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

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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

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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

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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.

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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. 

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.

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 pretty much 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. A great running back or quarterback can carry a so-so football team through the playoffs. 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 programs 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.

Offering My Clinic Services

Over the next year my wife and I are planning to tour America. Visiting every state, seeing old friends and meeting new ones while sharing what I’ve learned over 45 years in the sport with coaches and their athletes.

Would your wrestling club, your team or someone you know be interested in my Pinning Made Simple clinic with Wade Schalles?

Not Sure? Click in the upper right hand corner on the ABOUT button to learn more about my background.

Also, below are some of the more recent testimonials I’ve received from both parents and coaches.

From parents:

“I wanted to thank you for the incredible time you spent with our son. Watching you interact with him and the rest of the campers was something beyond special. Hunter was so inspired. It’s so obvious that what we heard about you is true – you’re the best clinician in the country.”

I always appreciated your lessons about the importance of wrestling in life.  I know our children deeply believe that too.  I also appreciate the power of your work with the rest of our team–they have all been utterly transformed.”

“My boys are so excited – anytime they continually give up a Sunday night of being couch potatoes and watching football, without a fight, speaks wonders to what you do.”

My sons have not stopped talking about class; they’ve never been this excited about an extracurricular activity before.”

I wanted to send you a note and update you on our son. You played such a big role in his life. He would not have won his State Title or moved into collegiate wrestling without your guidance. You definitely got in his head and taught him how to think like a champion.”

“Arthur was thrilled after training with you on Sunday!  For a teenager known for his one word answers, he enthusiastically went into great detail about everything he learned from you.”

“I’ve had multiple conversations with other parents with the consensus that you are the master of working with kids and young adult teens!”

From coaches:

“As you mentioned, you may be an old name but you are the best I’ve ever seen. And I have seen some of the best. There’s no question about it. I’m happy our kids got the best coaching they will ever receive.”

“I wanted to let you know that our boys maintained a 100 percent pin to win ratio for a second straight week. I can’t believe what you did for them; did with them.“

“Having Wade in my room was a huge boost for our program in our quest to become pinners. Two seasons ago, 13% of our wins were by pins, this last season 51% of our wins were pins at the varsity level. Wade did this for us. He showed us how to start and finish everything we did to a pin, regardless if we started on top, underneath or from neutral. He’s fantastic at relating to kids of all ages. Most importantly, Wade always makes himself available via email or phone when I have questions. No one else we’ve had has been as interested in continuing to help after they left.”

I may be in my golden years, but I connect with the kids like no other and have a very unique teaching style. My reputation as a clinician, especially when it comes to pinning, trumps anyone out there.

Pricing is simple – 1k a day or $20.00 a head, whichever is greater. If that sounds like a lot, check out the top names in wrestling. They’re asking, and receiving, 5k to 10k a day! And if you make money after expenses, that’s yours to do with as you wish.

And I’ll even throw in this guarantee:

If you don’t like what I’ve done in the room, if the boys don’t thoroughly enjoy the day, DON’T pay me.”

I’m that confident in what you’ll receive.

If this offer interests you in any way . . . please contact me at:

wschalles@cfl.rr.com

Once I hear from you we’ll see what dates work for both of us.

How the 2015 World Championships Hurt Us

I just returned from Las Vegas and the World Championships. At a minimum, the event was interesting to watch and at times exciting, both on and off the mat.

May I begin here by offering my congratulations to all the medalists, both foreign and domestic. It’s always a great honor for anyone to wear their countries colors in competition and then to stand in the spotlight of achievement, even if it’s only for a minute or two. It’s a feeling they’ll never forget.

Now to the storylines you’re here to read that you probably won’t find anywhere else. There’s a reason for this because if we keep doing what we’ve always done, we’re going to keep getting what we’ve always gotten. And in my opinion, most of it I find unacceptable.

So let’s begin with the controversy over who’s the best wrestler in the world? Answer . . . Jordan Burroughs.

I realize a case could be made that the 19 year old Russian phenom, Abdulrashid Bulachevich Sadulaev is better. But if you evaluate the total body of work of both athletes, JB wins the head to head match-up; hands down.

It’s true Jordan has two international blemishes on a stellar career where Sadulaev only has one, but Burroughs has 110 international wins which is over twice as many as his Russian counterpart.

Then there’s the fact that Sadulaev, known as “the Russian Tank”, has two world titles whereas JB has three . . . plus an Olympic Gold.

As to the losses, Burroughs most recent one was to Russia’s three-time world champion Denis Tsargush in the semi-finals of the 2014 World Championships when he was so injured that it would have kept anyone I know from even wrestling.

Sadulaev’s loss came by tech fall in 2013 at the hands of Shamil Osmanov from nearby Azerbaijan.

Now I will submit that Sadulaev is on trajectory for intergalactic status but he still has 61 more wins to go before matching JB’s current number. And they have to be accomplished while avoiding injuries, bad calls, social diversions, political squabbles and the mountain of videotape the competition will gather on him.

Regarding any conversation on videotaping, there probably isn’t another athlete in the world, in any wrestling discipline that has been filmed as much as Burroughs. And if there were a weakness in his technique or a flaw in his approach to matches, the competition hasn’t found it.

Probably the most deceiving aspect of JB’s style is how basic his technique appears to be. But if you take the time to study tapes of him in slow motion, you notice a mind numbing number of technical nuances that turns ordinary into extraordinary.

And it doesn’t hurt the sport or Jordan’s reputation at all that he’s charismatic, charming and funny.

As to Kyle Snyder, what can I say? He stuck the landing every time he wrestled even if he doesn’t have a large tool box of techniques, blazing speed or gyroscopic balance. But what he does have is the ability to overwhelm opponents through his will to succeed and his execution of flawless game plans. Of course there’s also the amount of physical power he has that the sport hasn’t seen very often in 19 year olds.

Kyle simply refuses to allow matches to end with anyone else having more points than he does and for those who don’t know him personally, I can attest that he’s is a nicer human being than he is a wrestler if that’s possible. I don’t know of anyone in America who wouldn’t be proud to call him son; or JB for that matter.

As to the million dollar question; how will he do in Rio? The jury is still deliberating that because it’s just too early in his young career to have a serious conversation about multiple world and Olympic titles.

The smart money has to at least remember he did have a very favorable bracket in Vegas. The #1 and #2 best wrestlers in the world were on the opposite side of the bracket and the Iranian who was the previous #1 wrestler on the planet with two world titles was out with an injury. But you can bet he’ll be back in time for the opening ceremonies next summer and Kyle will have to go through at least two of the three on his way to the podium. So Gold might be a stretch.

Now if you’re a Kyle fans as I am, I can hear you say, “yea but, he’ll be a year older. Yea but he’ll be more experienced. Yea but he’ll be 12 months more technical and a lot more confident.”

Now that I think about it, you’re right on all counts. So I guess winning it all might not be such a stretch after all. “Go Kyle!”

As to those who didn’t do so well on the freestyle side of things, I think I’d look to those who were responsible for training them? From the cheap seats it appeared that Metcalf hasn’t changed much if at all in 5 years of international competition. He’s so predictable you could do an accurate commentary of his matches 5 seconds ahead of the action. So it wouldn’t be too hard for foreign coaches to devise a tactical plan to derail everything he’s trying to accomplish.

Now before I get crushed on social media for that comment, I want to say I like Brent and I loved watching him as a collegian but nothing’s changed in the way he wrestles. I’d parallel that to the Patriots knowing the opposing team’s plays before the snap of the ball.

So the question is; why haven’t our coaches a) forced Brent to develop at a bare minimum two new set-ups for his high crotch and b) a secondary takedown that will automatically be there when his first attack is blocked? Then there’s the question of why he seems to c) wrestle in every event he can find?

If you study what the best in the world do, they don’t compete near as much as you might think, which is in opposition to our domestic philosophy on individual development.

But the fact is, the more you enter tournaments the greater the odds are of a) getting banged up; especially given the achievement level of the competition you’re taking on, b) the more video tape opportunities you provide the opposition so they can dissect every new thing you just added to your offense and c) it’s so tough to peak in world competition when you’re trying to do it multiple times each year.

There should only be one, maybe two times a year when an athlete really needs to “get up” and I don’t have to outline which tournaments they are.

JB actually doesn’t wrestle that much, especially overseas. Sadulaev went to 2 international events last year and had a total of 12 matches in the same number of months. This is how elite athletes prepare for events so they will arrive uninjured and invigorated with a few new tricks in their attack bag.

Now this philosophy isn’t the best case scenario for second liners. They have to grab whatever experience they can if they ever hope to reach that next level. But once you’re there, the work shifts over to fine tuning your craft, staying healthy and not being seen very often while your mental batteries are recharging.

Hebert is in the same boat as Brent, he’s tough enough to win it all but that head down swing single which took him to the finals of the world’s 6 years ago became obsolete after the semi-finals 6 years ago. It wasn’t too hard for the competition to figure him out after a few rounds and that’s exactly what happened. He didn’t seem to have a Plan B when Plan A broke down.

In either case, someone or something has to be wrong. Either the athletes refuse to learn, which I can’t believe is the case, or someone isn’t being persuasive enough to force them to change. The other possibility is they don’t have anyone around them who has figured it out yet.

As to the event itself . . . whoever USAWrestling put in charge of organization should receive a Gold Medal level atta-boy! The arena was functional, well set-up and there were very few line-of-sight issues for the 6500 fans that came to the freestyle finals. I could only wish the NCAA would be that concerned about spectator enjoyment.

As to the number of those in the stands, all the event could manage to attract, held in the city of fun and diversions was half of what many of the state high school championships draw each March. The finals of the Greco-Roman Championships might have attracted 2500 and the number they had for their wrestle-backs you could have used a match box to count; and still have some matches left over.

This isn’t as much a weakness of USAWrestling, although they do have a history of not being able to draw well, as it is about the way the sport of wrestling markets itself. But that’s not the case in Iran. For the World Cups this year in Los Angeles the Iranian faithful outnumbered Americans. It was so bad that a member of the Iranian delegation asked one of the event organizers; “what’s wrong with America, no fans?”

As to the awards ceremonies in Las Vegas, they were well done even if Colorado Springs did a) get one of the national anthems wrong (oops) and b) by having scantily clad and might I add very buxom show girls help with the awards ceremony it appeared they weren’t being very politically correct.

If the male wrestlers had an opportunity to ogle their surroundings, why wouldn’t USAWrestling have gotten 3 Chippendale’s to hand out medals for the ladies? I’d like to be able to claim that I noticed it right away but I overheard several women who were sitting near me mention it first.

Could this be a continuance of the “war on women” that the UWW and USAW have a history of perpetuating? This particular slight is not an “OMG, I can’t believe they did that” but it does suggest that when Colorado Springs decides issues there are few who are there asking gender equality questions. Fellows . . . the IOC is watching.

Now I know we can’t do this but if it would be possible I’d support a rule where if you can’t get to the quarters finals of the worlds in three tries, you have to sit the next year and give someone else an opportunity. Staying with a person who for whatever reason isn’t getting the job done only keeps others who might rise to the occasion from developing.

Now I don’t want to diminish the positive feelings each of us took home after watching four of our own win Gold Medals. But the fact that we ended up 7th in the world with 2 champs and a Bronze out of 8 weights in freestyle should say something about how poorly we did as a whole. And this was a home match, in our strongest discipline, with probably 90% of those in the stands cheering for the red, white and blue. And we still only managed 7th?

As a parallel; when Russia hosted the World Championships in 2010 and there were only 7 weight classes, they claimed 4 Gold’s, 2 Silver’s and 1 Bronze.

Were you aware that if you add up the total populations of all the countries that placed ahead of us in Vegas that the United States has as many people? Were you aware that we have more wrestling rooms in America than any other country on the planet? That we have more wrestlers competing than in any other country, that we have better nutrition and better sports medicine and more money to spend on wrestling than any country in the world. Yet with all this the best our leadership can manage is 7th place, at home, in our flagship discipline?

A close friend and someone who is well respected in the sport told me privately last week, “our brand is dead” as far as being a world power is concerned. I’d like to say I was shocked to hear him say that but I wasn’t; it’s been apparent for quite some time.

Sure, we have those occasional super stars that regardless of what USAWrestling does, they can’t keep them from winning. But they are also the same ones who hurt our programming through their successes. Only when we fall completely on our faces will the general membership at USAWrestling begin to make noise. 7th place folks; for an event that was held on our own soil, with favorable officiating.

Were you aware that all three of our freestyle medalists aren’t residents of the Olympic Training Center where the entire Greco Roman team lives? I wonder what conclusions could be drawn from that?

Some of you might wonder why I write what I do when “if you don’t have something nice to say, you shouldn’t say anything at all.” Well, I find that when I don’t write, nothing changes and if I do write, very little changes. But very little is so much more than nothing at all.

I just happen to believe that what we’re seeing in the Presidential debates needs to happen in wrestling; a yearning to throw the rascals out. The electorate is so upset with the status quo and the feeling that no one is listening that the top 3 republican candidates have never held a political office. Maybe our full time politicians need to go as well.

This is how much I love the sport. I’ll duck as many arrows as I need to in order to get as many messages out as I can.

Wrestling as a Restaurant

I began to talk about this in How Wrestling Wins but I wanted to revisit it. For its wrestling’s skeleton, the framework that supports the challenge we have of making the sport relevant.

Think for a moment, you just bought a failing restaurant at a good price. You’ve always wanted to be in the food industry and the stars were aligned to make it happen. What now?

The first step in any business with challenges is to determine why the enterprise failed? Actually it should have been done before the contracts were signed. You needed to see if the problems the restaurant had could be fixed and then at what price? The best way to start this process is to employ a marketing company to survey those who live in the vicinity of the restaurant to find out what the problems are? Why didn’t the locals patronize the establishment or if they did, what happened that caused them not to return?

Wrestling for whatever reason hasn’t done that and I’m confused as to the why? We’re failing in an entertainment industry that’s booming with dollars, spectator appeal and an endless growth curve. Yet our leadership is either 1) fearful of what they might find with a survey, 2) are unknowing of simple business practices that leads up to doing a survey or possibly 3) so fanatically competitive that they don’t want to know what’s wrong. But not knowing the basis of our decline is the basis for our decline. I hope that makes sense?

If you don’t know what’s broken, how can you expect to fix it? And if I were to venture a guess, I think it’s a little of all three I mentioned with strong emphasis on the last one; fanatical competitiveness.

The sport simply doesn’t allow any one individual or organization to fix that which ails us. No one in power wants to see a counterpart let alone someone from outside their inner circle receive credit for putting the train back on the track.

It’s an interesting dynamic, organization against organization, power broker against power broker all in an attempt to protect each ones piece of the pie.

Yet each will passionately indicate they’re all on board with strengthening the sport but the only way that will happen is through the creation of commissions where everyone is involved. That’s what we’ve always done and it’s the only way they can minimize the paranoia they feel about their counterparts gaining power.

If you look back in our history, you’ll see quite a few examples of our organizations getting together with great fanfare for the purpose of making a difference. Then a business cycle or two later without great fanfare someone wonders aloud, “what ever happened to that group?”

The answer is they seldom if ever reach consensus on anything. Their fanatical competitiveness, which in one way makes wrestling a wonderful developmental sport for our young men and women, sadly becomes the basis for the sports failures.

Each leader starts with enthusiastic intent to raise the bar but the obsessive will to win derails the discussions. The individual instinct to succeed overrides logic just as emotion overrides logic. This outcome occurs because the sport teaches us to find weaknesses in our opponents and then exploit them so the focus of meetings isn’t to find a way to make a proposal work but rather, to find its weaknesses so they can be pointed out at the expense of the proposal.

That’s what we do in wrestling, we’ve been taught you either get the takedown or you don’t, we don’t have a mechanism in place for an athlete to receive a point for a great attempt or a point and a half if it’s almost successful. We live in a sport of all or nothing. That’s how we’ve been trained and it’s why we always look for a 100% fix of something when deciding to make a change. We’re not interested in an 87% solution, even if the current challenge we’re trying to fix is performing at 54%.

This is why the sport desperately needs outside help from individuals who can see the merits of certain change that might not be perfect but considerably better than what we have. This is the how and why we’ve been stumbling through decades of decline and it’s tough to blame any one individual or organization; although at times I do when it’s too obvious to overlook. Each one of us is a product of our environment, and that’s the proverbial good news-bad news story of wrestling.

The result of this fanatical competitiveness is my restaurant analogy. If the quality of the food receives strong marks in a survey but cockroaches can be seen scurrying about the dining room during the day the fix is easy; call Terminix. But you wouldn’t overlook the infestation and then paint the walls, buy different table cloths and hold a grand opening.

That’s sort of how wrestling approaches challenges. Leadership doesn’t ignore problems, they just don’t know what the problems are? And even if they did, they don’t have a clue which ones to tackle first.

That’s how we approach everything and it’s like shooting at a target in the dark. Sometimes you hit the mark but most of the time you miss the paper. When we don’t have data or an assessable analysis, we’re playing blind man’s bluff.

Now occasionally we do get it right. As an example, the rules committee did good when it enacted the one foot in bounds for takedowns rule and the one where pins can occur with the defensive man’s shoulders out of bounds. As much as I celebrate those changes, good job guys, in the big picture they’re small alterations, similar to handing buckets out to passenger’s on the Titanic.

What wrestling needs before we do anything else is a survey to find out what the sporting community thinks, not what our leadership tells us OR our current spectators feel. Basically, what we’ve done by our actions or inaction has us where we are today.

And talking about blunders, something a marketing company would immediately point out as being a huge error on our parts is the notion that television is the way to go.

Nothing could be further from the truth because . . .

Television doesn’t make anything popular; it only makes it public.

What do you think about inviting the local television station to attend your restaurants Grand Opening? If you think that’s a good idea, raise your hand. Go on, don’t be shy, put your hand in the air. We’ve been doing that for decades, exactly what leadership has told us we need to do.

Okay, let’s go back to the cockroaches for a moment and ask that same question again. If you hadn’t called Terminix and television showed up and the entire city got to watch those little creatures sharing a meal alongside the patrons what do you think the fallout would be?

Television doesn’t make anything popular; it only makes it public.

Being broadcast is the last thing wrestling needs right now, that is until we make the sport engaging enough to become entertaining and user friendly enough to be a pleasant way to spend 2 hours.

It’s my assessment, and granted this is my opinion, that every time a wrestling event is aired, we lose far, far, far more potential spectators than we attract because the sport, our product, is grossly inferior to what’s currently out there in the marketplace.

What does it say to those who are channel surfing when they stumble onto the World Team Trials or Pan American Championships and see a venue that has five empty seats for every one that’s occupied?

Why is it our leadership never seems to understand the absolute need to control the environment when events are being broadcast. Spectators should be required to fill the lower bowl on one side of the gym opposite the cameras before other seats become available. This is so Marketing 101 that it’s boggles my mind why wrestling doesn’t get it?

If I were wrong about how bad wrestling is as a spectator sport, broadcasters would be paying us to air our events instead of the reverse. And America’s businesses would be lining up to become sponsors and spend their advertising dollars on our sport. In the absence of any of this, leadership keeps paying broadcasters and we keep declining.

To summarize, television does not have a place in wrestling’s immediate future; until we improve the product.

Back to the restaurant; if you found out through the survey that the quality of the food was the source of the businesses decline, what would you do first, advertise or hire a new chef? The answer is daa, you’d never recover if you advertised first. And that’s exactly what we’ve been doing and wondering why we’re still declining.

The only way we can possible get better is to find out what’s wrong in the sport and that’s through surveys not of our coaches or athletes, or our current spectators but of the general population. That’s the only way to assess the sports strengths and weaknesses, by asking the right kind of questions of those who aren’t currently involved in our sport.

Now I’ve heard hundreds of suggestions for improvement over the years from the wrestling community. Many of them are outstanding ideas but few if any fall into the category of initial must-dos. Putting the cart before the horse or holding an open house before the arrival of Terminix doesn’t work.

If you want to know what I think should be first, read the last two How Wrestling Wins and if you find them entertaining or insightful, read a couple more.

How Wrestling Wins – Epilogue

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Epilogue

I thought of three more things I would develop in the sport if I were the man in charge holding the magic wand. Please add these to your “let me think about it” list.

  1. The team who forfeits a weight class also forfeits any say in the order of bouts for the evening and the choice of position at the beginning of the second AND third periods. That will get the coaches attention. Forfeits are that bad for the sport and should be penalized as such.
  2. Simplify scoring for our spectators. Make it easy for everyone to remember while placing a stronger emphasis on takedowns. Bout scoring; 4-3-2-1. 4 point nearfalls (1 point for every hand count of the referee up to 4 points), 3 point takedowns, 2 point reversals and 1 point escapes. Penalties are the reverse. 1-2-3-4. 1 point for the first offense, 2 points for the second offense, 3 for the third etc. I don’t know what would happen if an athlete gets hit with a 5th penalty? Maybe we should force him or her to go out for another sport; no one can be that daft.
  3. Lastly, an athlete can’t be saved by the buzzer if he’s on his back. The match continues until a pin occurs OR the athletes leave the mat area OR the official determines one isn’t going to take place.

The sport must stop allowing the tail to wag the dog. That’s the only way wrestling can reengage the spectators we’ve lost over the years and attract ones that have yet to see a meet in person. Wrestling must market itself as “new and improved” if we’re to get the public’s attention and then actually be “new and improved.” Continuing to make small tweaks with the belief that they’ll make a difference is sadly laughable.

 

How Wrestling Wins – Chapter 18

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Chapter 18

Here’s the final chapter of How Wrestling Wins. I hope you’ve enjoyed the read as much as I enjoyed my time trying to infuse logic into the sport. This effort represents 147 pages of text and literally hundreds of hours of critical thinking, mostly with a good glass of scotch in hand so it wasn’t an unpleasant experience.

Unfortunately the sport as we know it is either a product of our leadership’s inability or unwillingness to remain relevant. Either way, the outcome of their ineffectiveness has placed an expiration date on what many administrators think of as a disposable sport.

I can’t believe our nativity; we put our trust in those who control the conversations only to find that they live on another planet. But if there’s good news; we can break free of their gravitational pull anytime we want. It just requires the decision that enough is enough.

Until that happens I will continue to keep you informed of the latest news that’s not being reported. To that point, why is it impossible to find objective information on the state of wrestling?

Granted, the esprit de corps we share among ourselves is one of the sport’s greatest strengths. But it’s also a weakness. We just can’t keep closing our eyes and say good things about the sport while shunning all those who dare to point out that some of our emperors aren’t wearing clothing.

Where are the editorial pages in WIN, Amateur Wrestling News or Wrestling USA that cover the sports shortcomings? If it’s acceptable and also effective for coaches to point out to their athletes by their actions or inactions how they’re stumbling, why shouldn’t our coaches and leadership receive the same scrutiny?

Whether we like it or not, wrestling needs disrupters, educated individuals who can point out which processes need overhauled and what positions need refreshed. Wrestling is in desperate need of fair, balanced and candid conversations. But currently that’s only happening in blogs and face to face conversations when no one else is listening.

We all know that USAWrestling is wonderful but when the United States only has 1 male wrestler that’s ranked in the Top 64 of the world’s best, that’s not very wonderful. So my question is, if performances we can evaluate are that bad, how are they doing in areas that aren’t so transparent?

How many of you were aware statistically of our shortcomings in international competition for the men? Did you know we only have 1 wrestler that’s good enough to make the world’s ranking ladder in either freestyle or Greco-Roman wrestling?

That’s the point. Why haven’t you read about that somewhere? Could it be that it represents exactly how ineffective our national governing body has been for over a decade at fulfilling it’s responsibilities. Not the organization itself or the staff, but leadership.

We’re in so much trouble as a sport yet all we’re ever given to read is made of cotton candy. Where’s the dialogue, the open discussions about areas that aren’t necessarily fun to read but are absolutely imperative that we know? Only when the sport is willing to discuss every challenge that faces it will we be on the road to recovery.

“As a parent of a former youth and now high school wrestler (with no wrestling history in the family), your comments are right on the mark! How can we not adopt your recommendations and hope to survive? Obviously, everything is up for debate, but your blog series is certainly the most well-considered and consolidated list of proposals I have come across. The duals focus, scoring and clothing changes should be adopted immediately. I think the sport deserves that your proposals be tried in a competitive environment before those in denial bash you for your irreverence.”

Jason Phillips, Arlington, TN

Title Sponsors, Strategic Alliances and Giving Back. Any sport that doesn’t have a corporate sponsor is inconsequential and if they haven’t aligned themselves with social causes they’re pretty much irrelevant. That’s wrestling in a nutshell.

Why don’t we have any title sponsors? At least for our NCAA Championships if not the sport in general? Even if we have to give them away to get relationships started, which I doubt we’d have to do, wrestling needs the clout that a Coca-Cola, or Chevrolet, or VISA brings to the table.

Having relationships with powerful corporations is a game changer. It moves societies’ perception of whomever they partner with from irrelevant to prominent.

The perplexing part of all this is it isn’t hard to do. There are companies out there that specialize in marrying sports and sponsors. This is why the National Wrestling Association (first discussed in Chapter 5) or the IFW (discussed later in this blog) is so important. Because wrestling doesn’t have an overarching organization that can speak for the sport like you see with the NFL, Major League Baseball, the NBA or NHL. Sponsorships aren’t hard to come by but each company needs to have someone to meet with that represents the sport. Who currently speaks for us, Rich Bender? Mike Moyer? Lee Roy Smith? Jack Roller? The answer is no one; each of those individuals are only responsible for the organizations they represent.

That’s probably our largest challenge; wrestling doesn’t have an overarching organization that can speak for the entire sport. Wall Street level companies aren’t interested in meeting with the heads of subset groups. Each of our organizations is too small for anyone to be bothered with, but as a unified sport wrestling is marketable.  

A few years back we lost a great opportunity when Dave Pottruck, a very passionate retired wrestler/graduate of the University of Pennsylvania was CEO of Charles Schwab. Imagine if someone would have sat down and asked Dave to consider sponsoring wrestling and what such an alignment would have done for the sport. Envision television commercials with video of a wrestler helping a vanquished opponent back to his feet and having his hand raised in victory to the sound bite: “When wrestling with your investments remember Charles Schwab is here make sure you come out on top!”

Name one athletic administrator in America who would dare drop his wrestling program when the sport has AT&T, or Bayer Aspirin, or AutoNation as a national sponsor?

Either the wrestling community can’t see the amazing possibilities that sponsorships provide or they do but would rather be independently obstinate than work together as a team. Pick one, there isn’t an option C.

Regarding strategic alliances and the responsibility of giving back, wrestling as a sport and its individual programs has to begin to give back to others just as we expect to be given. We need to be seen as more than just a sport. We have to think beyond ourselves and share with others our good fortune of having health, happiness, strong mental capacities and an immense internal drive.

No matter the age of our athletes, where they’re from or the team they represent, each program must find ways to make a difference for society. We need to be known as “America’s Give Back Sport.”

Serving food at homeless shelters would work; reading books to hospitalized children is another. Donating time to an animal shelter or assisting at a senior citizen’s center are a few other possibilities. Coaches might consider adopting a highway close to their school or helping the local Red Cross with their annual blood mobile drive; or creating relationships with organizations like United Way or UNICEF.

Think of the cumulative benefits wrestling would receive when the sport combined its efforts for social good, not to mention how those we serve benefit. All anyone has to do is look around in their community; there are oodles of feel good, do good causes that could use our help.

This is so important because 84% of Americans have a more positive image of a company or group when it supports those who are less fortunate, be that a local charity or national cause. Nearly 90% of those surveyed said it was important that organizations come together for the purpose of solving pressing social issues and regarding the business side of things, 79% of Americans indicate they would likely switch from one product brand to another one if it was associated with a cause they believed in.

For wrestling in general, the Wounded Warrior Project seems to be a natural fit given the number of military personnel that were and are wrestlers and of course the great service the group does for those who give up a part of their tomorrow’s so we can have all of our todays. And ironically, the Wounded Warrior Project’s logo is one soldier carrying another over his shoulder in a double leg.

The American Red Cross would also work and regardless of the one or ones we choose, developing a reciprocal relationship with these sorts of companies would strengthen the public’s image of wrestling. When we work together, wrestlers and companies, wrestlers and local charities, each group exceeds the sum of its parts.

Can you name any major corporation who doesn’t look for this type of global synergy? The Walt Disney Company partners with the United Way because it’s good business and helpful to society. Microsoft supports the Boys and Girls Clubs of America, Procter and Gamble’s has been affiliated with UNICEF for decades and the list is endless. The time has come for the sport of wrestling to become one under the IFW banner so it can speak for the sport in matters of sponsorships, charities, causes and our overall health. No one else can do it to the level they can.

“Awesome! Tradition is one thing, but it’s time our sport evolves. Very well said Wade!”

Chesty Franks, Fairfax, Virginia

Develop a philosophy and consumer first attitude that puts spectators before coaches, athletes and the sports leadership. Too often those of us in wrestling have either forgotten or haven’t been taught the importance of the spectator; not by our words but through our actions. The sport doesn’t think twice about allowing coaches, athletes and non-working officials to crowd around mats at events so they can watch the action while forgetting that the sport has paying spectators who are in the stands who would like to see something other than the backs of those who are inconsiderate.

And God help the event director who tries to ask those who feel special to politely find seats. He’s met with such distain and hostility and feelings of entitlement that the logic behind this is beyond words. “We’ll stand where we want!”

Coaches don’t look at spectators as being the sports life blood or they wouldn’t schedule dual meet team tournaments, Quadangular’s or even Triangular’s that last the better part of a day. But they do anyway because they want matches for their wrestlers more than they care about revenue production. Then they’re absolutely shocked when their administrators drop the sport as a result of their selfish thought processes and expenses overshadowing income.

If those who buy tickets were actually important the coaches would insist that the NCAA develop a consumer management team whose sole responsibility is to evaluate their events from a spectator’s point of view. They would begin by developing a line-of-sight directive that promises spectators will not miss one moment of action due to poor placement of mats, clocks, tables, chairs, the media, coaches or medical personnel. They need to designate the middle two mats at tournaments as tennis’s equivalent of “Center Court” where the highest ranked wrestlers would be assigned their matches. Silly me but I happen to believe we should showcase those that are known for exceptional performances?

If spectators were important, all events would have at least one concession stand open at every competition and begin the event on time, as advertised. They’d have cheerleaders, programs and most importantly to our female guests, lavatories that are unlocked, clean and maintained throughout the event.

The sport would half halftimes with entertainment and we’d discontinue time-consuming pre-match lineups and introductions. Any information the spectators need to learn about a wrestler they can read in the program or hear an abbreviated version of from the announcer as the athletes begin their match.

There’s no question in my mind that each of you could add quite a few suggestions to this spectator comes first list. It’s really a sad state of affairs when we don’t have those who should know better overseeing what we do.

Basically, if you want spectators you have to have something they want to see. If you want to produce revenue you need spectators to buy tickets, eat concession stand food and purchase program merchandise. If you want corporate sponsors, you need to be able to demonstrate the level of support you enjoy as a result of your spectator numbers. If you want broadcast media and the press to be in attendance you have to have spectators and sponsors. Without spectators, sponsors, media and press; you don’t have a sport. It’s pretty basic.

“While most of the folks involved with wrestling act like non swimmers about to go under for the last time, you throw them a life preserver. BRAVO WADE!!”

James Hagen, Oregon State Alumni

Allow athletes to “Double Up” 3 times a year. (Chapter 7) Wrestling needs to create a lot more heroes and legends like baseball has done with Babe Ruth, boxing with Joe Louis and Mohammad Ali and basketball with legends such as Bill Russell and Michael Jordan. We need to find ways to make our stars just as well known to the general public as the other sports have done. Here’s my suggestion of accomplishing that . . .

I hope you’re sitting down for this addition to Wade’s Way of revitalizing the sport.

Wrestling should seriously consider allowing wrestlers to compete in two weight classes during a dual meet; but no more than 3 times a season.

Yes, you read that right, it’s called Doubling Up. I’m sure it’ll create as much buzz with the media and our fans as it is doing in your head right now. Doubling Up would be huge for the sport and here’s how.

Just think how many people would buy a ticket to the Cleveland Cavaliers when LeBron James was playing if they knew he was only going to be in the game for seven minutes? How about a similar question regarding Rhonda Rousey? How many of you would have paid $250.00 for a ticket to her last championship fight if you knew it was only going to last 14 seconds?

Both answers are obvious, so why is it acceptable that we keep our franchise athletes on the bench for 90% of a dual meet; or worse yet 95% of the evening’s event given these stars seldom wrestle half a match before ending it with a pin or a technical fall?

In business you wouldn’t pull your best salesman off the road after the first hour of the day and you can’t win the hearts of spectators when your flagship athletes spends 95% of the evening on the bench. If we want to develop hero’s and legends that the media will pick up on, what better way than to have David Taylor go out and decision Oklahoma’s Tyler Caldwell and Andrew Howell back to back. Wouldn’t that be worthy of a feature article in Sports Illustrated and then a guest appearance on ESPN’s Outside the Lines?

So why not; please don’t say it’s a safety issue. You have to be kidding!

If wrestlers are as tough as we tell everyone they are, that we’re in better shape than any other athlete on the planet, how can football and soccer players go for 2-hours, marathon runners for 26 miles and wrestlers for “safety sake” can only wrestle 7 minutes?

How many matches do coaches make their team wrestle every day in practice back to back to back to back without a break? No one has ever died from 45 minutes of non-stop wrestling and I’d bet medical evidence would show nothing but positive effects from those cardio-vascular experiences. So how bad can 14 minutes of competition be when it’s less than a third of what wrestlers go through every day in practice and its one minute less than the length of an undercard bout in the UFC.

I realize what I’m professing here violates our sports rule relative to the 30 minute rest period. But let me ask, “Who came up with 30 minutes in the first place?” I don’t mean the organization, what was the name of the person who saddled us with that number? I’d like to challenge him to produce any medical documentation that supports what he’s made us live with for decades. I’d be willing to bet he can’t and I have a strong feeling he just made the number up.

Sometimes it’s really tough to understand how completely obstinate the wrestling community can be about almost everything we do or things that are suggested and Doubling Up will be just another example. Yet they never question that which is already etched in stone regardless if it makes no sense at all and will fight to the death anyone who suggests something different. Folks; Doubling Up is nothing new in sports so let’s not ruffle our rooster tails. It happens in tennis where an exceptional athlete can represent his team in both singles and doubles competition. Track and Field and Swimming and Diving allow their athletes to participate in 4 different events per meet.

In Olympic competition, any athlete may participate in as many sports AND events as he or she can qualify for; there is no limit!

Football players are allowed to go both ways and play non-stop for the entire 2 hours if they’re good enough. But we have to worry about our athletes because they’re delicate wall flowers who can only manage 7 minutes of activity before having to sit down and rest. Are you kidding me; even basketball players are allowed to go non-stop for 2 hours. That should be enough said; making our athletes sit down to rest is simply laughable!

As to the reason behind limiting our athletes to Double Up only 3 times a season, I worry that coaches would be tempted to abuse the rule and take advantage of lesser athletes in their lineup who are a weight class above their team’s best wrestlers. Continually bumping young men out of the lineup after they’ve earned a varsity spot is wrong on so many levels.

Other solid reasons for Doubling Up are obviously the strategic value. Think how exciting it would be, all the decisions that coaches would have to make and all the tactical options that spectators get to discuss? Should Coach Robinson put Ness in for a second time and use one of his 3 Double Ups given Minnesota is down by 4 points with just 3 matches left? Or should Jay hold him back with the knowledge that he has Penn State, Iowa and Ohio State still on their schedule where he might be needed more? There are so many possibilities and strategies here that it becomes nirvana for armchair quarterbacks and a blessing for the shrewdest of coaches.

Doubling Up would also reduce forfeits; coaches would now have the option to push a wrestler up a weight class after competing in the lower one to fill a void they have in their lineup. Or we might even consider making it mandatory that any team who is surrendering a weight class must use the athlete directly below that weight to avoid the forfeit. Obviously such a rule wouldn’t fix a forfeit in the first weight class but anytime you can fix over 90% of a problem, why wouldn’t you?

Regarding the fine print; athletes can only move up and wrestle one weight class above their certified weight and when you think about it, how often will an athlete actually wrestle back to back matches? Given that both coaches can jumble the weight class order as you’ll read about next, I would imagine those who are doubling up would get a chance to rest at least 10 if not 30 minutes before being called back into battle. But if that doesn’t happen so what, either we are or aren’t the toughest athletes on the planet?

Alternate weight classes back and forth throughout dual meets. (Chapter 7) This is what makes Doubling Up so exciting, interesting and strategic; alternating weight classes. But not in the way you’re used to seeing. There will still be a flip of a coin before the meet with the winning coach selecting the first weight class to be contested. But after that bout ends the other coach gets to select the second weight class and back and forth it goes throughout the dual.

The twist that makes this so strategic for coaches and fun for the spectator is no one knows, other than the coach whose turn it is to select, which weight is going to wrestle next.

Think of the tactical value of who goes out on the mat next? Does the coach whose turn it is to select send his best wrestler out to stop the momentum the opposing team has built up or hold him in reserve for later? What weight class does a coach use after Logan Stieber just finished winning a close match against one of his better wrestlers? Should he jump a couple of weight classes and get Logan off the mat. Or should he challenge him with his 149 pounder while he’s somewhat fatigued or are the Buckeyes even going to use Logan a second time in this dual? Maybe the coach should jump to 197 pounds and try and take advantage of the one athlete on the other team’s bench who hasn’t been warming up? The possibilities are endless and that’s exactly what spectators love to see and argue the benefits of or stupidity regarding.

Do you see where this could go? Similar to military strategy, where and when do you attack; how do you take advantage of actual or perceived weaknesses in the opposing teams line up and which asset of yours do you throw into battle next?

These two alterations to the rules are so outstanding that they should be adopted automatically without debate.

Relative to our spectators, can you imagine the variety of opinions they’ll come up with regarding which weight should go next and what athlete should Double Up? This is so important to attracting and keeping new spectators. The more we compound the number of strategies that coaches have available to them the more we correspondingly engage those who are sitting in the stands. It’s important that we give the spectators the ability to outthink, at least in their minds, the coaches whose decisions determine the evening’s outcome. Armchair quarterbacks are a great thing in sports.

As to the naysayers, most will claim that not knowing what weight is going to go next isn’t fair to the opposing athlete. Why isn’t it fair? Anytime you make changes that are uniformly applied to all, then by definition, it’s fair to all. In basketball, doesn’t the coach yell down the bench, “Harris, get in there for Bradshaw!” Harris then says, “yes coach” and in he goes; no warm-up, no prior warning. The same happens in football, soccer and baseball. Seldom do athletes who are substituting for others know when they’re going to head into battle. Only in wrestling do we feel our athletes are so fragile that they need to be forewarned. There’s simply no physiological reason why this rule is bad and only because “we’ve never done it that way before” doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do it.

Forfeits are arsenic to wrestling’s growth. (Chapter 9) There is little question that the sport must fix the issue of forfeits. There should be an exceptionally heavy consequence beyond 6 points for a team who can’t find a body to fill a weight class.

I’m sorry but I just don’t believe a team doesn’t have or can’t find someone to wrestle. It’s the coach who doesn’t want to take the time to find someone knowing a lesser replacement is probably going to get pinned anyway so why bother? I simply don’t believe any coach who says he can’t find someone to wrestle.

If the rules committee wanted to, they could pass legislation tomorrow that would stop all forfeits. All they’d have to do is say the team who forfeits a weight class also forfeits the dual meet. The individual matches would be still wrestled but the team outcome is already decided. I realize that might be a tad much to ask of the rules committee to swallow but the point is forfeits are that damaging to the sport. And if you think about it, there are other sports that already handle events that way and have similar rules; games are simply not played unless both teams have full lineups.

If the rules committee would adopt such a rule, I believe it would take coaches maybe 14 seconds to find someone they could insert into their lineup. The point is if something is worth doing, legislation can accomplish it as long as the penalty is greater than the benefit of breaking the rule is advantageous. If I were handed a magic rule producing wand, I’d handle this as I wrote in the section on team scoring, forfeits would be 15 points and a pin 10 points. Penalties always have to be stiffer than the benefits of ignoring them.

It’s important to remind everyone that when there’s a forfeit, the offending coach is basically breaching a legal contract spectators have with the host school to provide a set number of matches for the price of admission. Go to a football game and you’re promised, and receive 4 quarters of action. 9 innings in baseball and 3 quarters plus several fights in hockey. But in wrestling we’re allowed to cheat our spectators and do it regularly along with a “so what” attitude.

There must be additional costs beyond a 6 point penalty for those who forfeit. Wrestling cannot grow as a sport when we knowingly choose to shortchange customers. That behavior tears at the basic tenet of customer service and to think it’s somehow okay is to be sadly mistaken.

“I wanted to let you know how impressed I’ve been with what you’ve written. I was ready to see what you had to say as short sighted, but to my surprise it wasn’t! The challenge will be in the execution of your plan and if you need help, count me in.”  

Doug Mitchell, PA  

Create a new way of starting matches from standing and in the down positions. (Chapter 9) I believe we should eliminate all starting lines. We need to reduce the number of cautions that spectators endure and minimize the amount of time it takes referee’s to get matches started.

I understand the reasoning behind cautions and they are necessary for pre-mature starts but we need to find ways to speed everything up while adding strategic interplay.

In the standing position, as long as the two athletes are somewhere close to the middle of the mat, facing one another and ready to defend themselves the referee should blow his whistle. International wrestling has done this for as far back as I can remember (which is decades) and it definitely shortens the time it takes to complete a match. Having to stand with one foot on a colored line is nothing more than time consuming drool that kills spectator appeal.

I have to believe that referees would not only agree but do backflips if this passed because they hate cautions more than spectators dislike having to endure them.

To help clarify this, athletes in the standing position can be 2 feet away from one another or 6 feet away. As long as they are facing one another, somewhere inside the 12 foot circle and ready to go the match should start. This is so easy to administer and it’s worked for decades very successfully internationally so what’s the issue?

Relative to down wrestling I have to warn you the following proposal is off the charts even for me but I still love it.

The bottom man in the defensive position can assume any position he wishes, as long as both his hands and knees are touching the mat. He can crouch down if he wishes, lie on his belly if he wants, put his hands next to his knees or learn back and place his hands next to his ankles with his chest pointing up if that’s what floats his boat. Any position is legal as long as his hands and knees are touching the mat. And no, nothing has to be 12 inches apart.

To start the match after the bottom man is set, the top man places the palms of his hands on any part of the defensive man’s body. And as it is in international wrestling, as soon as the palms of the offensive man touch his opponent, the match should start.

As to the placement of those hands, the offensive man could put them on his opponents back like you see in freestyle and Greco-Roman wrestling, or on the underside of each ankle, or both palms on his opponent’s chest or one on an arm and the other somewhere on his opponent’s neck. There are no off limits except the obvious eyes, nose, throat, mouth and certain boy parts.

As to the positioning of the offensive man’s body, he could be on one knee or both. He could be standing behind his opponent or off to one side or in front of him. He could even straddle him like he’s riding a horse if he wanted as long as the only thing that’s touching the down wrestler when the referee starts the match are the palms of his hands.

What’s so special about all these possible starting positions is the myriad of offensive and defensive opportunities that are created; not to mention the dozens of new strategies they present? The silent buzz coming from the stands over this would be deafening.

As to the athletes themselves, this allows them to devise their own unique styles and individual plans of attack and subsequent counters for the expected and unexpected. What great fun this rule would be to watch develop with the obvious benefit of less cautions and shorter dual meets.

Starting positions should be creative and give athletes complete control over their destiny. We don’t tell wrestlers how to stand in the up position or mandate that they wrestle solely in the down position so why is it acceptable to tell them how they need to get set? Each athlete should be allowed to be innovative and resourceful, the fans would love it.

New and Improved; the sport must find ways to generate enough revenue to engage the equivalent of a New York City advertising firm for the purpose of developing a national marketing campaign for wrestling. This should be the job of the National Wrestling Association to do, which doesn’t exist yet or the International Fraternity of Wrestlers which does because no one else has it on their plate.

For those who haven’t heard of the IFW (www.ifwrestlers.org), it’s a relatively new nonpartisan, membership driven organization whose goal is to strengthen the wrestling community by fighting for the issues that matter most to our survival.

It’s to wrestling what the AARP is to retired people and the NRA is to gun owners. Everyone who has ever wrestled, coached or officiated is eligible to join, and should because someone has to become the marketing and promotional arm for wrestling and either the NWA or the IFW is the logical choice. But neither can be accomplished without YOU.

Besides our individual efforts, the sport has to actually become New and Improved if we’re to survive. Wrestling needs to do things vastly different than they’ve been doing. Whether it’s incorporating a few of my suggestions or someone else’s; the point is substantial change is required for a national marketing campaign to be successful. The public must be made aware of our existence and then become curious enough by what we’ve done to check us out.

We need to focus on changing as many aspects of wrestling as we can that affects action, supports our New and Improved claim and places the spectator above all else. The more we can do to convince the public that wresting is undergoing change the better chance we have of actual change.

I hope you can see how all of this is tied together? One part without others is the same as building a boat but forgetting to add a helm or make its exterior water tight.  

It’s time to lose the name Amateur Wrestling. It’s not the word wrestling that bothers me, it’s the use of the word amateur that according to Thesaurus means substandard, clumsy, crude, inept, unprofessional. They’re not the type of words an advertising agency would select to work with if given a choice.

So before we spend a lot of money on our New and Improved marketing campaign, the word amateur has to disappear forever. We should all say when people ask us what sport we participated in; we should simply say wrestling. It’s a small but yet powerful change because there’s nothing amateur about what we do on the mats just as there’s nothing professional about what the WWE does other than the way they handle marketing, promotions, customer service and deposits.

We need to think of ourselves as wrestlers, not amateur wrestlers.

Marketing outside of the sport. There isn’t a time when wrestlers get together that we don’t talk about the greatness of the sport. From its historical significance of Gilgamesh and Jacob wrestling an angel to Abe Lincoln.

But if we’re to become special in other people’s eyes, we have to make a concerted effort to tell those outside of wrestling about our specialness. That’s where the IFW comes into play and why I’d like to ask each of you to become members. No one else in wrestling is set up to market the sport like the IFW.

“First let me say, “How Wrestling Wins” is inspired. I have not been able to stop reading. Having just read the chapter regarding parity and the previous chapters regarding dropping tournaments and focusing on duals you couldn’t be more right.”

Brian McGuinty

Create a Wrestlers in Business Network group in your area. If wrestling is ever to climb back into relevance as a sport it must identify each one of its challenges and find ways to address them collectively.

One such challenge is to find a way of reengaging hundreds of thousands of men and women who wrestled at one time but have since moved on in their professional careers. Wrestler’s in Business is the answer.

Led by the very capable John Licata, WIB has grown tremendously over the last two years to become the preeminent business organization for wrestling with chapters in over a dozen states.

Similar to a community service club, the WIBN offers its members the opportunity to make valuable contacts and long-term friendships with others of similar backgrounds. The WIBN is the ideal word-of-mouth organization for those looking to generate additional activity in their own businesses.

What makes the WIBN different from other networking groups who are completely donor based is they ask their members to consider the sport when they benefit from their relationships within the group.

On the sport side, the organizations main goal is to support the various wrestling programs in each chapter’s geographical area. They accomplish that by offering each program a political umbrella of professional support while mentoring coaches who request help in areas they might not have a lot of expertise.

Recently the sport was successful in getting the wrestling program at Cleveland State reinstated and it was the WIBN who through the use of their collective skill sets swayed the discussions in our favor.

You owe it to the sport to read more about Wrestler’s In Business and consider becoming a member or starting a chapter in your area. The sport needs the help, it needs your support; you’re our most valuable asset. www.wrestlersinbusiness.org

In closing; I’d like to thank each of you for supporting How Wrestling Wins regardless of your personal or political views. The whole effort has been personally rewarding and hugely successful with over 600,000 unique hits in the last 6 months. Just knowing you care enough to endure my thoughts tells me the sport has a chance.

But survival means we have to stop fighting one another over the sports ever shrinking pie and decide on a course of action. Wrestling may be an individual sport but as long as we allow individuals with specific agendas to administer it, there won’t be but crumbs left in a couple of years.

I’ll leave you with this; what’s true isn’t always believable, and what’s believable isn’t always true. So question all you hear and believe half of what you see. That way you’ll be close to right 50% of the time.

How Wrestling Wins – Chapter 17

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Chapter 17

When you combine the following baseline changes and short synopsis of why each is important with last week’s Chapter 16, you have the future of wrestling. But remember, none of what I’m espousing is perfect and I implore you not to get caught up in the finite minutia. Each of us can find things we don’t like about any of these proposals and why we’ve always failed. I understand nothing’s perfect, but the question we should ask ourselves is; do these recommendations move the bar significantly higher than it is now? I believe it moves it appreciably more than significantly and by the time you’re done reading I hope I’ve convinced you to the point that you agree.

You have to understand, your opinion doesn’t count any more than mine does. Even if the rule book said all athletes had to wear pink leotards and matches were going to be decided by riding time we’re still going to watch wrestling because we’re die-hards. We love the sport and what is does for America’s youth. So what I’m focusing on here and is a responsibility that I take seriously is the creation of an atmosphere that will attract the 10 million potential fans that wrestling currently doesn’t have. For they are the ones given our declining numbers that will pull us from the jaws of defeat.

So here we go, here are some of the initial changes I’d make if I were calling the shots and why. The remaining ones you’ll be able to read in my final chapter of How Wrestling Wins that will post next week.

Scholarships need to be reduced to 7.9 from 9.9 or I like even more keeping scholarships at the 9.9 level but make them tuition only. The latter is a far superior option if cost containment is the goal. Either way, pick one but the important thing to remember is we must start controlling expenses and each of these two options do three things. 1) Athletic administrators will applaud the reality of our vision while it 2) Creates greater parity within the sport. Now I can’t prove 3) But I believe a reduction in the maximum number of scholarships will actually increase the total number of scholarships that are available to the sport. There has to be 3 times more mid-level programs that currently have 4 to 7 scholarships than there are fully funded ones at 9.9. That being said, how many of those mid-level programs would add a scholarship or two to become fully funded when they can’t possibly reach 9.9? I hope I’m right here but even if I’m not, reducing scholarships is still something we have to do. Remember what happened when football reduced scholarships from 120 to 100 to 85? Before those reductions took place who ever thought that it was possible for the Baylor’s, Oregon’s, Boise State’s, Mississippi and Mississippi State’s of the world to become title contenders? The thought of reducing scholarship numbers certainly creates debate but it also broadens the sports power base to the chagrin of those who are part of the nation’s top programs. But what’s good for the sport and the masses has to take precedent over what’s best for the powerful elite.

The start of the season needs to move from November to January. (Chapter 10) This proposal isn’t new, it’s been debated for decades and during that time I’ve never heard one good reason why we shouldn’t change the season other than a few self-serving ones or the old stand-by; “it’s not the way we’ve done it in the past.” Without putting much thought to it I can come up with at least a half-dozen good reasons why this change is extremely positive. 1) The biggest one is it moves our national tournament away from the men’s and women’s basketball championships. Remember, their conference tournaments and national championship all fall on the same weekends as ours does. That’s not good for us when the lifeblood of any sport is the amount of media coverage one receives. 2) It gives our freshman athletes, many of whom are the first members of their family to attend college, an opportunity to become academically acclimated to the grind before season begins and weight is shed. I wish to remind everyone that our sport is academically either next to the bottom or two spots up from the bottom of all male sports. This fact hurts us as much as Title IX does. 3) Moving the season is also a safety issue because it trades December for April when our teams are driving on icy roads. 4) Waiting until January also opens the door for football players to come out for wrestling given their season has officially ended. In the past many wouldn’t come out because doing so meant they only had half the time to get in shape prior to the nationals. I could go on but you have to see the strength of this change whose time has come.

And while we’re at it, the time has come to accept the serious nature of implementing an official NCAA National Dual Meet Championship. Because the spectators we don’t have demand it. Yes that’s right, the ones we don’t have because we’re not going to survive doing what we’ve always done with the spectators we do have. As soon as the NCAA Dual Meet Championships is no longer a wish but a reality, we need to flip-flop the dates of that event with our individual tournament to make things work for the sport. You read that right too; move our current national championship. But read on, you can burn me at the stake for heresy later. In the last several years Mike Moyer at the NWCA has been getting beat up by influential coaches over his support of a National Dual Meet Championship. Bruised and battered he’s still at the plate trying to work with Division I coaches and some television networks to see what might be possible.

But the coaches are right to oppose it the way it’s being proposed.

I believe almost everyone agrees a Dual Meet Championship is a good thing but somehow the NWCA can’t make it work because they’re trying to fit it within the confines of the present seasonal structure. The largest objection and the one that counts is the number of high intensity matches that athletes from the top programs will have to wrestle going through a national dual meet championship before tackling their very vigorous regular season schedule leading up to exceptionally tough conference tournaments and then of course the individual nationals. That’s completely suicidal for their athletes and why coaches reject this proposal. Teams like Penn State, Iowa, Ohio State, Minnesota and Oklahoma State shouldn’t be asked to go through such a meat grinder when the other 80% of the DI programs sit back and watch the carnage. The toughest teams shouldn’t be penalized in the middle of the season because they’re our sports flag bearers. Having a Dual Meet Championship in January is a bad idea. But it’s a great idea if it’s held at the end of the season. Wrestling shouldn’t get caught up on what we use to do but instead look to what we must do. If the sports survival was my prime directive, here’s how I would handle it. I’d start by delaying the start of the season until the first of the New Year.

Season Begins – First week of January

Conference and Qualifying Tournaments – Middle of February

NCAA Individual Tournament – End of February

National Dual Meet Championship Series Begins – Early April

Now don’t get caught up on the exact dates and lose sight of the premise. If you want to move the time frames up some or backwards a bit, okay, that’s fine. But let’s work together on the big picture of having two championships in the correct order.

Let me explain. Who among us can’t see the genius and absolute must of a) having two championships and b) moving each of them away from basketball’s March Madness? Just answer those two questions please; not the order of the events or the dates. If you don’t think having two championships is a good idea, skip down and page and move to the next topic.

But if you feel two championships makes sense, the only decisions we have left is deciding on time frames and the order of the events. Anything other than having the National Duals going at the end of the season is as unreasonable to ask of the participants as it is impossible to get passed the coaches.

So the only alternative is to get the national dual meet tournament accepted and then flip-flop the timing of it with the individual tournament. That way everyone gets their cake and gets to eat it too. Athletes are fresh for the individual tournament which is a dream for every coach and the sport gets the much needed, and media favored dual meet tournament.

Plus, this is a huge marketing windfall for wrestling; the sport ends up with 10 NCAA Champions and 70 other All-Americans still in uniform for the remaining 2 months of the season! Just think of the potential match-ups we’d see once the pressure is off and the athletes go prowling for additional stardom? How about the crowds we could attract to watch a current All-American take on this year’s national champion or better yet, one national champion moving up a weight to wrestle another NCAA champion? Can you imagine the media excitement a David Taylor/Mark Perry or Ed Ruth/J’Den Cox would have generated! This is how you make legends in our sport and give our younger wrestler’s hero’s to look up to.

The way it’s done now, the season ends the moment all our best athletes receive their All-American plaques; half of which will graduate two months later so the sport NEVER gets a chance to market these young men’s achievements.

As to the National Dual Meet Championships, remember, there would only be 16 out of 77 DI teams wrestling in the Sweet Sixteen round, followed by the Elite Eight weekend and then the Final Four Championships 7 days later. What does that accomplish?

Most teams would finish their season by the end of March. I would imagine the NCAA would quickly support this arrangement because it actually shortens the season for 80% of the DI programs by 3 weeks. Only the best of the best programs would go for another week and then half of them would be eliminated and so on until we have a champion. This is also a tremendous way for those programs that aren’t financially competitive to reduce spending because they more than likely won’t be selected as one of the Sweet Sixteen. Cost containment has to be one of the sports priorities.

Wrestling must become an event, not just competition. The only way to do that is to become dual meet centric if we’re to continue as a sport (Chapter 10). Triangular’s, Quadangular’s, Dual Meet and Individual Tournaments during the season have to completely disappear. Our survival is based on becoming financially viable and that means attracting new spectators to wrestling’s New and Improved fan friendly format while keeping our die-hards in the stands. Who wants to attend something that will take a full day to complete that reminds people of watching grass grow? Even football fans wouldn’t attend an Ohio State-Oregon game if they knew it was going to take 8+ hours to complete so why would we believe we can tie up a person’s entire day with wrestling and have them lining up to buy tickets? All our events, other than pre and post season tournaments must be dual meets. No exceptions, we need to get our spectators in, out and home in a 2-hour time frame if we expect to increase revenues and start our march back to relevance (Chapter 6).

Place a seasonal maximum number of matches, not dates, on athletes. Right now there are athletes finishing the season with almost 50 matches. And we wonder why wrestling is near the end of the list regarding academic performance and leading all sports in the number of concussions. By voluntarily placing a limit on competitions to 30 matches a season (just a suggestive number) it does several things. First it reduces operational costs which help us in the eyes of administrators who determine which sports stay and which ones go. Next, logic would suggest that a move like this has to increase the sports academic standing because with every weigh-in there are at least 3 days of weight reduction. Who can get excited about doing more in class when they’re so dehydrated that they feel like they’re capable of passing dust? Limiting the number of matches to 30 also has to correspondingly reduce the percentage of injuries that are reported to the NCAA while increasing the amount of time coaches would have to market their programs and play nice with their administrators. And if I were a betting man, I would wager if you asked the athletes about limiting the number of matches to 30 a vast majority of them would agree if it was done by a silent vote.

Matside weigh-ins must start immediately. This is so easy to do and it removes the need to have a medical oversight committee monitoring our existence. The only reason wrestlers cut weight is the internal fear that they’ll lose matches to athletes who are larger than they are. Who can blame them; everyone wants a level playing field that’s based on individual talent and work ethic, not one that pits one athlete against another substantially larger athlete; even if it’s only in the mind of the athlete. Wrestlers certainly don’t cut weight because they enjoy cottonmouth and dizzy spells. But if the rules didn’t give them a minimum of 2 hours to rehydrate, I’m sure everyone would go up a weight. Who wants to suffer and then lose a match because his body is functioning at 74% of capacity? Doesn’t every wrestler want to feel strong, be mentally hungry and actually having a chance of winning? That will only happen with matside weigh-ins because everyone will go up a weight and best of all, the same athletes will still be competing against one another but this time with smiles on their faces and considerably more gas in their tanks. Some other positive outcomes are; 1) Matside weigh-ins should make a significant difference in class room attendance and performance while it 2) has every wrestling mother in the country applauding the decision. 3) It will completely eliminate those damaging articles the media enjoys writing about the horrors of weight reduction while 4) eliminating the costly medical communities involvement in the process. Weighing in matside also provides a promotional visual like you see in boxing where the athletes step on a scale in front of a crowd. And just like horse racing, wrestlers will weigh-in with headgear in hand like jockeys’ do with their saddles. Then each athlete walks to the center of the mat without as much as a single swallow of water and the bout begins.

That’s the magic of this regulation; there’s zero chance of recovery so athletes won’t lose that much weight if it’s going to reduce their chances of winning. 

To handle the logistics of this, whether we add a three pound allowance for the additional clothing and equipment or change the weight classes, either works. But let the athletes solve the problem that the rules committee created. This will work because there’s not one wrestler on this planet who wants to suffer twice.

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“People don’t come to watch 2-1 defensive struggles; they come to see exciting action. You are right as usual and as Pogo once said “We have found the enemy and it is us”.

Ted DeRousse

USA Wrestling National Staff, Retired

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Kill the singlet as the sports competitive uniform. (Chapter 8) We should consider having multiple competitive ensembles that programs can choose from besides the singlet. Each institution and athlete should have choices in what they select to wear when it comes time for competition. The question we need to start with is what’s wrong with choices, it’s the 21st century. Why are we forcing wrestlers to wear something that were originally fashioned by the caveman using animal hides and only flatter those with developed bodies? Swim suit manufacturers understand this; it’s why they make one and two piece suits for women as well as cover-ups because not all bodies are the same; just as it’s true for adolescent children versus their post pubescent counterparts. I can’t begin to tell you how many young wrestlers I’ve talked to that won’t give the sport a try because they 1) have to wear a singlet or 2) have to strip down to their underwear for weigh-ins. Remember, this is the century of sensitivity training where self-esteem issues are high on everyone’s list. Making a young person put something on that isn’t flattering is an immediate turn-off just as having them stand in front of dozens of their peers in their underwear is embarrassing.

If you’re not sure this is a big deal with kids; take a group of elementary children and divide them into shirts and skins for a game of kick ball. Then see how many children on the skins side ask if they can be a shirt instead or say they don’t want to play? This is a really big deal with kids that the sport constantly dismisses as being inconsequential. I recently showed this segment of How Wrestling Wins to a friend who coaches and he responded, “oh my God, you’re right on the money here.” He continued, “You have no idea how many times I’ve heard, “I know I’d get in great shape if I came out for wrestling but I’m not wearing that leotard.” And when I tell my P.E. classes that we have a home match tonight I hear the girls snickering and whispering, “gross . . . man thong!”

Personally I think wrestlers should all be wearing various forms of compression gear which sculpts the body. (See the photograph in Chapter 8) Whether an athlete wears long tights and sleeveless top or half-length tights with long sleeve tops, does it really matter? As long as it doesn’t interfere with the match? It’s all about the spectators who buy tickets and what they see, it’s about the perceived strategies multiple outfits provide and how the sport is viewed by the media. Please take note; athletes do care about their appearance and sometimes that means a well-fitting singlet; but many other times it doesn’t. All this is why the fashion industry from Paris to Milan to New York is an ever changing 1.2 trillion dollar industry and why the new collegiate football uniforms have received such a positive reception. The point is this is creative, it’s fun and it sends a message that we’re a wide open sport with few boundaries; we’re creative and deserving of our spectator’s time.

As for our youth, long sleeved compression gear is the equivalent of a cover-up in swimming but with form fitting and slimming characteristics. All this is a win-win for everyone and if the sports goal is to work toward reducing the amount of skin infections, what better way of doing that than minimizing the use of singlets which provide the most skin on skin contact? Of course there’s the likelihood of increased scoring when “slipping out of a hold” becomes far more difficult to do as a result of additional material. But is that a bad thing in terms of spectator appeal? Nationally on both the scholastic and collegiate levels, wrestlers are allowed to wear t-shirts underneath their singlets for those who have a doctor’s note for dermatologic skin issues. To that point, we have been doing cover-ups for decades and there hasn’t been one safety or strategic issue ever mentioned. So what’s the problem? If we look back in time there has always been precedent regarding change. Wasn’t it the ancient Greek’s that wrestled in the nude? Amateur wrestlers in the 1930’s were bare-chested and wore full length tights. In the 1960’s and 1970’s wrestlers wore full length tights with short shorts over buttoned down tops. If for no other reason, do it for our little guys because we need as many of them as we can attract. And as far back as I can remember I’ve never known one wrestler who came out for the sport because he couldn’t wait to wear a singlet but I have known hundreds, maybe thousands that didn’t come out for the opposite reason. So over the years, this issue has to translate into a very large pool of youngsters who didn’t try wrestling because of the way we handle weigh-ins and our selection of uniforms.

Can you think of any good reason why we shouldn’t make some visual changes? It certainly conveys to society that wresting is undergoing change? It works in retail sales when companies change the look of a products packaging and then market it as being “new and improved.” Besides, what’s wrong with having a variety of options relative to what an athlete feels good about wearing? Certainly not the cost of development; let the athletic clothing companies handle that end of things and then enjoy the return on investment from sales. Whether you agree with adding fashion statements or not, please don’t get caught up in the specifics. Think variety, new and improved, skin infections, styling, strategic applications, improved self-esteem and of course sex appeal. This is really a no-brainer but somehow there will still be members of the rules committee who won’t like the idea while those from marketing, sales and promotions cheer it.

Chapter 18, the final chapter, next Sunday. Topics will include::

1. Create a national partnership with a non-profit organization.

2. Create a consumer pledge and booklet that puts spectators before coaches and athletes.

3. Allow athletes to “double up,” wrestle in 2 weight classes per dual meet up to 3 times a year.

4. Alternate weight classes back and forth throughout dual meets.

5. Eliminate forfeits; for they are arsenic to wrestling.

6. It’s time to lose the name Amateur Wrestling.

7. Create new starting positions for standing and down positions.

8. Create a New and Improved advertising campaign.

9. The importance of creating a Wrestlers in Business group in your town.        

How Wrestling Wins – Chapter 16

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Chapter 16

So to recap and start to bring to a close How Wrestling Wins, our future depends upon the speed and scope of our reforms. Small alterations in thinking will only assure equally small alterations in achievement. Deciding to wait until next year to finalize that which is clearly obvious this year only insures a continuing decline in our numbers and correspondingly the length of time it will take the sport to rebound.

Focusing on what matters . . . think of wrestling as a restaurant. If you want to make a go of it in the food industry you have to focus on the quality of food you’re serving. Sure the wait staff has to be competent and prompt, the maitre d’ friendly and helpful, the restaurants décor appealing and the rest rooms clean in women’s standards. But if you have all that going for you and the food is so-so, odds are your business won’t last. When you talk restaurants, food is king; it’s the sine qua non of survival.

In the case of wrestling, our food is the excitement we create, the willingness athletes have to battle one another and why we’re failing. The sport is simply boring, and even many of our die-hard spectators are voting with their feet not to attend as often as they used to. Even the hallowed PIAA (PA) State High School Championships have gone from 65k spectators 20 years ago to 45k now.

In International wrestling, the recent World Cup Championships in Los Angeles, America’s second largest city, only attracted 4,200 spectators for the USA-Iran finals. Said another way, that’s two category levels below “extremely poor showing” on any media chart. That’s why the LA Times, the LA Daily and every television network in the city didn’t think the event was worthy of coverage. Zip, nada, not an inch.

Topping that, over half the seats that were filled were being used by Iranians supporting their countrymen. How can that possibly happen in the wrestling rich state of California; a country that is over 7,000 miles away has more spectators there than we do? Now subtract for table workers, coaches, officials, parents and family members and what remains waving the red, white and blue is a paltry number indeed.

So what’s wrestling waiting for, something apocalyptic? The point is the sport is heading in the wrong direction at a frightening pace and we’re still sucking our thumbs. The rules are the reason why our food tastes so bad and we’re still protecting the cooks.

Look at what the UFC is doing in relation to wrestling and you can see why they’re the current media darlings. In the first 7 minutes of any UFC fight, you can count on seeing roughly 100 or so actual attacks as opposed to 15 on average in wrestling; and that number gets cut in half at the NCAA championships as the pressure increases. Wrestlers have become masters of the slowdown process (which are encouraged by the rules) and trust me on this; the spectators have noticed.

Now there are those who say that being aired on television is the answer to our woes and they couldn’t be more wrong. Being featured on TV doesn’t help a restaurant when the food is bad. It doesn’t make anything popular, it only makes it public. If you have good food, television will help the business soar to new heights. But if the food isn’t palatable, which it isn’t in our case, being aired only helps bury our restaurant. Then there’s the thought that putting wrestling on television also stops a certain percentage of our current spectators from attending major events, especially the NCAA Championships. Who wants to spend a grand on air travel, housing, tickets, food and entertainment when all 6 sessions can be viewed (note I didn’t say enjoyed) from the comfort of one’s own living room? The problem with that is wrestling doesn’t receive a dime from ESPN for airing the nationals so in essence, being on television only reduces the sports revenue numbers.

All in all, polishing the silverware, painting the walls and parking customer’s cars doesn’t help the restaurant if the food is forgettable. Granted, all these things are important to receive a 3-Star Michelin rating but without quality food everything’s a bust. Wrestling has to focus on improving what the kitchen is putting out and forget for the time being how clean the bathrooms are and how amenable the maitre d’ is. Most of what the NWCA does, who should be the driver of these initiatives, focuses on everything but the food and I realize that statement isn’t fair to their Executive Director. Mike is doing a wonderful job with the resources he doesn’t have but to set his sights on food is political suicide. Given the NWCA is a membership driven organization whose members are almost exclusively coaches, attempting rule changes is the same as poking a sleeping bear with a stick. How does one point out to his constituents that they’re to blame for that which ails the sport and expect to keep functioning as an organization? So I write How Wrestling Wins and say what he can’t say instead.

Until we serve tasty dishes, and that’s the level of action our wrestlers produce, everything else we do is putting the horse before the cart. Having a Leadership Academy is a very positive step and the NWCA should be commended for taking that responsibility on but it does little good when the sport continues to bleed red on the spread sheets. Who is helped when you have a more organized coach running a program that no longer exists?

Does anyone actually think that administrators care that basketball is equally as bad as wrestling academically? No, and why is that; they produce revenue, we don’t. But you can bet that poor academic performance will be mentioned as one of the reasons why Athletic Directors drop wrestling. What about the number of deaths football has every year? Administrators refer to them as tragedies and they are absolutely that and all of us should do everything possible to protect our student-athletes! But the sport marches on because it’s too lucrative to fail. But when wrestling lost 3 young men over a 100 year period the NCAA was inches away from dropping our sport like they did in 1960 with Boxing.

Why doesn’t wrestling get it? Survival isn’t having clean bathroom stalls or checkered linen table cloths; it’s all about the quality of our food and correspondingly the size of our deposits. Our focus must center on producing action and the only way that can be done is through incentivized legislation.

To begin, let’s not confuse the word scoring with action; they are not interchangeable. Action doesn’t always mean there will be points scored but points always mean action has taken place. Some of the best flurries known to mankind have ended without a point being scored; but there was some terrific spectator pleasing action; exactly where we need to focus our attention.

Ice Hockey and Soccer aren’t high scoring sports but you can count on an immeasurable amount of energy being used by their athletes in the attempt to score. That’s what ticket holders want to see; action. Baseball isn’t far behind in the low scoring metric but every time a pitcher throws the ball there’s a chance it’s heading over the fence so spectators find themselves holding their breath in anticipation of the crack of the bat.

How do I get this across to wrestling’s leadership; they spend too much time and energy treating the sports symptoms and overlooking the causes.

Programs are lost as a result of finances 10 to 1 over Title IX issues.

Any sport that increases its spectator numbers to the point where revenue overshadows expenses moves from endangered species to sacred cow status. To accomplish this for wrestling, our leaders have to stop imitating ostrich’s and being glacial in their decisions. The combination of a raging financial arms race in football and basketball during a declining economy; combined with those newly adopted pay increases for collegiate athletes above a full scholarship; plus the urgent need for equality among the sexes is more than non-revenue sports can bare.

The simple solution, actually the only solution we have, is to get off the non-revenue train and that can only be done by serving better food to our customers. I understand this is a time consuming effort but in the interim as Bob Bowlsby put it to the wrestling coaches at this year’s NCAA Championships, “wrestling’s immediate goal has to be to move itself to the back of the line.” He was referring to all the non-revenue sports and as schools drop programs, the ones that go first are at the head of the line. He said quite clearly, “this is not where wrestling wants to be.”

So to be successful in the short term until we can make it permanent, wrestling has to demonstrate to athletic administrators everywhere that we understand; it’s a financial thing. And then make meaningful course corrections that demonstrate a revenue-producing philosophy.

To achieve this we need to accomplish several objectives which are listed below, a number of which that should be tackled simultaneously.

As you read these final two chapters of How Wrestling Wins, when I mention specific rule changes or marketing ideas I’ll try and place the chapter ( ) in parentheses where you can find a much more expansive account.

So here we go, this is How Wrestling Wins.

1) First, the sports coaches and governance must decide to accept the changes that others will invariably impose on them. For without complete buy in, status quo will remain status quo. And we all know what that means as witnessed by the hundreds of wrestling programs that no longer exist; we don’t have the luxury of creating a committee on committees which will vote to generate a two-year long study on the viability of the initial committee’s suggestion to table the investigation of the proposed changes. That was tongue in cheek if you missed it . . .

2) Next, we must develop a leadership team that will be responsible for drafting a blueprint for growth; a document that will outline what the sport needs to do and in what order if the goal is survival. You’ll read my version of the blueprint in the next several pages.

As to the makeup of this team, each member needs to have enough political or financial clout that when the wrestling community reads their names, they simply acquiesce to what’s being proposed because there isn’t a way to argue with or discredit those that have that level of creditability. I’m not taking about the Mike Moyer’s, Cael Sanderson’s and Jordan Burrough’s of our world even as good as they are; I’m referring to people like retired Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert, UFC’s President Dana White, West Virginia University’s Athletic Director Oliver Luck, Mike Golic from Mike and Mike in the Morning, Goldman-Sachs Steve Friedman and Academy Award winning author John Irving. These are the types of individuals who have the name, power and chutzpah’s that’s necessary to walk the walk. Basically they’re bullet proof. It’s going to take this collective level of respect before any proposed changes will be accepted by the wrestling community.

We might also consider adding a few individuals that aren’t from our sport because many of our greatest challenges aren’t unique to wrestling. People like the Vice President of Technology for Twitter would be a good choice. I bet whoever that is knows a few things about using social media as a marketing tool and already oversees a wide swath of that fabric. Maybe the Director of Promotions for the WWE could help us? These are the types of business champions we could learn from and use their resources to benefit our efforts. One of the main strengths that these individuals bring to the mix is they’re void of any preconceived notions regarding the way wrestling has always done things. All too often it’s this knowledge of our history that keeps us trapped on the hamster wheel of progress.

If we’re to have a chance of winning we can’t involve current members of wrestling’s leadership team.

The sport has tried that on numerous occasions in the past. And every organizational meeting, leadership coalition and event partnership they’ve tried has failed. For those in power, be they coaches, athletes or Executive Directors of wrestling’s various organizations, have always found it to be politically adventitious to say they’re willing to do anything that’s “in the best interests of wrestling” and then quietly ignore the very tenets of any meeting they voted to implement.

Who can blame them? It’s actually the sports gullibility that’s at fault here for believing the notion that leadership is actually interested in change. They’re not. It’s never the case because the simple act of change always brings with it a shift in power; some it benefits, others it doesn’t. But the problem with that is no one knows who will be the beneficiary of change until it happens. Basically, those who govern fear change more than they do prostrate surgery and the sport would have a better chance of Congress agreeing on Row v. Wade than wrestling has of fixing itself by involving our existing governance structure. They’re the ones who got us in this mess.

3) The creation and adoption of major rule changes that might not significantly increase scoring but will genuinely increase our athlete’s attempts at scoring.

I could spend pages explaining how every successful sport relative to revenue production and media effectiveness routinely make those types of changes for the sole purpose of increased action. And in almost every example I could also tell you about the firestorm of protests that emanated from the coaches when those changes were first proposed. Then later on it’s those same coaches who take credit for the changes, for it was their forward thinking and subsequent action that made it happen.

Bottom line, we need to craft rules that motivate athletes to action, not ones that penalize. When the rules committee has done that in the past, athletes and coaches get creative to find new ways to circumvent those very rules because it’s what they do; they’re competitors. Then another set of rules have to be created to remedy those very work-arounds the coaches and athletes developed. This has become a huge one ups-man-ship cycle, rules committee vs. those they impose their power over. That’s what happens when you penalize instead of incentivize.

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“I just read your piece; absolutely wonderful. Obviously you have an insight for the sport that few others have. Your writing is very engaging and an easy on the eyes. The sport needs you.”

 Jake Shannon, Salt Lake City, Utah

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Over the years too many matches are won by clever athletes who use ill-conceived rules to draw stalling calls and receive penalty points. Granted, it’s far easier to lean on the rules for help than open yourself up to being scored on as a result of an offensive misstep. Most recently we have some from leadership who would like to see a “push out” rule put in place to penalize those who play the edge. Great, just what we need, another rule that doesn’t incentivize athletes to take shots. Instead they’re thinking about voting to allow athletes to score points by shoving someone out of bounds. Am I the only one who sees a problem with this thinking? Haven’t we just spent decades penalizing athletes for going out of bounds and now we’re going to reward athletes for accomplishing what we’ve been trying to stop.

Warning to the rules committee; all that will happen if you pass a rule like that is shoving will replace shooting; just as it has done internationally.

Only when we make points really mean something relative to team scores will coaches force their athletes out of their protective cocoon. Only when coaches become terrified of losing dual meets to programs they used to dominate will they impose their will on their athletes to create more action and score more points.

In Chapter 9 of How Wrestling Wins I outlined what is by far the most important rule alteration we could enact if the goal is increased action and spectator enjoyment.

A point earned is a team point scored.

If you believe our sport needs more action then scoring has to become significantly more important than it is now. Currently the way the sport is crafted, the only thing that’s important is having 1 more point at the end of the match than your opponent. That’s good for the athlete and his team but it’s lousy for the spectator and sport because way too often that 1 point win had so little action associated with it. Our continuing decline in attendance numbers only proves my point.

For those who disagree and point to the Penn State’s, Iowa’s and Minnesota’s of our world as a way to prove we’re on solid ground, I will remind them that there are also hundreds of other collegiate programs where athletes have been known to outnumber spectators.

To change this we must alter the way we score dual meets and tournaments. If an athlete wins his match by a score of 7-2 the sport should respect his efforts enough that his team receives the same number of points he worked so hard to achieve. And the 2 points the vanquished earned should go to his teams score as well.

Some might initially think that’s not reasonable or fair. That one team could win 8 out of 10 individual bouts and potentially lose the dual meet. Yes that’s exactly what I’m proposing! But let me ask, how many times do you think you’d actually see that happen? But it’s that exact fear of losing a dual to an inferior team that will incentivize coaches to push their athletes to do more. Currently the exact opposite is true . . . coaches instruct their athletes to protect their lead, they train them in the art of the slowdown approach to winning and how to play the edge in ways that keeps referee’s off their backs. Successful wrestling today is all about reduced activity.

As you can read in both Chapter 9 and my blog entitled A Point Earned is a Point Scored I answer all the questions you might have of how to handle pins, forfeits and disqualifications using this system.

All one has to do is look to the last 50 years to notice that the average number of points scored in the finals of the NCAA Championships went from 19.5 in 1979 to 6.9 in 2013. Here’s a breakdown of wrestling’s scoring decline. You can see how rules which coaches have influenced over the years has impacted the game starting in the 70’s when the rules committee adopted the 4 point major and 5 point technical fall.

   Year       Points Scored

1979                 19.5

1981                 13.2

1986                 11.0

1994                   9.0

2002                   8.0

2005                   7.9

2013                   6.9

Creating those two team outcomes weren’t bad decisions; but leaving the pin where it was at 6 team points devastated the incentive to do more and it immediately eliminated the need for athletes to learn down wrestling. Why would anyone want to learn a completely new set of skills when being proficient on your feet could earn 5 team points? Remember, prior to majors and techs being introduced, a decision was worth 3 points and the pin was worth twice as much, 6 points.

A point earned is a team point scored fixes most of the sports challenges regarding action and excitement.

But you’ll have to give this change some time to see the benefits. You won’t notice any change in action the first time it’s tried. Only when it becomes law and coaches become scared of what might happen if they don’t change, will they change.

This isn’t a breaker box fix; just throw the switch and everything’s different. It will take some time for the coaches to start screaming and their athletes to respond to the idea of doing more. Year 1 won’t be as memorable for change as year 2 will be and in year 3 everyone will notice a major shift in attitudes and actions.

Are there other rule alterations which are critical to wrestling continuing as a collegiate sport, you bet there are? Will it be painful, only for those who view it as painful? Personally I believe it will be great fun watching the transformation; coaches and athlete’s alike being pulled out their comfort zones. I can already hear the fans roaring their approval as they witness significant increases in action and as important, strategic interplay between the two head coaches and then between the spectators and the decisions the coaches made. Trust me on this . . . those who are whining today will be the ones whining tomorrow and those who are winning today will be winning tomorrow. Great programs will remain great, average will remain average. This change in scoring won’t impact the nation’s pecking order of teams as much as it will make a significant change in the number of points scored by athletes and the level of action that we’ll all enjoy.

Overall any changes we adopt must fall into one of four categories, each one playing a crucial role in our continuance as a sport.

  1. Cost Containment . . . we have to voluntarily decide to reduce our expenses.
  2. Revenue Production . . . by increasing spectator numbers and private giving.
  3. New and Improved . . . adopting very visual changes that demonstrate to consumers the sports willingness to completely transform itself so, “won’t you give us a try!”
  4. Tactical Advances . . . calculated rule modifications that are designed to decrease inactivity and increase the number of strategies a coach could employ to win and the spectators could use to second guess the coaches.

The concept of a point scored is a point earned falls under Tactical Advances. Nothing we can possibly do will impact scoring, activity and excitement like it will.

Chapter 17 next Sunday.

A Point Earned is a Point Scored

The following proposal recently made it’s way to the National High School Association for possible inclusion as a rule for next season. I’m sure it won’t see the light of day but it got that far; that’s a start. At least a few decision makers actually get to think about “what if” relative to a point earned is a point scored. The first section is what the committee got to read. The second part is what I wrote for the individual who is actually proposing the change. I wanted him to be able to answer any questions the committee might have.

Wade

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Effective for the 2015-2016 season no longer will wrestling have 3, 4, 5, and 6 team point match outcomes. Instead every point scored by an athlete is a team point recorded. Example: 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: 15 team points. Example: wrestler A receives a forfeit, wrestler A’s team receives 15 team points; the opposing team receives 0 points.

Disqualifications: 15 team points added to bout score. Example . . . 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.

Default: 10 team points are added to the bout score. Example: 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 bout score. Example: 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.

Match termination: 15 point separation. Example: when 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.

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The benefits of these changes are immense. To begin there are no additional risks to athlete safety, there is no additional training that is necessary for officials and there is no additional cost to the schools when these rules are adopted.

Over all, the system of a point scored is a point recorded:

  1. Immensely encourages more scoring and thus more excitement.
  2. Allows every wrestler to contribute to the team score even in a losing effort.
  3. Pushes both athletes to score points right up to the end of a match regardless of who’s ahead, or by how much.
  4. Increases the number of pins by virtue of higher scoring.
  5. Discourages stalling because even in a losing effort a last second escape actually means a lot to teams totals.
  6. Allows a team whose behind by 40 or more points 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.
  7. Makes the sport easy to understand for those who are new to wrestling.
  8. It seriously discourages forfeits and bad behavior that are extremely  positive outcomes.
  9. With larger team scores, the chance of two teams tying is severely reduced as is having to explain to spectators our complicated tie-breaking criteria.

As to the basis for change, wrestling strategies have slowly eroded over the years to the point that winning is all about who can make the least amount of mistakes. Consequently very low scoring with one point wins has become the norm. This defensive posturing has quietly ground down spectator interest in wrestling to the point of near extinction and with it every collegiate program in the country has a negative budget. The goal should be that every school should be in the plus column financially. This is the quickest way of moving toward that target.

Granted the sport has more than a few issues, but the most important one that must be addressed before all others is a lack of individual scoring. These proposed changes are huge for the sport, something that will create a great deal of controversy, most of it coming from the coaches. The source of their complaints will be their repulsion of being forced to change a long held belief that negative action is preferred over positive action.

But as soon as the first whistle blows next season, I can promise the rules committee that coaches will forget every issue they had with the changes and start coaching to the new rules. They’re competitors, and they will compete.

As to the story behind the story, here is what I wrote in my blog about these proposed changes. When you’re done reading here you should be able to make a supportive case.

The Big Picture . . . anytime you change rules that aren’t related to safety I believe they should meet three criteria. Does it increase scoring, will it escalate action and does it attract the interest of the spectator? This rule change does all three.

Speaking of losing spectators; my son who wasn’t a bad wrestler and knows the sport at an NCAA championship level won’t go to matches. I asked him why out of curiosity and he said, “They’re too boring to watch and I 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; there’s a crisis going on in the sport.

Regarding team scoring, what I listed above is something that Jim Guinta, the founder of the National Collegiate Wrestling Association and I have been working on. He used their own version of it for the last two seasons at his NCWA National Dual Meet Championships.

Both versions (his and mine) have at their core the basic concept that every individual point scored in a match becomes a team point once the match has ended. And each version, whether it is Jim’s or mine with some tweaks, was developed because the current system does not, is not and will not encourage athletes to score points.

It shouldn’t be a shock to anyone that coaches who win the most, teach the slowdown approach to wrestling; it’s the way you 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.

Granted, these changes are 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 please think about these changes. They’re really very simple, all be it aggressive.

But once the committee has had time to think about how simple they are and how effective they will be at pulling athletes out of their comfort zone, I believe everyone will embrace them.

But be prepared, coaches will hate it and they will be very vocal about their opinions. Because it’s all about the fear they’ll have 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.

So in review, I’m suggesting that we eliminate the current 3, 4, 5, and 6 point match point outcomes. They should no longer exist because they never made sense in the first place. They confuse every new spectator we get while being patently unfair to the athletes who take risks to score points.

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 1 and 10 points and 10 team points if he scores between 11 to 20 points? That’s what wrestling does? How about a quarterback who throws for 3 touchdowns and is only given 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. That’s what wrestling does.

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.

To this the NCWA and I agree; wrestling must heavily penalize Forfeits and Disqualifications. There should be a consequence 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 intermural tournament and find them. The coach just decided he’d prefer not to have a match at that weight. The most common reason is it’s more strategic to skip over a weight class 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 this behavior and why it’s worth 15 points. Wrestling cannot grow as a sport when we knowingly choose to shortchange 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 customer service.

With these new rules there’s a reason why athletes would want to fight to get off the bottom with 15 seconds left in a match, even if their 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 it, I’m sure his coach will remind him of the importance of scoring.

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!” That’s exactly right because points scored are points earned. We must reward all wrestlers, in all situations, who put points on the board.

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 a pin as being similar to a takedown or a reversal. All three are scoring techniques but as it has always been, the pin ends the match.

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 if ever happens? But when it does, the offensive machine that racked up more points than his opponent 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. Wrestlers must be forced or sufficiently motivated to engage their opponents as often as boxers throw punches or basketball players take shots.

Just because the current system is the way it’s been doesn’t make it right or mean it’s the best way to handle things. Actually the current system is socialistic to its core. Win 15-9 and receive 3 team points. Win 1-0 and receive 3 points. We penalize for trying and succeeding and reward those who don’t try and succeed. So where’s the incentive?

So much of what we do in wrestling doesn’t make sense. We’ve been piling so many rule alterations on top of existing rules that everything is a jumble of greys in a sport that should be black and white.

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 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 ghostly silent. 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 due to 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 pretty much the same. Successful coaches know how they became successful and will continue being that way regardless of the rules. But when we change I’m sure you’ll see a lot more spectators smiling.

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 our major sports? One 6’ 11” basketball star in high school surrounded by 4 average players has a legitimist shot at winning the state championships. A great running back or quarterback can carry a so-so football team through the playoffs. 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 good 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 popular, it doesn’t mean the change isn’t worth making.

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 seldom happens. That hurts the sport more than anyone realizes. Wrestling can’t win when the coaches have that level of power because they will always do what is in the best interest of their programs. Never have we heard, “we can’t do that; it will hurt our spectator numbers.”

To be fair coaches aren’t all callous, they’re just a product of their competitive environment; the need to win completely dominates their personas. So it’s probably reasonable to conclude that coaches don’t always know the best way to accomplish goals that are outside the realm of winning and losing, and why their direct involvement in managing the needs of the sport should be rethought.

Hopefully the high school league will see the wisdom in what we’re trying to do.

How Wrestling Wins – Chapter 15

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Chapter 15

What I would like to do now is begin to work toward the end of my How Wrestling Wins blog. It’s been very time consuming but I felt compelled to share a few of my thoughts and fears with our leaders and of course you, my readership.

Now I realize not everyone agrees with what I’ve written and for some, very little of what I’ve put to paper but in every case I know I’ve made each of you think. There’s nothing better a writer can do than make his readership think. It’s the largest compliment a man of letters can receive.

But we must stop kidding ourselves, wrestling is in deep trouble.

As to my opinions, many have asked how I come up with them. I guess the answer comes from my mother; she used to always say I was born asking “why.” To this day I still ask why. I challenge everything I read and hear and most of what I see. This inquisitiveness hasn’t always endeared me to those I come in contact with but what I found through the process of asking why is there seems to be evidence that suggests more of us should be doing it.

Because the word why has everything to do with 1) a lot of what we thought was true never was and 2) the world we live in being so dynamic that some of what was actually true 30 minutes ago isn’t anymore. So when you ask why it usually places you at least a half hour ahead of the competition.

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Years ago it didn’t matter if the sport filled gymnasiums or wrestlers outnumbered spectators but today it does! Everything we do has to be about our bottom line and the depth of the hole we’re currently in.

I hope everyone understands that the more revenue we produce, the quicker the sports challenges disappear.

With few exceptions, whatever happens in a sport that’s bad gets whitewashed proportional to the income it produces.

If anyone in wrestling would have done or been accused of what a certain quarterback from Florida State was accused of, or did, what do you think would happen? Not only would the athlete have been thrown out of school but the program more than likely would have been dropped as well.

Now I’m not saying, indicating or even hinting that our sport is full of bad boys, to the contrary. But when challenges occur within an athletic department, only those who produce revenue get to walk away unscathed, which is a mirror of society in general. As to the question if that is right or wrong, that’s not the issue here. It is the way it is so until others answer those questions I think it’s wise if we play by the rules that are already in place. So, if we’re to ever cheat the hangman, wrestling has to become a revenue producer.

To be clear, sports have four noticeable revenue streams:

  1. Ticket sales.
  2. Broadcast rights.
  3. Merchandise licensing.
  4. Corporate sponsorships.

So how does wrestling fare:

  1. Ticket sales. NOTHING REMOTELY CLOSE TO SUSTAINABILITY. NO DIVISION IPROGRAM IN AMERICA MAKES MONEY.
  2. Broadcast rights. NONE. WE CAN’T EVEN GIVE OUR PROGRAMMING AWAY FOR FREE.
  3. Merchandise licensing. NON EXISTENT, WHEN WAS THE LAST TIME YOU SAW A YOUNG PERSON WEARING A SWEATSHIRT WITH THE NAME DAKE OR TAYLOR ON THE BACK?
  4. Corporate sponsorships. TO FEW TO MENTION, AND WHAT WE DO HAVE AREN’T SPONSORSHIPS, THEY’RE REBATES FROM WRESTLING COMPANIES WHO GIVE BACK PROPORTIONALLY TO A PERCENTAGE OF THEIR SALES.

Regarding ticket sales, you’ll read that this year’s NCAA tournament set a new attendance record. That may be true for “paid attendance” but it’s far from being accurate relative to people sitting in the stands. I know what the NCAA was trying to do, and it’s commendable, but it gives the wrestling community a sense of relief that the sport isn’t in that bad of shape.

What the NCAA doesn’t understand about wrestling or maybe it does is many in our sport don’t understand marketing semantics or political wordsmithing.

In the case of “paid attendance” the NCAA chose their words carefully. They made the decision to highlight the positive when the fact was there were an alarming number of unoccupied seats at this year’s event as well as in previous years.

What others think:

“With Wade’s intimate knowledge of wrestling, he calls to the mat the leaders of this community in an attempt to save the sport from extinction. Whether you agree with Wade’s opinion or not, this is a must-read for anyone who cares about the future of wrestling.”

 Stacy Ukishima

Frederick, Maryland

As to political wordsmithing, when an athletic director says “if you don’t improve your revenue numbers things could get difficult” coaches hear, “could you please work on getting more people to come to your meets.”

That’s a very large mistake because what was just said was, “I’m getting ready to drop your sport unless I see a significant attitude change on your part and a heck of a lot more tickets being sold.”

Then when the program is dropped the coach is absolutely stunned. He feels he was never warned and the administrator knows his message couldn’t have been clearer. There’s just a very noticeable disconnect between the black and white of wrestling and the greys of administration. If Darwin were alive today he’d redefine his survival of the fittest theory to read; those who can see the widest spectrum of greys are the ones who live.

As to this year’s NCAA’s, the fact remains that wrestling is in serious spectator decline.

“Your Honor, I’d like to submit into evidence Exhibit A.” They are photographs of this year’s NCAA tournament in St. Louis. They were all taken a few minutes after Sandy Stephens welcomed the crowd to each new round of the tournament. It’s a little hard to see, but I’d like to direct the jury to look to the upper decks where those seats where more empty than full.

For the first round Thursday morning.

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For the second round Thursday evening.

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For the Quarter-Finals Friday morning.

IMG_2199[1]

For the Semi-Finals Friday evening.

IMG_2201[1]

Now I do commend the NCAA for releasing paid attendance numbers. That does make the sport a winner financially and it does reflect a solid marketing effort on their part. But in doing so it gives the wrestling community hope that the sport is growing, or at least doing nicely when clearly it’s not.

Remember, the NCAA tournament is wrestling’s flagship event but unfortunately it has a gash in its side larger than the one that sank the Titanic.

What message do you think this sends those viewers who are watching wrestling for the first time on ESPN? Remember this is the biggest wrestling event in the world. It’s twice as big as the Olympics and the sport has empty seats in the middle of the arena in the lower bowl? I know what that says to me; the sport isn’t worth watching. It doesn’t matter if it’s true; it’s the perception that counts.

Regarding broadcast rights; I’m glad we have so little. Why would we want anyone to see a show that any network would cancel in its first week of being aired? Putting our sport on television only reminds potential fans why they need to continue to be not interested fans.

Now I realize that’s not true for the 1/100th of 1% of America’s sport spectators who go to wrestling but for the other 99.99% whom we need to attract to survive it’s true. Until we build excitement into our sport, we shouldn’t consider the notion that broadcasting is an end all, be all to our problems.

Being broadcasted does the opposite of what our spectators think it does.

Merchandise licensing; there are a few wrestlers and programs that have licensing deals but they are all with companies within the sport like Cliff Keen, Brute, Asics etc. This does little to help wrestling. When money comes from within and goes back to within that isn’t growth.

Corporate sponsorships; wrestling needs companies such as Avis, Coke, Merrill Lynch and McDonalds et al to see the benefits of being involved with our sport. But right now that’s so far away from happening that we’re on another planet as far as they’re concerned.

We have to stop saving the sport and start growing the sport if we’re to survive.

We must find ways to encourage our rules committee to change scoring in a way that motivates coaches to incentivize their athletes to produce double digit bouts.

We also have to do much more than we’re doing to say “thank you” to those in the stands by our actions. I’ll only give you one example out of about a dozen I would insist on if I were in charge of consumer happiness and one not so unique change to bracketing.

I’d throw all our score clocks in the East river along with the white foam board numbers they place on top of the clocks. Can you imagine going to a Broadway play where the house placed 3 wrestling clocks on the front of the stage between the actors and the audience?

What’s the difference between that and what we do in wrestling? Who’s in charge of this or do we even have anyone in charge? Placement of those clocks in the middle of the action is thoughtless, inconsiderate and rude.

In today’s world of computers, Bluetooth technology and Wi-Fi connectivity, why don’t we have the ability to project a scoreboard on the surface of the mat and while we’re at it make it available electronically to everyone’s cellphone or tablet? At a minimum, suspend each clock from the ceiling so they’re over the center of each mat and out of everyone’s line of sight.

While I’m feeling my oats here, who was the genius who approved putting Mat 4’s clock on the floor during the semi-finals then allowing two cameramen to sit on chairs in front of it? That’s the same as turning off the score board for an NBA game so the fans have to guess how much time is left and who’s winning. And should I mention that unless you’re an eagle or under the age of 30, who can read those clocks with their 4 pica digits?

Regarding the brackets, I’d like to think this is my idea but it’s not. It comes from basketball and wrestling should do it not because it helps the action or woos any spectator. It’s just one of many things I’d do if I were in charge to support my “New and Improved” marketing campaign that I’d begin once I had the sport back on its feet.

I’d like to continue seeding 16 per weight class like they’re currently doing but modify it to mirror NCAA basketball. When other sports get things right, plagiarism isn’t really cheating, it’s the sincerest form of flattery. Here’s what they do and we should mirror. Have four 1st seeds per weight, four 2nd seeds, four 3rd seeds and four 4th seeds. Instead of 1st through 16th seed, elevate the worth of those who receive a seed. Make the Top 4 seeds in wrestling (1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th) all become a 1st seed in their quarter bracket. Those seeded 5th through 8th become 2nd seeds in their quarter bracket. Those seeded 9th through 12th become 3rd seeds and 13th through 16th become 4th seeds.

This doesn’t hurt the event or the basis of what seeds do . . . keep the best wrestlers apart as long as possible. But this change does encourage more home town papers to have an interest in their native sons who were given a higher seed that what they receive now while visually supporting the sports “New and Improved” marketing slogan.

If you’d like to take bracketing a little further copy basketball again by splitting our 32 man brackets into two 16 man brackets which are facing one another. So after each round our top athletes are moving ever closer to one another; in essence they’re on a collision course.

And for goodness sake, stop treating the spectators at the NCAA’s like idiots by taking the time to explain the rules. You never ever, ever, ever, ever hear that at a tennis match, golf event, football game or swim meet. But not wrestling, we know our fans are low information voters and need the help. It’s rude and offensive. Even if you think it’s necessary, whether you’re teaching a special needs or academically advanced class, you never talk down to anyone, let alone those who are supporting the sport with their dollars and in essence allowing you to have the job you have.

What others think:

“I read your blog and am challenged by it, enjoy it. Keep asking and answering the difficult questions.”

Joe Russell, Head Coach

George Mason University

Oh by the way, Northern State (South Dakota) and Cleveland State just dropped wrestling. I’ll forgo any mention of shock because I’m not shocked. Dismayed yes, shocked no.

But not dismayed in the way you might think. The loss of any program is a catastrophe but in Cleveland’s case even more so for the sport. The university is located in the epicenter of the nation’s strongest high school programs for wrestling and home of St. Paris Graham, this year’s national champions. Cleveland State hosted the NCAA Division I National Championship a few years ago and the city is also home of Notre Dame College, last year’s Division II National Wrestling Champions. And the program is located in the state that houses the current NCAA Division I National Championship Team not to mention Cleveland borders on Congressman Jim Jordan’s District or that the state has over 600 high school programs participating in the sport.

Instead, I’m deeply discouraged at the way I know the sport is going to respond to the loss of these programs. We’ll mobilize the troops and head toward Aberdeen, SD and Cleveland, OH for the purpose of doing battle while overlooking the real enemy . . . the sport of wrestling itself.

The battle we have to win isn’t external, it’s internal. Until our leadership decides to take on the much larger and more difficult issues of deciding to decide and then change there will be more Cleveland State’s in our future; actually a hell of a lot more.

This is what my How Wrestling Wins has been all about. Pulling together a collation of our sports most powerful men and it’s not those who head USAW, the Hall of Fame, the NWCA or coach some of the nation’s top programs. I’m talking about business and political giants who love wrestling and collectively have the guts, gumption and power to make the changes the sport must make. Even at the ire of those in the sport who are used to calling the shots.

We definitely, positively don’t need people to be involved who are part of the sport during this rebirth. For the answers to our survival as a sport isn’t wrestling related; it’s business centric. And if there’s one thing our sport has demonstrated for over a century, it doesn’t have a clue about product development, placement or sales.

Remember, at one time wrestling was the #1 spectator sport in the entire world! Now the only time wrestling is mentioned in any of the major newspapers is when someone writes, “Homeland Security has to grapple with Congress over the new budget” or the headline “Christie Pinned by Bridgegate.” The sport has all but disappeared and been reduced to simple metaphors.

Should we do battle with the administrators at Northern and Cleveland State’s, we will because that is what we’ve always done. Is the battle worth taking on, I guess, but the one thing we should NEVER do is pay the ransoms those schools are asking for reinstatement.

When Cleveland says if you give us $800,000.00 it would go a long way to you achieving your goal and Northern a number I haven’t heard what it is yet, this is extortion. We’ve done this before at other schools and all that did was start the chain reaction of events we’re seeing today.

If you think the word isn’t out among Athletic Directors that if you want financial relief from fund raising drop wrestling. The sport has access to money and they have a history of coming to its rescue.

So as quickly as we bailed the first program out, a second one popped up. It’s been like wrestling’s edition of Whack-a-Mole ever since with no end in sight . . . and we caused it ourselves!

Winning is a national effort, fighting these little but significant battles only assures that wrestling will continue to be dismantled. We need to stop swatting at mosquitos and spray their breeding grounds if we want to stop itching. Wrestling needs to realize there is a much larger picture they’re not seeing.

Next week I’ll finish How Wrestling Wins so there is a conclusion to my attempt to educate those who have become misguided over the decades to what wrestling has become and where it needs to go.

Chapter 16 next Sunday.

How Wrestling Wins – Chapter 14

  x and o

Chapter 14  

Nothing we do to save wrestling will work in the short term, or the long term for that matter without spectators. They are the lifeblood of any sport and the first step in any significant amount of national exposure or income.

I’m not trying to be Captain Obvious here but without spectators, corporations aren’t going to be interested in man’s oldest sport. Most CEO’s are absolutely set in their ways about receiving a return on investment, a term our sport seemingly doesn’t understand nor do we have the current ability to provide.

Don’t misunderstand how wrestling acquired the few sponsors we do have. In every case they became part of wrestling due to their ties with the sport, be it the CEO wrestled or the sponsorship is actually a rebate program. Most of our equipment manufacturers give back to the sport but their contributions typically parallel the number of units they sell so is that a sponsorship or a rebate program?

The point I’m trying to make is as much as we appreciate all the help we receive from where ever it comes, the simple fact is wrestling can’t attract sponsors because it’s not a good business model for them.

And without spectators wrestling can also forget any type of relationship with television networks. We have nothing that fits their business model either. Who’s going to be interested in, what company is foolish enough to buy commercial time on a program that has an insignificant number of eyeballs watching?

Not only won’t we be on television without spectators, if we were smart we shouldn’t want it to happen either.

Showing potential spectators something we can’t sell or even give to the networks should tell us something; no one wants to watch our sport in its current state.

Last season, the average number of spectators per dual meet for the nation’s Top 15 collegiate programs was 2,742. I’m talking the Penn State’s of the world, the Iowa’s, Minnesota’s and Oklahoma State’s. That’s a pretty dismal number given a typical high school play attracts that many.

What I’m trying to say is we need to work on income progression. As form follows function, revenue streams follows public interest. We have to sell tickets before we knock on any sponsor doors or approach the networks. Putting the cart before the horse doesn’t work.

To become relevant, wrestling has to change the way our athletes preform. The sport has to find a way to become exciting for the spectators we don’t have, not one ones we do have. The ones that do attend wrestling are our fanatical fans. Every sport has them and they amount to about 10% of any successful sports base. In wrestling, that 10% is our total base and I love every one of them dearly. But the sport can’t ask them what they think, because they’re fanatical, they’ll like whatever happens; especially if it means more scoring.

The ones we have to attract are the other 90% that doesn’t exist and to do that we have to find out why they aren’t already with us? On second thought we already know, the sport’s boring.

Don’t get upset at the messenger here, I’m referring to the opinions of the 10’s of millions of spectators we don’t have, not the 500,000 we do. The sports faithful can no longer point to the 1 great match they saw 4 weeks ago or the spectator appeal of an Iowa/Penn State dual as a way to make their point about wrestling being golden. There needs to be 10 great matches per dual meet, not 1 every 4 weeks. And the Penn State/Iowa match only happens once a year and is just 1 of 750 other Division I dual meets that take place each season.

And if I were to guess, I’d say that our largest duals in terms of attendance are more a result of spectators wanting to be present to support their favorite institution than for the anticipated excitement of the matches. I know that’s true for the Pittsburgh Steelers, which is the nearest professional team to my home town. They’ve done several marketing surveys regarding the whys of attendance. What they found was of course ticket holders went to enjoy watching Big Ben perform but everyone to a person said they were there to support their team, in their city, who to a man represent their way of life. They identify with the spirit of being a hardy stout group of hard working Americans. It was far more about feeling superior to those who lived in Cleveland, Baltimore and San Francisco as the game came to a close (assuming Pittsburgh was ahead) than the game itself. Football was a means to an end for those who attended.

That’s human nature and there’s nothing wrong with it. It’s far easier to feel superior by going to a sporting event than to move up at work through continual effort and persistence.

Stop and think for a moment, are the fans at the Iowa-Minnesota dual meet there primarily for the wrestling or for the pride in knowing that “my state is tougher than your state?” Not everyone is there because they can’t wait to see 10 bouts. Granted there is a percentage that truly enjoy the sport but more are there in the anticipation that 2 hours from now they’ll feel superior to those sitting across the gym floor from them. That’s not a bad thing but we can’t assume all spectators attend matches because they love to watch our athletes protect a lead.

If you’re curious and really want to see who enjoys wrestling because it’s wrestling, announce before any collegiate meet that due to some rule violation that the home team must forfeit 5 weight classes. They’re still going to wrestle all 10 bouts but the score is going to be 30-0 before the first whistle blows and see how many spectators show up?

I’m just trying to educate people to the fact that our attendance numbers are extremely poor and even those are elevated.

Some fun facts, last year, here is what some of America’s top wrestling programs netted after expenses. See anything that might be a concern to administrators?

Major Wrestling Programs

University              Net Income

Penn State                   -59,833

Iowa                         -640.516

Okla. State                -736,303

Wisconsin                  -851,000

Northwestern            -913,000

Ohio State                  -977,912

Arizona State             -979,000

Iowa State               -1,005,000

Minnesota               -1,113,246

I truly get all the things wrestling has to do to become relevant and everyone I talk to pretty much understands it as well. Where we fail as a sport is our unwillingness to come together, prioritize the challenges by putting them in an attack order and set out to actually fix that which isn’t working.

It’s natural to want to commercialize wrestling like some of the sports more recent attempts at semi-pro wrestling or to have our events broadcasted. But you can’t build a skyscraper from the top floor down just as you can’t sell carburetors to car manufacturers when everyone has switched over to fuel ejectors. Living in the past doesn’t work.

As for living in the past, where do you think singlets come from that athletes wear? Weren’t they fashioned by cave men from animal skins? There are other parallels as well but I’m sure you are already aware of them.

Broadcasting wrestling just confirms what those who are not spectators already know; it’s not worth their time to watch or we would already be on television weekly. It’s that simple.

It’s also well-known that you only get one shot at a first impression. When we finally get our foot in the door with a potential sponsor and begin the presentation by answering their question regarding the number of eyeballs they can expect to receive as a result of the relationship, well, the meeting is over before it begins. The problem with that is the difficultly you’ll have getting a second meeting with that same group when your numbers are worthy of their time. Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me.

Scoring has to be our first priority! Matches are too defensive, the athletes are too careful; bouts are orchestrated to be boring. Spectator numbers will not grow until scoring is not only encouraged but a lack of it comes at great cost to the coach. Yes, the coach! He’s the person who decides how aggressive his athletes are in matches as surely as the manners of children at a dining table is a direct reflection on the parents.

It all begins with the coaches. When they start losing dual meets as a result of anemic offenses things will change . . . and change quickly.

You might ask what those changes I’m espousing are; well, go back and read the How Wrestling Wins series. Especially the section where I talk about an individual point scored is a team point recorded. When each point an athlete scores goes to the teams bottom-line, coaches will be screaming for more shots, more offense, more points.

But as you look back over what I’ve written, understand I’m not married to anyone of the ideas I put forth. They’re just starting points for discussion. I do believe though until we begin seeing double digit matches on a regular basis and significantly expanded strategies that encourage spectator involvement, wrestling is going to diminish in size and stature. And we have ourselves to blame, we’re watching it happen.

We also have to abolish all multi-event days that have become commonplace. Triangulars, Quadrangulars and Dual Meet tournaments have to end. They’re killing our spectator numbers while fine-tuning the athletes. So if it’s good for the athletes but bad for the sport, where do you think the coaches are on this subject?

Spectators will only budget 2-hour segments of their day for entertainment. Offering them 4, 6 and 8 hour events is absolutely criminal if we’re trying to save wrestling.

For those who think I’m off base here on anything I’ve written so far, I invite you to ask the 90% that aren’t sitting in the seats next to you what they think?

_________________________

Earlier this month I watched the Navy-Lehigh match and I can say without question that I’ve never seen a more comatose Navy team. Not in the way they wrestled although their performance was let’s say uneventful; it was the team’s matside state of unconsciousness that had my attention.

If teammates won’t cheer for those they live, eat and train with, how can anyone expect spectators to “catch” the excitement the sport has been known for on occasion? Have we completely morphed into an “it’s all about me” sport? This isn’t just Navy, there are more programs like this than not.

Excitement is contagious. With it we grow, without it bad things happen.

In every case excitement has to begin with the wrestlers who are on the mat. If they’re not into the battle, everything dies with them. However if they’re engaged, then the benches have to be engaged or everything dies at that level. Just as a magnet is attracted to metal, spectators are drawn in by excitement. As fire needs fuel, oxygen and heat to become a source for cooking, spectators need to know that the athletes will scramble and the benches will cheer before they decide to attend.

Can you imagine going to a football game where the players just sit on the bench instead of standing on the sidelines? No animation, no one yelling encouragement, just a bunch of store front mannequins in shoulder pads sitting on benches. Wouldn’t that have a deflating effect well below the allowable excitement level of 12.5 psi for watching a professional game?

How about basketball without cheerleaders, halftime shows, replay screens, shot clocks or t-shirt cannons? Heck, what are the Dallas Cowboys without their cheerleaders jumping about? Baseball even has concession people who bring food and drink directly to the fans. Wrestling does none of this . . . or really much of anything that might add to the enjoyment of the evening. At most matches they don’t even give the spectators a halftime or 7th inning stretch to go to the rest rooms.

So what is it that Iowa does at matches with their wrestlers? They allow them to get ready for their bout out of sight of the spectators and then when they’re done wrestling they’re allowed to run off into the tunnel. What other team sport has athletes who only show up when they’re expected to compete and then disappear when they’re done? It obviously works for the Hawks competitively but I wonder how much that hurts Iowa’s spectator numbers. Granted, winning is important but it’s only part of the show, the other half is what surrounds the action.

Now I just mentioned something that might hurt Iowa’s spectator numbers. And you say, they’re pretty strong numbers Wade, are you sure you know what you’re talking about?

I’m afraid I do or at least happen to believe that wrestling could be such a magnificent spectator sport that we’d have to find larger arenas for or duals and have live feeds piped into the school’s auditorium to accommodate the over flow crowd each week. Wrestling could command twice or three times the price it’s currently charging for tickets and still fill the gyms. We could be as popular as the UFC if we knew how to commercialize the sport. But everything begins with us providing the consumer with a product they want to see.

In essence, we have to become fan centric and work to produce fabulous shows. Dead and gone are the days where the sport alone can carry the day. Competition for the spectator dollar is too keen not to pour more than a winning attitude into the program.

We are working so hard at making it a me, me, I, I sport that we’re losing not only our spectators but our programs are disappearing with them.

We must, we have to generate enough energy in and around every match that spectators become engaged. This includes having so many different but related distractions that the fans are overwhelmed with stimulants.

We focus so much on the individual that it discourages team unity; we focus so much on winning that scoring points become irrelevant as long as you have 1 more than your opponent.

I don’t know how other people feel but the most exciting duals I’ve ever been to have both benches engaged in every match. This is what television looks for and requires of a sport if you expect to see their trucks in your parking lot. It’s simple; ESPN demands a total effort from the athletes, coaches and both benches just as we expect a total effort from them. Quid-pro-quo, one hand washes the other, tit for tat. It all boils down to if we aren’t willing to play ball with them, they’re not going to show up with theirs.

_________________________

The answer to most, if not all of our problems with excitement is to make changes from the bottom up. Start with our youth programs where our nation’s leadership seldom travels and make adjustments there first. Then each season as the athletes move from one division to the next, attitudes, behavior and techniques follow until a complete cleansing of the sport occurs.

Any rules we alter should meet at least one and preferably several of the following criteria; the big four of safety, action, excitement and retention.

I’m sure we all realize how fruitless it is trying to alter the thought processes of those at the top levels of our sport. Been there, tried it, have the t-shirt and scars to prove it. Wrestling would actually have a better chance of convincing Isis that America is good than changing the path we’re currently on so it’s simple, we start at the bottom and work our way up. That is unless we can incite wrestling’s masses to stage an internal revolution, minus the beheadings of course.

_________________________

I’d like to revisit my continuing displeasure with the leadership at USAWrestling. They’ve been in power for most of this century and has presided over 15 years of the worst international performances in our nation’s history. So the question is; why aren’t they being held accountable? Of course we also had the Olympic debacle of last summer and continuing record levels of retention issues in Colorado Springs yet everyone seems to accept this as the cost of doing business. I always thought if you want a bushier, healthier plant the best way to achieve it is to prune it from the top down.

What others think:

“I always like to read Wade’s articles. He is certainly our top realist and visionary for wrestling at this time.”

Major General Ken Leuer, NCAA Champion, University of Iowa

Now here’s a yippee and double at-a-boy for the United World Wrestling group (formally FILA) and mega kudo’s to their President Nenad Lalovic for their recent announcement that the singlet is dead! God Save the Queen and hip, hip, hooray! The UWW is not only changing the uniforms that wrestlers wear but also those of the officials and the colors of the wrestling mats; the impact of which can’t be overstated. I think they received the message that the IOC sent them last summer . . . retool or perish.

Hopefully the NCAA Rules Committee will take notice and be somewhat embarrassed that they’re being upstaged by a group that has demonstrated far higher levels of self-interest.

America’s collegiate program should be the rabbit of innovation, not the turtle. We’re so competitive that the question persists; why aren’t we competing? Didn’t the Olympic message make it to the NCAA Rules Committee that wrestling had better modernize? USAWrestling waited as did FILA until the hammer dropped then they responded. One would think that would have been a wakeup call for folkstyle as well.

The new baseball commissioner, Rob Manfred, had only been in office for 12 hours when he began making some interesting waves. In an interview that aired on ESPN he made it clear that examining the pace of the game was his first priority. His goal was to find ways to inject additional offense into the sport because their ticket sales have continually declined over the last several decades. If it wasn’t for television their books would be blood red.

I guess that’s why baseball is baseball and wrestling is well, wrestling; they have leadership. We use to be the largest spectator sport in the world during the time of the first Olympiad. That’s not where we are today, quite a fall from grace wasn’t it; from Penthouse to Outhouse, all in a couple hundred years.

What’s the definition of leadership if it’s not to lead? Mr. Manfred understands leadership, I wonder how much it would cost us to pull him over to wrestling so he could oust those who talk the talk but do nothing but walk the golf courses.

The issue is a simple one; we’re dying a death of a thousand cuts and the pain is so slight that no one is noticing. That’s just the opposite of what the IOC did to FILA, they punched them square in the nose; it’s what is known as an impact attitude adjustment and the international wrestling community has been scrambling to get back on their feet ever since. Can’t our domestic programs learn from the experience of others? The warning bells are clanging.

Did anyone watch last weekend’s Australian Open in tennis? How great were the outfits their athletes wore? Electrically charged lime green shoes with non-matching socks; neon colored tops and contrasting shorts. Boy has tennis changed with society’s interest in fun colors and designer labeled clothing. Gone are the days of their restaurant white attire and court room decorum. Wake up wrestling.

_________________________

As to the UWW mats, they will be painted a darker shade of orange and blue so the new lighter colored uniforms will stand out by contrast. Although the look hasn’t been unveiled yet, rumor has it they will be a combination of compression shorts and short sleeve tops that will accent the curves and bulges of those wearing them and gives way to enough space to print the countries name across the back. It’s always nice to know who you’re rooting for . . . as to uniform colors, replacing the traditional red and blue singlet will be those that match the flag of each athlete’s nation.

How smart is all this . . . these designs, along with a new look for officials is meant to modernize the sport and appeal to the spectator. Imagine that, they’re finally doing something for their fans and of course the broadcast community. You can bet Colorado Springs didn’t have a hand in any of this . . . it’s way too avant garde for them.

The question we should be asking at this point is what was the impetus for these changes? Why now and not 2, 5 or 15 years ago? The answer should be obvious; the IOC’s decision to drop wrestling from the Olympics. It seems wrestling never gets the message until it’s crammed down their throats.

Which leads me to the next question; when will our domestic programs get the memo? Are America’s wrestling coaches and administrators actually waiting until the sport disappears from our educational institutions before they act?

If we’d ask USAWrestling about their experiences, I believe they’d say, “don’t wait, we were not only blindsided but irresponsible in the way we handled the sport and it cost us dearly. Being proactive is the only way to go.”

_________________________

As a “can you believe it”, I saw this a couple of weeks ago on the UWW website. It’s regarding the Yarygin Grand Prix tournament in Russia and how well the host country was doing. Read the caption in italics that accompanied the photo.

Chap 14 pic

Though the day was a triumph for the Russians, it didn’t come without controversy. At 74kg Andrew HOWE (USA) was in late on a double leg against Ahmed ADZHIMAGOMEDOV (RUS), but with the points seemingly locked up the referee stopped the action for an illegal hold. After the American coaches failed to challenge, the match ended 2-2, with Gadzhimagomedov winning by largest technical maneuver.

Say what; “After the American coaches failed to challenge”, what does that mean? Even the author of the article who wasn’t an American is scratching his head over this and I think I’ll join him?

As an overview of how bad the programming is in Colorado Springs with regards to training America’s best athletes, as of this writing the U.S. only has 1 male athlete with a world ranking of 4th or better in either freestyle or Greco-Roman wrestling. Said another way; only 1 of the world’s best 64 wrestlers, or 1½% call the United States home and that individual is ranked 3rd in his weight class.

So either our product is inferior or management is inept. I refuse to believe it’s the former because we have talented, dedicated wrestlers who are willing to work. But yet our international programs are in bankruptcy with nothing but grey clouds on the horizon.

Chapter 15 next Sunday.

Wrestling is Dead!

 

I just received this from a friend who is a member of the international press. It defines some of our issues and supports what I’ve been saying about wrestling’s leadership. Their actions continue to speak so loudly that none of us can hear what they’re saying.

Wade

____________________________

“It really is over. There was no TV for the Iowa-Oklahoma State dual meet. A match between the two teams in America that have the most NCAA titles. Okay, there were some obscure pay-per-view web streams but no TV.

The Iowa Public Relations guy used to send me press releases. He stopped a while back but to his credit he did help set up a recent interview with Tom Brands. I asked him to send me the press releases again. He still hasn’t. As you know, list management is a basic skill needed to run mailing lists.

None of the new real pro wrestling groups send me anything. I’ve asked them but I still receive nothing. And it’s not that they can’t use the exposure, especially when it’s free. In the past I’ve covered them more than just about anyone, but they continue to be clueless and are beyond help.

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about the old phrase “let the dead bury the dead”. Wrestling, as we have known it, is dead. It is hopelessly run by incompetents, dullards, and clueless bureaucrats –and that’s just here in our country. Internationally, we have the Russian, East European, and Central Asian Mafia overseeing things.

So while these hopeless cases can’t figure out that maybe I want to do a lot more interviews and coverage about wrestling, I went to two boxing press conferences yesterday. One was at NBC, at 30 Rock. I posted the audio today from it, and have these interviews going up, probably tomorrow: Roberto Duran, Keith Thurman, Adrien Broner, Lamont Peterson, Lou DiBella, and NBC’s top marketing guy John Miller.

I then went to the HBO-Main Events press conference, and interviewed Sergey Kovalev, Jean Pascal, Steve Cunningham, and Roy Jones Jr. If I hadn’t been completely exhausted, I would have also gotten Shane Mosley and Floyd Mayweather Sr. I was too tired at the other one to do Sugar Ray Leonard (Duran was more fun anyway).

I’m more of a wrestling guy than a boxing guy, but one sport can’t tie its shoes, while the other one shouts from the virtual rooftops.

However, catch wrestling is growing; maybe that’s a good thing? It will be officially announced in about two weeks that this year there will be a joint tournament in July in Montreal of most of the catch groups (apparently Catch Wrestling Alliance is not involved, at least yet). Many of these same people are involved with combat wrestling, which is essentially Catch wrestling with points, or Sombo without the kurtka.

These styles are generally run by people who love to get the word out about what they do, and are also very social media savvy. That’s the place to be, actually the only place to be if you want to grow and unfortunately wrestling has yet to discover it.

So wrestling is dead — long live wrestling!”

How Wrestling Wins – Chapter 13

x and o

Chapter 13

Going the political route. While there are a few of us attempting to get the sport’s act together, we need to find ways to slow the train that’s barreling down the tracks toward our destruction.

Here are two thoughts we might consider, both political, and most likely iffy, but they’re worth throwing out for those who know how to navigate those waters. How about suggesting to the NCAA that their 501c3 tax exempt status may be in jeopardy if the Olympic sports they administer begin to disappear.

The reason they enjoy a tax benefit in the first place is they serve a large enough percentage of the collegiate student population to be considered an essential part of the educational process.

But for them to allow or accept the loss of most, if not all Olympic sports due to football’s and basketballs financial arms race, it can be argued that they no longer represent the interests of a large enough cross section of the academic community to partake of the schools tax exempt status.

This would have to get their attention given they’re a billion dollars a year corporation. The thought of having to pay taxes on such an enormous amount is enough to make any grown man cry and think twice about allowing even a single sport to be lost.

As for each individual institution, an argument could be made that if the NCAA is no longer tax exempt, neither are any of the individual athletic departments for the same reason.

You might or might not know, but the poorest athletic department in America out of the nation’s Top 40 universities deposits 60 million a year into their account. The richest one, the University of Alabama, deposits 125 million.

I would think that the faintest chance of losing tax exempt status would have every administrator not only completely supporting the sports they have but considering adding a few more for good measure.

The second way is to appeal to the government for protection. There are laws on the books that are designed to protect the interests of small businesses against the predatory practices of larger businesses. It’s referred to as monopolies. Governments have understood for centuries that monopolies, which is a word that comes from the Greek meaning mono or one seller, are the antithesis of capitalism.

When athletic administrators push for or close their eyes to the loss of all Olympic sports, they’re knowingly creating a monopoly of the few at the expense of the many. That might or might not be legal, but in either case it’s still worth looking into.

Then again, given the power the NCAA wields I’m not holding my breath but it’s the best I can come up with given what I don’t know.

13. Wrestle where you belong. There are too many D-I, II and III programs who have no business wrestling the Iowa’s and Penn States’ of the world. But they do anyway because coaches feel it makes their program appear relevant while it hones the talents of their best athletes. Well, no, yes and no. It doesn’t make a program relevant, instead it points out how far the program is from being relevant. But it can help one or two of a program’s best athletes. However for the rest of their good, average and below average wrestlers it’s just embarrassing.

Most athletes know where they fall in the pecking order but to publically expose their level of proficiency in front of their friends and family, without even a chance of success is insensitive at best, bullying at worst.

Athletic Directors want success, and the spectators we don’t have yet want to see wins. Neither of them really care who their team is wrestling, all they know is wins are fun and losses aren’t! Few understand the philosophies that our wrestling coaches have that their wrestlers need this high level of competition so they can perform at a higher level by the end of the year.

But when D-II programs are granted permission to move to D-I it hurts all of wrestling. Bloomsburg doesn’t schedule Ohio State in football for good reason; half their team would be in the hospital before halftime. Lock Haven doesn’t compete against North Carolina in basketball because a triple digit loss is way beyond humiliating. So why is it reasonable to expect those schools to be able to handle Iowa in wrestling? They can’t, they don’t, and it hurts our sport and it puts their programs in harm’s way of being dropped. Maybe not initially but over time the weight of the financial burden to keep up becomes unsustainable.

Even the Edinboro’s of the world should focus on other D-II teams for several reasons, the first of which is their ongoing success provides hope for the few remaining D-II programs that it’s possible to move up and be successful. But if Edinboro didn’t have Bruce Baumgartner as their Athletic Director they wouldn’t be doing quite as well so it’s deeply misleading to assume others can step out as they have done. Two thoughts:

  1. Let’s look at what’s not happening at Edinboro instead of what is. How many Edinboro starters would be D-II All-Americans that aren’t at the expense of having half as many D-I All-Americans? How fair is that to those who work just as hard as the team’s leaders; wouldn’t they like to be an All-Americans too? There’s no doubt that Edinboro is an exceptional team coached by one of the best men we have in wrestling; just as Central Michigan and Clarion were during their days in the sun. But being D-I has kept the Scotts from winning a National Team Championship in D-II and their D-I All-American’s from winning individual national championships in D-II. I know the answer why they wrestle where they do. It’s just that we give such premium status to being D-I because we consider D-II and D-III to be something just north of high school which is not only ridiculous but patently wrong.
  2. Edinboro’s successes gives hope to those other D-II schools who still have the sport that they too might someday duplicate what Coach Flynn has done. The days of the Golden Eagles, Chippewa’s and probably soon to be Scots is coming to an end because of the nation’s economy and the majors throwing more and more money into their programs. America’s wrestling middle class has all but disappeared because those who would normally be in that category chose to believe they’re upper class when the real upper class has seriously stepped up their game.

The results of all this is Athletic Directors at the D-II level who are competing at D-I are being expected to provide wrestling with champaign budgets while the rest of the sports in their department receive beer money. This creates institutional jealousy among the other coaches which only worsens when the wrestling team gets schooled by legitimate D-I programs; which leads to Athletic Directors wondering if they’ve made a huge mistake to allow their program to jump divisions – not to mention the interdepartmental strife that ensues.

Athletic Directors wonder; “if we can’t be competitive, should we even have a wrestling team?” They typically overlook the other option; which is moving back to D-II.

Now I do get it, there were definitely some D-II teams who use to be able to tackle the biggest programs and win, none better than Clarion in the 70’s. But those “good old days” of one program out of dozens being able to make the jump have come and gone.

How can any D-II school afford to keep up with the majors when some D-I coaches have larger salaries than most D-II schools have budgets? Tell me how that equates to being able to compete? I know, we’re all ex-wrestlers, everyone thinks they can beat anyone. But the facts repeat themselves every week all season long; they can’t, they won’t, they haven’t and they aren’t about to.

As I mentioned, in the 70’s and 80’s it was Clarion who slayed giants. In the 90’s and early 2000’s it was Central Michigan who stole the show and now Edinboro. The upside is each was successful. But the downside is it emboldens other lesser programs to think they can someday join this elite circle of champions; given that’s how wrestlers think. But having the mentality of a lemming doesn’t always serve their community well either.

I think we are all aware of the reasons why D-II schools feel they’re justified in wrestling a D-I schedule but none of them benefit the sport. It doesn’t elevate the status of a program to get shut out by Minnesota or crunched by Oklahoma State. Actually it does just the opposite by providing 34-3 reasons why their school’s wrestling program isn’t really D-I and as a result, deserving of their budget or unfortunately their existence.

If you listen to the coaches of D-II, they’re the first to tell you they have been successful. They had an All-America two years ago and finished 27th in the country. But I’m afraid that isn’t the definition of success.

I really worry about losing programs and what I’m writing about is a cost-analysis sequence. When you spend big bucks administrations expect big returns. Look at Slippery Rock, their administrators selected to drop the sport instead of taking on a prolonged fight with the coaches and the programs alumni over funding. Administrators aren’t daft; they understand very well that the wrestling community thinks of themselves as David’s living in a world of Goliath’s. But unfortunately in this case wrestling is living on a planet without stones. No administrator wants to take on a prolonged battle with wrestling so a quick excising makes complete sense. It’s just easier to drop programs than move them back to where they belong.

Now I understand, and love the mental toughness that develops in those who graduate from wrestling, but mental toughness without logic is how we landed in the pot we’re stewing in now.

I just had a very nice conversation with Keith Ferraro, the new Head Coach at Clarion about this very subject. There was a great deal of give and take both ways and he felt just as passionate that the Golden Eagles could compete in D-I as much as I felt they no longer could. In the end I was able to see a few of his points and altered to some extent some of these paragraphs. But in the end we agreed to disagree but I am glad we had the conversation.

Keith pointed to the success that Edinboro is having as proof positive that it is possible to take on the big boys. And of course he mentioned Clarion’s past. To those extents I agreed but then asked, “At what cost?” In the Pennsylvania Conference, which is a D-II conference, they’ve lost Mansfield State, Slippery Rock, West Chester, Indiana University of PA and California State. They were the ones who didn’t make it, how quickly we forget why? Then there are those who were retained as a sport but seriously downgraded like East Stroudsburg and Millersville.

The whole issue here isn’t what Keith or I think; it’s what is happening nationally in the sport with administrators. Wrestling as a rule and not the exception isn’t on their “must keep” radar and anything we do that’s even marginally questionable hurts our chances of survival.

As an alternative thought; might I suggest that the NCAA consider in all Olympic sports a national program of competing where you belong based on budgets; a realignment of sorts, forcing teams to have like funded schedules. If a school makes a small commitment to a sport, it shouldn’t be expected to compete against those who have made large commitments. Wouldn’t it make sense to group each sport by likeness of funding and scholarships for the purpose of competitiveness and parity? Isn’t that what they do in high school with the various divisions like A, AA and AAA?

I know; it’s a crazy thought but schools should compete against one another based on resources. That’s probably un-American, but if the alternative is extinction, which of the two makes the most sense to you?

Or maybe it’s not un-American? Why do you suppose the NFL touts the slogan, “On any given Sunday?” Isn’t it on any given Sunday that anything can happen? Well, except for the Jets and Raiders this year! But New York did beat the Steelers and Oakland did defeat their rivals from across the bay. So I guess the NFL is right, “On any given Sunday!”

But how is that always possible?

The answer is parity. It’s what drives ticket sales and creates the interest the networks have in broadcasting the games. The NFL has bet their entire existence on parity.

That’s why the first round draft choice goes to the worst team in the league; to assure parity. That’s why they have a salary cap so teams with deep pockets can’t out spend others who aren’t as financially well off; again parity. This is also why teams with the worst records each season are given games the next year that are outside of their division against others with the poorest records. The NFL is determined to make sure the league has parity because that gives way to great games; every Sunday.

So why is it wrong to ask or expect wrestling coaches, since they are the ones who do most of their scheduling, to work equally as hard toward parity? In our case that means if we can’t control what another team spend or have access to a draft, we should at least create parity by who we schedule. That means D-II shouldn’t be scheduling shutouts or near shutouts all in a misguided effort toward development. Yes, you might get large crowds for those meets but in doing so kill most of your future support because everyone witnesses first hand how bad your program really is.

Remember, everything I’m writing about here is in relation to the spectators we don’t have, not the ones who think these ideas are ludicrous. Spectators in all sports, at all levels, prefer to attend events where their team has a chance of winning, not ones where the match is only a technical demonstration of superiority. How many spectators would come to a Steeler game if they knew beforehand that they were going to lose 54-7? Not many is my guess and the terrible towel clan is a rather large and loyal group.

Being forced to wrestle where you belong also eliminates the urge by smaller programs to recruit athletes who are either socially marginal or academically questionable. Poor decisions are made all the time in hopes of becoming competitive. But I’m afraid that the urge to win for many is greater than their fear of losing their program in the process.

Scheduling budget appropriate programs also minimizes the two and three-a-day practices that some coaches require of their athletes in an attempt to close the gap between themselves and those teams they’ll never catch. In some instances issuing side arms won’t even help these schools.

Athletes at smaller funded institutions didn’t sign on to train like Olympians and aren’t being reimbursed for that level of commitment; either in scholarship dollars, the numbers of spectators they don’t wrestle in front of or to see a reduction in their academic performance.

Could it be that the 15-point technical fall, wrestling’s equivalent of the Mercy rule, was put into effect to handle these poor decisions and corresponding athletic mismatches?

Wrestling has to be considered and treated like a team sport with an individual component. As long as the sport is viewed as an individual sport with a team component, coaches will continue to make bad decisions. It’s all about growing the sport and keeping programs alive. Sometimes that means upsetting coaches, but I much prefer a world with the sport than one without it.

What others are saying:

“Leave it to Wade to ask the tough questions and raise awareness about what wrestling needs to do to save itself. This is a must read for the entire wrestling community!”

Rob Williams, Bethesda, Maryland

Blood time? Just thinking out loud here, how many blood borne illnesses has wrestling had in the history of the sport and certainly since we’ve become so anal about, “OMG, he’s bleeding!” None is the correct answer, at least that I’m aware of which begs the question, “Are we doing such a terrific job when someone leaks a little red or is it really worth stopping the world from spinning to fix?

Wrestling hasn’t batted over .500 in anything it’s done so why would we think that the way we’re handling bleeding is correct, or a better question; necessary?

I’m all about safety, but I’m also about the flow of a match, no pun intended as it pertains to spectator appeal and what potential parents think about the sport before they allow their little ones to give it a try.

This is more a question than an attempt at correction but is the gymnastic circus we see occurring during a blood time-out really necessary? You’d think someone just spilled a vile of anthrax on the mat by the way people scurry about.

Has the UFC or any of the other MMA organizations had any problems with blood issues? Has boxing or rugby? It’s not that these athletes are incapable of bleeding. I guess my question is, has anyone ever heard of or have evidence that a single problem has ever occurred as a result of blood redistribution in combative sports?

Now I’m not talking about the type of cut where 18 stitches are necessary. Of course there’s a point where medical attention is always prudent. But for boo-boo’s and the occasional cut lip let the match continue. A shower and a washing machine will take care of those issues after the match is over.

If this was a real issue in any sport we’d know about it. There would be law suits galore.

I just worry about the wussification (hope I spelled that right) of our sport. We talk so much about how tough we are but the number of stalemates, potentially dangerous calls and twirley fingers keep increasing. And heaven forbid if someone doesn’t get a 30 minute break between matches, you’d think they just got a letter from the IRS telling them they’re being audited.

Why don’t we have a sliding scale for aggressiveness in wrestling? Certainly protect our little guys but as athletes mature, what’s wrong with allowing a little more aggressiveness and athletes maybe wrestling two weight classes in dual meets? We talk tough but act like we’re fragile.

And wouldn’t you think that the chances of blood issues arising in MMA to be far greater than in wrestling? Don’t the percentages favor our sport given the fact that the average age and corresponding number of life experiences of MMA combatants is so much greater than what we do? So if they don’t have issues, couldn’t one conclude that we’re going a little overboard?

I guess I’d like my readership to wonder; “Are we better off with blood timeouts and the scary display of medical personnel scrambling about with mops, towels and disinfectants versus leaving it as it was for the first 80 years of collegiate wrestling when there was never an issue?”

Chapter 14 next Sunday.