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 scoring.
- Will it make wrestling simpler, easier to understand by those who aren’t fans yet?
- Does it attract the interest of the spectator?
What shouldn’t be a criterion:
- The opinions of coaches.
I’m sorry but they’ve 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 control to make decisions?
Coaches, at least the ones who are currently running programs, should have no say in the general operation of wrestling and specifically the rules.
If you think about it, 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 income the sport will go out of business. We’ve been seeing that more and more as our numbers 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 program in America, including Iowa and Penn State lose money every year. And given the ravenous financial nature of football and basketball to become bigger and better, non-revenue sports had better hunker down because administrators are growing less and less interested in keeping liabilities on their books.
Adding insult to injury, without a steady stream of significant income, anything that happens in a sport that is negative 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.
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 much matter where we point the finger. The sport of wrestling is the one who takes the hit.
So 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 if everyone agreed to focus on improvement in both areas but since that is too far removed from reality to even discuss, and the first one being almost as difficult, we only have one choice, increase revenue production.
In defense of our coaches, 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; 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 gained and run parallel to success, every program is now wrestling an absurd number of matches.
This means athletes are missing classes 4 times more often than wrestlers did in the 1950’s and during those occasions when they are actually in class, they’re losing weight 4 times more often. Danny Hodge never missed a match while wrestling for the University of Oklahoma and had a total of 13 matches per year and that included all their dual meets, the Big 6 Tournament (then the Big 8 and now the Big 12) and the NCAA Championships.
There is no wonder why our academic performance is dismal.
Coaches cannot, should not be given responsibilities in areas that aren’t in their fields of expertise or 2) force them to choose between winning and what is in the best interest of the sport.
Here’s where the NCAA, not the NCAA Wrestling Rules Committee but the big boys at the NCAA Headquarters have to step in and take charge. And that means helping the sport focus on improving revenue and the only way to do that is by increasing our spectator base. And that means upgrading the sports wow factor. Right now it’s far 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 far from being the norm. It’s like fishing in a pond that’s been fished out. You have to sit there seemingly forever before you may be lucky enough to catch a keeper. And all too often you get skunked.
What wrestling has to do and the coaches won’t like one bit is devise rules with the goal of making a great battle like Taylor-Dake boring by comparison. When we can make that happen, then 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 5 point techs we have today. Whoever came up with that formula had to be a 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 and give to those who don’t. And with that form of collectivism, the outcome always ends up being the producer feeling like what’s the point? Why am I busting my hump to score a bunch of points when winning by 1 point gets me the same number of team points as winning by 7?”
We penalize for trying and succeeding and reward those who don’t try and succeed. So where’s the incentive?
Name one sport, just one, that has a point system like ours? Good luck thinking.
That’s where wrestling is now and exactly why wrestler’s outnumber the fans at way too many matches.
I can just hear the coaches now disparaging a point earned is a point scored, “it’s unfair, it won’t work, I don’t like it.” Now the reason why they don’t like it is it takes them out of their comfort zone. It changes the sports paradigm, it forces them to rethink everything they do.
We have to make rules that benefit spectators, not ones that benefit those who coach it. For those who question that, we might ask, “how’s the current system they devised working out for the sport?”
Okay, enough already, here’s the fine print of a point earned is a point scored.
This means scrapping the 3, 4, 5, and 6 point match outcomes. Instead, every point scored by an athlete is a team point recorded.
Examples are: 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, 15 team points. When 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. 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. Default: 10 team points are added to the 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 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 fall: 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 you have a lot of questions after reading this . . . 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 these rules are adopted. So put those thoughts behind you.
Over all, this system of a point scored is a point recorded:
- Immensely encourages more scoring and thus more 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, 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 teams totals.
- 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.
- 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.
- With larger team scores, the chance of two teams tying is severely reduced 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, take the least amount of shots. Consequently low scoring matches with one point separations between 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. And don’t say athletes are more even today than ever before and the reason why scores are closer. That’s simply not true.
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 the sport, 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 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. Because they’re competitors and as such you can count on one thing; they’ll compete.
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; 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 and if we really want action, we need to change the rules to accomplish it.
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 we should be prepared, 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.
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 more 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. Or winning in Rugby 27-23 and your team receives 10 team points for scoring 27 and your opponent loses all 23 of his 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 intermural 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 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 6thinning 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 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 it, I’m sure his coach will remind him of the importance of scoring, and very loudly.
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 and action means spectators.
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 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 if ever happens? But when it does, the offensive machine that racked up more points than his opponent in the instance 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 in the absence of scoring, 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 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.
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 with the athletes and coaches, 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 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.