences between American wrestlers and their European counterparts. Mental toughness is certainly one of them and as I explain myself here please don’t point to Kyle Snyder or Burroughs as proof to where I’m off base. For they excel primarily due to the overwhelming dominance we enjoy in America as a result of the numbers of wrestler’s we have competing and the exceptional amount of resources we consume. I don’t think anyone believes they’re winning as a result of the administration in Colorado Springs.

As my college coach use to say; “when you have a great wrestler, don’t screw him up by trying to coach him. Just get him to the match on time and both of you will be fine.”

But if there is good news in all this it’s that mental toughness can be learned. Unfortunately it’s just not part of the curriculum at USAWrestling. As long as our national governing body doesn’t require our top athletes to gather in Colorado Springs for steel sharpens steel practices, no matter how amazing our athletes are, there will always only be minimal development. And as we’ve seen, Europeans eat minimal for lunch.   

Last night my son and I were texting back and forth during the Penn State-Ohio State match and I was being critical of how the sport is failing and using the commercials that were being aired throughout the event as an example. Jake wrote somewhere during the evening, “Dad, I think you’re being hypercritical here.”

Well, perhaps. But if we’re to fix the things that keep us in the middle of the pack, it’s probably important to identify what they are and let people know.

Then it dawned on me. The reason I’m so adamant about fighting for the sport I love is my look into the future binoculars. It’s so clear where we’re not headed. How can we possibly feel we’re doing fine with 16,000 fans packing the Bryce Jordan Center and not one main stream company like Visa, Coke, Nike, T. Rowe Price or Chevrolet wanting to have anything to do with us? That should speak volumes.

All the Big Ten Network could round up were a few wrestling camps and one wrestling shoe manufacturer as advertisers because Wall Street is acutely aware of our nonexistent demographics.

Back to our international performances, I’m just sick at all the events we attend and the amount of resources we squander to continually see the letters DNP appear after our athlete’s names.

Our athletes deserve better, they deserve more.

But when USAWrestling continually gives their Executive Director hefty bonuses each year for embarrassing performances, I start to wonder if they aren’t actually a US government agency like the Veteran’s Administration? Especially when they turn around and increase the cost of memberships and service fees to overcome the hundreds of thousands of dollars of USOC money they don’t receive for medal production. It just seems wrong, every young athlete and hardworking volunteer has to pay more so those who are doing less can benefit.

The next failing I’d like to direct your attention to from those in Colorado Springs is their technical policies. It seems we’re so enamored with Soviet programming due to their current dominance that we’ve convinced ourselves the only way to win is to emulate their style.

What are they thinking? Sure, Russians do quite a lot of things well but so could we if our athletes were allowed to pour themselves a liberal dose of creativity.

Americans have always been the global kings of inventiveness, that’s one of our strengths and how many of our legends made the rest of the world shake their heads in confusion. We took creativity to interstellar levels and the opposition had no idea what unexpected techniques “those crazy Americans” were going to throw at them. But today we’re so predictable that countering our attacks seems like child’s play to even third and fourth tier athletes from other countries.

Now I do believe we should videotape all the opposing greats, but only to find weaknesses in their positioning, conditioning and attacks, not to turn what we see into a core curriculum for Team USA.

When you think about it, it’s irresponsible to coerce, compel or persuade athletes who have won several NCAA titles wrestling one way to change their styles. We should be fine tuning them instead, coaching to their strengths. If we would have forced Rick Sanders or Kendal Cross or John Smith or Dave Schultz or Ben Peterson or Andre Metzger or Randy Lewis or Cary Kolat or Bobby Weaver to wrestle like Lee Kemp or John Peterson, well, you can imagine that wouldn’t have gone well. Just look at the horrid performance Ben Askren had to endure in Beijing. He was our best chance for Gold and our coaches told him he couldn’t win if he was going to wrestle the way he had for the previous 15 years of legendary performances. So they changed him in a short three months, they took away his creativeness, his uniqueness and with it his confidence. It was just so sad to watch one of our greats implode on national television.

The idea shouldn’t be to eliminate the basics of wrestling or to make fun of conditioning, it’s to allow the cobra to bob and weave as the battle unfolds and the mongoose to feign, lurch and re-attack as openings are created. Battles like these don’t always go to the swiftest or the strongest but to the one who forces the opposition into unknown territory. No one can do that like Americans can.

We fail because our leadership core only subscribes to one way of wrestling and that philosophy has effectively reduced America’s flow of medal production to a trickle.

The point is we should be working to improve every athlete’s strengths; not trying to cram everyone into a one size fits all singlet. It’s so frustrating to see Colorado Springs have multiple freestyle coaches who all sing from the same hymnal. There’s no diversity of thought or any interest in diversity.

If I were wrong in my analysis here, you’d see our freestyle team flying to the OTC on a regular basis for fine tuning. But instead those from Iowa choose to stay in Iowa City to train; Pennsylvanians go to Penn State, Ohioans to Columbus while JB prefers Lincoln, Nebraska. Their non-verbal insistence that they stay clear of Colorado Springs should speak volumes.

What’s a Boy?

Between the time of innocence – when the male of the species is nothing more than a bundle of wrinkles in diapers and the dignity of manhood, we find a delightful creature called a boy. Each comes into this world in the same way, but in assorted sizes, colors and weights. They even share the same creed . . . to enjoy every second of every minute of every hour of every day and to protest with noise, which is their only weapon, when their last minute is finished and the parents pack them off to bed each night.

Boys are found everywhere . . . on top of, underneath, inside of, climbing on, swinging from, running around, or jumping into. Mothers love them, little girls hate them, sisters tolerate them, big brothers torture them, adults ignore them and heaven protects them. With little boys . . . what you see is most often what you get.

A boy is truth with dirt on his face, beauty with a cut on his finger, wisdom with bubble gum in his hair . . . and hope for the future with a frog in his pocket. He’s capable of leaping tall building blocks in a single bound and always faster than expected. He’s constant persistence in motion.

When parents have company, a boy is an inconsiderate, bothersome, intruding jungle of noise. When you want him to make a good impression, his brain either turns to jelly or he becomes a savage, sadistic jungle creature bent on destroying the world and himself in the process.

A boy is a composite of things . . . he has the appetite of a wrestler making weight for the first time, the digestion of a sword swallower, the energy of an Eveready bunny, the curiosity of a cat, the lungs of a dictator, the imagination of Brothers Grimm, the shyness of a violet, the audacity of a steel trap and the enthusiasm of a firecracker. And invariably, on those rare occasions when he wants to help around the house, he does so with two hands and ten thumbs.

He likes ice cream, knives, saws, Christmas, books with lots of pictures, the boy across the street, trees that are easy to climb, water in its natural habitat, large animals, Dad, noisy video games, Saturday mornings and cars that go fast . . . especially red ones. He’s not much for Sunday school, adult company, classrooms, music lessons, neckties, barbers, bedtime or girls of any size, shape or description.

Nobody else is so early to rise or so late to supper. Nobody else gets so much fun out of trees, dogs and breezes. Nobody else can cram into one pocket a rusty knife, a bag of gummy bears, three feet of string, four broken crayons, a shotgun shell casing, a chunk of unknown substance and a discount coupon for the latest Disney movie.

A boy is a magical creature . . . you can lock him out of your workshop, but you can’t lock him out of your heart. You can get him out of your study, but you can’t get him out of your mind. Might as well give up . . . he’s your capture, your jailer, your boss, and your master.

He’s a freckled faced, pint-sized, cat chasing bundle of noise. But when you come home at night from coaching other people’s children – with only shattered pieces of hopes and dreams still intact – he can mend everyone of them with two magical words . . . “Hi Dad!”

Athletics aren’t dessert; they’re meat and potatoes too . . .

It’s a common practice for school boards to adopt proposals that tie academic performance to after school activities. In most cases, if students fail to maintain a certain academic average they become ineligible to participate in after school activities like cheer-leading, tennis and chorus.

The prevailing philosophy is students are more apt to improve classroom performance when carrots are dangled and pressure is applied. Unfortunately for some students, the ones who fall into the category of academically challenged and yes, even academically lazy, this thought process doesn’t always live up to its billing or achieve the desired results. There has to be a more balanced approach schools can take.

Those in leadership positions seem to have the misconception that anything taking place after 3pm is non-academic in nature and as a result; considered dessert. Although a strong case can be made that Reading, Riting and Rithmetic are essential to success, so too are qualities like perseverance, time management, communication skills, integrity, responsibility, sportsmanship, hard work and discipline.

The question becomes; we know where the three “R’s” are taught and understand their role in education but where do you learn life’s trump cards; the qualities of achievement, the development of self-esteem?

Where are they found . . . in the classroom? Or could they be more representative of after school activities? Personally, I can’t ever recall learning much about persistence in English or discipline in Social Studies. People with integrity might have taught science class but it certainly wasn’t something I learned by sitting there. Self-esteem is mostly an after school offering.

Nonetheless, if we’re talking about making a real impact in a person’s life, after school activities has to be considered as a time frame where a vast majority of life’s qualities are taught.

So why is acceptable for school boards to take away educational opportunities for students who struggle with standard forms of testing when they don’t always indicate all that’s special about a person? Most individuals seem to understand not everyone has an IQ of 130 or can swim 100 meters in under a minute. Nor can everyone tear an engine apart and put it back together without leaving a few parts on the work bench.

Individual skills and talents are as diverse as the number of people you test so might our current approach to education be discriminatory? Can you imagine the school valedictorian not being eligible to go to class the next marking period because he or she only won 60% of their cross country events? Or become ineligible to take Physics because he or she didn’t have a passing grade in Social Studies? I think we’d all agree both of those examples are ludicrous!

Why then is the reverse acceptable?

Any student who doesn’t do well in class gets yanked from participating in after school activities. Why can’t they co-exist; why shouldn’t they co-exist? Everything the school offers is educational in nature, each one playing a different but significant role in a child’s development. The current approach in education is all about standards. But who is standard anyway? Who wants to be standard? Don’t we want our children to find their passions wherever that takes them, and then excel?

It’s hard to fathom that administrators would take one educational opportunity away for the perceived benefit of another. To me the most important role a school plays is helping each child become “worldly.” That means creating an environment that encourages students to grow in all three triangular aspects of life. Just as the YMCA’s developmental motto is body, mind and spirit, doesn’t it make sense to develop at least the body and mind? I’d say spirit as well but I don’t want to upset those who believe in the separation of church and state.

Why then would anyone pull a child from sports or after school activities when the country has such an inclination toward sedentary life styles and obesity? How can any administrator justify taking away a child’s opportunity to develop a healthy lifestyle or ways to mature socially because he or she is faltering in class?

The Duke of Wellington said, in regards to the Battle of Waterloo where his forces defeated the French led by Napoleon, that the battle was won on the playing fields of Eton. What he meant by that was the British system of education which educated and formed the character of those who became the elite officers of the British Army was a combination of their education and the vigorous after school activities they participated in at Eton, which for those who might not know is their Harvard level boarding school for boys.

And at America’s three main military academies, half of the buildings on their campuses were built for athletics because they’ve found that developing the total student is critical to success in every phase of their training.

Of course grades are terribly important but when after school opportunities are denied to those who are dyslexic, have Attention Deficit Disorder or currently aren’t motivated; aren’t other educational opportunities lost as well?

None of this is to say students shouldn’t do the best they can in the classroom or feel pressure toward class room achievement. But isn’t holding one form of education hostage at the expense of another comparable to throwing the baby out with the bath water? America’s strength is its diversity of thought and talents. One’s freedom to pursue passions makes that possible.

I think we need to understand there are four different intellectual levels of students; academically skilled, academically lazy, academically challenged and those who are classified learning disabled in any number of ways.

Granted, academically skilled individuals don’t have problems being able to participate in after school activities. That’s due to the fact they typically learn by visual or auditory stimulus whereas the last two levels rely primarily on tactile senses to excel. As to the lazy one; well Darwin did have a point but why are we trying to bury them before they’re dead?

If every student is truly entitled to equal educational opportunities under the law and after school activities are part of the total educational package, why then isn’t this illegal? What happens after school isn’t desert and we must stop thinking of it in those terms. It’s every bit the meat and potatoes that academic classes are.

Some thoughts to ponder:

  • Is putting academic requirements on after school activities actually effective in pulling grades up or is it a way of downsizing after school activities to ease budgetary pressure?
  • Does the fear of becoming academically ineligible actually inspire students to work harder or does it encourage them to drop AP and college preparatory courses to remain eligible?
  • Where do ineligible students go and what do they do after school when they aren’t being supervised in an organized activity? Does having free-time actually mean increased study time or might it cause something else?
  • Where do students who are learning disabled fall into this equation? Are they exempt from the rules others have to live with or just denied opportunities to gain self-esteem by demonstrating whatever talent they have that’s not taught in a classroom?
  • What about the many students who live in a one parent household with the second parental figure being the after school advisor or coach? Does taking away that role model help or worsen each child’s chances for success?
  • Is there anything to be said about the various academic differences between schools and teachers? Do those inconsistencies provide an even playing field for everyone?
  • Whether we like it or not, there are many students who’s primary means of personal growth is though their capabilities in music, debate, the arts or obviously athletics. How does taking those opportunities away meet the goals that school’s have of preparing everyone for success in life?

How many know that Einstein did poorly in school? Bill Gates dropped out of Harvard and Abraham Lincoln only had five years of formal education. Sir Isaac Newton did so badly that his teachers thought he couldn’t learn. Thomas Edison was considered to be a “dull student” and one teacher told him he was too stupid to learn anything. Steven Spielberg took special education classes. Woody Allen flunked motion picture production at New York University. Neither Dave Thomas from Wendy’s or Walt Disney finished high school and I was told by my high school guidance counselor to “forget college Wade”, that I’d be lucky if the military would take me.

School Boards need to take a closer look at how they 1) view and then 2) handle after school programs. There is no such thing as desert when it comes any after school program and no two students are the same. All honor students aren’t Rembrandt’s. Not every State Wrestling Champion can split molecules. Not all schoolchildren in college preparatory classes can tear a lawn mower engine apart and put it back together again. Musical talent has nothing to do with diagramming a sentence but Beyoncé makes a pretty good living at the former. Mikhail Baryshnikov’s skill as a dancer has nothing to do with his proficiency in Science or English.

Shouldn’t we be embracing the total student?

A Point Scored is a Point Earned

Anytime a rule is changed in wrestling, especially relative to scoring, it should meet four criteria:

  • Will it increase scoring?
  • Does it escalate action, which is different from increasing scoring.
  • Will it make wrestling simpler and easier to understand?
  • Does it increase the interest of the spectators we have and those who are watching for the first time?

What shouldn’t be a criterion:

  • The opinions of coaches.

I’m sorry but coaches have been in charge of the sport for as long as I can remember and unfortunately we are where we are as a result. But is it their fault or it is the fault of the NCAA and the various State High School Associations who have given them the power to control the sport and as a result our destiny?

Coaches, at least the ones who are currently running programs, should have no say in the general administration of wrestling and specifically the rules.

If you think for a moment, the only aspect of importance in any business is the color of the ink it produces. Revenue is the fuel that makes companies run. Without fuel, all enterprise comes to a halt, exactly what’s been happening in wrestling as the number of programs and spectators are being whittled down.

The only thing that’s keeping us solvent right now is the good graces of Athletic Directors because as everyone should know, every collegiate wrestling program in America, including Iowa and Penn State lose money each year. And given the ravenous financial nature of football and basketball to become bigger, stronger and better, non-revenue sports had better hunker down because administrators are growing less and less interested in keeping feel good liabilities on their books.

Adding insult to injury, without a steady stream of significant income, anything that happens in a sport that is negatively financed becomes magnified proportionally to the brightness of the red ink it creates.

There is no doubt that without revenue, wrestling is in serious trouble given we’re at the bottom (or next to the bottom) in relation to other sports in academic performance while being at the top (or next to the top) in the number of concussions, injuries and communicable skin infections. And socially, no one has ever accused wrestlers of being teetotalers or were shocked when they didn’t walk away from a good fight. Those are the types of things, exacerbated by the amount of red ink wrestling produces, that puts us in the cross hairs of extinction.

When things happen that aren’t good, I guess we should ask who’s responsible; the athlete’s parents, local bar tenders, the school’s academic counselors or training room staff or the coaches? Obviously the athletes are the ones who are ultimately responsible but regardless, it doesn’t matter where we point the finger. The sport always takes the hit along with individual(s).

As a result, given that we have our share of issues, we have to either manage the wrestlers in a more positive way or we can focus our energies on increasing revenue. Granted, it would be wonderful to focus on improvement in both areas but since that is too far removed from reality to even discuss, and the first one by itself being almost as difficult, we only have one option, increase revenues.

In defense of those who coach, it’s not that they’re trying to hurt the sport. It’s not that they’re failing their responsibilities as extremely gifted technicians or individuals who know how to inspire, motivate and lead. It’s they’re way too competitive to make decisions outside of their prime objective which is developing athletes and winning tournament titles.

As an example it’s the coaches who determine the number of matches their team will wrestle each year. And given those numbers mean experience for the athletes and run parallel to national success, every program is now wrestling four times as many matches as were wrestled in the 1950’s. Each decade coaches have added more and more dates to their schedule.

That translates into athletes missing classes 4 times more often than their counterparts did when Danny Hodge wrestled. And during those occasions when today’s athletes are in class, they’re losing weight 4 times more often . . . and we all know how that’s working for us academically.

Coaches cannot and should not be given responsibilities in areas that aren’t in their fields of expertise or be forced to choose between winning and that which is in the best interest of the sport. 

Here’s where the NCAA, not the NCAA Wrestling Rules Committee has to step in and take charge. And if that means helping the sport focus on generating more revenue and increasing our spectator base, so be it! We need to seriously upgrade our wow factor which is currently more ugh than wow.

Wrestling has to become exciting, and please refrain from pointing out those far too few great matches we seldom see as being representative of wrestling. Great bouts are not the norm. It’s like fishing in a pond that’s been fished out. You’re going to sit there for a long time between nibbles.

What wrestling has to do and the coaches won’t like one bit is devise rules with the goal of making a great battles like Taylor-Dake and Nolf-Martinez the norm. When we achieve that, we’ll have something.

The number one rule change of the 21st century has to be A Point Earned is a Point Recorded. 

This is so logical it’s beyond comprehension how we could have overlooked it for the system of 3 point decisions, 4 point majors and the 5 point techs that we have today. Whoever came up with that formula had to be a closet socialist.

Think about it; win by 1 point and you receive 3 team points. Win by 7 points and you receive 3 team points. That’s the basis of socialism, take from the producer so you can reward those who don’t. And with that form of collectivism, the outcome always ends up being the producer, which aren’t near as plentiful as we need, thinking what’s the point? Why am I busting my hump and putting myself as risk of losing to score a bunch of points when winning by 1 gives my team the same number of points as winning by 7?”

Our sport penalizes for trying and rewards those who won’t. So where’s the incentive?

Name one sport, just one, that has a point system like ours? Good luck with that . . .  

That’s where wrestling is now and exactly why wrestler’s outnumber the fans at way too many events.  

I can just hear the coaches now tearing this apart; “it’s unfair, it won’t work, I don’t like it.” And the reason they don’t like it is it takes them out of a comfort zone they know well. It changes the sports paradigm, it forces coaches to rethink everything they do. But is that really bad?

Wrestling has to make rules that benefit spectators, not the ones who coach it. For those who question that, we might ask, “how’s the current system they created working for us?”

Okay, enough already, here’s the fine print of a Point Earned is a Point Scored.

To begin, this means scrapping the 3, 4, 5, and 6 point match outcomes. Instead we change to a every point an athlete scores is a team point recorded.

Examples: regarding a regular decision: wrestler A wins by a score of 7-4. Wrestler A’s team receives 7 team points and wrestler B’s team receives 4 points.

Forfeits are worth 15 team points and I’ll explain my rationale for that further down. So, when wrestler A receives a forfeit, wrestler A’s team receives 15 team points; the opposing team receives 0 points.

Disqualifications: 15 team points are added to the winners bout score. If wrestler A is winning 5-2 at the time of wrestler B being disqualified, wrestler A’s team receives 20 points (15 + 5) and wrestler B’s team receives 2 team points.

Injury default: 10 team points are added to the winners bout score. If wrestler A is winning 5-2 at the time of wrestler B being injured, wrestler A’s team receives 15 points (10 + 5) and wrestler B’s team receives 2 team points.

Pins: 10 team points are added to the winners bout score. If wrestler A is winning 5-2 at the time of wrestler B being pinned, wrestler A’s team receives 15 points (10 + 5) and wrestler B’s team receives 2 team points.

Tech falls are just like they are now, 15 point separation. If wrestler A is ahead by the score of 18-3 the match ends with wrestler A’s team receiving 18 team points and wrestler B’s team receiving 3 team points.

I’m sure this raises a lot of questions . . . but rest assured I’ll answer every one of them before you’re done reading.

The benefits of these changes are immense. To begin there are no additional risks to athlete safety, there is no additional training that’s necessary for officials and there is no additional cost to the schools when this rule is applied. So put those thoughts behind you.

Over all, this system of a point scored is a point recorded:

  • Immensely encourages scoring and as a result increases excitement.
  • Allows every wrestler to contribute to the team score even in a losing effort.
  • Pushes both athletes to score points right up to the end of a match regardless of who’s ahead, who’s behind, or by how much.
  • Logically increases the number of pins by virtue of higher scoring.
  • Severely discourages stalling because even in a losing effort a last second escape actually means a lot to a teams total.
  • Allows a team whose losing rather badly to come back and win the dual. Come from behind wins are the sweetest events in spectators lives and keeps fans in their seats right up to the very end.
  • Makes the sport easy to understand for those who are new to wrestling.
  • It seriously discourages forfeits and bad behavior that are extremely positive outcomes especially given the number of times we see forfeits and cheat spectators out of that which was expected – X number of matches for the price of admission. 
  • With larger team scores, the chance of two teams tying is near impossible as is having to explain to spectators our complicated system of tie-breaking.

As to the basis for change, wrestling strategies have slowly eroded scoring to the point that winning is all about who can make the least amount of mistakes and take the least amount of shots. Consequently low scoring matches with one or two points separating the combatants has become the norm. It’s this defensive posturing that has quietly ground down spectator interest in wrestling to the point of near extinction. 

Granted the sport has more than a few issues, but the most important one we must address before all others is a lack of individual scoring. This change is huge for wrestling, something that will obviously create a great deal of controversy, most of it coming from the coaches. The source of their objections will center on their repulsion of being forced to change a long held belief and actual fact that the slow-down approach to wrestling wins matches.

But I will also tell you, as soon as the first whistle blows after this rule is implemented, coaches will forget every issue they had with the change and start coaching to the new rule. They’re competitors and if there’s one thing you can count on its them competing.

Speaking of losing spectators; my son who wasn’t a bad wrestler in his own rights, and knows the sport inside out won’t go to matches. I asked him why out of curiosity and he said, “They’re too boring to watch and I even know the nuances of the game. If they offered me free beer and a ticket, I wouldn’t go. I’d rather sit home and watch Jeopardy.”

This is exactly what I’m trying to explain to our leadership and now you; there is a crisis going on in wrestling and the current system does not and will not encourage athletes to score points other than what is absolutely necessary to win.

It shouldn’t be a shock to anyone that coaches who win the most, teach the slowdown approach to wrestling; with an apology to Cael Sanderson. It’s the way all the other coaches become successful using today’s rules. You get a lead, you play the edge and control the tie-up, down block on your opponent’s shots and follow them with a few half shots of your own. That’s how you keep the referee at bay while waiting for the match to end.

A vast majority of athletes don’t care what the score is when the final buzzer sounds, as long as they get their hand raised. So I don’t blame the competitors or in some cases the coaches for low scoring and often boring matches. It’s the rules they’re playing to and if we really want action, we need to change the rules they’re playing to. 

Granted, this change is way over the top from what we’re accustomed to but we don’t have much time left before really bad things befall the sport. But I believe once you have had time to think about how simple this change is to make and how effective it will be at pulling athletes out of their comfort zone, it will become a huge hit very quickly.

But be forewarned, coaches will hate it and they will be very vocal about their opinions. It has everything to do with their fear of losing matches to teams that previously were walk-overs. But is that a bad thing? Not the loss’s but the fear? Isn’t fear the greatest motivator? If we scare the coaches, they in turn will see to it that their athletes feel the same amount of anxiety they’re feeling and everything will change. People love upsets and the sport needs more parity; this rule helps both to occur.

In every other sport a point earned is a point registered. So why not wrestling? Can you imagine basketball waiting to the end of a game to tally the team scores? How crazy would it be to give a player 5 team points if he scores between 10 and 15 points and 10 team points if he scores between 15 to 30 points? That’s what wrestling does? How about a quarterback who throws for 3 touchdowns and the scoreboard only gives him credit for 1 at the end of the game? Serve 3 aces in tennis and look up to see the score is only 15-Love. Hit a bases loaded home run and only get credit for your run, not the other three. Or winning in Rugby 27-23 and your team receives 10 team points for scoring 27 and your opponent loses all 23 of their points. Sound crazy, yep, and it is exactly what we do in wrestling.

The basic concept is every point scored by either wrestler is a point earned when the match ends. That’s so easy for everyone to understand from the sports veterans to our newbies.

Now you may ask why I’m penalizing Forfeits and Disqualifications beyond the amount of points an athlete earns for a pin. Because there should be consequences beyond a 10 point pin for poor behavior on the part of an athlete or for a team who can’t find a body to plug a hole in their lineup.

Regarding forfeits, it’s my contention that well over 90% of teams who forfeit a weight has someone on their current roster who could have wrestled. And 100% of the teams have someone at their school who would love to fill that spot if the coach would go to the club team or intramural tournament and find them. All too often the coach just decides he’d prefer not to have a match than throw a lesser athlete out there to get pinned and with it lose team momentum.

We should all understand when there’s a forfeit, the offending coach is basically breaching a legal contract that spectators have with the host school to provide a set number of matches for the price of a ticket. There should be an additional cost, a substantially larger penalty for cheating the spectator and putting the sport at risk and why it’s worth 15 points. Wrestling cannot grow as a sport when we knowingly choose to shortchange our customers.

How would you feel about a restaurant that served you 10 oysters when you ordered a dozen and are paying for a dozen? If baseball skipped the 5th and 6th inning would consumers feel slighted? What if Nascar decided to take 25 laps out of the Daytona 500? How about a movie theater randomly cutting 10 minutes out of the middle of the movie? Forfeits are the same thing; coaches are knowingly cheating those who bought tickets. That behavior tears at the fabric of our sport and certainly gives customer service a black eye.

With these new rules there’s now a strong impetus for athletes to fight to get off the bottom with 15 seconds left in a match, even if they’re losing 9-3. And conversely, there are tremendous incentives for the dominant wrestler to keep scoring up until the end of the match. If the athlete doesn’t get this, I’m sure his coach will remind him of the importance of scoring and scoring often, probably with a very loud voice.

Regarding the pin, this was the most difficult aspect to get a handle on relative to scoring. As simple as it is to say a point earned is a team point scored, throwing in how to handle the pin was nothing short of maddening. Trust me; I went through dozens of mental contortions to reach the following conclusion.

My problem was; if an athlete is winning 15-4 and gets pinned, the team score under this system is 15 points for the person who got pinned (loser) and 14 points (10+4) for the winner.

“Now wait a minute Wade. That’s not fair; the loser gets more team points than the winner!” Yep, that’s right, because all points scored must be points earned. We have to reward all wrestlers, in every situation, who put points on the board. Points mean action, action means spectators and spectators means institutional revenue. Baseball doesn’t negate the two runs a batter drives in after he is thrown out trying to reach third. Once points are earned, they’re earned! 

No one knows more than me how difficult this was to think about and then type. But I’ve looked at this 20 ways to Sunday and it’s the best way of handling it because the pin is nothing more than a scoring technique that’s a level above a near fall. Think of it that way, a pin is similar to a takedown or a reversal. All three are scoring techniques but as it has always been, the pin ends the match and determines the victor, that’s it.

I know that sounds crazy but the whole premise behind this system is to reward effort. We must incentivize wrestlers to score more and score often while forcing coaches out of their “protect the lead” approach to wrestling. Once everyone understands the game has changed, they’ll change with it; they’re too competitive not to.

Continuing the discussion regarding a pin, actually, how many times does the wrestler who’s ahead on points get pinned? So should we get our underwear all knotted up over something that seldom happens? But when it does, the offensive machine that racked up more points than his opponent in the example above should be rewarded for his effort.

If you think this rule will scare the bejesus out of coaches, you’re probably right. But we have to force each of them to alter the way they handle their athletes. Scoring must be our top priority and with it you can bet you’ll see a lot of action. Wrestlers must be forced or sufficiently motivated to engage their opponents as often as boxers throw punches or basketball players take shots.

If we’re to make significant changes to wrestling relative to scoring, athletes need to know that each point earned makes a difference. They also need to feel that the sport respects them enough and the chances they take to make this change.

So let’s say for the sake of argument that a team wins a dual meet by the score of 126 to 122. And one of the winning team’s wrestlers lost his individual bout 10-5. How valuable do you think he feels knowing that his 5 points made the difference in the outcome of the match? How vocal do you think his teammates were when he wrestled knowing that every point he scored could make the difference? Peer pressure is a wonderful thing.

Currently, when an athlete is losing 10-4 in the third period with 45 seconds left the match is basically over and the atmosphere in the arena is anemic. The person with 4 points has given up and the one with 10 is just riding out the period. As for the spectators, they’re talking among themselves about what they’re going to do after the match. But when every point counts, coaches are screaming, fans are cheering and the athletes are scrambling as a result of the pressure to produce. None of this can be a bad thing.

Tournaments should be scored in the same way but maybe that should be a discussion for another day.

Granted, there could be a few occasional upsets early on with this rule but over time the pecking order of teams will remain the same. Successful coaches know how they became successful and will continue being that way regardless of the rules.

Two years ago when the NCWA checked to see what would have happened using this system at their National Dual Meet Championships here’s what they found. Out of the 4 quarter-finals, 2 semi-finals and Championship match only 1 of the 7 duals would have had a different winner under this system.

Now if anyone is concerned about those high school teams that have 2 pinners and 12 average wrestlers defeating a team with 14 good wrestlers they should be. But think about this; how is this scoring system any different than other sports? One 6’ 11” basketball star in high school surrounded by 4 average players has a legitimate shot at winning the state championships. According to wrestling that’s not fair. A great running back or quarterback can carry a so-so football team through the playoffs. According to wrestling that’s not fair. An outstanding tennis player will compete in both singles and doubles and account for 30 percent of a team’s score. One good pitcher in baseball surrounded by 8 average players will defeat 8 great players with an average pitcher. Just because this is different from what we’ve grown accustomed to in wrestling, which is the reason why the slowdown approach to scoring is so familiar to us, it doesn’t mean the change shouldn’t be made.

As for the fans, what’s not to like about more scoring? This rule alteration completely eliminates the challenge we currently have trying to explain what regular decisions, majors and technical falls are to the sports newcomers. As to the referee’s; which one wouldn’t embrace any rule change that increased scoring and reduced the number of stalling calls?

I have to admit I was and still am perplexed about a Default? How many points should it be worth? 15 like we award teams for forfeits and disqualifications or where I have it now in the 10 point category? This was another dilemma where I ended up choosing between the better of two imperfect choices. I didn’t want an athlete who was injured trying to finish the match because he didn’t want the other team to receive 15 points. Yet on the other hand, I worry those wrestlers who have to wrestle an athletic scoring machine might feign injury to keep his team from losing too many points. But in the end, given that you can’t legislate morality, but you can protect athletes by your decisions, I chose the latter and made injury default a 10 point occurrence.

Now, not everything that’s wrong in wrestling is the coach’s fault but most of our fixes need to start there. The point is coaches don’t make the rules but they influence the rule makers enough that if they don’t like something, it doesn’t happen. That hurts the sport more than anyone realizes and wrestling can’t win when coaches have that level of power. They’ll always do what’s in the best interest of their wins and loses and why their direct involvement in managing the sport should be rethought.

Make Scoring Simpler to Explain

Last year I posted on my How Wrestling Wins blog the importance of adding a point to nearfalls and takedowns. Fortunately the NCAA agreed with me regarding the 4 point nearfall and implemented it. They have yet to see the wisdom of going with the 3-point takedown but they will because 1) it simplifies how we explain the sport to new fans while 2) putting an emphasis on what’s important in the sport; takedowns and pins. Both rule alterations were used at this year’s NWCA All-Star Dual meet in Atlanta and the fans overwhelmingly supported the changes.

Here’s that post . . . remember it was written before the 4 point nearfall was passed.

Simplifying the rules: they’re too complicated. Spectators who are new to any sport will overlook the little nuances that make understanding it so much fun to watch. But they won’t return if the most basic of rules make them feel inept. Sports have to be easy to understand and even easier to explain. Right now wrestling’s rules are neither simple nor easy.  

Here’s a suggestion relative to making the sport easier explain and understand while pleasing those who still think pinning is king and takedowns are a close second. Please remember these scoring adjustments are designed to simplify the sport for the spectators, increase the number of points scored per bout while putting a strong emphasis on what’s truly important. 

Individual Scoring

Nearfall = a point for every hand count up to 4 points.

Takedown = 3 points

Reversal = 2 points

Escape = 1 point

This 4-3-2-1 scoring system is easy to remember and more importantly explain to any first time spectator. Remember who’s important here, without spectators we don’t need coaches or athletes because there won’t be a sport.

The problem the NCAA Rules Committee has when they meet is failing to ask the most critical question when they craft new rules, “will this increase spectator interest?” Instead they spend most of their time finding solutions to problems that were created by rules they made in previous years to fix problems that were created by rules they created before that . . .  They’re so busy swatting at mosquito’s that they forgot the reason they’re in the swamp in the first place was to drain it.      

As to nearfalls, a point for every stroke of the arm makes sense because it’s simple, easy to explain and rewards the efforts of offensive wrestlers more than ever before. It spotlights the importance of pinning and highlights its relationship to wrestling’s endgame.

How many know that in 1941 all nearfalls were worth 4 points? So why is it blasphemes to suggest 4 point nearfalls? Then in 1955 the rules committee added a 1 point nearfall and then a year later created the 2 and 3 point nearfall. So if we turn back the hands of time to where it was 75 years ago, is it really a big deal? Remember today the maximum nearfall is worth 3 points which is 1 more point than a takedown. So if we make these two changes, we’re only adding an extra point to each outcome so proportionally to one another, they’re still the same.    

But regardless of what your individual feelings are about 4-3-2-1, if the rules committee agrees, the very least that will happen will be higher scoring matches and spectators, especially new ones smiling more. Neither can be a bad thing.

Now if I could only get the rules committee to buy into the absolute critical need to adopt the rule, a point scored is a point earned, we’d fix so many ills that the sport’s “desirability index” would skyrocket. It would transform the sport like no other rule in the history of wrestling. If you haven’t read about it yet, you should.

I will re-post it later this week.

Youth Wrestling . . . How Stupid

I just received a short note from a colleague who is well known as an icon in our sport. The gentleman is in his 70’s now and there’s not much he hasn’t seen or done. This was in response to a conversation we had regarding the way America handles its youth programing.

“I have coached for over 50 years I can honestly say that youth wrestling is destroying the sport!”

Now I realize this isn’t everyone’s opinion, but it should be when you step back and actually analyze what we’ve been doing, both with and to our little guys.

Initially the theme that leadership sold the wrestling community in the 1970’s when youth programming was in its infancy was the concept of the 3 F’s which stood for Fun, Friendship & Fundamentals. That was when cars got 8 miles to the gallon, Viet Nam had just ended and the New England Patriots seldom won more than 4 games a year.

But today, no one ever dreamt of seeing what we have, and as for wrestling, there are youth programs out there that are focusing practices around placing as many of their little guys on the next Olympic team as they can. The whole system has become Darwinistic; the strong get stronger and the weak get gone.

The problem is everyone goes to events regardless of their ability, maturity level or weeks of experience; all under the pretense of character development and the belief that cream always rises to the top. But at their ages, most of us realize that children can’t spell character development let alone understand the pain one has to go through to achieve it.

Then there’s those larger than life trophies that sometimes are just as tall as the athletes themselves and seem to gain in height as operators try and lure more and younger children to their tournaments. They’ve even come up with cumulative point systems for events that are used to dangle WWE-like championship belts in front of their noses.

All this is marketing at its best with the design of creating awe in the minds of parents and athletes and of course capital for event operators. This isn’t all bad and I’m not opposed to finding ways to fund the sport, God knows we need both a solid and increasing revenue stream but to do it through the demoralization of those we pretend to care about, there’s something wrong here.

Parents are simply being sold a bill of goods. They bought into the vision of their young children developing self-esteem and learning how to fine tune their kinesthetic senses in an environment of support, friendship and pleasurable experiences. Little did they know that the devouring nature of competition has driven many of our coaches to replace the word Fun with Drudgery, Friendship with Adversary and Fundamentals with Funding.

The damage this has caused to wrestling is staggering! Every year we lose approximately half of all our first and second year wrestlers. That’s 50% or 15 out of every 30 wrestlers who come out for the sport that disappear. And in some years that percentage might be a bit higher, in other years a bit lower but regardless, the problem is obvious.

Neither winning or events should ever be the end all, be all of youth wrestling.

Any company, and wrestling had better start figuring out it‘s a company, would immediately panic and fire its entire leadership team if every year it lost half of their customer base. So what do we do, keep embracing the same notions, doing the same sort of things and expecting a different outcome.

Now I’m not suggesting that we start handing out pink slips to coaches and administrators because they’re doing exactly what the parents and the rules allow. But the sports base had better start realizing where we’re headed, and the direction we’ve been going for quite some time.

Why would a sport, any sport, develop and then accept an environment that erodes self-esteem and assures a steady stream of tears from those we hold most dear? Not to mention the fracturing of relationships between coach and athlete and most troubling, parent and child? We’ve all witnessed those blowups and how ugly they can be.

Here’s an example of how wrestling arrived at where we are today; the #1 sport in America with the poorest athlete retention rate.

I received this note from a father regarding his son’s experiences in wrestling. As you read it, please understand this is far more the norm than anyone might think.

“I wanted to let you know how impressed I’ve been with all your blogs. Keep up the great work.

Since the birth of my son in 1996, I’ve stepped back and taken an objective look at the sport I love. I’ve been self-employed, an employer and a leader in a few startups since I left Cumberland Valley. And as I read my first “Schalles” blog I was ready to see what you had to say as short sighted, but it wasn’t. You were right on, our sport is far too isolated and our leadership has too little experience outside the sphere of state and NCAA level events. They need entrepreneurial and leadership skills that are prerequisites to success in life; humility; how to listen; make friends quickly; use influence like a scalpel, not a sledgehammer; serve on a board of directors and still make things happen; how to raise capital and the list continues.

My son got his black belt in Judo at age 11, mostly through Katas. Why Judo, because he learned to hate wrestling when I was talked into taking him to practice at age 10 and then a father-son camp. After the 1st competitive round, I dried his tears and took him fishing to heal his soul. He never walked back on a mat again. By the time he filled out athletically and got the hormones needed to be aggressive, the pace and intensity of the wrong-headed local youth program had left him in the dust. He found his competitive outlet in JROTC, where his Raider unit never lost. This year he scored 362 on a scale of 300 to win the award for the highest Army Physical Fitness Test score in his league. 106 pushups, 107 sit-ups each in 2 minutes, and then a 12:48 two-mile. 

He’s aggressive enough to have jumped over a desk and decked another student when that student insulted his nation and the army. Fortunately for him the teacher was an ex-Ranger. He runs 2 miles 5 days a week with 30 lbs. in a pack on his back and plays paintball in a kilt for fun. 

Unfortunately I just see my son as being emblematic of so many things wrong with wrestling. He had no interest because there was no fun, and the tone of the sport in the first day was attack or be attacked. The attitude of fans, parents and competitors wasn’t about friendship and it turned him away even before puberty.”

To be sure, there are thousands of stories out there like that and even more parents who are persuaded by coaches that say trophies won and individual champions developed is the way to gauge the quality of a program.

Success should not and cannot be measured by the number of athletes a child can defeat.

To the contrary, the only way a parent should, or could possibly judge the quality of a youth wrestling program is solely by its retention rate. What percentage of last year’s team is in the wrestling room this year? Now I don’t believe for a moment that anyone would expect to see a 90% retention rate, but something over 70% should be a minimum number.

Coaches have to learn to be happy with athletes who can now sprawl and circle back to their feet when two weeks earlier walking with gum in their mouth was a challenge. Coaches have to stop measuring success by the number of wins an athlete can accumulate. Instead, they should make a big deal out of their athletes being able to shake their hand with a firm grip while looking them in the eye. That’s a skill worth teaching and one we should be proud we were able help them develop. Or just being able to do 5 pull-ups when 3 were impossible just a month earlier.

Programs have lost sight of allowing children to grow at their own pace in a supportive environment.

What does all this mean? I think you can answer that yourself by just looking at the trends. They’re not good. So here I go, this is what I’d do if I were King. I’d ask the parents of every child to take back the control they mistakenly relinquished to the coaches by saying “no” to competition in the first year of wrestling. Then at the same time pass legislation that says . . .

No child is allowed to enter competition for one calendar year from the date they begin wrestling.

What that would immediately do is substantially reduce the anxiety children feel trying to learn a sport that requires combative aggression when the last thing they learned to do that was physical with some level of aggression was playing dodge ball at recess. No wait; that’s not allowed anymore, schools have deemed that to be far too aggressive and belittling. So I wonder what they would think about youth wrestling if they put our sport under their microscope?

Instead, what should be taking place during their first full season is learning the rules of the game, some basic techniques, participate in drills that are masquerading as games, learn body awareness skills and how to protect oneself through gymnastic like tumbling routines and some fun facts about the sports rich history and of course focus on the tenets of sportsmanship.

However, most everything we do is backwards; we teach wrestlers how to throw someone down before anyone learns how to tuck their head and roll. We scold them for locking hands before telling them it’s not legal. I could go on here but you get the idea.

“So what are you saying Wade, that we shouldn’t take 1st year wrestlers to tournaments for a year?” No, I didn’t say that, I said they shouldn’t enter competition for a year. But they should go to events. They need to be a part of the team, they need to see how events are run and get familiarized with their future surroundings. And yes, they’re there to participate . . . just not compete.

This is how that’s accomplished . . .

We need to develop a series of Katas for wrestling and make them apart of tournaments for first year students, just like many of the martial arts do all the time.

For those who aren’t familiar with Katas, they’re individual exercises, drills and/or techniques that consist of specific movements that are demonstrated in harmony with a passive partner.

We could accomplish this any one of several ways and this is just a suggestion that I’m not married to for those who wish to argue. If you don’t like what I’m proposing, change it, but the basic tenet of this is the way I believe we have to go.

Create a generic form that every athlete receives. On it list 10 takedowns; 8 reversals; 4 different escapes; several pinning combinations; 8 historical figures or eras of wrestling; 4 sportsmanship philosophies; 6 boxes for drilling that evaluators check off; the first one with 10 seconds next to it, the next consisting of 20 seconds and the third of 30 seconds etc. up to a minute in length and 10 boxes that get checked for correct answers to rules of the sport. And every time a young man or lady is evaluated, just like martial arts athletes have to bow to their Sensei, they have to shake hands with their evaluator and explain why that’s important or why they should stand at attention during the playing of our national anthem?

The athletes can pick any element they want from each category to be tested on. Then at the next event he or she must pick another set of skills and questions to answer and so on through out the season.

The idea is to have every box and technique checked off by the end of the year and in the process win up to 3 ribbons (Blue, Red or White) per weekend based upon how well he or she accomplishes what they’re being tested on. And the best part of this is no one can lose, it’s all about how well they can succeed and within 30 minutes from the time they start; they could be in the car and on their way home with proud parents in tow.

Now please don’t get caught up in the individual particulars that I just suggested such as who will do the testing and to what standards each athlete will be expected to achieve. We can change that any way you want, just focus on the concept.

And this isn’t to say that the current system hasn’t benefited its share of athletes, it has! But I’d like to think that those who are in this category would still succeed, would still grow and I believe would benefit even more from the postponement of gratification while they’re being forced to place a stronger emphasis on the basics and the human qualities it is so well known to develop.

With Katas everyone wins, the tournament operator still collects the entry fees these 1st year wrestlers generate, each child comes home a winner, the coach is happy his program has a far better chance of maintaining its numbers, the children love showing off without the pressure of actual competition and the parents are ecstatic they don’t have a disappointed child when it’s over. Then everyone goes home by way of Dairy Queen to celebrate.

As for increased revenue which is the life blood of businesses, as our numbers increase through improved retention percentages, the sports bottom line grows proportionally.

This is easy to set up and run on one or two mats at the end of the gym in far, far less time that it would take to eliminate all these athletes through regular competition. You just divide each mat into 4 equal parts and go to work testing 8 athletes at a time per mat.

In regards to who we select to be the evaluators, I would suggest the athletes older peers who are high school or college age. They certainly know enough to evaluate the sport’s most basic techniques and this level of responsibility would help in their development as well. Remember, this is all about retention rates and uplifting self-esteem. It’s worked extremely well for the martial arts just as I’m sure it will for us.

And just because it’s different from what we’re used to doing we shouldn’t dismiss the idea. Because in the end, it’s still all about winning.