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

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

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

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.

____________________

“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

____________________

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

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

x and o

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.

___________________

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.

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For the Semi-Finals Friday evening.

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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

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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?

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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.

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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.”

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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

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“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

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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.

How Wrestling Wins – Chapter 12

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Chapter 12

12. Protect our youth. Athlete retention must be a priority. We have to work at growing our numbers while expanding our revenue if we expect to survive as a sport but what a challenge that is when half of those we attract leave in the first year.

The main challenge we have here is a majority of youth coaches define success by the number of medals earned and championships won, which is the same way their coaches handled the sport when they wrestled. But things that have always been done a certain way don’t always mean they were done correctly; especially when we’re talking about early childhood.

What worked when kids climbed trees and swam in creeks for fun doesn’t fly in today’s technology driven lifestyle. There are too many things for children to choose from to remain endeared to wrestling; at least in its current form which sadly, is also its past form. There are hundreds of diversions for kids to choose from and at the same time myriads of options which involve fun and excitement; so why would any of them want to wrestle?

For us to keep up with the interests of today’s children we have to change the way programs handle sports generally, wrestling specifically. That means finding ways to make our sport engaging, enjoyable and achievement based; at least in their inaugural year of involvement.

That means three things if we want our current recruiting class to be part of the sport next year:

  1. Practices need to be structured in a way that’s fun and enjoyable.
  2. Our current tournament structure has to be altered for 1st year wrestlers.
  3. Limits need to be set on the difficulty of events that 2nd year wrestlers attend.

But first we need to adjust the thought processes of well-meaning parents (and coaches) who put winning ahead of retention. What worked decades ago are just as many years past its shelf live today.

All wrestling seems to do each season is duplicate what it did in previous years; but with an eye toward increased intensity. Granted the Iowa system of “get in your face wrestling” works well when you want to develop tough wrestlers but for youth programs all it does is teach the top 10% how to successfully prey on the bottom 50%.

Scheduling more competition, practicing longer hours and pushing kids to work harder has been cataclysmic to the sports elementary programs.

Our problem begins each fall with the number of new parents and young adults that just retired from competition who volunteer to coach programs.

It seems when this happens, these coaches who have yet to learn how to handle youth programming, approach their responsibilities in one of three ways:

  1. They seek guidance from experienced coaches. (5%)
  2. They duplicate what they were taught when they wrestled. (75%)
  3. Or wing it and cross their fingers. (20%)

Youth programming shouldn’t be judged by the number of championships won but by the number of athletes retained from one season to the next.

Lose over 50% of your athletes and the program is a gigantic failure regardless of the color or quantity of any hardware won. This is the price the sport pays when coaches focus on the top 10% at the expense of the bottom 50%.

Lose 25% of the athletes and the program is average because that’s generally considered the national average for children dropping out of any program, sport or activity.

Lose 0% of your athletes and you’re in a very small pool of Gold Medal coaches. 100% retention should be the standard by which everyone strives to achieve.

End with more wrestlers than a program began with and the coach belongs in Stillwater at the Hall of Fame.

Now I’m not opposed to youth programing taking home championships, someone has to win but to be willing to accept the loss of athletes all in the quest of gaining hardware is wrong!

If we were to parallel this to business, which I’ve done quite a bit in these blogs, a company that loses over 50% of its customer base each year is:

  1. Already out of business or on the verge of it.
  2. Or in the process of firing every executive they have.

Fortunately for wrestling we’re not out of business because every child on this planet, if they have a neighbor across the street has already tried wrestling. It’s the most natural of activities and it’s the #1 sport in percentages of children giving it a try. So the pool we have to draw from is wide and deep. The problem is the sport itself poisons the water by the way we handle our athletes.

What others are saying:

“This is a wonderful read – totally engrossing; it’s a must for anyone who cares about the direction of wrestling. The most important presentation I’ve seen for wrestling in years.”

Joanna Kielb, Washington, DC

In the last 50 years we’ve gone from something just shy of 1000 collegiate programs to 30% of that number of which only 79 of them are Division I programs. Now no one individual is at fault here as we’ve had quite a few leaders come and go during that time but the mentality that each carried with them has remained the same. This is proof positive that if we keep doing what we’ve always done, we’ll keep getting what we’ve always gotten.

The overarching theme for our youth coaches seem to be work hard, stay focused and wrestle in as many events as you can get to.

No one can argue that competition isn’t the key component to success but as every sword has two edges, competition also shaves our numbers.

“Okay Wade I got it, the horse is dead, so now what?”

Well, let’s first address the practice outline. During the first two years of a young person’s wrestling career, it’s critical that he or she be immersed in practices that center around wrestling’s 3F’s; Fun, Friends and Fundamentals.

  1. When athletes are having Fun in practice, retention numbers soar.
  2. If the wrestlers aren’t making new Friends which they can play with outside of wrestling, there’s something wrong with the way the program is structured.
  3. As to the Fundamentals, they’re definitely the building blocks of winning. Are they important, you bet they are but not at the expense of the first two. Wrestlers will learn the fundamentals just by being involved, even if it doesn’t appear they’re paying attention. But if they’re not in the room because they’ve already quit, it’s kind of tough being an absentee learner.

Youth programming needs to be a two year process of starting in the shallow end and working ever so slowly toward the deep end. To accomplish our goal of retention, if we have to legislate a new way of thinking for the sport, so be it and here’s the direction I’d head.

For the elementary grades and younger, there should be no tournaments or formal scrimmages during an athlete’s first year of wrestling; at least in the way we currently know them.

Instead we should employ Kata’s or Forms as the way we test our newest students. It’s the way it’s done in most of the martial arts and it’s been a proven winner for them.

As a brief history, Kata’s (pronounced caught-a’s) is a Japanese word for detailed choreographed patterns of movements practiced either solo or in pairs. The term Form is used for the corresponding demonstrations in non-Japanese martial arts. Both are teaching methods that leads to a systematic approach to learning. By practicing in a non-competitive setting, the child learns how to naturally develop the ability to execute techniques without thought or hesitation.

The idea is everyone still goes to tournaments but for the first year athlete, pre-K to say 5th grade, they don’t wrestle live matches. Instead they must demonstrate techniques with a passive partner in all three positions and then answer questions about the sports history, rules, starting positions, decorum and sportsmanship.

For this effort every athlete will receive either a white, red or blue ribbon based on their performance and responses to questions. Evaluations should be rather liberal and the total experience supportive and positive. The individual particulars how this would be actually handled should be based on the opinions of our best coaches. But regardless of how it’s conducted or managed, the concept is a winning one and the costs associated with it are almost negligible.

The main issue I have with tournaments, at least in the early stages of a child’s development, is the way we split up combatants based on age and weight. This is so unfair and devastating to our population because we overlook the most important phase of a child’s development; that being his years of experience!

Putting a child on the mat that’s been wrestling for 2 weeks against someone whose weight and age are the same but has been wrestling for 2 years is nothing short of child abuse. This is why kids quit and parents walkaway. Age and weight is not a fair way of pairing anyone when the combatants are novices. It never has been, never will be but we keep doing it the same way and hoping for a different outcome?

Kata’s are the answer if retaining athletes is the goal. Who gets hurt if we nurture our young by bringing them along slowly? They’re still practicing. They’re attending events. They’re still supporting their teammates. They get to learn about competition without having to go through the sting of lopsided outcomes. Tournament operators still receive their entry fee revenue which is important to the sport. Every child goes home with a ribbon and as a much larger benefit; parents are on their way home before noon with their achiever child in tow.

Logistically, set aside two mats for the Kata’s and tape each one into four smaller wrestling sections. That way we can have 8 Kata stations handling 16 beginners all at the same time.

As a secondary thought, maybe what we should consider is one calendar year without live fire events and the completion of 6 levels of Kata’s; each one building on the previous one. It can be 4 or 8, you decide, but what we should be working toward is a better way of preparing our wrestler’s for success when they actually enter competition. Maybe develop a report card for the sport where the athlete has to have 80% of the boxes checked off before being allowed to enter competition. I think you see where I’m trying to go here.

In the second year of a wrestler’s development, after finishing the Kata’s, they should be restricted to local competition only; regional and national events should be off limits. It’s wrong to define having ones ass kicked as a means of developing character. That’s the prevailing attitude that all too many coaches have about events. Parents hear, “Don’t worry; your son will be okay, I’ll watch over him.” But sitting in the corner and watching the carnage isn’t what the parents had in mind when they heard, “I’ll watch over him.”

Would doing things this way have hurt the Cary Kolat’s and David Taylor’s of the world during their developmental years? I don’t think so. Great will be great regardless of how we handle them. You can’t screw up greatness although Johnny Manziel is working hard at screwing up his. Champions win in spite of the leadership they receive or the structure they’re in. But that’s definitely not true for the lower 50% who simply aren’t prepared for the rigors of competition.

Setting program precedent for the top 10% and the expense of the lower half just demonstrates how backward our thinking has always been. And no, I’m not dummying down a tough sport; just the opposite. I just wonder how many World and Olympic champions we’ve actually run out of the sport during their first year through our indifference. And if you think about it, doesn’t baseball start their youth in T-ball? I wonder why they don’t have kids throwing at that age or trying to hit a pitched ball? Hmmm. Why did the NFL start their own flag football program for youngsters? What, no tackling? Hmmm. See any parallels here?

The sports goal must be retention; we must find a way to make sure that every child who comes out for wrestling is going to be with us three years later. If we can see our way clear to make the changes we have to make, then the percentages of each athlete becoming a high school wrestler goes up exponentially.

In conclusion, putting a young man out in front of his parents and friends when he hasn’t learned the rules, doesn’t know the starting positions and hasn’t even begun to master the sports basic techniques is wrestling’s equivalent of bullying. Tournaments should offer report cards for Novices, not physical and emotional bruises.

It’s all about Slurpee’s. As a note for parents, when it’s time for your child to participate in sports, above all, don’t rush home after practices or meets. I know, you have work to do and things to finish, and they have homework. I’ve heard all the (excuses) reasons. But please find time to bond with God’s little creature that’s buckled into the seat next to you. Stop at a Dairy Queen, a convenience store, somewhere on the way home and together share a treat. Personally I’d recommend Slurpee’s.

Then just sit in the car and enjoy the time you have together. It’s what my children remember most about youth sports; the time we spent sitting in parking lots sharing stories and laughing at one another’s purple colored tongues. It’s never just about sports; it’s about the creation of a lifetime of friendships that too many parents never create with their children because they’re in a hurry to get home.

Chapter 13 next Sunday.

How Wrestling Wins – Chapter 11

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Chapter 11

This week Mark Emmert, the President of the NCAA spoke to the Associated Press in regards to the University of Alabama-Birmingham dropping football. “I’m worried while autonomy for the Big Five conferences will lead to more money being spent on athletes it could decrease the overall number of opportunities in college sports for students.”

UAB cited the rising costs of college athletics, including pressure to pay the new full cost of attendance for athletes as a reason for their decision. And given that they are bowl eligible again this year which suggests another influx of significant revenue, what do you think the future is for football programs that seldom go bowling? And if it can happen in football . . .

Mr. Emmert went on to suggest that he believes Olympic sports are much more vulnerable to cuts now as schools look at athletic budgets. He suggested when universities are trying to support non-revenue programs and feeling pinched financially, that Olympic sports like volleyball, soccer, gymnastics and wrestling (sports he named specifically) have a right to be concerned. ”I do worry a lot we may well see in the coming years a reduction of commitments from our campuses in those programs.”

In non-political speak, given a moderate economy and the arms race that the two major sports are currently waging, wrestling is going to become a club sport.

So now we’ve heard that from the President of the NCAA right after Bob Bowlsby, the Commissioner of the Big 12 and the most powerful friend wrestling has said essentially the same thing a little over a month ago. Who else do we need to hear from before this sinks in; wrestling has to make immediate changes which are designed to balance each of our programs budgets. Yet despite significant hints of concern, it appears the sport and its leadership didn’t learn much from last summer’s Olympic debacle.

Now I realize it will take us more years to achieve a balanced budget than we have left. But if we’re smart, we’d start anyway because when administrations have to make tough decisions, I believe the first programs they’ll chop are the ones who aren’t moving toward solvency.

But we shouldn’t expect that to happen because it’s far easier for leadership to ignore the warning signs than it is for them to defend a call for change like I have been doing with these blogs.

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Speaking of changes, our coaches need to work more diligently at becoming team players. Currently many seem to forget that their sport is part of a larger family unit that their athletic director oversees.

So it shouldn’t surprise anyone that team performance, athlete behavior, grades, scholarships, intrinsic contributions and of course budgets are always subject to review and the person who does the reviewing is the AD. So when a program has to be discontinued, contrary to popular belief, it’s typically not Title IX’s fault, it’s not about the economy although it is indirectly and it’s not about the sports negligible media coverage or anemic spectator base although it could be. My point here is it’s always about relationships.

Programs fall when coaches fail to establish both a harmonious and empathetic relationship with their administrators.

I believe we all understand that wrestling is riding in steerage on most athletic department ships; which is never good news. But wrestling should remember that every other non-revenue sport is bunking with us. So when Title IX does become an issue, when the economy does affect an athletic department’s bottom line, when poor media coverage and too few spectators does make a difference, the programs that are first to disappear are the ones who are poorest at the relationship game.

It’s all about where a sport ranks; not on the national stage where wrestling coaches focus but internally. Because on every campus, in every athletic department there is a friendship list that rates each sport from highest to lowest, most liked to least. It’s this list that administrator’s turn to when it becomes apparent that they need to thin the herd. Unfortunately for coaches who are less perceptive, regardless of the sport they oversee, they’re the ones who end up rotating on the spit. Now athletic directors won’t admit there’s a list, sort of like Louis Lerner with her emails but you can count on it; there is a list.

Now I guess the question becomes, is the existence of that list a good or bad thing? If you’re aware there is one, and are good at competing like wrestling coaches are, then it’s a great thing. But given that over five hundred wrestling programs have been dropped in the last 40 years, I’m going to give our coaches the benefit of the doubt here and say they weren’t aware of the list. The only other possibility is they’re in positions that are in excess of their capabilities.

Coaches, the competition isn’t beating Iowa or Penn State or Hofstra, it’s defeating the gymnastic coach who has the office across the hall from you. It’s your swimming, tennis and track coach friends who you play racquetball with over lunch. It’s the gymnastic, baseball and cross country coaches that have always supported your program.

Now I don’t like what I’m writing here but think of what’s happening as a sixteen team tournament between all the non-revenue sports at your school. All you have to do is survive the first round of competition, you don’t even have to worry about the quarter finals, just win the first round. So when the economy falters and athletic departments are forced to shed programs, the athletic director looks to the sports who didn’t win the first round. They’re the ones who hear, “We’re sorry but the school is discontinuing your sport.”

Remember what we’re talking about here; relationships. It’s not about winning dual meets, tournaments or the number of All-Americans a program has produced. It’s about relationships.

To my point, if you recall each of the last 6 or 7 major Division I programs that dropped wrestling had an historic or near historic season the year they disappeared. So to assume winning is the way administrators evaluate programs is to keep ones head in the sand. It’s just not so.

Teams that remain an intercollegiate sport are the ones who outshine the other Olympic sports at their school.

And by outshining I mean successful sports need to have a higher graduation rate and overall GPA than at least half of the other non-revenue sports. Outshining means successful sports have to account for significantly less administrative headaches than at least half of the other non-revenue sports. Outshining means that the community leaders in the city or town where the institution resides has to have more positive things to say about wrestling than at least half of the other non-revenue sports. Outshining means the successful sports are such a part of the administrations inner circle that their coaches are at least asked to play poker on Wednesday nights or golf on the weekends with those whose opinions matter.

What schools really find unbecoming are coaches who are simply takers and/or administrative antagonists which I’m sorry to say wrestling has their share of in the sport. To be clear, administrators will drop a sport that has an annual budget of $560,000.00 over another that spends $730,000.00 if the former isn’t a team player. It’s not always, and usually seldom about the amount of money a sport spends but it’s always about relationships.

So while the coach is doing his part to endear himself to leadership he needs to make sure that every one of his institutions power brokers are also aware of his efforts and the sports off the mat accomplishments. It’s one thing to do good deeds, but that by itself is not enough. You have to find modest ways of letting others know of your successes and willingness to be a team player. Things like the entire wrestling department staff attending as many university sponsored outings and alumni gatherings as schedules permits is one way; and of course dressed appropriately. Creating and sending bimonthly newsletters to key decision makers is another. Obviously there is a lot more our coaches can do but it’s all about cultivating relationships outside of the athletic department, something that discontinued sports have often overlooked.

One of a dozen or so promotional successes that Bob Ferraro had when he was the Head Coach at Bucknell University was to develop an institutional Hall of Fame just for wrestling. Besides including those who had their hand raised more than any other he made a significant effort to include past graduates who the National Wrestling Hall of Fame would call Distinguished Americans; individuals who wrestled for him that are either captains of industry or have been significantly successful in other professions.

Bob honored these gentlemen by hanging 18” X 24” framed photographs of each Distinguished Member not in the wrestling room or his office but in the main hallway of the athletic department. This did two things. It reminded the school’s administrators every morning who they were going to have to deal with if they ever thought about dropping the sport and two; they were the ones who did step up and save the program when the AD thought his clout outweighed theirs. Remember the object for coaches is to place a buffer between their programs and extinction.

Think for a moment, how many colleges do you know of that 1) Has a Hall of Fame specifically for wrestling and 2) Has made its existence known in glaring ways to the university in general?

If there’s one thing I’ve learned about administrators it is they tend to know more about the negative side of non-revenue sports than they do about the positives. So it doesn’t help wrestling when coaches forget to market the aspects of their program that are noteworthy. Doing everything right doesn’t mean a hell of beans if no one knows it you did it in the first place.

Here are a few suggestions that coaches might consider if they’re interested in helping administrators with difficult decisions before they’re made. Being proactive and ducking always trumps trying to win a fight after you’re already on your back from a sucker punch.

  1. Start or become part of the local Beat the Streets program or send one of your athletes who can’t practice for whatever reason to the local HS to help their program. When you make a difference in the lives of young people society always notices.
  2. Educate people to the significance of wrestling and wrestlers with regards to America’s Special Forces community. Remind them they’re the tip of the spear in regards to America’s freedom.
  3. Work to make sure that everything your athletic director hears about wrestling is positive. Your 149 pounder helping grandma across the street is a start.
  4. Remind university officials that wrestling has a graduation rate greater than the general student population (hopefully it does) and that it has had X number of Academic All-American’s.
  5. Market the fact that X% of your graduates are currently pursuing advanced degrees and that you’ve had X number of Dean’s list wrestlers or Rhodes Scholars come through your program.
  6. Develop a wrestling specific alumni organization that annually donates either time or financial assistance to the university. Then find a way to make this groups existence known.
  7. Publicize the fact that X numbers of wrestlers are Student Senators on campus, “who always vote to support athletic department interests.” That gets AD’s attention.
  8. Remind the school community that wrestling annually sponsors civic events like the campuses Blood Mobile Drive each Fall.
  9. It wouldn’t hurt to mention that your athletes have donated over 2000 hours at the local homeless shelter or to the USO club at the airport.
  10. Take your AD out to lunch once each semester not to ask for additional funding but to make him aware of what wrestling is doing to support his department goals. Lunch is about him, not you.
  11. Become involved in America’s Wounded Warrior Project or volunteer the wrestlers to maintain a mile of local highway as part of the nation’s Adopt a Highway Program. Programs could give garbage bags with Boise State Wrestling imprinted on the side of them to each athlete to use for trash pickup as they go running. People notice those things.

This list is endless and it’s only limited by a coach’s imagination. The point is any of these things will elevate wrestling in the eyes of decision makers.

The Morning Thought: when coaches spend athletic department money, it might help prioritizing if they think of it as coming from the Athletic Director’s personal checking account.

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What others are saying about How Wrestling Wins:

“Bravo Wade! After the third paragraph I had to get up to get a cup of coffee because I began to cry. Once I gathered myself, I finished reading your piece and found it to be a bright light in a dark room. It hurt my eyes but my GOD, once I adjusted, I could see how right you are.”

Wayne Boyd, Palm Springs, California

“Wade Schalles raises the tough, real questions about the perils facing the sport of wrestling and the ongoing failures of the sport’s leadership, both in America and the world. Whether or not you agree with all his conclusions, the issues he discusses must be addressed if wrestling is to survive.”

Eddie Goldman, Ney York City

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11. Complicate the sport strategically: wrestling needs to significantly work toward increasing the ways we engage our spectators in matches. Right now the rules are such that there is minimal involvement. Sure, they cheer for a Jordan Burroughsesque blast double but strategically there’s nothing there to debate. We need to find ways for each of our fans to have their own opinions about what could, would or should happen in a way that they can defend their views with the person sitting next to them. Right now the gloriousness of being able to argue a position, regardless of the person’s stance, doesn’t exist in wrestling.

Every time we develop new rules or alter old ones it should be done in a way that increases the sports strategic options. We need to have those who watch wrestling second guessing the coach and be able to question a technique or strategy an athlete undertakes. Our rules must be simple to understand and our strategies infinitely complex if we expect to entertain spectators. Why do you think Jeopardy is so popular on television; because the rules are easy to understand, the questions are tough to answer and the amount of money wagered on Daily Doubles is typically debatable.

Now I realize coaches and athletes won’t like being second guessed; just like coaches in other sports don’t like it very much. But that is part of any successful game and it’s what coaches get paid to handle and athletes receive notoriety to manage. I’ve heard it said that all press is good press and I believe all talk is good talk if it comes from spectators who are demanding more of us.

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Forfeits: OMG guys. Name one team sport that doesn’t have to show up to competition with a full line-up? How can we expect to endear wrestling to existing spectators let alone new ones when our coaches decide how many matches they’re going to allow us to see?

If that same model was used in business it would bankrupt every company who tried it. You can’t cheat consumers and expect them to say thank you. And we wonder why television never wants to cover wrestling and our numbers keep dropping?

 Forfeits are tearing the sport apart and for some unknown reason, our leadership thinks it’s perfectly okay given their silence.

Then again, why would they want to say something and open the door to the uncomfortable nature of change? God forbid they’d have to do their jobs.

This past week the University of Missouri had two matches, Friday evening against Ohio University and Ohio State on Saturday. They forfeited 3 different weight classes out of the 20 matches. One of them Friday evening was a match-up against the only two nationally ranked wrestlers who were at the same weight. That’s like canceling the main event at an UFC fight after the spectators have arrived and paid their money. Then being told; “Thank you and won’t you come back next week?”

Tonight there were three forfeits in the Northwestern-Minnesota dual meet. Other than short changing spectators I will say it was an excellent meet with notable attendance. But how can there be forfeits? These schools are Big 10, not two small D-III schools from Mississippi. And this trend is happening all over the country, both collegiately and scholastically.

In the coaches’ defense, the rules aren’t their fault? They’re doing what they feel they need to do in order to win matches and qualify kids for the national tournament; but it is the NCAA Rules Committee’s fault. How can they watch forfeit after forfeit take place and think it’s somehow good for the sport? Do they actually believe their inaction endears the sport to either our spectators or America’s media outlets?

Should we be concerned about an athletic department’s business manager saying to his boss, “Why are we spending half a million dollars on wrestling when they have virtually no spectators, they can’t put a full team on the mat and as a school we’re struggling with Title IX numbers?”

Of the three, the one that will have us standing on the gallows quicker than anything is not being able to field a full team. It tells administrators that there’s little interest in the sport, from within the sport itself. Whether that’s correct or not doesn’t matter, it’s the perception that counts.

How about the NCAA making the determination if the sport can’t field full teams they obviously need to reduce the number of weight classes to equal perceived participation interest? And when that happens like it did in Olympic competition when the IOC forced them to move from 10 weight classes to 6, all be it for different reasons, the coaches brought it on themselves.

No one can tell me that coaches don’t have or can’t find someone to wrestle in whatever weight class they’re forfeiting. It’s total bunk. They choose not to put someone on the mat. If they have to fly someone in at the last minute or push someone up a weight class so be it! This is flat out wrong and one of the reasons why I created the Double Up rule in an earlier blog. It forces coaches to use the athlete who is right below the weight he’s forfeiting to double up and plug the hole. That works with every weight class except at 125 but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t consider it. If something fixes 90% of any problem, it is better than the 40% we’re currently scoring.

Or maybe we should consider making forfeits 15 team points instead of 6 as I suggested in an earlier blog. Why not, if you want to add more teeth to the rule, that will do it.

If you like draconian, how about the team that forfeits any weight class must also forfeit the dual meet. The individual matches are still wrestled but the outcome of the dual meet has already been decided.

My rationale is if the coach can find someone to wrestle which I believe to be true, then he’s the one who’s forfeiting so it shouldn’t be an individual loss, it should be his loss. In other words, a team loss. If forfeiting is going to cause the coach to lose the dual, you can bet the sky will fall before he forfeits again. Problem solved.

Or how about having the equivalent of a weight class death penalty; the school that’s forfeiting is also forfeiting the right to have an athlete represent them at that weight at the NCAA tournament. That’s a double ouch, something that would put a screeching halt to forfeits.

But regardless of the solution wrestling must stop the practice of forfeiting weight classes, at any cost, because they are that damaging to the sport.

Chapter 12 next Sunday.

How Wrestling Wins – Chapter 10

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Chapter 10

10. If something is important, we need to make it important. How many of you would work on a road crew digging ditches for $1.00 an hour? Would it change your mind if you were paid $150.00 an hour? How about $400.00 an hour? Isn’t there a point where everyone would pick up a shovel?

If going 25mph over the speed limit is a 35 cent fine and no points, who wouldn’t drive at whatever speed they want? But if going 5mph over the speed limit was a $1,000.00 fine, the loss of your license for a year and 30 days in jail I bet most of us would be driving 5mph under the limit for fear that our speedometers might be wrong.

The point I’m making is behavior can, does and will change with the right stimulus.

So why not provide the type of stimulus in our sport that will make the accumulation of points a priority? Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could triple the number of points that were scored in matches, reduce stalling calls by 75% and cut the length of a dual meet by 15 minutes? We can you know; and it’s exactly what I’ve been attempting to do here with my rules changes.

But it’s going to take 1) a willingness of leadership to change and then 2) leadership actually making the changes. My writings give you the how and why, your collective voices will provide the when. But understand, you are the sports only hope. No one can do it by themselves, only when the masses let their opinions known will leadership take notice.

I think, or at least I hope that many of you like the direction I’m heading with the sport. Others may not. But regardless your position, what I’m trying to do is provide wrestling with a direction and a philosophy and by no means a series of absolutes because no one person has all the answers.

But what I’m attempting to accomplish is to make people aware of what’s possible while pointing out in great clarity how insignificant our sport has become.

To start, wrestling has to see a sharp upturn in ticket sales, and quickly, or we are going to disappear as surely as the football program did at the University of Alabama Birmingham this week. Wow, how’d that happen? Could it be that their need to win outweighed the amount of money they had in the bank? And to my amazement, they’re even Bowl eligible again this year and located in one of the best states in the country for football? Their losing the program is the equivalent of Lehigh University dropping wrestling.

So what does that mean to the sport; well, if financial waves are starting to wash over the decks of football’s hull, and they’re the size of a battleship, how safe is wrestling bobbing around in their Hobie Cats? Everything comes down to revenue and as of now we’re a red ink liability to athletic departments and exactly why the media views us as being inconsequential.

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So how to we get to sustainability? Well first of all wrestling must return to being a Dual Meet Centric sport. Because spectators will only select to engage in activities that on average requires 2 or less hours to complete. That’s today’s lifestyle with two parents each working 50+ hour weeks when you figure in commute times and a family of 2.5 children who each have their own various activities the parents have to equally support.

So why does wrestling believe so religiously that Tri’s, Quad’s and Tournaments are the way to showcase the sport? That’s an easy answer; it’s the coaches again, they want their athletes to accumulate as many matches as they can. They know that the more times they walk on the mat, the more experienced everyone becomes regardless of what it costs their programs in terms of injuries, grades or spectator appeal; it’s the way you win championships in the current system.

Granted, newcomers to wrestling may sit longer the first time they attend a match out of courtesy, but all that does is give each of them more time to realize they have no interest in returning. You can’t win the hearts of spectators when you break the 2-hour rule.

Now before you condemn the idea of wrestling becoming a dual meet centric sport answer this question. How many spectators would an NFL game, a Billy Joel concert or a Steven Spielberg movie attract if they started at 9am and ended at 10pm? So why anyone would think that wrestling marathons are good ideas if the most critical aspect of our sport is spectators?

Now I’ll relinquish the fact that Tri’s and Quad’s aren’t quite as bad as tournaments but to ask people to carve out 6 hours of their day for something that isn’t fun or employment based is ludicrous.

If we’re to become relevant as a sport and revenue producing, wrestling has to, it must become a dual meet sport. Athletes won’t die if they only have 30 match seasons but the sport will if coaches continue to insist on 50 match seasons.

Maybe this will help some of you. Last year the University of Pittsburgh hosted three major wrestling events. The Keystone Classic, a nine team all day event and two separate dual meets, one against Oklahoma State and the other the University of Virginia. The Keystone Classic drew 300 spectators and the other two events were just short of sell outs. Are those numbers any different than what you experience when you go to tournaments? Spectators just won’t sit for anything that’s longer than 2 hours.

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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 ones 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 convict me of heresy later.

In the last several years Mike Moyer, the Executive Director of 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 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 so good at what they do.

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 by one month.

Season Begins – First week of December

Conference and Qualifying Tournaments – Middle of January

NCAA Individual Tournament – First week of February

National Dual Meet Championships – 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.

To start, 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. 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 and we need to do that, 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.

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.

This is a huge marketing windfall for wrestling; the sport ends up with 10 NCAA Champions and 70 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.

This way most teams would finish their season by the end of March. I would imagine the NCAA would quickly support this because it actually shortens the season for 80% of the DI programs by 2 weeks. Only the best of the best programs would go for another week and then half of them would be eliminated. That leaves only 8 teams going in week two of April.

As a HUGE plus, this change removes the primary excuse that sports writers and broadcasters have as to why they don’t cover wrestling given all that’s happening in March with men’s and women’s basketball.

I can’t begin to tell you how confused I’ve been for over 50 years trying to make sense of the logic behind wrestling’s beliefs that they can fight basketball for media coverage in March and win? Once we lost the first skirmish and then continued to get our butts kicked for decades, what can I write here? We are obviously those low information voters that Jonathon Grubber referred to recently. March is basketball’s month, period; end of discussion.

Moving our National Duals to April could also open up the possibility of adding a National Invitational Tournament (NIT) to the mix as well for those teams who weren’t part of the Sweet 16. But let’s slow down some and walk before we run. The NIT can wait for a while until we iron out the wrinkles we’re creating now but this is yet another plus that comes from change.

Once again this hasn’t lengthened the season, it’s shortened it! We go into April but we eliminated November. Season begins immediately following the Thanksgiving holiday break and after midterms that freshman in particular screw up when they’re busy losing weight. Isn’t it time we make accommodations for our wrestlers to be with their families during that holiday season to enjoy the bounty of Mom’s cooking?

This also gives football players time to end their season before thinking about wrestling. How many upper weights do we lose from football each year who figure it’s probably not worth coming out for a sport that’s already in their third month of conditioning and starting their second month of competition?

I realize all this isn’t an easy sell but the rewards far exceeds any fears that leadership might have regarding change. And remember, our current number of spectators, coaches and athletes is about 5% of what it’s going to take to become relevant as a sport. We don’t have the other 95% yet and these proposals are a way to make them appear.

Unfortunately it’s that same 5% who are still calling the shots for the 95%. And I have to ask, “How has that worked out for us given we’ve lost over 60% of our programs and over 75% of our athletes in the last 40 years.”

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Getting off topic for a moment . . . what is a revenue sport? Doesn’t the nature of the term indicate that the sport is income producing? So when a sport is classified that way, it’s indicating that it makes money. Collegiately, the two sports that we think of when someone says they’re revenue sports are football and basketball.

It’s true that wrestling has never been mistaken for a revenue sport; instead we fall into a category that 40 years ago was referred to as a “minor sport” with football and basketball being “major sports.”

Then those terms disappeared in the 80’s as a result of sensitivity training. Instead major sports became “revenue sports” and minor sports became “non-revenue sports.” Then in the 90’s the term “non-revenue sport” was changed to “Olympic sport” to uplift those who weren’t self-sustaining.

Initially that sounded like a good thing but currently I’m not so sure. What happens if the Olympics remove wrestling from their programming? Won’t administrators think if not outwardly say, “Why are we offering wrestling as one of our Olympic sports when they’re not an Olympic sport?” Sounds like another bullet the sport’s going to have to dodge.

Classifications are how the NCAA determines which sports receive special versus routine attention. It’s also how they fool the public into thinking the two “revenue sports” always pay not only for themselves but the other sports as well. And then based on status, it what determines who receives steak and who eats hamburger, who flies and who drives, which athletes gets their knees taped and who gets to hear, “Suck it up, you’re fine.”

All those terms are misleading, maybe even crossing a fine line into what might be referred to as deceptive. As I wrote earlier about wrestling using terms that don’t match their definitions, it appears the NCAA is guilty of that as well because a great many football and basketball programs lose money on an annual basis.

Now given that the term revenue is defined as; the total amount of income produced by a given source, doesn’t every sport bring in some revenue? Isn’t everyone revenue producing? Now way too many of them don’t cover their expenses but aren’t they’re still revenue generating?

My point is I just wanted to remind people that there are a lot of collegiate institutions that lose serious amounts of money with their so-called revenue sports. So why classify anyone? Isn’t everyone a member of their schools family of sports? I’m just tired of hearing that football and basketball can do no wrong because they carry the water for the rest of us when many of them are doing nothing more than emptying the well.

Chapter 11 next Sunday.

How Wrestling Wins – Chapter 9

x and o

 

Chapter 9

This next segment of rule changes is designed to unscript that which is boring. Some of these are as critical to implement as many of my previous suggestions and when combined together they should change the landscape of wrestling.

To begin let’s minimize, no let’s eliminate the importance of starting lines. Of course I’m not talking about out of bounds lines. But we should take an eraser to those that are in the middle of the mat for both the standing and down positions. Wrestling needs to do something to reduce the number of cautions that spectators have to endure and those extra seconds it takes to get athletes set. Granted, we’ll still need to keep cautions for pre-mature starts but what I’m proposing will speed up matches and add strategic interplay.

To begin, 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 and it definitely speeds up the action while shortening 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 interest. I know referees would do backflips over this change because they hate calling cautions as much as spectators dislike watching them happen. The athletes can be 2 feet away from one another or 6 feet away from one another, as long as they are facing each other, close to the middle of the mat and ready to go, the match should start. This is so easy to understand and administer I can’t understand why we haven’t done it to date.

Relative to down wrestling, if you want to open up the sport strategically give this idea a try. 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 he wants. Any position is legal as long as his hands and knees are touching the mat. And no, nothing has to be 12 inches apart.

Now to start the match the top man places the palms of his hands on any part of the defensive man’s body. It’s somewhat similar to the international style of wrestling but with some minor, or are they major tweaks. You decide.

The offensive wrestler could place his hands on his opponents back like you see in freestyle and Greco, 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 eyes, nose, throat, mouth and certain boy parts.

As to the positioning of the offensive man’s body, he could be on both knees, one knee or 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 too as long as the only thing that’s touching the down wrestler when the referee starts the match is the palms of his hands.

Just think of the offensive and defensive options that these new starting positions offer; the creative decisions and new techniques, the strategies and corresponding buzz in the stands. We’re allowing the wrestlers to devise his or her own unique styles and individual plans of attack and subsequent counters for the unexpected. What great fun this rule would be to watch develop with the additional benefit of minimal cautions and shorter dual meets.

If you don’t like that idea, given I believe everyone is tired of seeing the same starting positions, how about we spice it up a bit! But before you read any further be forewarned that this next idea is the one really crazy thought I allow myself every fifty or so pages. For the down starting position, why not make the bottom wrestler lie flat and the top man is allowed a far side one on one and near side half nelson. Then the referee blows his whistle. That will have the fans hooting and hollering and the bottom man scrambling for his life.

Are some of these ideas off the wall, maybe, but maybe not. But at the risk of being labeled what I’m not sure, I’m trying to pull the rules committee out of their comfort zone. I know they’re capable of it; they improved the sport immensely when they changed the rule for takedowns from requiring two feet to be inbounds to one. That demonstrated a level of creativeness previously unseen by this group and a willingness to work toward bettering the sport. Kudos to them!

8. Activity outshines inactivity: spectators enjoy following dynamic sports which usually means ones that put a lot of points on the board. This might be the reason why major league soccer has never caught on in the United States and why the NBA instituted the 30 second shot clock, painted a 3-point arc on the court and FILA has moved to 2-point takedowns.

Wrestling needs their athletes to wrestle more, score more and excite more.

There is always change in sports, and the ones that keep up with the wants of the spectators are the ones who survive. The ones who don’t they call wrestling. We can no longer get away with saying we’re man’s oldest sport and think that will impress someone. Bragging about how many lives programs like Beats the Streets saves each year is impressive but means little when the sport is sinking in debt. The only thing that matters today is how the sport is doing in business terms?

Boxing hung onto the belief that they were a national institution and too big to fail so they didn’t change while the UFC chipped away at their spectator base. Now Dana White is the one who controls America’s love affair with pugilism and legalized brutality. Is there a lesson to learn here?

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But unfortunately for us the way our rules have been written and rewritten, they encourage less and less scoring, not more. There’s not many Randy Lewis’s, Ben Askren’s and David Taylor’s around so please don’t point to them as a way to make a point that our current way of doing business is working. Just as I won’t point to the thousands of wrestlers who try to annually break the NCAA record for scoring the least amount of offensive points in winning the most matches each season. The rules are most certainly to blame for what we see and the coaches whether they know it or not are the ones who are culpable; for anything the NCAA Rules Committee passes first has to have the blessing of the coaches.

So regarding action and change, let’s allow the coaches to become a larger part of the show visually. Permit them to get out of their seats and walk the length of either side of the wrestling mat for tournaments and their quarter of the mat for dual meets? Why not? Basketball coaches pace back and forth as do their counterparts in football and soccer. In baseball coaches periodically come out of the dugout. All this adds visual stimulation for the spectators. So why not in wrestling too?

But as a retired NCAA official I understand why it’s not allowed and the coaches are shackled to their chairs. It’s not to keep them under control. It’s because the coaches typically determine who referee’s where, when and how often. The National Wrestling Official’s Association might say otherwise but coaches with power use it when it suits them to retaliate against officials who don’t agree with their opinions or actions.

The current directive that keeps coaches in their seats came about as a way of defusing the conflicts that occur between coaches who lose control of their emotions and officials who are just doing their jobs.

To be clear, referees don’t have a problem enforcing the rules but they do have to tread lightly given their rankings and future employment options rely on what the coaches like and don’t like. Thankfully the NWOA has been working to correct this but powerful coaches and their opinions still way heavily on those decisions.

So how about this as an alternative to the “seat belt” rule for those occasions where the official still needs to control the bench.

Instead of a series of warnings and team points being deducted, why not handle it like they do in basketball and call a technical foul? Give the other wrestler the equivalent of a free throw or in our sport, his choice of positions. That will control those who are on the bench far more than taking away team points.

If you think about it, doesn’t a majority of team point deductions occur when 1) the offending coach is too far behind to win the dual and his frustrations are showing or 2) during a tight match when the referee’s call that caused the confrontation puts the outcome of that bout in question.

In theory all penalties should have the same amount of bite regardless of the scenario. But in the first scenario; where’s the bite? What difference does it make if the coach loses 21-12 or 21-11? In that case there is little incentive to behave. However, if the athlete who’s on the mat is going to be hurt by his coach’s actions, we have a whole new ballgame here. Coaches don’t mind losing a team point when the match is out of hand, but they’ll think twice when their actions effect one of their own.

Or for those who prefer tougher sanctions, why not keep the old rule of losing a team point for conduct unbecoming and give it more teeth by adding the choice of position consequence as well? But the whole idea here is to increase the visual the spectators see of a sport where coaching matters and the actions of the coaches are animated but controlled.

9. Simplify the rules: they’re too complicated. Anytime a sport has to produce an annual 2-hour video to cover changes and clarifications, something’s amiss. Strategically spectators will overlook the nuances of a sport realizing it’s going to take time to learn the game. However they won’t return if you make them feel inept. Rules have to be simple to understand and even easier to explain. Right now neither is simple or easy.

Here’s an example of a way to make scoring easier to explain and understand while pleasing the sports takedown evangelists. Please remember these scoring adjustments are designed to simplify the sport for the spectators and put a strong emphasis on takedowns being the second most important aspect of the sport to pinning.

Individual Scoring

Nearfall = up to 4 points, 1 for every hand count up to a maximum of 4.

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 the rules shouldn’t be about the coaches or the athletes, they are about the spectator. We need to make everything simple to understand.

Regarding nearfalls, the offensive wrestler receives 1 point for every stroke of the referees arm. That’s simple to understand and easy to explain and rewards the efforts of the offensive wrestler 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 is this really a change to or a change back?

But regardless of what your individual preferences are about 5-4-3-2-1, if the rules committee agrees, the very least that will happen will be higher scoring matches even without an increase in action with spectators smiling more. Is any of that a bad thing.

Next up, the rules committee should immediately embrace is a rule that states a wrestler cannot be saved by the buzzer if he’s on his back.

The name of the game is pinning, it’s what everyone wants to see. Take’m down and cut’m loose wrestling is okay for a while but it’s not a pin. Granted, knocking someone off their feet is better than two wrestlers standing around staring at one another. But the pin must be king and wrestlers should be rewarded for taking the risks necessary to put someone on their back. So what’s wrong with allowing wrestling to continue after the buzzer until the pin occurs or the bottom man gets off his back? Sounds like fun to me and they already do it in overtime matches.

Football does it that way as well; can you imagine the uproar that would have occurred a year ago in the Auburn-Alabama Iron Bowl if the game winning 109 yard touchdown run didn’t count? Remember, Alabama’s field goal attempt fell a couple yards short as time expired. Then ten seconds later Chris Davis crossed Alabama’s end zone to win the game. Had that been wrestling, the greatest play in football history wouldn’t have occurred because time had expired before the score.

In basketball, all shots count that leaves the players hand before the buzzer. So what’s wrong with letting wrestling continue if it means that spectators get to cheer just a little longer?

In boxing, an athlete who’s been knocked down, in any round, can’t be saved by the bell. Wrestling should follow that lead; it just makes sense if we believe that excited spectators are a good thing.

I know 3-time NCAA Champion Mark Churella would vote for it. His son lost in the NCAA finals to Johnny Hendricks from Oklahoma State a few years back. But at the end of the first period Churella had locked up a cradle and pinned Hendricks. Unfortunately for Michigan fans, the pin didn’t count because it was determined it occurred .03 seconds after time had elapsed. Not being able to be saved by the buzzer is a rule whose time has come.

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On a similar subject, I just read a wonderful article by Chris Brewer on Gary Kurdelmeier in the Hawk Daily Talk. In it Chris praised Coach Kurdelmeier’s kindness as a human being, greatness as a coach and promotional genius.

“He believed in shaking things up” Chris wrote, attempting the uncomfortable so the Hawks could reach the impossible. Most may not remember that prior to Coach Kurdelmeier arriving in 1972 the Hawks couldn’t beat Iowa State’s B team. Iowa was so bad that Clarionites; that would be the Pennsylvania variety, use to wring their hands when they drew a Hawk in competition. But two years into Coach Kurdelmeier’s tenure all that ended and they never looked back.

What caused the change was the obvious hiring of Dan Gable and how the Hawks treated their spectators. For even Dan would have struggled to make the team reach previously unheard of levels if it wasn’t for their gym being filled with ticket holders. The Hawk faithful became the unheralded mental gas station that powered the black and gold machine.

Coach Kurdelmeier intuitively knew what needed to be done and creatively began a campaign of doing things vastly different from anything other coaches were doing.

In 1975, when Oklahoma came to town, it was widely known that the Sooners had a reputation for wrestling on the edge of the mat. So Iowa slid 4 full sized mats together to create a 74-foot wrestling circle. That thinking was so ahead of its time. Everyone loved it but Coach Abel!

Rumor had it from those that were there that night that only three Sooners made it out of bounds during the dual, and only one time each. The spectators loved everything about it and the match ended 70 minutes after it began which is 30 minutes shorter than an average dual. Final score, Hawks 34 and the defending NCAA champions 5.

That same evening Coach Kurdelmeier worked a deal with McDonald’s to give everyone who came to the meet free hamburgers. He always felt if you put the spectators first they would reciprocate with their support. I think he was right.

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What people are saying about How Wrestling Wins

“Wade’s is certainly questioning the status quo in our sport; as we all should be. Whether you agree or disagree with his opinions, it’s a tremendous read and he’ll have you checking your rear view mirror as you go from page to page and fearing the road ahead.”

Brian Hazard

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If you want an out of the box thought, what do you think about awarding a mandatory silent “performance point” at the end of each period? Whichever athlete demonstrates the most effort and takes the greatest risks receives a point at the end of each period. That would mean that there are 3 points up for grabs which isn’t tied to traditional scoring methods. The best part of this is they’re silent points; only to be added to the score at the end of the match by the referee, not at the end of each period.

This keeps everyone guessing about which athlete won the point each period just like spectators in boxing and Mixed Martial Arts don’t know who’s winning until the end of the fight. I’m sure this is what keeps the fighters throwing punches each round because no one is sure who’s winning unless it’s by a wide margin.

In wrestling it would significantly increase the action because 75% of all matches end with the victor having less than a 3-point lead. Gone will be the days of playing the edge and taking half shots when the match is close; which as we all know is the strategy of the day and why we bore new spectators and most of the old ones.

Now I’m aware of all the reasons why people might not like this rule suggestion; at least initially. But none of the reasons, not a one has anything to do with what’s best for the sport. Will referees get it wrong every now and then, that’s a possibility, but as everyone gets use to performance points being awarded as they are in all other combatant sports, those occurrences will become fewer and further apart as action increases.

If there is one thing I’m sure about its how seriously motivated athletes will become the very minute this rule goes into effect. With 3 points hanging in the balance for the athlete who is working hard to perform, the upsides clearly outweigh any downside.

For that matter, anytime rules are changed regarding the match itself they should meet three criteria.

  1. Does it increase scoring?
  2. Will it escalate action?
  3. Does it attract the interest of the spectator?

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Fairfax, Virginia

 “Wow!  Wade is right on the money!  We need to seriously consider changes like these to not only keep our great sport, but attract a new audience.  Great job Wade!”

Dennis Hynek, Cedar Rapids, Iowa

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Speaking of losing spectators; my son who wasn’t a bad wrestler 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 know what’s going on. If they offered me free beer and a ticket, I wouldn’t go. I’d rather sit home and watch Jeopardy.” This is what I’m trying to explain to our leadership, there’s a crisis going on in the sport.

Regarding team scoring, here’s a system my inner demons have been wrestling with for some time. It’s similar to the one Jim Guinta, the founder of the National Collegiate Wrestling Association and I have been working on. He used their own version of it last year on a trial basis and is planning to officially incorporate theirs this season for the NCWA National Dual Meet Championships.

Both versions 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, was developed because the current system does 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 our rules committee again. They simply don’t get how much peril the sport is in or have a clue how to revive the dead.

So here I go again, putting myself out there so the purists can jump on me with both feet. But I’m willing to take the hit for it, the sports that important. Initially I’m sure you will find this scoring system to be way over the top, because it is far removed from our current system.

But once you’ve had time to think about how simple it is and how effective it would be at pulling athletes out of their comfort zone, I believe you’ll start to like it.

But prepare yourselves, coaches will hate it and they will be very vocal about their opinions here. Because it’s all about their fear of losing matches to teams that previously were walk-overs. But is that bad; 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 anxiety they’re feeling and everything will change.

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To begin . . . 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 whoever we have to explain our rules to while being unfair to the athletes who take risks to score points.

So when I said earlier that a pin was worth 5 points I meant bout points; not team points. But they will become team points when the match ends for every point scored by either wrestler is a team point recorded. Win 7-4 and your team receives 7 points and you opponent receives 4 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 we do? 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. That’s what wrestling does.

But we’re used to it that way, that’s our problem.

I’ll do my best to explain what I’m suggesting here. Please read everything before forming an opinion.

The basic concept is every point scored by either wrestler is a point earned when the match ends. As I said, win 7-4 and the person who had his hand raised receives 7 team points. The vanquished receives 4 team points. There are no longer 3 points decisions, 4 point majors, 5 points techs or 6 points pins as we know them today.

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.

Injury 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.

In the case of forfeits and disqualifications, the athlete who has his hand raised receives 15 points which would be registered as team points. If the disqualification occurs during a match, the winner receives 15 points in addition to the match score. So if the winner was ahead 5-2 at the time of the disqualification, team points would be distributed 20 (15+5) for the winner and 2 points for the loser.

Relative to default, the victor receives 10 points that is added to his bout score. So if the winner was ahead 5-2 at the time of the injury default, team points would be distributed 15 (10+5) for the winner and 2 points for the loser.

Regarding a pin, the match ends and the victor receives 10 points that is added to his bout score. So if the winner was ahead 5-2 at the time of a pin, team points would be distributed 20 (15+5) for the winner and 2 points for the loser.

Remember, all points scored are team points recorded regardless of the outcome. That’s 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 who could have wrestled. The coach just decided he’d prefer not to have a match at that weight for some reason? The most common one being it’s more strategic to skip over a weight class than throw an inferior 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 the contract 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 customer service and it must stop.   

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 to keep 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 and 14 points (4+10) 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, we have to reward all wrestlers, in all situations, who put points on the board.

No one knows more than me how difficult this is to swallow. 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, a pin ends the match to much fanfare.

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 they understand the game has changed, they’ll change with it; they’re too competitive no to . . .

If more excitement is the key to our survival, then more scoring has to occur.

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, shouldn’t he be rewarded for his effort?

If you think I just scared 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 for trying and not succeeding. 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. A point earned is a point scored. Right now, as I mentioned in the previous paragraphs, athletes don’t have much of a reason to continue scoring beyond what it’s going to take to win. It’s this lack of incentive which is the main cause of narcolepsy with the spectators we have and apathy in the ones we don’t.

Granted, there could be a few occasional upsets early on with this rule but over time the national 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.

Last season, 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 teams that have 2 pinners and 8 average wrestlers defeating a team with 10 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 reduced the number of stalling calls?

The system of a point scored is a point recorded:

  1. Encourages more wrestling, more scoring and thus more excitement.
  2. Allows every wrestler to contribute to the team score even in losing.
  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. Has to increase the number of pins we see.
  5. Discourages stalling because even in a losing effort a last second escape means something.
  6. Allows a team whose behind by 40 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 which are extremely positive outcomes.

I have to admit I was and still am perplexed about an Injury 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 a David Taylor type 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. 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 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.

I would imagine few will remember that every NFL coach in the league voted against Monday Night Football when it was first proposed. I think it’s safe to say that football fans are delighted that no one was listening to the coaches.

Chapter 10 next Sunday.

How Wrestling Wins – Chapter 8

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Chapter 8

7. Decisions are seldom spectator centric: The only way wrestling is going to be turned around is to run the sport through a battery of evaluations to see if it can survive in today’s market place? I think all of us already know the results of such an endeavor but it’s this kind of due diligence that should prove to our leadership that the ship is sinking. The only way we can save it is to put it in dry dock for not only repairs but a complete refit.

Of course that requires leadership to determine what the sport should look like going forward? That means the creation of a business plan and mission statement so everyone has a clear understanding and vision of what needs to happen and why? Wrestling most definitely has to stop all the work-arounds it develops each year for ill-conceived theories and out dated approaches to growth. That’s exactly what the IRS doesn’t do and how the Tax Code has grown to be 72,000 pages thick. And we all know how well that has that worked out for the American citizen.

One of our greatest attributes we have is we’re man’s oldest sport but that is also the rope that we’re swinging from currently because we’ve been doing things a certain way for so long that we haven’t stopped to see if what we’re doing makes sense. We’re just not keeping pace with the exponential jump society has had in their recreational interests. With the advent of television in the 1950’s and astronomical speed of change that social media is having on society, those who are winning the battle of the eye balls are the ones who are one step ahead of the times.

Unfortunately wrestling is still clinging to the way things have always been done and a philosophy that society should morph to what we’re doing.

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What others are saying about How Wrestling Wins:

Wrestling is indeed in trouble! The sport NEEDS your voice. I can only hope that the “powers that be” begin to listen.”

Dan Sloan, Petersburg, Alaska

“I love it when I see someone having the guts to “shake things up”.

John Albertson, Taos, New Mexico

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Regarding being spectator centric, coaches need to reconsider the percentage of suits and ties they have hanging in their closets. Then actually put some of them on every time they represent their schools; which if you think about it is 90% of the time. If this has to be a rule, then so be it. But each time a coach is seen in public he should be dressed for success and with the objective to uplift the sport beyond its blue collar roots. That means dressing one level above the company the coach is keeping.

It’s not that unreasonable to ask our sports leadership to respect themselves, their institution and the coaching profession. That starts with their appearances and those of their athletes. Coaches don’t have the right to express their individuality at matches in a warm-up suit and t-shirt or dock siders, khaki’s and a white shirt. We simply can’t afford to portray the sport as a blue collar activity run by non-professionals. We already do enough by our actions to foster that impression without appearing that way as well.

Now I know intellectually that wrestling is no better than any other sport but emotionally it should be important to all of us to believe and act as if it’s better than any other sport.

As we all know there’s nothing white collar about basketball except their coaches and those who are associated with the sport by the way they dress and expect their players to dress. I realize wrestling prefers to lead rather than follow but when others get it right; it’s not always a bad thing to follow that group or individuals lead.

Wrestling teaches internal pride and self-respect but in too many instances our external appearances are at odds with how we feel about ourselves.

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Speaking of closets, here’s another rule change to digest. Wrestling should consider having multiple competitive ensembles that programs can choose from besides a singlet. Each institution should have choices in what they select to wear when it comes to competition. The only question we need to answer here is what’s wrong with choices, it’s the 21st century. Why are we forcing wrestlers to wear singlets that were originally fashioned by the caveman using animal hides which only flatters those with developed bodies? Swim suit manufacturers understand that; 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 and where self-esteem issues are high on everyone’s list. Making a young person wear something 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 we seem to overlook to our detriment.

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.” And 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!”

Now I’m not proposing we eliminate the singlet but rather consider expanding what’s available to athletes. Why not be fashion trendy and offer multiple competitive combinations?

Think about football and the University of Oregon for a moment. How great are their uniforms and the 56 different combinations they can select from for any game and especially how well the public and their spectators have taken to the game of football’s new look.

Again, we shouldn’t care what the coaches think or the fans that don’t go to meets, as long as it doesn’t interfere with the wrestler’s ability to compete. 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. Athletes do care about their appearance and sometimes that means a well-fitting singlet, then again it may mean something else. This is why the fashion industry from Paris to Milan to New York is an ever changing 1.2 trillion dollar industry.

Wrestlers should be able to choose between long, short and no sleeved compression gear tops matched with half, three quarter or full length tights. Or maybe consider MMA fight shorts that originated from the world of surfing and provide a “cool” look with compression tops? Just think of the fun schools could have designing their own distinctive looks with all that fabric while athletes (or coaches) choose what works for them.

Some might select to stay with the traditional singlet or select to show more skin by moving toward a lower side cut international singlet. Remember sex sells and none of this would affect the safety of the matches or the ability of the athletes to compete.

The University of Maryland football team has 87 various uniform combinations, why can’t wrestling have a fifth as many?

I doubt it might happen, but if the high school association or NCAA becomes concerned about our choices of uniforms relative to modesty or decorum, we might consider reminding them of their approval of the sometimes transparent, often scant and definitely sex defining suits we see in swimming.

Just think, our athletes could select to combine any one of the singlets with shorts similar to what use to be the norm in 1970 wrestling or select to wear anyone of the new singlet styles by itself. Or they could be creative and have one half-length tight on one leg and a full length cut on the other like Flo-Jo Joyner wore in the Olympics when she was the fastest women in the world. Or a full length sleeve on one arm, no sleeve or half sleeve on the other. The options, looks, colors, designs and perceived strategies for each are endless. The point is its creative, its fun and no one is hurt by the creativity. It also sends a message that we’re a wide open sport with few boundaries; we’re creative and deserving to be checked out.

As for our youth, long sleeved compression gear is the equivalent of a cover-up in swimming but with form fitting and slimming characteristics.

chap 8 first picAll 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?

Maybe this is too much change for the average wrestling fan to digest? If it is, at least consider short sleeve compression tops and half-length shorts (pictured here) as a compromise with our traditional singlet being the other. Athletes should have choices when it comes to attire. Why would anyone balk as long as each outfit meets the current standards of safety? We already do it with our equipment; don’t we allow athletes to choose from 21 different headgear designs, 5 various shoe manufactures and too numerous to mention knee pads and sock or no sock options?

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 that didn’t come out for the opposite reason. So over the years, this issue has to translate into thousands of youngsters who haven’t tried wrestling because of the way we handle weigh-ins and our selection of uniforms.

And while we’re talking about wrestling attire, I’m curious, why are shoes mandatory? They aren’t required by any of our martial art cousins or in the UFC; so why is wrestling the only mat sport with shoes? Why not make them optional, it would certainly stop the penalties of shoe laces not being secured and all but eliminate the issue of one wrestler hanging on to another wrestler’s ankle in overtime.

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 and self-esteem issues. 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 and promotions cheer it.

Another revolutionary change we should consider is matside weigh-ins. His is an old idea but none-the-less relevant. It would eliminate all those embarrassing moments that currently exist for little Johnny when he’s in a locker room and has to disrobe in front of his peers. Can we afford to lose even one child because he doesn’t like to surrender his cloths in front of others? That alone should be reason enough to modify our behavior.

But the main benefit of mat-side weigh-ins is controlling excessive weight reduction issues that contributed to the death of three young men in the 1990’s which is the reason why we have the current weight management system.

If you think about it, the sole motivation behind weight reduction is fear; the anxiety athletes have regarding their size relative to that of their opponents.

Wrestlers know if they aren’t the biggest and strongest kid in their weight class they’re likely to lose. History has proven that size matters and wrestling is no different. So athletes do whatever they can, whenever they can, to drop as much as they can, and if it’s necessary to find ways around the current weight management system to achieve it they will; all to gain the upper hand.

Weight cutting is about one thing and one thing only; the internal need to win. If we can change the way we handle weight loss to the point where athletes know their performance will drop with every pound lost, we’ll eliminate the problem that we created ourselves.

Mat side weigh-ins achieves all our goals.

Remember, cutting weight only works when there’s recovery time between stepping on a scale and walking on the mat. The greater the variance between the two, the more successful weight cutting becomes.

Remember the tragic deaths of those three athletes, their passing was during the period in our history when the rules committee decided to allow night before weigh-ins. That was a gigantic mistake for the sport. It opened the door for our athletes to consider dropping another weight class below what they were already cutting to given the increased recovery time the new rule provided.  

Once athletes realize that with matside weigh-ins they have zero time to rehydrate before competition, the dynamics of weight reduction immediately shifts toward minimal weight loss. There isn’t a wrestler alive that wants to go through the miseries of cutting weight without a corresponding benefit.

A prediction; as soon as the rules committee approves mat side weigh-ins, athletes will correct in 100 minutes what the sport couldn’t fix in 100 years.

And just think of the spectator appeal; weigh-ins becoming a part of the show just as it is in horse racing where the jockey has to jump on a scale in front of everyone fully dressed holding his saddle. This is such a strong concept that athletes would even disregard their own coach’s demand to drop a weight class if it was going to reduce their chances of winning.

But this makes too much sense to institute because we’d:

  1. Be taking the annual expense of the weight management system out of the sport.
  2. Reduce the conflicts that too many coaches have with medical personnel over weight issues.
  3. Eliminate the ugly visual of kids rinsing and spitting in water fountains not to mention all the other unseemly methods of weight reduction that goes on.
  4. Diminish the issues football coaches have with allowing their athletes to wrestle due to our obsession with weight loss and screwing with their player’s body mass.
  5. Remove the concerns that parents have about letting their children come out for wrestling when it involves poor eating habits, academic fatigue and constant irritability.
  6. Be taking the “feel good” right of making decisions away from those who get off on being in charge and making decisions.

House cleaning issues; if we instituted mat side weigh-ins some might ask if we need to redo the weight classes or create a weight allowance for the additional clothing and equipment. Obviously some verbiage would have to be added to clarify the change. But what’s important to remember is the very same athletes who are wrestling one another today will be wrestling one another tomorrow under the new rule. The only difference you’d notice with this rule change is a definite uptick in the number of athlete’s that are smiling.

But most importantly, what we’ve done here is severely curtail excessive weight loss on our own. We’ve demonstrated to administrations everywhere that we can manage our own sport. No longer do we need administrative big brother or the medical community looking over our shoulders with a “we know best and you don’t” attitude. Being honest, I can’t think of one harmful aspect of matside weigh-ins that would overshadow the gargantuan benefits.

Now I realize that all my proposals thus far would require the sport to consent to change; that dreaded six-letter word. But that’s certainly better than hearing what Ronald Reagan referred to as the nine most dangerous words anyone can hear. “I’m from the government and here to help you!” Of the two, I’d rather change something on my own than be told what I was going to change.

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From a marketing perspective, after we’ve decided who we are and what we want to be, the NWA needs to plan an entire media campaign around man’s oldest sport being forever young. Every one of our organizations from the Hall of Fame to the NWCA to the NHSCA has to be onboard with the movement. And why wouldn’t they be, unless Sinclair Lewis was right:

“You can’t explain something to someone whose comfort level is based on not understanding.”

But regardless, this is the beauty of the NWA; they will tackle our areas of need that aren’t currently being addressed by the sport as a whole or any group individually. We need to show solidarity and a centralized sense of purpose for our goals to have maximum impact.

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I remember seeing quite a few years ago now a bill board for the Los Angeles Clippers that was nothing more than a large photo taken from the waist down of several basketball players in action. The caption across the top said, “Our athletes can go all night in shorts.”

As it turned out this was the most successful advertising campaign in their franchise history and they were selling exactly what you thought they were; sex! And excitement by trying to appeal to the smallest demographic they had at the time; women 21 to 40 years of age. But that’s not the important part of the story although sex and excitement does sell everything from coffee to automobiles. Where the idea for the ad campaign came from is the point.

The Clippers had hired a public relations firm to survey the ladies in that age demographic to find out what they liked about basketball, what they didn’t and what they wanted to see or not see if they went to a game? The point that’s critical here is they didn’t ask those who were already ticket holders or coaching the sport; instead they asked those who weren’t going to games what they thought. The feedback they received led to the campaign.

Sadly wrestling does the opposite. We turn to the coaches for their opinions and then look for validation from those who are already spectators. That’s not the way to survey anything you want to improve but it’s certainly a great way to keep status-quo by leadership who wants status to remain quo.

Being blunt here, neither the opinions of the coaches or our current spectator base matters if we want to grow. Coaches are going to coach because their contracts say they will and our current spectator base will attend matches regardless of the rules because they love the sport even with all its failings. How we grow is to talk with those who don’t go to matches to find out why our product is still on their store shelves gathering dust?

chap 8 pic 2

This is why the formation of the National Wrestling Association is so important; they will be the group who takes the lead to attract new spectators to the sport and coordinate the expansion of our athlete base. But right now we’re killing ourselves; we’re an unorganized composite of organizations, event operators, publishers and equipment manufacturers. That’s not a bad thing but overlooking the need for an overarching umbrella organization is to keep ones head in the sand.

As for the Clippers, they paid a lot of money to find out what interested the women and once they found out, they followed a plan. Wrestling must do the same, we need to contract a public relations firm but until we do, let’s piggy back off of the Clippers success. Sex and excitement are the cornerstones of sport entertainment; a point that wrestling needs to embrace if they expect to convert fans to spectators, at least on the feminine side which represents over 50% of America’s population and controls 90% of the family budget.

So let’s begin with an advertising campaign.

Wrestling has the best conditioned athletes and bodies in all of sport. Not only can they go all night in a singlet, but all week too!

That might be a bit much but you get the idea. We can start with that, or some part of that, and then market it to the world. Is it true? Probably, but the exciting part is we don’t have to prove it; those who disagree with us have to disprove it. But even in the argument, wrestling wins because the battle will take place in the media. The worst that can happen is we win by all the press we’d receive in losing.

But would we really lose is the point. What other athletes have a jacket to pants differentials of 10 to 12 inches and bodies like jacked-up runway models? What sport has athletes that can bench twice their body weight without chemical enhancements and run a marathon on an empty stomach while carrying 5 to 7 percent body fat? What athletes are so tough mentally that they have the highest percentage of Navy SEALS, Rangers, Green Berets and Delta Force members serving our country? There’s more that could be written here but you get the point.

Now regarding the rules, most would agree we need to keep everything simple, especially for the spectators we have and those we want to attract. But the rules are only 50% of the equation and they absolutely need to be easy to explain and understand. The other 50% is the strategic side of the sport and that has to be complex. Because spectators love having opinions that they can defend and share with whomever will listen. So the more strategic we are, the more engaged and empowered our spectators become.

Spectators love when things are so complex that any opinion they offer is defendable and every response is debatable.

Think football for a moment. After each play isn’t there a chorus of opinions flowing from one spectator to another; some challenging the coach’s play calling while others are thinking about clock management. Another group is arguing the defensive captain’s choice of zone coverage versus man to man and the list goes on.

Each of us have to understand, currently the number of coaches, fans, athletes, spectators and support personnel we have in our sport is less than 5% of what we need to survive. Our very existence will rely on how quickly we can attract the other 95%.

Unfortunately this is the same 5% who got us into the mess we’re in now and who currently control 100% of what we do as a sport because the other 95% doesn’t exist to have an opinion.

Our goal should be to provide action, concede that spectators are actually customers, keep the rules simple and easy to understand while engaging our spectator base strategically.

So where do we begin? Our challenge is attempting to make changes to established behavioral patterns; that’s always near impossible to do. All I can think of is asking my readership here, as politely as I can and the sport in general, to think about what’s at stake if we don’t retool? The last 50 years has seen wrestling decline so substantially that even that blind squirrel who can find an acorn every now and then can see it. Men’s and Women’s Gymnastics didn’t alter what was normal and customary behavior for them and one may ask, “Where is gymnastics now?” We just can’t allow what happens to gymnastics happen to wrestling because we’re afraid to change.

“Don’t embrace the status quo.” – Howard Schultz, CEO Starbucks

Remember, everything I’m trying to accomplish here is to attract the spectators we don’t currently have, not to please the ones that presently exist. Although I hope they’re beginning to see where the sport has to go.

Chapter 9 next Sunday.

International Fraternity of Wrestlers

I’ve been in this sport for more years than I care to admit and I’ve seen wrestling companies come and go, organizations unsuccessfully partnering with other organizations for mutual benefit and at no time have I seen anything like the IFW is planning; and actually doing.

Go to their Facebook page, watch their promo video on YouTube that was developed for potential investors and read the attached below. This is a business that is going to change the face of wrestling and you should be a part of it.

Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/IFWrestlers

YouTube: http://youtu.be/Xmq0SsH1B68

The International Fraternity of Wrestlers, LLC (IFW) is a fee based membership organization structured in a similar manner as professional organizations like the American Medical Association, Major League Baseball Players Association or in many ways AARP. In its simplest form the IFW has three distinct responsibilities:

1) To consolidate the 6 to 8 million American men and women who have wrestled with other men and women from around the globe who have participated in our sport for the purpose of creating a giant communication platform and advocacy group.

2) Provide IFW members with a value proposition which will leverage the groups purchasing power into substantial discounts on everyday items that only members can take advantage of through membership. This is similar to the discount program that members of AAA and AARP enjoy.

3) Build brand value by making the sport of wrestling relevant in the eyes of the media, everyday people and corporate marketing partners.As you know, wrestlers are some of the best athletes in the world yet go unrecognized because there has really never been a marketing arm dedicated to advancing the sport in the eyes of the general public. The IFW has assumed that role and with your support it will make wrestling viable again.

Membership in the International Fraternity of Wrestlers, LLC is exclusive to those who have wrestled. Regardless of your record or the length of time you spent in the wrestling room, if you wrestled you qualify for membership and should consider joining.

The IFW represents you and all the things you learned from the sport that made you just a little more competitive and a little more successful than others who didn’t wrestle. This is your way of playing it forward, by helping others to experience the benefits of wrestling as you did.

In a few short days there will be a membership offering on Fundable.com that you can like or follow on Facebook, twitter,  instagram, or linkedIn relative to membership opportunities. This offering will include being able to join the IFW and receive your membership card at the absolute lowest cost for either an Annual or Lifetime Membership.

Don’t miss out; connect with the International Fraternity of Wrestlers today.

 

 

How Wrestling Wins – Chapter 7

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Chapter 7

4. It’s also about the athlete: wrestling needs to create more heroes and legends of the mat like baseball has done with Babe Ruth and boxing with the iconic Joe Louis. We need to find ways to make our stars just as well known to the general public.

So let’s start with a few rule changes that are designed to achieve that goal. I hope you’re sitting down; this is about to get good.

We 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 the 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 our sport.

This might be a good time to ask you to take a deep breath before we get into the next few paragraphs. Please wait until you’re done reading before you discard the idea as being too radical.

Just think how many people would have bought season tickets for the Chicago Bulls when Michael Jordan was playing if they knew Jordan would only be on the court for seven minutes a game? How about the same question for Joe Montana playing for only seven minutes of the first quarter in each Forty-Niner game? The answer is most wouldn’t and the reason why should be obvious.

So why is it acceptable to keep our franchise athletes on the bench for 90% of a dual meet; or worse yet 95% of the evening’s event given our legends of the sport 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 wrestler spends 95% of the evening sitting 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 then Andrew Howell back to back. Wouldn’t that be worthy of a feature article in Sports Illustrated and then being a guest on ESPN’s Outside the Lines?

So why not; please don’t say it’s a safety issue. Really? 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 basketball, 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 live 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 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 45 minute rest period. But let me ask, who came up with 45 minutes in the first place?” I don’t mean the organization, what was the name of the idiot 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 under for decades. I’d be willing to bet he can’t and I have a strong feeling that he 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 what is already etched in stone regardless if it makes sense or not and will fight to the death anyone who suggests otherwise.

Folks, Doubling Up is nothing new in sports. It happens in Tennis where an exceptional athlete can represent his team in both singles and doubles competition. Scholastic Track and Field and Swimming and Diving allow their athletes to participate in 4 different events per meet which means they also have to compete in a bunch of preliminary heats before the finals are run for those events as well.

But if you think about it, wrestling is already Doubling Up! It’s not unusual for athletes to regularly go to open tournaments and enter multiple weight classes for the purpose of getting more matches. We’re just not doing it yet at the high school and collegiate levels; but a precedent has been set.

In Olympic competition, any athlete may participate in as many sports and events as he or she can qualify for; there’s 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, 45 minutes of rest in wrestling is laughable!

The reasoning behind Doubling Up and limiting it to 3 times per season per person are:

  1. The obvious strategic value. Think how exciting it could be, all the decisions that coaches 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 Dylan’s 3 Double Ups given Minnesota is down by 4 points with just 3 matches left? Or should he hold him back with the knowledge that he has Penn State, Iowa and Ohio State still on their schedule where he might be needed? There are so many possibilities and strategies here that it becomes nirvana for armchair quarterbacks and a blessing for the shrewdest of coaches.
  2. Doubling Up could also help reduce forfeits. Coaches can now push wrestlers up a weight class after competing in the lower one to fill a void they have in their lineup. 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 forfeiting the first weight class but anytime you can fix 90% of a problem, why wouldn’t you go for it?
  3. Why only 3 times per season per athlete? That’s easy to answer; coaches might 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.

The fine print and what makes Doubling Up special: athletes can only move up and wrestle one weight classification above their certified weight class. But what really makes Doubling Up all the more interesting and definitely strategic is adding to the mix this second rule change.

Scrambling the Weight Classes for all dual meets; but not in the way we’ve done in the past. Flip a coin before each meet and the winning coach selects the first weight class to be contested. After that bout occurs the other coach selects the second weight class and back and forth it goes throughout the evening. There wouldn’t be a specific order to weight classes anymore, every dual meet would be different. Now the twist that makes this so strategic 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?

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 and which asset do you throw into battle next?

These two rule alterations are outstanding in so many ways; they should be automatic “let’s do them.”

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 good thing in any sport.

As to the naysayers, most will claim that not knowing what weight is going to go next isn’t fair to the athlete. Why isn’t it fair? Anytime you make changes that are uniformly applied to all, then by definition it’s fair to all.

I’ll agree that alternating weight classes is a far cry from what we’ve grown accustomed to but that by itself doesn’t make it unreasonable. Isn’t that exactly the same way that most if not all other sports operate? A basketball player doesn’t know when he’s going to hear, “White, get in there for Bruno.” In baseball, “Miller, get over there on first, you’re pinch running for Darby.” In football, “Jones, Winburg’s hurt, grab your helmet, you’re in.” In reality, there are far more sports that substitute players without notice than do.

So by not doing it are we actually willing to admit that athletes in those other sports are tougher than wrestlers? Wouldn’t a rule like this help solidify our sports position as the toughest one on the planet? So why not give it a try, we already have one foot in the coffin doing things the way we’ve always done them, so what’s there to lose? Not the spectators we already don’t have. Once again, we only need to remedy one thing to become successful as a sport; that’s the number of people in the stands. If and when we fix that, we fix most of what ails us.

“Here’s to the crazy ones. The rebels. The troublemakers. The ones who see things differently. While some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius.  Because the people, who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do.”   Steve Jobs

5. Develop a branding oversight body: this must be a priority. Wrestling needs an organization that’s accountable to develop wrestling’s brand; a business group that caters to the sports health while focusing on spectator appeal. We already have plenty of organizations that provide services, but none that provide direction. We have quite a few companies that produce goods, but none that protect the sports brand.

In a nutshell, creating a national oversight body will increase wrestling’s gross domestic product and the more revenue we produce, the more everyone has to fight over. None of that is a bad thing; if you’re going to fight, why not battle over controlling more of more versus less of less? Does that make any sense?

“If history repeats itself, and the unexpected always happens, how incapable must man be of learning from experience?”   George Bernard Shaw

Wrestling needs the National Wrestling Association (NWA) whose sole function is very similar to that of the NFL, NBA, MLB, NHL and Major League Soccer. In essence, the NWA will become the sports parent protector and alumni center. It can start out small; it doesn’t need to be an office of 23 employees. Two executives and two support staff will work fine but from the onset the organizations leadership needs to be carefully selected.

The following graphic can give you an idea of what the NWA might be. It’s just an umbrella group that helps protect, but has little to no control over all those who are part of our wonderful sport. It’s a separate and unique association who’s looking out for that which everyone else in the sport isn’t directly responsible to do.

Part 7Think about where any company or organization would be if they didn’t have an upper level management group supplying direction? A group without a President, Executive Director or CIO who’s providing vision, planning strategy, answering questions or making decisions is basically the same as a body without a head or an orchestra without a conductor.

How is that different from what we have in wrestling if the sport itself was a company? I realize it isn’t actually a company because we’ve never looked at it that way. But we might want start because the “evolve or perish” precipice is just a step away.

Will this be easy; no. But the alternative is the sport being related to lemmings with similar results.

Now I am very aware that what I’m proposing might be scary to wrestling’s elite and even repugnant to some but its time has come. The sport desperately needs protection from the elements and an umbrella does that very nicely.

The brilliance behind what other sports do besides creating a brand central is management doesn’t come from individuals that were part of their sports. I realize this is a foreign concept to the wrestling community who traditionally fill positions based on individual championships won. But we can’t afford to have those who embrace preconceived notions marketing our growth or developing policy anymore. The conflict of interest is too addictive and politically attractive to do anything but skew policy toward personal wellbeing.

To my point, David Stern who headed the NBA for 30 years never played basketball. Instead he’s a graduate of the Columbia Law School and stands just 5’6”. Roger Goodell never played collegiate or professional football. Dana White wasn’t a wrestler and he doesn’t have a Black Belt in any of the martial arts nor is there a record of him boxing. Yet he manages and fiercely protects the brand of a billion dollar empire. Gary Bettman from the National Hockey League never skated but he did graduate from Cornell University and the New York University School of Law.

As a result of these examples, any previous knowledge of our sport has to be considered a non-starter for those who wish to work at the National Wrestling Association. Ideally the successful candidate(s) should have an MBA and/or a law degree with a minimum of 10 years’ experience in marketing and sales, strategic planning and has the capability to navigate the various social media platforms.

For this organization to become a reality we have to initially place this responsibility on the shoulders of the sports heaviest of financial hitters. They are the ones who already understand the need to develop our brand and create a centralized organization and have the resources necessary to accomplish it.

I know this is going to be a difficult undertaking but please focus on the need for such an association and not the particulars of how we’ll do this for minds far greater than mine will sort out the details.

I anticipate that the NWA will become solvent over time through any combination of the following: advertising, corporate donations, memberships and marketing in the same way the National Registry 4 Wrestling (NR4W) is planning to advance their causes. Actually the National Registry 4 Wrestling should be the responsibility of the National Wrestling Association to develop and oversee. The same is true for the International Fraternity of Wrestlers (IFW) that just launched its business this month. Regardless of who’s the parent of the other, we don’t need to squabble over turf; all three groups have the same intentions and similar program vision. But the NWA has a name that might be easier for the wrestling community to understand and jump onboard with than the NR4W or the IFW.

There’s also the possibility of asking the sport itself to help. I know this might be a fight but it’s not unreasonable to ask the nations event operators to add a $1.00 per person surcharge to every event entry fee. Sort of like a fuel surcharge the airlines charge each passenger. That alone would keep the NWA more than solvent and never hurt anyone in particular’s pocketbook.

Some might ask; why should groups like USAWrestling, the AAU, the National Wrestling Hall of Fame, the NWCA, NCWA, Nuway, WIN, Brute and the others go along with the creation of an NWA?

I’m sure if you ask any of them they’ll want to know; “What’s in it for us?”

Well for starters it immediately eliminates each ones perceived responsibility to Title IX or the sports brand. It also eliminates the distraction of being part of alliances that have never worked but sounded exciting when everyone initially got together. These are the types of things that our current organizations aren’t set up to handle or for that matter want to handle but get beat up just the same for not handling. The NWA is a “get out of jail” card for these groups relative to areas of responsibility that they’re not responsible for but the masses feel otherwise.

And of course there’s the question, “if though the efforts of the NWA the sport doubled the number of athletes and quadrupled the number of spectators, would everyone be okay with depositing the checks that this increased business created?”

Clearly this proposal generates more questions than answers but regardless of the obstacles, or headaches, it doesn’t diminish the need for the association.

“If you don’t have a company that is constantly changing, always evolving through the discomfort of change, you don’t have a company!” – Jack Welch, General Electric

In the interim we should consider the idea of bringing together a group of non-wrestling professionals who have expertise in areas like marketing, programming, promotions, business administration, branding, public service, and digital technology. You might consider them a very accomplished focus group with specific skill sets that have no previous knowledge of wrestling.

Offer each executive a round trip ticket and an enticing stipend to whatever city makes the most sense to hold the meeting. We’d expect them to create a baseline manifesto that the NWA can expand on as they get organized.

Specific examples of who we might invite would be the Vice President of Marketing for the WWE, the Vice President of Programming at ESPN, the Director of Branding for the Yum restaurant group, Dana White from the UFC and the Vice President of Communications and Revenue at Twitter. It doesn’t have to be those specific individuals but you get the idea. We need professionals who have demonstrated proclivity in the areas of entertainment, marketing, social media and the customer service side of sports.

Please notice that none of the aforementioned individuals have a background in amateur wrestling. That would be the strength of the meeting and the information that came from the effort.

6. Adopt a national alliance partner: no man is an island nor should wrestling be. Another one of the first responsibilities of the NWA should be the creation a strategic alliance with a nationally recognized give back, feel good, not-for-profit because 85% of Americans have a more positive image of a sport when it supported a cause they cared about. Nearly 90% of those surveyed said it was important that the sporting community come together for the purpose of solving pressing social issues and regarding the business side of things, 79% of Americans indicated they would likely switch from one brand to another if the other brand was associated with a cause they believed in.

For wrestling, the Wounded Warrior Project seems to make the most sense given the number of military personnel that wrestled and of course the great service the group does for those who have given more in defense of our country than anyone has a right to expect. And ironically, their logo is one soldier being carried over another’s shoulder in a double leg.

The American Red Cross could also work but in either case developing such a business relationship would strengthen the public image of wrestling while helping the not-for-profit achieve their goals. Each of our wrestling organizations would end up being a complimentary resource for our alliance partner and together we would all exceed the sum of our parts.

Most if not all major corporations enjoy this type of global synergy. The Walt Disney Company partners with the United Way, Microsoft with the Boys and Girls Clubs of America, Procter and Gamble’s with UNICEF and the list goes on. The time has come for the sport of wrestling to take a similar step and give back as they have always asked other to give to them!

Chapter 8 next Sunday.

A Must Read

I received this response from one of my readers. It pretty well sums up some of the challenges the sport faces.

You have to understand, I’ve never been a wrestler. My father once said wrestling was gay. Even if my father hadn’t said that, I probably couldn’t have been able to wrestle. I was born with asthma. I might have been able to build up some stamina for wrestling, but my stamina would always have been wanting.

My nephew tried the sport for a few years back in middle school and dropped out. This is why I got interested enough to comment here. I tried to read up on the sport, tried to understand what he was getting into.

I failed. Must be wrestling is too subtle for us non-wrestlers?

Someone told me wrestlers worry about balance and foot position and leverage and several other things. To this day I wouldn’t know if a person had good balance or foot position. I can understand when a wrestler accomplishes something. I can recognize a takedown, but not how the takedown was accomplished.

I find takedown/stand up wrestling boring. I see a takedown. I see a standup. I thought wrestling was about pinning. I can recognize a pin is happening most of the time, except if I try to watch the Olympics. A momentary pin in the Olympics happens too fast. It’s over before I even have a chance to get excited thinking something has happened. I gave up trying to watch Olympic wrestling.

The one second pin in College is almost too fast. It’s over before I realize something is happening. You wish to address my (non-wrestler) view of wrestling? Understand biases and limitations non-wrestlers may have. Non-wrestling spectators are excited by pinning. It’s like a knock-out in boxing. It’s like a touchdown in football. It’s like scoring a goal in hockey. You keep shortening the time a wrestler needs to be pinned and Olympic wrestling seemed to do away with it all together.

Maybe you should lengthen the time for a pin to three or five seconds combined with a rule, when the wrestler being pinned relaxes, it’s over. In this way, you can’t have wrestlers relax while being pinned like they did in professional wrestling where a professional wrestler would relax for the first two hand slaps and then get out before the third hand slap. Maybe you should do away with the time (1 second, 2 second, whatever) for the pin altogether and just say, it’s over when a wrestler is pinned and he relaxes.

Maybe you should do away with the rule; a wrestler can be saved from a pin with the period running out of time. I think there are some boxing rules (I am not a boxer either) where a boxer can’t be saved by the bell. Maybe wrestling should say, the only way to get out of a pinning situation is to struggle out of a pinning situation. Time doesn’t get you out. You can only get out of a pin by struggling out.

This takedown/stand up business is like the football players moving the football back and forth without ever scoring a touchdown. It’s like hockey players controlling the puck without scoring. Sure the hockey players are experts at passing the puck, but so what. It’s boring.

Get rid of technical falls please. The goal of wrestling should be pinning. Do we end a football game when one team is ahead by twenty points? Do we reward the football team that has the most yardage? Does a hockey game end when one team is ahead by three points? Do we reward the hockey team that has control of the puck most of the time? We reward the football team that has the most touchdowns. We reward the hockey team that has the most goals.

You may think scoring points for takedowns or escapes or reversals is exciting. You understand how difficult (or easy) scoring those points are. You understand how those takedowns and escapes and reversals were done. Non-spectators, like me, do not. We don’t notice the foot work or hand work or other things you can appreciate. After a while, we find it boring.

We understand when a wrestler weakens and relaxes while being pinned. We can see the wrestler straining to keep a shoulder blade off the mat. We see the wrestler working for the pin straining to press the shoulder blades down. Think of the excitement and sense of relief or frustration when the wrestler being pinned works out of the pin. Think of the sense of finality when the wrestler being pinned fails to escape, and gradually weakens, and finally relaxes, and we see the shoulder blades go down.

I don’t know how you address the gay issue. Maybe that’s an issue you can’t address and must hope goes away on its own. Being a non-wrestler, I’m hesitant when you ask me to post my real name. I’m sticking my nose in your affairs when I don’t know what I’m talking about. I am probably the last person who can give you advice. I can’t speak for all non-wrestling spectators. I can only speak for myself. Maybe you should find a way to poll non-wrestling, prospective spectators, to ask them what they think.

This is what I think. This is my two cents. Take it for what it’s worth.

Now I’m not going to comment on this gentleman’s observations other than to say wrestling needs to develop focus groups. Our growth and even the sports survival will depend on what others from outside the sport believe.

I also happen to feel he’s right on the money about the pin; it’s our equivalent of the grand slam, the knockout, the hail Mary and the buzzer beating half-court shot. And as I will post later in How Wrestling Wins, athletes shouldn’t be saved by the buzzer if they’re on their backs. Action should continue until there’s a fall or the pin is no longer imminent. It’s a small change that would have a huge impact on excitement and how we’re viewed by the general public.

But the most important thing we can learn here is there are viewpoints out there that differ from those within the sport. Our growth, and quite possibly our survival will depend on our openness to new ideas.

 

How Wrestling Wins – Chapter 6

x and o

Chapter 6

2. Coaches should coach and delegate. Just as athletes focus on competition, referees should officiate and spectators should cheer; everyone has a role on wrestling’s stage. As for coaches, they should be free to concentrate on what they do best; develop their athletes academically, train them athletically and mentor them socially.

What they shouldn’t be are majority stakeholders in producing halftimes, moving mats, creating promotions, writing articles, fashioning administrative policy or crafting rules. They should be free to focus solely on the athletes in their charge.

Unfortunately coaches have grown accustomed to wearing so many hats that they don’t realize, or maybe they do, how 1) overwhelming their jobs are and 2) how ineffective they are at most of them. It’s just not possible to be able to complete all the things that their administrators expect of them, or they expect of themselves.

To remedy this, coaches need to create a core team of support personnel for their programs and it’s quite obvious which programs are currently doing that and which are not. Coaches who are able to entrust and transfer the care and management of different program functions are the ones who are succeeding. Penn State, Iowa and Minnesota are three that come to mind when I think about exceptional coach/administrators. Are there other coaches in this category, of course there are but these are a few high profile examples.

Coaches must learn there is little difference between what they do and what a CEO tackles on a daily basis. Both are conductors of their own orchestras and in each case neither of them needs to know how to play the instruments; they just need to know how to read music and which instrument makes what sound.

For every wrestling program in America there are competent people just around the corner who can make a huge difference in the sound a program makes. What the coach has to do is reach out and ask for help, then manage the effort.

It’s commonly known that those who are the most successful are the ones who push their athletes out of their comfort zone. Correspondingly, the most successful programs are ones where the coaches push themselves out of that same level of comfort; which means understanding and embracing the power of delegation.

But one of the problems in wrestling is most coach’s struggle in this area, and then human nature takes over. They begin to feel overwhelmed by the work load and then look for ways to simplify their lives. That typically means supporting any administrative decision, situation or rule change that makes their jobs easier or gives their athletes an edge; all at the expense of the spectator and sport.

As an example; coaches dismiss or at least downplay the importance of dual meets in favor of multi-bout events. They do that so their athletes can get more matches in while they lose themselves in what they feel most comfortable doing; coaching. But unfortunately for the sport, nothing reduces wrestling’s GDP faster or kills spectator interest quicker than extended events. Forget the spectator for a moment, most parents won’t even do Triangular’s anymore let alone sitting through 10 hour marathons.

Note to coaches, there are far more team sports on television than individual sports. And exceptions like auto racing and the UFC both have unique features that wrestling doesn’t; spectacular accidents and an abundance of blood.

Wrestling has to reintroduce into the sport the team metric, that’s the smart play.

Regarding the specifics of scheduling, coaches should take into account what days and times are most convenient for their spectators, not what floats their personal boats. It’s important that they focus on accommodating the desires of those who attend meets, not the individuals who’re paid to be there. I realize this will vary from region to region and whether the school resides in an urban or rural setting but it’s something that needs to be done.

The University of Wisconsin schedules most of their home duals on Sunday afternoons between milking times. That fulfills the needs of their fans, many of whom are dairy farmers.

Penn State football typically plays afternoon games for a different reason; they don’t have enough hotel rooms to provide lodging for the number of spectators they attract. And they aren’t about to ask the Lion faithful to spend 45 minutes after the game fighting their way out of crowded parking lots only to drive another hour or two home or to find a room.

Then you wouldn’t, or at least shouldn’t as an example schedule home matches during the week if you’re American University or the University of Pittsburgh. Drive times in cities like Washington DC and Pittsburgh are so bad that spectators absolutely won’t get back their cars to go watch a match after fighting traffic for an hour and a half to get home for supper.

The idea that wrestling coaches are responsible for almost every phase of the sport has been a formula for failure ever since it began and the negative outcomes have been so gradual that no one has paid attention to the bleeding. It’s like death by a thousand cuts.

Now I realize coaches will cringe at what I’m suggesting here is a loss of control over responsibilities they previously regulated. But isn’t that a good thing if presented in a positive manner? We just need to remind them they’re losing control over things they didn’t have the time or the want to do in the first place. Instead this will give them more opportunities to focus on the things they enjoy; developing athletes.

Regarding the wrestlers themselves, they don’t get a vote and shouldn’t have a say. They need to stay focused on their grades, keeping their noses clean and outworking the opposition. Granted, wrestlers will tell they’re concerned about rules, but only if you ask them. So don’t ask and watch how quickly they adapt.

Development of all rules need to be put in the hands of those who understand that spectators are the sports lifeblood.

Regarding the fans, not to be confused with spectators who actually attend matches, they should start buying tickets or stay off the forums and out of the opinion business. Anyone who isn’t part of the solution by definition has to be part of the problem. I realize that’s somewhat harsh but typically those who bitch the most, do the least and cause the most harm.

So what I’m advocating here, in order to win, wrestling must create a strong financial base and that means filling seats. Yes, I’m still beating the attendance drum but it’s the only drum we have that means anything. Businesses only survive when they have more receivables in terms of dollars than payables.

That can’t be hard to understand; the days of administrators replenishing budgets as a normal course of action to start each school year is rapidly coming to an end.

As a side note regarding revenue production, how interested would coaches be in attracting spectators if their salaries were totally commission based and tied to the annual number of tickets their program sold; or some base salary plus commission formula? If that wouldn’t get their attention it would their wives. That would be the time tested old mule and 2 X 4 upside the head incentive program that always tends to encourage change.

And I’ve heard that change is always inevitable; except from vending machines and it seems from wrestling’s leadership.

Or might we consider using that same financial formula to develop a programs annual budget. Give wrestling coaches a base budget plus a percentage of the previous year’s ticket sales for their programs operation. What a novel idea, incentivizing. I believe that’s what made America great and I bet it would get coaches working on spectator numbers too.

Again; it’s all about the number of spectators the sport has; without them we have no future.

The incentive program I just mentioned is similar to a program Peter Ueberroth fathered when he was CEO of the United States Olympic Committee. Instead of handing out three dozen or so rather large annual checks to each Olympic sport, Ueberroth opted for a lower base plus commission formula. No longer could a sport like USA Wrestling sit back and expect to receive X from big brother. Instead they were forced to produce on the international stage or get used to eating mac and cheese. Win a Gold Medal and your budget receives a boost beyond its base. Capture a Silver or Bronze and receive a little less but still significant amounts.

All that is capitalism at its best; the creation of incentive programs that force individuals and organizations out of their comfort zone. Things have a way of becoming important when you make them important.

__________________________________________

Has anyone really thought about what it takes to win a wrestling match? If you’d ask our fans they’d probably say scoring more points than your opponent. They’d probably think of the David Taylor’s of the world and the fascination those offensive machines have with putting points on the board.

But given how the sport is officiated and the rules are designed, the incentive to score is far outweighed by the need to minimize risks. This is why we must 1) correct stalling and 2) do a better job of incentivizing scoring. Plus it needs to focus on dual meets being the end all, be all of our survival and each individual point scored playing a part in the team outcome; more on that later.

In our history, the sport’s winningest programs have become those that perfected an approach that minimizes offense. Bouts and dual meets are won by encouraging a wrestling style, which our rules were created to support, that employs a 30/70 mixture of exposed to guarded techniques. That means grabbing a one or two-point lead and guarding it until the match ends.

Now I know we don’t like to think about success having anything to with inactivity but that’s the way the sport has evolved. Wrestlers, coaches and spectators know the game very well; and that’s the way the sport is coached. Play the odds; winning by 1 gets a team the same number of points as winning by 7. There’s no; zero, zip, zilch incentive here. Get a lead, shut down, play the edge, look for stalemates, control the tie-ups and take half shots while your coach pretends your being offensive with the official.

Everyone knows what’s taking place; for the coach of the athlete that’s ahead on points it’s just a game of cat and mouse with the referee. What can he say that would make his wrestler appear aggressive without actually being offensive? For the wrestler who’s behind in points, how can his coach draw a stalling call from the referee while forcing his athlete’s opponent to take risks? And while this is playing out, the official is trying to get out of the match without losing too many style points which determines if he’s selected to work at the NCAA’s or not.

There are so many ways of stalling that if you’d try to address each one individually you’d double the number of pages we have in our rule book.

Now I understand holding back is smart wrestling. But it’s doesn’t endear us to the spectators who are in the stands for the first and usually last time or those who are our veteran viewers. That’s why I seldom go to meets anymore; they’re predictable and quite boring. Now I do miss the occasional great dual or the infrequent memorable bout but those are so far and few between it’s not worth the investment of time. As a result our spectator numbers continue to decline at roughly the same rate as our fans die of old age.

If anyone doubts my premise about the rules holding us back, I’d ask them to explain why we don’t have 1000 active collegiate programs like baseball does or why our larger events aren’t being broadcast in primetime, or even at all?

Wasn’t it James Carville, a campaign strategist for Bill Clinton’s 1992 presidential campaign who coined the phrase, “It’s the economy stupid.” Well for us in wrestling . . .

3. It’s about the spectator stupid! Unfortunately USA Wrestling hasn’t gotten the memo yet. What were they thinking when they scheduled the Burroughs-Taylor match at the US Open to start after midnight (EST)? This was the match of the decade and a prime example of wrestling not seeing the big picture or if they did, didn’t care. This was one of the most anticipated and best matches ever recorded (almost as good as some of the Schalles-Dziedzic squabbles) but now it will never be seen by the casual spectator, certainly by those who were east of the Mississippi. Only our die-hards went to Flo Wrestling to watch the replay as I did and they don’t count because they’re already part of our fan base.

Granted, the match did start earlier in Las Vegas. But the east coast is wrestling’s largest market place and there’s a reason, obviously lost on USAW, why television networks start their broadcasts of major sporting events at 6pm on the west coast. Who can afford to miss out on the revenue streams that eyeballs on the east coast provide or are willing to lose out on the opportunities to expose their sport to tens of millions potential spectators? Only one it appears; care to guess which organization or sport?

I can just hear Colorado Springs now, “it’s just the way the schedule played out.” Yea right; the error was internal and created by the person who made the schedule. This isn’t hard; if spectators are the most important component to success, then the finals should have been scheduled to begin at 6pm and back everything up from there. If that means leadership has to forgo Saturday night pleasantries, on the sport’s dime I might add, and get up a little earlier the next morning to start wrestling, so be it. The sport can no longer be about those who produce the show; everything has to be about the spectator who watches the show. Until that happens, what took place this past summer with the Olympics and our continual decline in the number of folkstyle programs will be minor by comparison to what’s about to happen.

It’s silly to forget the needs of spectators, and it’s suicidal.

The sport really needs to consider the creation of a consumer advocate group that’s responsible for the interests and needs of our spectators. It’s way too obvious to anyone with a background in customer service that our sport is blind to the needs of those who pay the bills.

Right now it’s the coaches who determine the direction the sport takes and seldom do they concern themselves with the needs of our spectator base or their departments who fund their efforts. Not because they maliciously wish to overlook that aspect of the sport, it’s just something they’ve never had to think about before.

This is why we’re hemorrhaging programs left, right and dead center. And in the years to come, only those sports who can develop a strong spectator base will survive the rapidly approaching carnage.

Regarding the consumer, three weeks ago the CEO of Abracadabra, China’s equivalent of Amazon.com had this to say regarding his company’s success in the global marketplace. “I’ve build this company around three basic principles.”

  1. Our customer’s come first.
  2. Our employees come second.
  3. And our stock holders come third.

This shouldn’t surprise anyone who has been successful in business because without customers, there is no revenue. Without revenue, there are no employee’s. Without revenue or employees, who needs stock?

But in wrestling we don’t have a philosophy regarding our consumers. If there is one it’s, “we’re going to do our thing, if you want to watch it, that’s fine. If you don’t, that’s okay too.” So is that entitlement, arrogance or laziness on our part?

Let’s take some time now and look at how we allow events to be set up and run for a moment; I’m sure this will strike a chord with most of you. Why is it acceptable to allow every Tom, Dick and Harry to stand around the mat at hundreds of tournaments across the country so those who are sitting in the stands can’t see? Does anyone realize that many of those are who are being considerate by sitting down are first time goers? Think about the NFL or the NBA for a minute; you buy a ticket, you find your seat and you watch the game. Only self-important spectators with death wishes dare to stand up and block the view of those sitting behind them.

But in wrestling we allow those non caring individuals to block the line of sight of everyone else. Why is that?

Nationally, at the NCAA Division I Championships, why do they place score clocks on the floor? Then attach 15 inch high white foam board signs on top of each one that indicates which clock is associated with which mat? Do they understand how aggravating it is to miss critical scrambles because you can’t see around those electronic Christmas trees? Thanks guys; and our NCAA leaders do it every year; this isn’t a onetime screw-up. What’s worse, no one seems to care? The solution is easy; hang the score clocks from the ceiling directly over top of each mat. For the athletes, if they complain about not being able to see the score or how much time is left, place a small secondary clock on the table. Problem solved, spectators win.

Singlet colors; if the NBA and the NFL have rules about dominate uniform colors relative to whether you are playing at home or away, shouldn’t wrestling consider that too? Teams should have two singlets; one that is predominately light colored with bold trim in the schools colors and the other a predominately dark color with light colored trim. The athlete who is highest on the bracket always wears the light colored body, the lower wrestler the darker. This would make it easier for spectators to identify the athletes and the techniques being used as bodies become intertwined. That’s a small thing but obviously the major sports saw a need for it so who are we to argue?

What’s so frustrating is leadership doesn’t care to even seem to care. If they did, not only would the NCAA’s have put butts in all their seats but we’d have thousands of spectators on waiting lists clamoring for tickets.

The sport needs to have a spectator advocate at the National Wrestling Association office and I’m sorry I haven’t gotten around to explaining the NWA yet. But this spectator advocate should be someone whose sole responsibility is to represent those who buy tickets. Someone who is capable of writing a Spectators Bill of Rights that becomes the sports bible. This isn’t hard to do but the fact that no one has ever thought of it is moronic at best and would never happen in professional sports. Could it be that we’ve called our sport amateur wrestling so often that the subliminal messaging keeps us from being professional?

So why does the NCAA event committee think it’s acceptable to put mats down on Wednesday which are so close to the edges of the arena walls that half the spectators can’t see what’s happening on half the mats closest to them? And we wonder why new spectators don’t become old spectators? It’s a mindset that wrestling doesn’t have and another responsibility of the National Wrestling Association to address. We can no longer do what we want because it should never have been about what we want in the first place.

Next, we have to reintroduce dual meets as the way wrestling represents itself to the consuming public. The days of Tri’s and Quad’s and most tournaments have to disappear. Coaches have to place a stronger value on their dual meet season because Americans prefer to root for teams while enjoying individual performances. Tournaments highlight the individual with team scoring being an afterthought.

Think about the biggest spectator sports. Football, basketball, soccer, baseball, hockey; all of them are team sports. Think about the poorest attended sports, track and field, swimming and diving, tennis, gymnastics, wrestling, all of which are individual sports. See any trends here? We have to focus our efforts on dual meets and begin to sell wrestling as a team sport with individual outcomes?

But the thought of the day is if coaches can get an All-American each season that they’re jobs will remain safe and their programs will be viewed as successful. That’s only the case if you’ve been smoking something or coach at one of the sports largest programs like Iowa, Oklahoma State, Penn State and Minnesota. Sorry Ohio State, you’re not there yet but you are just around the corner.

Jobs are kept or lost completely on the strength of a program’s GDP. You are either a financial asset or a financial liability; and if it’s the latter, your program can’t have any issues with poor grades or social values without severe consequences. This can’t be difficult to understand. Wrestling has to be blind not to see this being played out each year, in every state, at every divisional level.

Now I don’t want to bust any coach’s bubble but 99% of Athletic Directors simply don’t care if a program is winning or losing when it comes to non-revenue sports, all they care about is the ease of administration and the color of ink it produces. Ask Coach Denney at Nebraska, Omaha. He arrived home 3 hours after winning the NCAA Division II National Championships only to hear, “your sport’s been dropped.” Although the sports departure from the athletic department was blamed on the needs of their basketball program that was moving to D-I, it had everything to do with the number of spectators their wrestling program didn’t have. Winning matches and championship performances were not, are not, and will not be taken into account when these types of decisions are made. UCLA, Florida, Auburn and LSU were all Top 10 Division I programs when they felt the ax.

As to spectators and their interests, they will only carve out roughly 2 hours of their day for entertainment. God knows they aren’t interested in sitting in a gymnasium for an entire day. This is why most youth sports like soccer and little league are 2 hours long, movies are 2 hours long, concerts, plays and symphonies are 2 hours long, a quiet dinner out is 2 hours long and the list goes on.

The American lifestyle is divided into 2 hour segments outside of work for almost everything that’s entertainment based. Those activities that run longer typically see exponential reductions in spectator appeal. This is why wrestling has to discontinue Triangular’s and Quadrangular’s and except for the preseason and post season, all tournaments. If the rules committee has to legislate this then so be it. We have no choice but to return our sport to a dual meet format.

I can hear the coaches now, “but we’ve always done it that way!” Yep, and Custer always pursued Indians; Nixon was always tricky and Kmart was too big to worry about the competition.

Wrestling must focus on doing what it does best, being a dual meet sport; two teams fighting it out for that evening’s supremacy. Tournaments should only occur prior to the official start of the season and at the end of the season with conference tournaments and the NCAA’s. We shouldn’t have any form of multiple event days in between those periods and dual meets should be capped at 12 with a mandatory minimum of 40% being home matches to start any debate. I’m not trying to be an ogre here, just realistic.

Now I know next season is a strange year for matches in the Big Ten given the addition of Maryland and Rutgers to the conference, but the University of Iowa only has one home dual meet! This isn’t good for either the sport or one of the countries great programs. Besides losing substantial revenue, they’re breaking the law of reoccurring visits that is the life blood of retail sales. The Walt Disney Company spends over 80% of their annual marketing dollars creating the consumer habit of reoccurring visits. They’ve learned through experience that if the reoccurring connection is broken, for whatever reason, it’s very tough to re-establish the relationship.

In Iowa’s case, with only one dual meet:

  1. They’re basically breaking the reoccurring chain of visits, which will hurt their spectator numbers during the 2015-16 season. Maybe it will only have a minimum affect because it’s Iowa but try breaking it at the University of Pennsylvania and see how that works out for the Quakers?
  2. This also makes it harder to push NCAA tickets to the Hawk faithful for the 2015 tournament because their home schedule is damaging the spectator-athlete connection; for the closer those who sit in the stands are to their athletes, the more likely they are to buy plane tickets to support their favorites.

Now I’m aware of most oppositional stances to this focus on dual meets but everything we do must be about the spectator, not the number of matches a wrestler can rack up during the season. As long as everyone has the same opportunities to develop, even if that means 40% less matches per season everything is equal, thus everything is fair.

The logic behind being dual meet centric is:

  1. Spectators, not fans, come to dual meets and buy tickets if they expect the match to be worth seeing; they return for future dual meets in part if the gym was full and to a much larger extent if the matches were worth watching. They seldom attend any other event format in numbers worth mentioning.
  2. Wrestlers can learn to live with 30 match seasons. When Dan Hodge wrestled at the University of Oklahoma he averaged 13 matches a year which included the NCAA tournament. Now I do understand the more matches a wrestler has under his belt the better prepared he is for NCAA competition. But with more competitive dates comes increased exposure to skin infections, injuries, weight reduction issues and poor APR numbers; none of which endears us to our administrations, or the public. And given the number of times spectators don’t attend wrestling events, stacking the schedule with more matches doesn’t mean the sport will see increased attendance numbers. But rather lower per dual meet averages which also affects any interest the media may have in covering us.
  3. For those coaches who feel they are saving their programs money by dividing the cost of travel by the number of bouts wrestled in all day affairs, that sounds logical but in the real world Athletic Director’s don’t care. They much prefer incomes to outcomes.
  4. Relative to academics, wrestling is already one of the worst (APR*) performing sports the NCAA offers and to put athletes on the road for even one more day a season is criminal. Remember, for every additional day of scheduled competition there’s an average of 3 days of weight cutting associated with it. No wonder our classroom performance is so bad that it’s regularly mentioned as one of the reasons why schools drop wrestling or won’t reinstate it.
  5. Then we have the financial issues because larger travel budgets don’t endear us to our administrators especially when the events we’re traveling to have nonexistent spectator bases.
  6. To a lesser extent travel safety. With wrestling being primarily a northern sport, the less time teams spend driving on icy roads the better. Remember when the University of Oregon had a devastating auto accident quite a few years ago that claimed the lives of two wrestlers and severely injured numerous more? I wonder how that tragedy played into the schools decision to drop wrestling.
  7. Dual meets is the only way wrestling can re-establish and maintain rivalries. I can’t say they have completely disappeared from the sports landscape but there is a parallel between spectator numbers and the excitement that a rivalry promotes.

* On the positive side of academics, instead of defending our record given its extremely poor positioning, we should go to the offensive. There’s a reason why Beat the Streets has been cheered by the nation’s community organizers, civic groups and business leaders. Wrestling saves lives for it recruits not only children of affluent families but students that society has forgotten. As a result we have the highest percentage of first time family members attending and graduating from college than any other sport so it’s only natural that our overall APR might struggle because we’re making a difference and changing lives and is the thread that holds the American quilt together.

Nothing that I’ve wrote so far should be confusing. Spectators will watch wrestling if it’s fun. They won’t if it’s not and that means events have to be 2 hours or less.

Chapter 7 next Sunday.

How Wrestling Wins – Chapter 5

x and o

Chapter 5

Let’s take a look at a few examples of how we penalize action but please try and forget what you’re used to seeing and how you’ve become accustomed to the way things are. Instead, analyze what’s being written strictly in terms of action and non-action.

If we want action I have to ask, how can we penalize the person in the behind standing position for stalling when he’s creating the majority of the action in his attempt to return his opponent to the mat? Isn’t it the defensive man who’s just trying to stand there and do nothing knowing that he’ll be rewarded for his inaction? Who’s actually stalling in terms of action and non-action? Is it the offensive man who’s working to return his opponent to the mat or the defensive wrestler who’s hanging out in anticipation of the stalling call? Think about that for a moment; if an athlete has the ability to get to his feet which is 4 times harder to do than break free, and can’t manage to escape, then I’m afraid he’s not trying very hard.

If we want action, how can you penalize the offensive person who’s hanging onto his opponent’s ankle when being drug around the mat? Is there action there, of course there is. So why are we stopping the action and penalizing the top guy? Didn’t we just decide by all those examples that action is what everyone wants, not always engagement? How is this any different from the wide receiver, boxer, tennis player or those from basketball?

Shouldn’t it be the defensive wrestler’s responsibility to go back and attack the problem if someone is chewing on his ankle? If you say stalling is a failure to engage, who’s not engaging; the defensive man who is fleeing the hold and being rewarded for running away or the offensive man who looks like a cowboy who fell off his horse and has his foot caught in the stirrup? Yes I know how he got there; he willfully dropped down on the ankle. But if hanging onto an ankle is stalling, why wasn’t Delgado disqualified in every one of his 5 matches at this year’s NCAA’s? For 3 days he pitched a tent and set up camp on the ankles of everyone he wrestled. Now personally I rather enjoyed watching him screw up every one of his opponent’s best shots and then turn the tables and score from those positions. His creative offense gave us some of the most engaging bouts of the tournament but how is grabbing an ankle to counter a takedown any different than countering an escape by grabbing an ankle or for that matter, shooting in on a low single? There’s action in every one of those instances so let the match continue and see where it takes us? Once the athletes know the referee isn’t going to intervene, they’ll take it upon themselves to find a way out.

There is always a way out of any hold! When an athlete knows that it’s up to him to free himself, guess what, he’ll find a way out. But our sport typically handles difficult situations by creating additional rules to fix those that don’t need fixing.

The problem starts with the coaches. As long as they know if they complain the rules committee will come to their rescue, what do you think happens; they complain. Then rules are added.

You know, if you always feed your baby, he’ll never learn how to feed himself either. But if you put food in his high chair tray and leave him alone, I promise you he’ll find his mouth.

But in wrestling, as soon as someone can’t get out of a hold which is being applied by a superior athlete, the coach cries foul saying, “it’s not fair, he shouldn’t be allowed in this instance to hang onto my athlete’s leg.” Then the do-gooders on the Rules Committee go to work to appease those they represent.

What we need is better parenting. The rules committee needs to remind the coach that we’re not here to fix something his athlete should have learned in his wrestling room.

As someone who understands counter wrestling, I can tell you without hesitation that it’s not hard to get a guy off your ankle or leg if you go back to the problem and use your hands to attack his hands. In the reverse, it’s almost impossible to get free by kicking away but it is an excellent way to draw a stalling call and why you see the defensive man dragging his opponent around the mat. He’s faking frustration so the referee will say, “poor baby, I need to get involved and make sure this is a fair contest.”

Regardless of your position here, wrestling should be about action. Not if one person is moving forward or backing up, engaging or running, the question that should be asked; is there action? If there is; all’s good. If not, someone should be in the process of creating it or being penalized. The point I’m trying to make is we have such a lack of consistency regarding how we call stalling because we don’t have a clear definition of what stalling is, and we’re obstinately inconsistent with the application of the rule.

I happen to believe it would be totally acceptable, and exciting, to see one wrestler turn his back on his opponent in a match and run as fast as he can in the other direction. Crazy, I think not. What would happen in that scenario; most likely the same thing that happened when Darrian Caldwell ran the last 10 seconds of his NCAA finals match against Brent Metcalf. That was the most thrilling part of an extremely electrifying bout. The crowd roared as Brent relentlessly pursued Darrian to the edge of the mat. As the final buzzer sounded only the referee stood between Caldwell and a 5 foot drop into someone’s lap while the arena erupted in cheers.

So what’s wrong with running? Where’s the athlete going to go? All you’d see would be a chase scene that would definitely end in a takedown. No one’s going to get away, the circle is too small. Either the pursuer is going to tackle his opponent from behind or the chased is going to spin around at the last minute and lateral drop his opponent into the second row. Metcalf didn’t have any problem catching Caldwell who I would guess is far faster in a foot race.

The point is someone is going to score and the crowd is going to love it because they’re witnessing action!

Heck, I’m 63 years old and if Usian Bolt, Jamaica’s fastest man in the world was a wrestler, there is no doubt in my mind I could catch him in a match. Not sure why I’d want to though but it’s called angles; as long as he stayed inside the wrestling area he could continue to run, but he wouldn’t get away.

Think about it for a moment, when one athlete turns his back and takes off running, doesn’t that open up another dozen or so scoring options that currently aren’t available to athletes when they’re facing one another? How is this any different from the wide receiver, free safety scenario that spectators love?

I know this is philosophically and maybe even morally wrong to some purists given what we’re all used to seeing but if we’re interested in action, let it occur naturally. Besides, isn’t the chase always more exciting than the catch? Isn’t that the winning formula for all Hollywood blockbusters, 2 hours of good guys chasing bad guys or the leading lady being pursued by the leading man?

Do you remember the 24 minute chase scene in Bullitt with Steve McQueen? What happened to the bad guys wasn’t near as satisfying as the way McQueen’s Mustang weaved its way through the streets of San Francisco was unforgettable. It was pure adrenalin and I still remember it 45 years later.

Unfortunately in our sport, the rules are such that any mention of allowing a chase to occur is so repulsive that it’s unthinkable. But in reality, the chase is everything and even if we couldn’t fix the issue of stalling that change alone would go a long way in attracting new spectators. It’s rather easy to do but the sport has to be willing look at stalling in the same way as Noah Webster and Peter Roget does.

_________________________

Next, we need to make our sport a two-hour container of stimulation. In it should be 10 wrestling matches, a concession stand and half-time, cheerleaders and a fog machine, MMA ring girls and a pep band or at least choreographed music, an announcer and printed program with names, weights and an explanation of the rivalries. Wrestling matches should be a Cirque du Soleil experience complete with intermission.

But who’s going to pay for all these “extras?” As unappealing as this might sound to coaches, if they schedule one less away match a year the savings will be in excess of the amount of revenue that’s required to handle all these add-ons. Plus it means one less weigh-in and three less days of losing weight. All of which has to be a good thing relative to academic performance.

Are there other things we can do during matches to make the evening more enjoyable; there sure are. But the concept should be obvious. We have to find ways to make the wrestling experience more pleasant, entertaining and relevant than staying at home. Our events need to be more than just competition; they need to be a production, a well-organized, choreographed, professionally promoted experience. Isn’t that what the UFC, the NBA, the NFL and the WWE are doing? God forbid we would follow any formula that would cause wrestling to become successful.

Think of this as the chicken and the egg scenario. Coaches will say, “when we get enough spectators to make all this effort worthwhile we’ll do it.” But the only way you get to the numbers coaches want to see is by making wrestling a production first. Everyone wants to be the CEO of a 2 billion dollar company but so few want the hard work and frustrations of starting that company in their garage and fighting through the growing pains to get to that point.

This is where the National Wrestling Association (NWA) comes into play; you’ll read about the importance of this organization a little later. One of their duties would be the creation of an Operations Manual that outlines how dual meets should or better yet, will be handled; each page breaking the typical dual meet into production segments covering the what, when and how. To accomplish this, the NWA will need to reach out and borrow ideas from other revenue sports as well as looking at those things wrestling has done in the past at different venues that have been well received.

Another initial function of the NWA would be the creation of several focus groups made up of individuals who have never seen a wrestling match before. The purpose of this is to find out why wrestling is not a serious spectator sport? To begin we should allow these individuals to view several short videos of randomly selected bouts and dual meets. Then ask, “Would you attend one of these matches now that you know more about wrestling? If so why? If not, why not and would you recommend what you just saw to a friend?”

It’s imperative that we understand from these current non-spectators the direction wrestling needs to travel if we want to become both profitable and relevant as a sport; currently something we are neither. We just can’t afford to continue to make mistakes; we’ve made too many already. Actually, if we were as smart as we’d like to think we are, the only annual decisions wrestling would have to deal with are should we sign this year with NBC Sports or ESPN and how do we handle those spectators who are on waiting lists for season tickets?

But regardless of your viewpoints so far, I hope you’re enjoying the entertainment value of reading these pages. At the very least I would imagine that most of you are pleased that someone who has a rather large megaphone in the sport is attempting change. But regardless of your position, won’t you at least agree that wrestling needs to do things quite a bit differently than what we’ve been doing?

Now I don’t claim to be all seeing except on odd numbered days or omnipresent but on even numbered days; but I promise before you’re done reading I’ll convince you that my vision for the sport is a lot further down the road than current rules allow or our leadership permits.

Said another way, I’m not smart enough to score in the 90th percentile to make wrestling great but I know I can move it to a passing grade. Will there be holes in some of my logic, of course there could be but I doubt it. Will I error at times in my choice of adjectives or where I point the blame, it’s possible. It’s even probable that I could be wrong at times. But wrestling currently has a 43% average of getting things right; it’s not just failing survival class, it’s what has put the sport on life support. So when you disagree with something I wrote, ask yourself, “is what I’m reading better for the sport than what we currently have?” I know every bone in your body will be screaming to stick to your guns and your initial, “I don’t like it” gut feeling but if you’re honest, you’ll agree that my efforts are at least going in the right direction.

To that end people say I tend to think outside of the box. On the face of it I see that as a compliment. But I also know to beware when I hear things like that because that’s how leadership maintains control over the masses. You see, anyone who is labeled inside the box is thought of as normal; it’s the vanilla that people prefer they’d be and where the masses reside. Conversely, if you’re considered to live outside the box you’re at a minimum peculiar and in the extreme, odd. In this way, any wisdom that comes from those who think outside the box can be dismissed by those in power as possibly creative and fun but not practical.

But that parallel doesn’t even exist in wrestling. The sport doesn’t think inside the box nor is it outside the box. Wrestling doesn’t even know there is a box. But I think most of us would agree that businesses should function in a businesslike manner. So why is wrestling doing everything it can not to appear professional, or businesslike? All anyone has to do is look at the cloths a majority of the coaches wear when they represent their institutions at school functions. There’s a reason why Dress for Success sold the number of copies it did.

In business corporate America focuses on making money, whereas wrestling concentrates on spending it. It’s so bad we don’t even have empathy for the producers which borders on being an entitlement. The sport doesn’t care how their budget’s get replenished or who has to suffer to make that happen, as long as it happens. We have more takers than givers in wrestling and I’ve heard that phrase used more than I care to admit from some of the sports most influential figures.

Successful sports have spectators and wrestling doesn’t for as many reasons as this document has pages. Basically the willingness to please those who buy tickets is simply too much work for coaches to take on as a responsibility. That would require that we put the spectator ahead of our need to win matches. Granted, winning is the cornerstone of coaching but without spectators, there won’t be matches because we won’t have a sport. This non-normal thinking is a waterfall model for failure.

I could go on if you’d like but if wrestling were inside or outside the box regarding anything it did, the sport would already have its own television network and every collegiate coach would be enjoying six figure incomes.

So here we go, settle in, the roller coaster is about get underway. And while you’re waiting to reach the top of the first chilling drop lets cover a few ground rules.

  1. If you want to provide feedback on anything you read here, your opinions are always welcome but your viewpoint doesn’t count unless you offer an alternative solution. Anyone can tear an idea down; it only takes 4 to 6 IQ points to accomplish that as evidenced by many of our sports forum posts. So we’re expecting to hear how you would do things differently and tacking a new idea to an old rule is the same as painting over those rotten floor boards; it doesn’t hold weight. So please try and be a little creative.
  2. If you take the time to offer an alternative solution we expect you to affix your name to your viewpoint? Be accountable for your ideas and screen names don’t count.

So let’s work together here to put the sport inside the box or at least next to it. A nice start would be to “clear out the clutter.” This is what Supreme Court Justice Anthony Scalia said he wanted to do with the highest court in the land when he was given his robe. He was referring to individuals and ideologies that keep this esteem body of intellectuals from moving forward.

Hopefully these Foundations of Wrestling that I will address one by one here will mark the beginning of clearing wrestling’s clutter:

  1. Wrestling must increase its Gross Domestic Product.
  2. Coaches should coach and delegate.
  3. It’s about the spectator stupid.
  4. It’s also about the athletes.
  5. Developing a branding oversight body.
  6. Adopt a national alliance partner.
  7. Decisions are seldom spectator centric.
  8. Activity outshines inactivity.
  9. Simplify the rules.
  10. Complicate the sport strategically.
  11. Protect our youth.
  12. Wrestle where you belong.
  13. Stop the excuses, smell the coffee
  14. Lunch with your faculty and administration.
  15. Why is Team USA Wrestling continually failing?
  16. Stop undervaluing the sport.

1. Wrestling must increase its Gross Domestic Product: Our survival not as a mainstream sport but a sport period means one thing; increasing our GDP. In the context of countries, it’s the total market value of all goods and services produced on an annual basis. In wrestling that means the total worth of all things developed, created, produced and sold; with ticket sales being our largest and most important revenue source.

Wrestling’s survival means having a healthy GDP which is defined as having more revenue coming in than going out. It’s a numbers game. This is how it works:

As spectators increase, revenue expands, the media takes notice, administrators smile, current challenges become non-issues and wrestling removes itself from the endangered species list.

This shouldn’t be too complicated to understand, but the implementation might take some doing. We’ll discuss all this and more as the weeks unfold.

Chapter 6 next Sunday.

How Wrestling Wins – Chapter 4

x and o

Chapter 4

Regarding the crew from USAToday, not one inch of copy ever made it into print. Neither the finals nor the team scores earned even a box score mention, exactly what NASCAR receives on a regular basis for something as uninteresting as qualifying times for even their lesser races. So what does all this mean; simple, everything else that happened in sports that weekend was more important than what we were doing in Oklahoma City.

Message received; wrestling isn’t relevant.

Many in the sport look to what we believe to be a strong scholastic base to support our optimism for wrestling. Unfortunately those numbers don’t hold up under scrutiny. In 1978 we had roughly 375,000 high school wrestlers in a country of 195 million citizens. Today the United States has 315 million people and 272,000 scholastic wrestlers. So that means with the drop in participation numbers and an increase in our population base, we’re at 50% or half of what we use to be in the 1970’s. And relative to the number of high school programs, we’ve lost more of them in the last 30 years than we’ve lost collegiate programs.

Now I guess it’s appropriate to commend our sport for always trying to see the glass as half full. There’s no doubt we’re optimists in many ways, rose colored glasses and all but to point to the low hanging fruit as proof of the sports health while ignoring the fact that the rest of the tree is dying is deeply depressing.

Wrestling doesn’t need to make changes to survive, it needs a major overhaul.

We’re in trouble folks and honest introspection, as much as it might hurt, must start at the sports core and why I’m writing.

“Wasn’t it the woolly mammoth who said, “Who me, I don’t need a sweatshirt?”

The most current slant on the health of the sport comes from USAWrestling regarding this past summer Olympic catastrophe. “We did it! America joined hands with the rest of the world and through our collective leaderships saved wrestling.”

Not true; that statement is clearly worth at least 3 Pinocchio’s. Yes we’d all like to believe the sport came together and they did to a degree but that’s only part of the story. What leadership isn’t telling anyone is they were the ones who provoked the fight in the first place. They were the ones who repeatedly, and inexcusably, punched the IOC Executive Committee in the nose with their arrogance. Now they want the wrestling community to focus on what appears to be compassion on their parts for driving the IOC to the hospital.

Wrestling created the hostility, our leadership triggered the response that each of us felt with great clarity. FILA primarily and USAWrestling to a lesser extent is directly responsible for the millions of dollars and thousands of man hours the sport spent, and couldn’t afford, fixing something they caused. Now they want our gratitude for a job well done that a majority of which was actually accomplished by Russia’s President Putin and a few ultra-rich sultans in the Middle East.

It’s interesting to note that every member of both organizations leadership teams after the smoke cleared still had jobs. Once again arrogance, entitlement and I’ll cover your 6 o’clock position while you cover mine way of doing business. This is why wrestling remains dormant and we’ve grown accustomed to failure; because no one is ever accountable. The term, “I take full responsibility” actually means “I will not resign and I’m not about to hold anyone else accountable either.”

We might want to ask ourselves; if leadership at FILA and USAWrestling is capable of overlooking the truth, are we actually safe? They say we are but is the relationship with the IOC really fixed?

If you remember, it was about a year and a half ago when wrestling was not only a Core sport in the Olympics but it was one of the two foundational sports out of 28 that make up the Summer Games. Since then we’ve been downgraded to Provisional sport status on the strength of receiving 1 more vote from the IOC than was required. Stated differently, we were only 1 vote away from not making it back into the Olympics. I know you didn’t hear that from USAWrestling.

The bottom line is we’re definitely not sitting at the head of the Olympic table, nor are we even at the table. Instead we’re eating in another room with the children where we’re expected to be seen and not heard. That’s embarrassing, our sport and each of you deserves better.

The point is wrestling is in as much trouble internationally as it is domestically because FILA (now United World Wrestling) doesn’t have an oversight committee and USAWrestling has a Board of Directors that’s the size of an orchestra. There’s no one managing the managers in Geneva and Colorado Springs is actually run by 3 people (depending on who’s counting) who fancy Alexander Dumas’s all for one and one for all management style. It’s a quid pro quo relationship that doesn’t benefit the sport, only those in power.

Let’s take a moment to discuss this year’s miserable 9th place finish by our world freestyle team and Greco’s equally poor performance.

It was so bad our freestylers were only 1 point away from finishing 11th as a team and Greco only had two wrestlers that placed in the Top 10. I’m not talking about medaling here, I’m talking about finishing in the Top 10 of their individual weight classes.

We did so poorly that both squads finished behind Cuba as a team; that’s an island nation which is smaller than New York with half their population.

How bad is all this; well, given that America has more wrestling rooms and wrestlers than any country in the world, has better nutrition, medical care and far more sports psychologists than anyone else, you tell me?

I just can’t believe having all this going for us that USAWrestling can’t succeed. Something is definitely wrong and it’s been repeating itself year after year now for over a decade.

Do you realize that since the Olympics in 2000, America has had not counting Jordan Burroughs whom I’m not sure anyone can take credit for given his God given talent, that we’ve had only one world freestyle champion! America should have one every year, not one every 14 years. It’s leadership; we have the car and the engine, just no driver.

As to those perception changing rules the world’s governing body adopted as a result of our Olympic challenges, you should have seen the Gadisov-Gazyumov world finals at 97 kilos. This match could be Exhibit A regarding how well the new rules are falling short of their goal. Gadisov won 2-1 in the finals, but all three of the points scored by both wrestlers came from the sports very subjective “shot clock.” Yawn.

Gazyumov was put on it twice and failed to score both times in the allotted 30 seconds, and Gadisov once with the same outcome. The Gold Medal was actually won in a match where no one scored an offensive point. No takedowns, no reversals, no exposures, no escapes. Try explaining that to the IOC who, given their recent displeasure of wrestling, directed our leadership to find ways to increase scoring and make our events more spectator friendly.

The announcing at the World’s was almost as bad. Who picks these people? The match was full of misstatements and short on any background information or any mention of athlete rivalries. Scoring was not explained, there was little enthusiasm in the announcers voice and quite honestly, a conversation with my dentist would be more exciting.

A video of that finals match can be seen here but I have no idea why anyone would want to watch it. But, if you’re going to chance it, pour yourself a glass of water first; it’s quite dry.

http://youtu.be/KDVb6HcetfM

The second directive the IOC made perfectly clear to wrestling’s leadership, but not reported in the news, was the need to eliminate cheating. Matches were being bought, titles given away and at times it was so obvious that anyone who could add 2 plus 2 plus 2 and come up with 6 could recognize it.

Here’s a pretty good example of how well the old FILA has done to discourage unprincipled officiating. This was the middle weight Greco finals for the Asian Games held this month.

http://au.ibtimes.com/articles/568500/20141003/asian-games-korea-cheating-boxing-badminton-football.htm#.VD106U0tCII

As you read the article, scroll down to the Iranian vs. South Korean match. I felt so sorry for the referee. Anyone who can cheat an athlete this badly has to be totally devoid of scruples.

Now I realize our problems can’t be laid in the laps of any one organization or individual but collectively all of us are responsible. I’m not sure who said it but there are three types of people in the world. The kinds that make things happen, those who watch things happen and the third group is where wrestling is now; about to wonder what just happened?

Wrestling must focus on the creation of an environment that attracts new spectators while doubling its efforts to retain the athletes it has.

Please notice I have yet to use the words fan or fans in this document. Instead I use spectator or spectators for a very specific reason; consistency. You see wrestling has this tendency to interchange words that have different meanings. And with such regularity that it’s probably why Roget began his thesaurus, Webster his dictionary and why spectators and referees scratch their heads.

To be clear, fans are individuals who enjoy the sport of wrestling but don’t necessarily attend events. Spectators on the other hand are those who purchase tickets. So coaches, athletes, table workers, support personnel and anyone who receives a complimentary ticket or sneaks in the back door are not spectators.

By that definition it should be obvious that wrestling is extremely short on spectators and long on fans. That puts us in the serious liability category with most athletic administrators and another reason why we’re not on the media’s radar as a desirable sport. Attendance is always the deciding factor when the media decides what to cover.

Here’s why the 2014 Maryland State High School Championships wasn’t covered. Granted it’s not Pennsylvania, Ohio or California which have better crowds but for a majority of the states, I’m sorry to say this is representative of who shows up for wrestling. Then when you eliminate those 300 athletes, 200 coaches, 50 event personnel and 24 officials who can be seen here, well, how many actual spectators did this tournament have?

Part 5

Now let’s talk about another aspect of wrestling that should get every ones attention; stalling. It always seems to be a problem for the sport and it certainly is; but the why of it always seems to elude our leadership. That’s because we define stalling one way and Webster defines it another. This is why spectators become confused when stalling is called and why officials never seem to get it right.

In wrestling we refer to stalling as inactivity or a lack of action; but you won’t find those words used in any of Roget’s editions under the word stalling.

Stalling (Thesaurus: English US) delaying, deferring, postponing, suspending, arresting.

So when officials call stalling and the spectator, especially those who are new to our sport, sees action taking place, they become confused.

Action (Thesaurus: English US) movement, motion, battle, fighting, combat, clash.

Wrestling’s problem with stalling is we have a disconnect between the word and its meaning.

All this is easy to fix but I should warn you, you won’t like what I’m about to suggest; at least initially. So give it some time before you call for my beheading.

To begin, may I suggest that we eliminate the word stalling from our vocabularies as well as any mention of it in our rule books and replace it with the word action; which happens to be the same adjective that FILA uses. Then from that point forward everything we do, think and say must be defined by that word.

Now I realize most of you will say, “I don’t like it” as you read further but please take the time to let this seed geminate before condemning the solution. In one sense we’re all on the same page that everyone wants to see action and no one wants inaction. Can we all agree on that? I need you to answer that question before you read any further.

Let me ask a couple questions. In football, a wide-receiver who’s running for a touchdown and being chased by the cornerback and free safety; is that action?

No question about it; it’s what makes football so exciting, the breakaway touchdowns. But if that scenario were a wrestling match, wouldn’t the ball carrier be penalized for stalling because he’s eluding contact and not engaging his opponent? Isn’t he purposely running away from the other players so he won’t be taken down?

Does a running back seek out the middle linebacker or does he do everything he can to avoid him? Doesn’t that mean the runner is stalling if he doesn’t get tackled? But can we agree there’s a great deal of action due to the avoidance of contact?

In boxing, Mohammad Ali would have been disqualified from every match he ever competed in using the rules of wrestling. He never took a step forward ever, always dancing, dodging and moving backward while jabbing those who pursued him into unconsciousness. But wasn’t he the best ever at creating action; even if he was stalling?

Tennis players don’t hit the ball to their opponents; isn’t the idea of tennis to keep the ball away from the other person? In wrestling we’d consider that stalling as well because the players aren’t “engaging” their opponents. But the basis behind tennis is to stop the action before it gets started; make the other guy miss the ball. Yet millions love to watch how well tennis players can stall.

The job of a basketball player is also to keep the ball away from the other team. Basketball is all about playing keep away and the more it succeeds the more action the spectator sees. But like the other sport examples, if basketball was played using wrestling rules, whoever has the ball would be guilty of stalling.

Might there be a common thread here? Every sport, including wrestling, adores action. But in wrestling, it’s the only sport I know that goes out of its way to penalize action.

“Now wait a minute Wade, what do you mean we penalize it?”

Chapter 5 next Sunday.

How Wrestling Wins – Chapter 3

If you like what you’re reading, please pass this on to others. The only way change will occur is by awakening those who make a difference; our fans. It’s obvious leadership isn’t making the changes.

x and o

Chapter 3

Now I’m not sure whether our wrestling community is eternal optimists or ostriches, but too many of them point to the new spectator base at Penn State as an example of the sports health; while others are encouraged by the number of young children that join our ranks each year. ESPN adds fuel to the belief there’s a turn-around coming based on their willingness to broadcast, and impressively I might add, every session of this past year’s sold out NCAA Championships. Then there were not 1 but 3 staff writers in Oklahoma City from USAToday.

All these have to be good signs; right?

Well, not really. What Penn State is doing is nothing more than what Iowa did when they were number one. And no one is mentioning that Iowa’s spectator numbers dropped off last year given their three year fall from grace as the nation’s best program. So it’s unreasonable to point to whoever happens to be the flavor of the day and use them as an example regarding the sports health. How institutions like Oregon State, Purdue, UT-Chattanooga and Lock Haven are doing with attendance numbers are far more indicative of the sports health.

To be clear our #1 challenge, wrestling’s 500 pound gorilla is too few spectators.

It’s so bad at times that the revenue schools receive from individual dual meets doesn’t even cover the evening’s janitorial expenses. That single issue is the torpedo that will sink wrestling’s ship unless we agree that revenue production is the issue all of us have to address and then focus our efforts to correct it.

That is why these pages are so important to wrestling; if we were to ask wrestling’s leadership what they believe the sports largest threats are I doubt very much if anyone would mention ticket sales. I actually did a short survey to see what I’d hear from some of my wrestling friends who are some of the sports leaders and not a one mentioned ticket sales. Instead their attention was focused on Title IX issues, poor classroom (APR) performance, a lack of excitement in matches, the need for more media coverage and our inability to retain athletes during their developmental years. Granted, these are all real issues in wrestling but if the sport had more money coming in than going out, these issues would become non-issues.

Now regarding the little tikes, we do have a lot of youngsters trying the sport for the first time each year but close to a majority of them, certainly over 40%, won’t return for their second season. We’ll cover the why of that later but if any corporation in America lost as many new customers as wrestling does, two things would happen. Stock holders would go on a corporate executive firing spree and then look to outside help to figure out why their customer retention rate is so bad.

But not wrestling, no sir, not us because the way we do business has little to do with how the business community does business. We consider those that quit not worthy of our time and prefer to repeat what we’ve always done which is run the sport like a governmental handout program; where the recipients aren’t aware or even sympathetic to the producers struggles. In folkstyle, which is our life blood, it’s all about their inability to balance the books and unfortunately it seems that coaches aren’t even aware there are books. Money just appears in their budget every year; where it comes from or who produces it isn’t their concern. That in and by itself should have alarm bells ringing everywhere. It seems the only way our sport is going to survive their naïveté is by the use of a two by four upside the head. Well, maybe that’s a little harsh but you get the idea. Wrestling has to become a business where our W’s and L’s are judged by our P’s and L’s.

As to the athletes, wouldn’t it be nice, or logical, or prudent or sensible to find out why we lose so many wrestlers each year and actually address the issues? Isn’t that what business does every hour, day and week; don’t they evaluate their products and services and marry the results with the needs of the consumer? But not wrestling!

Granted, it’s nice to know that ESPN thinks enough of us to broadcast our national championships but I wonder; is being on television a good thing? If our product is as inferior as could be argued given our non-existent spectator base, why would we want the country to see something we can’t sell?

Broadcasting doesn’t make a product good or bad; it just makes it very public and that’s never good when the product your selling people don’t care to see.

It’s sort of like a vitamin deficiency but in wrestling’s case it’s a excitement deficiency. Television is never the answer when the product being broadcast is damaged. It’s so bad we can’t even give it away for free to the networks.

Back to the NCAA’s; when you take into account that the numbers of networks and sports channels are growing faster than the availability of quality content, being broadcast on ESPN or any other network isn’t as impressive as it used to be.

Some might not realize it but the NCAA bundles their championships so when a network wins the right to broadcast a highly desirable series of events like the Men’s Final Four in basketball, they are also signing on to air Women’s Field Hockey, Women’s Cross Country and Men’s Wrestling as an example. It’s all or nothing for the networks when they win the bid and you have to give the NCAA credit here, they’re doing their part to help the lesser financed sports. But to automatically assume that wrestling is doing okay as a result of such exposure is a bit of a stretch.

Now regarding last year’s (2013) NCAA Wrestling Championships, ESPN had 800,000 viewers as opposed to 1.2 million who watched the Division III Football Championships. Women’s softball and men’s lacrosse, that has fewer D-I teams than wrestling does, outperformed us in viewership numbers as well. At the 2012 Olympics in London, all three of wrestling’s disciplines had a little over 8 hours of total television coverage during 8 days of competition compared to women’s soccer that had over 9 hours of coverage in just their first day of competition. So we might ask ourselves, “How well is wrestling really doing?”

On the subject of television, there are three types of broadcasts; earned, bought and novel.

If you have an earned status like baseball or football you’re on television because they pay for themselves in spades through advertising dollars. But on the other hand are sports like wrestling who have to pay networks to show up because no sponsor wants to risk their money given our poor viewership numbers.

As to novel, the X-Games when they started were novel, Chinese ping pong was novel when it aired in the 60’s and the Olympic sport of Curling is always novel because it’s the type of competition that’s never broadcast or so infrequently that networks know the Nelson Ratings will be strong enough out of public curiosity to justify the expense.

Wrestling is like two school teachers who are trying to apply for federal aid to send their son to college. They’re too poor to afford $40,000 a year but they make too much to qualify for any financial assistance. With wrestling being the world’s oldest sport, it’s too well known to be classified as novel but too boring to justify the expense of coverage. So if we want to make it on television we have to:

  1. Improve wrestling’s value proposition so sponsors see a financial reason to jump onboard. That means finding a way to seriously increase the number of eyeballs we have watching the sport.
  2. Wrestling needs to produce its broadcasts like the sport of golf. Jump around from mat to mat like they do from hole to hole and in both cases highlight great shots. Seldom do you ever witness an outstanding approach shot in real time. Everything is video delay. Wrestling should consider that as well so we can cut and splice great scoring techniques together.

Can you imagine how bad the television ratings would be for golf if the cameras just followed one foursome around for an entire 18 holes? We have a similar issue when the networks try and broadcast two wrestlers who score a total of 3 points during 11 minutes of a championship bout. Definitely crickets.

As to this year’s sellout, the NCAA finals had just over 16K spectators sitting in an arena that seats just over 18K. So it wasn’t quite as sold out as people were saying and many of the seats that weren’t filled were in the lower bowl where television audience could see the spectator gaps. What message does that send the country about the importance of our sport when prime seating at our premiere event goes unfilled? Does that happen at the Super Bowl, the World Series or in any NBA playoff game? I think not.

For this year’s NCAA’s when those gaps appeared, where was the NCAA’s decision makers? If we’re going to be broadcast in primetime, how tough is it to move people from the upper bowl into the empty seats in the lower bowl where the television cameras pick up everything? This is Marketing 101, but not in wrestling. We don’t have people in power that look around and say, “Houston, we have a problem” and then set out to correct that which is both obvious and correctable.

This is how the WWE (originally the World Wrestling Federation) made it in television. In the 1950’s when they first began broadcasting their events they would place their ring in the center of a large room with bleachers on one side and TV cameras on the other. They would then “paper” the room each night which is a theatrical term for handing tickets out to anyone they could find who had a heartbeat for the purpose of filling unsold seats and building “buzz.” Throw in some simulated crowd noise to make 400 sound like 4000, some well-placed spot lights, low lighting, a few cardboard cutouts of spectators in the upper rows and that’s how they became the industry of smoke and mirrors. Today they’re worth somewhere close to a billion dollars.

Amateur wrestling would never think of ever doing anything like that . . . it’s too disingenuously successful. But we should think about the facilities we select for competition because perception is often reality and the basis of a strong marketing program. The size of the facility coaches select OR the way they set up what they’re given matters. Atmosphere is everything.

Ideally, if you’re expecting 2 people to show up for a match, coaches need to find a gym that seats 1.

During my years of coaching wrestling at Clemson University the football program decided they wanted to add a 10,000 seat upper deck to the north side of the stadium. The first step in this process was to sign a contract with a marketing company out of California to determine the viability of the project.

Cutting the story short, Clemson paid a half million dollars for the following conclusion. “If you have more than 10,000 spectators on a waiting list for season tickets, then build the upper deck. If you have 9,999 or less; wait until you hit 10,000!”

The company based their conclusions on the principle of supply and demand. They wrote that the most important reason why Clemson had such a large waiting list was envy. Those who didn’t have tickets were jealous of those who did and those who did felt fortunate or superior to those who didn’t. Emotions like these elevate the perceived value of a product or in this case a season ticket beyond that of its face value.

They indicated the reverse was true as well. The greater the number of empty seats, the more the perceived value of each ticket drops below face value.

What does this mean to wrestling? When coaches select large basketball arenas for competition they do immeasurable harm to the sport through perception. It’s all about supply and demand. Attract 5,000 spectators to a match and put them in a 15,000 seat arena and wrestling coaches become excited. But those in attendance tend to feel they overpaid and are stupid for coming given so many others didn’t. Having two-thirds of the arena empty sends the message that the event wasn’t worth attending. This is what happens when supply outstrips demand and one of the reasons why our spectator numbers drop.

For my larger matches at Clemson back in the 70’s, I would move them to the universities smaller of two fine arts theaters and put the mat on the stage. The hall sat roughly 600 which was a third of what our smallest gymnasium sat. The mat just fit and the only drawback we had; out of bounds on one side was a 4 foot drop into someone’s lap. No one complained though, the first three rows we’re reserved for sororities. What meant the most was we’d fill the hall and have students on campus complaining about not being able to get in.

Grace Hall on the campus of Lehigh University was unique in its own way. What a great place to wrestle; but only if you were wearing a Lehigh singlet. It had the appearance of a 1930’s smoke filled boxing arena complete with fans sitting in the rafters. Athletes would literally have to step over fans to get to the mat to wrestle.

Liberty University (then Liberty Baptist) had a similar hall where they use to wrestle. Built in the late 1800’s or so it seemed, it sat maybe 500 and had impossible acoustics. I hated wrestling there as a coach because I couldn’t hear myself think. The crowd noise would echo back and forth off the brick and mortar and they always drew a standing room only crowd. I think the students loved intimidating the visiting teams more than they enjoyed whatever sport they were watching; but it certainly worked for them.

So what does this mean today; wrestling needs to scale back and find facilities that are more closely aligned to the number of spectators they expect to attract. The sport must elevate its perceived value and nothing does that better than filling a gym.

Chapter 4 next Sunday.

How Wrestling Wins – Chapter 2

x and o

Chapter 2

Drawing a sport parallel, for the last twenty or so years Judo has been taking a beating in participation numbers and subsequent revenue dollars with the advent of the UFC where I might add, Judo players dare not tread. The meteoric rise of Brazilian Jujitsu and America’s fascination with the whole Mixed Martial Arts industry is killing their sport. To limit the carnage, Judo changed their rules to something they believed would encourage excitement and action by introducing high amplitude techniques and tougher rules on passivity. What occurred instead were referees penalizing their athletes more frequently and inserting themselves into the action which the fans disapproved of. This was their attempt at bottom up adjustments which is exactly what we’ve been doing in wrestling, and failing at it I might add.

Boxing has also been on the losing end of the MMA explosion. When was the last time you saw a title fight being broadcast on a major network? The days of sport figures like Mohammad Ali and Mike Tyson are all but gone. In its place is the intellectual stimulation that the UFC brings to television. Yes, I just referred to what the UFC does as being intellectual stimulation. I’m not talking about the blood, guts and gore portion of the sport although many do like watching a can of whoop ass being opened on someone. But it’s the strategic triple threat that spectators enjoy watching and the number of opinions they get to share with the guys that are sitting next to them. They love the striking, the wrestling and the submissions combined with all the various ways there are to win and exponentially the amount of defenses athletes need to know and offenses they need to learn. It’s just a far more cerebral sport than boxing or wrestling for both the athlete and the spectator. Basically, why go to a one or two ring circus when you can go to one that offers three rings for the same price and the same time commitment while getting to witness someone being overcome by a superior foe?

Regarding our sports growth, I will admit that we’ve had some success at adding a few smaller programs to both our scholastic and collegiate ranks, but those efforts only offset a fraction of the demise of larger more significant programs. So even though our program numbers seem to be holding steady of late, our political clout is diminishing rapidly. Anytime you trade in an Audi or BMW for a Fiat you still own a car but it’s not a step up or even a lateral move.

Concerning the current availability of athletic scholarships, those figures are even more dismal than the number of programs we have left; especially for those who aren’t among the nation’s Top 20. The result of this financial decline has been America’s best wrestlers are congregating into a smaller pool of major schools. This certainly helps the mega conferences like the Big 10 and it strengthens individual programs like Oklahoma State, Edinboro and Virginia Tech but the result is the rest of the field, the other 90%, is seriously weakened and put at risk of being dropped because of 1) the financial impossibility of keeping up with the Jones’ and 2) the blow-outs that are occurring between the serious D-I programs and the rest of the schools.

Note to Boston University . . . scheduling Penn State at home last year didn’t help the program as some might have imagined. Bringing in a big boy to impress the school’s administrators only pointed out with definite clarity that Boston’s fully-funded Division I program wasn’t close to being a fully-funded competitive Division I program. Inviting the Nittany Lions onto your campus only served to point out to Terrier administrators that the resources they were pouring into their wrestling program was for not.  

Please don’t be upset. I didn’t write this to evoke the ire of the New England wrestling community. I did so the sport can learn by the example of others. My mother use to always say; “experience isn’t the best teacher. It’s the experience of others that is a far better way of learning,” and she was right.

Administrators in every region of the country need to know that all capital expenditures are worth the pain they had to endure to acquire the capital. Watching your team getting taken out to the wood shed doesn’t do that very well. 

As a result wrestling is rapidly losing its middle class which isn’t good for the sport any more than it’s good for society. We’re turning into the haves and have nots and it won’t be long before the have nots have not a program.

One of many answers here is tuition-only based scholarships which I realize just the mention of is heresy. But if the great disparity we have between haves and have-nots cause programs to be dropped and with it thousands of opportunities lost for wrestlers yet to come, then I’m willing to risk the irreverence of such a statement.

Wrestling programs must become solvent and working at it slowly only speeds up the chances of them being dropped. Like losing weight; the quickest way to accomplish it is to eat less and work out more. The most efficient way of balancing a budget is to spend less and gross more.

Now I am aware of all the reasons why a tuition-only based scholarship is a bad idea. But in the big picture, having a wrestling program with 9.9 tuition-only scholarships is far better scenario than having no program with only a memory of 9.9 full scholarships.

Fixing wrestling’s ills is all a matter of balancing the sports budget.

As you read more, I know you won’t agree with half of what’s being suggested. But I’m not really suggesting we do anything, I’m only throwing out ideas that are designed to make each of us think. If I’m fortunate enough to do just that, then I’ll consider myself successful. The whole concept here is to suggest that we consider making some course corrections. What the sport ultimately selects will be leadership’s choice. I’m just trying to make everyone aware that there are alternatives to what we’ve been doing.

How serious are our problems; let’s assume for a moment you owned $750,000.00 worth of widget stock in 1980. Since then each of the company’s annual reports have indicated that sales in widgets has declined and you’re losing $10,000.00 a year.

What do you do; sell or hold?

Initially you probably decide to hang on in hopes of a turn around. That’s the smart play; there are always hiccups in the marketplace. But 10 years later your portfolio still has widget stock and you’re down over $100,000.00. You see management trying to reverse the trend but it doesn’t seem to be working. The story you’re hearing is that corporate is pointing fingers at a poor economy but somehow that doesn’t hold water given other widget manufacturers seem to be doing okay.

The only likely conclusion is the company is either doing a poor job of making or marketing the product, has poor customer service or ineffective leadership. But you hang on just the same because you believe in widgets and bailing out does mean the loss of over $100,000.00.

Another 10 years come and go and management is imploring you to stay the course . . . “we’ve made significant changes.” But the only thing you see changing is your 401K is turning into a 101K.

Today it’s almost 35 years later and your stock is now worth $320,000.00, down over $400,000.00. Being able to pay for your children’s college education is now in question and your wife left you $200,000.00 dollars ago. She mentioned something about stupidity and not being able to see the trend, not to mention your willingness to believe in executives who said; “trust us, we know best.”

Well, wrestling had 750 collegiate programs back in 1980 and today we’re down to 320 in all three NCAA divisions. And given the slippery slope that hit gymnastics toward the end of their run as a meaningful NCAA sport, we could be under 100 programs by the end of the decade, or worse yet, just a memory like collegiate boxing is now. As to wrestling’s “trust us” leadership and “we know what’s best,” I don’t see it. The facts say otherwise.

Those who are leading just aren’t capable of leadership or we wouldn’t be where we are.

Actually those widget numbers aren’t completely accurate. We do have roughly 320 active collegiate programs but since 1972 we’ve lost a bunch more than 430, roughly somewhere in the neighborhood of 650 programs; the difference being the number of programs that were added after 1972 and then subsequently dropped.

That makes me wonder, what is the actual number of individual opportunities that were lost for those who wanted to wrestle but couldn’t as a result of these programs being dropped? Is there anything that makes someone think the gymnastic scenario isn’t a real possibility in wrestling? Remember we have Title IX issues nipping at our heels and an economy that’s only doing well around select pockets of the country where wrestling hasn’t always been strong. The outcomes of all this is a whole bunch of athletic administrators who are looking for ways to prop up their bottom line and simplify their lives. And to be truthful, they don’t care which Olympic sport or sports take the hit, it’s all about fiscal responsibility and reducing the number of headaches they have to endure.

The million dollar question becomes; when should we panic as a sport? When do we say enough is enough? When there are only 25 programs left, or is 100 the magic number?

To me, I was beside myself when we hit 600. Actually every program we lose is too many so why are we still sitting on our hands at 320 and saying, “oh golly geese”?

Where’s the outcry?

When did Kodak panic? They were perhaps the most iconic of all photography companies who didn’t feel a need for alarm until it was too late. They never saw the digital age coming or if they did, they ignored it because “we’re Kodak!” Sound familiar; we said “but we’re wrestling” last summer when the IOC threw us out in the cold. In each case leadership wasn’t asleep at the wheel, they were wide awake with their hands on the wheel when they hit the tree.

Now we might want to consider looking to wrestling’s newest threat, Mixed Martial Arts. Who can deny the success they’re enjoying in the combative industry where wrestling competes for the same eye balls and dollars. This is a huge threat because the UFC is to wrestling what the digital age was to Kodak and even given the experience of others we still refuse to see the larger picture. Pun intended.

Now when you add in the very strong possibility that collegiate athletes in football and soon to be basketball are about to receive either salaried contracts or additional stipends beyond scholarship limits, non-revenue sports shouldn’t be nervous, they should be terrified!

Do you think salaried contracts aren’t possible in college athletics; I’m sure you’ve already read about the football players at Northwestern University who won their case in court. They sued the university to be declared employees and to be given the right to create a players union. The court agreed with them on both counts and where this will go is anyone’s guess but the potential ramifications are devastating to more than just non-revenue sports. Here’s what Dan Wetzel wrote in May for Yahoo Sports:

“Schools are going to have to share additional resources with the players who make the money and that means tough decisions about the players and programs that don’t generate money. That’s the endgame hereIt’s straight capitalistic America.”

Two weeks after he wrote that a majority of the Pennsylvania State System Universities received a complaint filed by the Women’s Law Project with the U.S. Department of Education regarding athletic inequality. Without arguing the merits of the case or taking one position over another here, the outcome will most likely be a reduction in the number of men’s programs at 9 of the 13 Pennsylvania state schools that make up the conference. They certainly don’t have the resources to simply add more women’s programs so something has got to give. That means wrestling teams at schools like Clarion, Bloomsburg and Lock Haven who are only shells of what they use to be have a right to be anxious.

More recently the NCAA approved two significant changes to their by-laws which came from the Northwestern University unionization effort. The first is to allow a cost-of-attendance stipend to be given to all scholarship athletes in the country’s 5 largest conferences. Depending upon institutional variances, each athlete will receive an annual check for somewhere between two to seven thousand dollars above and beyond a full scholarship. What that means to athletic department budgets; at the University of Wisconsin as an example, they need to find an additional 2 million dollars of annual revenue to cover these costs. At the Clarion’s of the world, that number is way in excess of their total budget in all sports.

The second change is all NCAA student athletes are now allowed to be given access to an unlimited number of meals per day, plus snacks. This means, besides the cost of the food, schools will need to keep at least one of their dining room lines open and staffed 18 hours a day which will add significant costs to the athletic departments bottom line. These changes will have profound effects on budgets and individual programs:

  • Schools outside the ACC, Big 10, Big 12, Pac 12 and Southeastern conference will be at a recruiting disadvantage given they simply can’t afford to keep up with the big boys regarding the cost of attendance stipends. So the rich are about to sign even more exceptional athletes than they already have. That’s not good for wrestling.
  • Given the unlimited number of meals and snacks schools are now allowed to offer their athletes, the more affluent institutions will certainly do so while those with tighter budgets won’t. This means the competitive gap between the major conferences and the Appalachian States’ and Boise States’ of the world is about to widen. That’s not good for wrestling.
  • To minimize the chances of athletic programs at smaller schools fading into the abyss, Athletic Directors will look for ways to ease financial obligations. That seldom means across the board cuts in athletic department budgets, but rather a reduction in the number of sports offered at each institution because Athletic Directors will always protect the competitiveness of their programs versus instituting across the board cuts. That’s not good for wrestling.

If all this isn’t scary enough, a federal judge just ruled in favor of Ed O’Bannon who sued the NCAA regarding the revenue they annually generate from selling the rights to athletes names, images and likenesses. This ends a five-year battle that O’Bannon and others filed on behalf of college athletes to receive a share of the billions that are generated by colleges through huge television contracts.

This effectively forces big schools to create a trust fund to pay athletes up to $5,000.00 per person, per season for the years they competed. This ruling effectively strikes down the NCAA’s definition of amateurism which in the past has kept athletes from receiving anything beyond a full scholarship.

What this means going forward is it is yet another attack on athletic department budgets. That means administrations will have to make even tougher decisions relative to their programs. Basically there are three options, and the second one never occurs.

  • Find additional revenue to cover the new costs.
  • Cut all their current sport budgets to make up the difference.
  • Reduce the number of sports their department offers.

There’s little question that college sports are about to see some major changes to the way they do business and every program that isn’t carrying their own budgetary weight will soon become a member of the intermural department.

The slippery slope wrestling has been on just got a great deal steeper.

Bob Bowlsby, a name that most of us in wrestling should know as he was the person who hired Gable at Iowa when he was the Athletic Director there before moving to a similar post at Stanford and now he’s the Commissioner of the Big 12. He’s wrestling’s most ardent supporter and had this to say about the current state of affairs:

“I think all of what’s currently happening in college sports will in the end cause programs to be eliminated. I think you’ll see men’s Olympic sports go away as a result of the new funding challenges that are coming down the pike.”

This is not Chicken Little saying “the sky is falling,” it is one of the most influential figures in all of college athletics providing his viewpoint. Olympic Sports are going to be eliminated!

Now comes this . . . the American Sports Council (ASC) has warned for years that gender quota activists were setting their sights on applying Title IX’s proportionality rule to high school sports. Now, with a recent federal court ruling, that day has come.

In a September 19, 2014 decision U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court judgment in the case Ollier v. Sweetwater Union High School District.

From the Ninth Circuit court’s decision:

“The Government’s position rejects Sweetwater’s argument that Title IX should be applied differently to high schools than to colleges, as well as the idea that the district court’s ‘substantial proportionality’ evaluation was flawed. We agree with the Government that the three-part test applies to a high school.”

Imposing Title IX’s proportionality test on high schools will have an even more devastating impact on scholastic sports than it has wrought on collegiate sports. In most high schools, the gender balance of students is essentially 50/50. Despite this, there are about 1.3 million more boys than girls participating in high schools across the country. This is just another very substantial reason why wrestling needs to change the model they’re using.

Chapter 3 next Sunday.

How Wrestling Wins – Chapter 1

x and o

Introduction

As part of the wrestling community for over a half a century, my fondness for the sport has developed into a deep and everlasting respect. It has to be the greatest sport a young man or woman can participate in or a country can offer its children. In many ways it could be considered a pugilistic ballet; a combination of finesse, force and beauty. If you were ever a wrestler or spent time with those who were, you know why America needs the sport now more than ever.

Wrestling is about family, men and women, sons and daughters, responsible and resilient, individuals who are capable of persisting under the harshest of conditions, usually by themselves and never because they have to, but instead because they want to and look forward to the challenges.

Many from the sports ranks have aspired to become President of the United States, Nobel Laureates, Oscar Award Winners and astronauts, directors of orphanages, executives of Fortune 500 Companies, members of the military’s most elite fighting units, educators and of course coaches who help develop America’s next generation of citizens. We’re actually quite a diverse bunch. But regardless of the occupation, those who wrestled are always ready to give back to others just as they were so graciously given when they were young and even on occasion lost their sense of direction. This is how the wrestling community plays it forward for society.

Best of all, it doesn’t matter if the wrestler was an All-American or second string to an average wrestler on a below average team; graduates from our ranks are known for their tenacity, confidence and ability to outwork those around them and of course those who oppose them. These transformative effects in wrestling are the result of the discovery of pain; when lungs burn, muscles ache and ones self-esteem becomes challenged. That’s what the sport does better than any other; it teaches humility and how to accomplish the uncomfortable. Wrestlers learn rather quickly how to make the best of bad positions and when to cut their losses. They acquire leadership skills by first learning how to follow those who came before them and then use those skills to direct their lives and assist others with theirs.

There’s not a better sport for America than wrestling and for all its benefits it’s amazingly inexpensive. With the possible exception of cross country, its number one on the cheap meter which makes it accessible to anyone from uptown, downtown, across town or out of town, be they rich or poor, big or small, tall, short or handicapped. As long as there is a blade of grass in someone’s backyard, regardless of how many programs we lose, you’ll most likely find two boys wrestling over top of it. That’s just the way it is with children and wrestling, it’s the most natural of activities and the absolute best form of self-defense a person can learn.

All this leads us to the sports first challenge . . . we know who we are; the problem is no one else does. That has been a public relations nightmare for us; it’s as if wrestling wants to keep its greatness away from the public. We talk to one another about our sport and its significance to life but that’s where it ends.

Our survival hangs in the balance of us being as tenacious about sharing our story with the public as its athletes are in fighting off a single leg. Wrestling must win this battle because America needs as many wrestlers as it can produce. For nowhere in sport and certainly within our culture can you find individuals who have endured the level of physical, emotional and psychological stress that wrestlers go through on a daily basis. They constantly push themselves harder than any segment of society and display a mental toughness that is unrivaled in sport. Wrestlers consistently operate at higher levels of fortitude and resilience than anyone else because the sport demands it of them. And in relation to other activities, wrestling excels far beyond the norm in teaching self-control, the development of accomplishment-based skill sets and fine tuning emotional constraint.

But none of this means very much unless we can get the message out.

The next challenge we face is the seriousness of the sports decline. More and more wrestling looks like a framed copy of Murphy’s Law. This is why I’ve spent months developing this 80 page document, because the seriousness of what we’re experiencing is so vital to the sports survival that I wanted to make sure this effort was both informative and worthy of your time.

The smart play wasn’t to remind everyone how bad we’ve been at being good stewards of the sport or point out individual guilt. Instead, most everyone I spoke with suggested I consider taking baby steps in my writing style, spoon feed the readership, stay away from offending anyone while putting an extra emphasis on being agreeable. They indicated the nature of man being what it is; the only way we could win was being amiable.

But they are all absolutely wrong. Knowing the sport and its players as I do, regardless of how well this document is written, or the amount of honey used, there will always be those who carefully consider the points being made and those who never will. That’s wrestling, a bunch of fine lines that exists between the strength of tenacity and drawback of pigheadedness, the importance of persistence and the shortcoming of obstanance.

Instead I just began to type and refused to concern myself with offending those in charge because the time has come for the wrestling community to vote on how well leadership has done. To do that they have to hear the other side of the story so they can separate fact from fiction.

In my opinion, is everything leadership’s fault? Yes, absolutely. They’re the ones who have been at the helm, they’re the ones who have had the power and they’re the ones who are privy to inside information that the general population doesn’t get. Yet here we are, at the bottom of the athletic barrel about to go over the falls.

So I thought if not me, who will point the finger of blame. If not now, when?

Please understand, I don’t expect much to come of this effort but if I can help you see the sport in a different light then maybe, just maybe you as a group can affect what I don’t have a chance of doing as an individual. But if I fail in my quest, here’s a prediction.

If wrestling isn’t financially self-sufficient by 2020 it will only be an intermural sport on college campuses.

So here we go; the outcome of my efforts is before you and they consist of months and months of writing and introspection, re-writing and reflection.

Part 1

In Washington DC circa 1955 a newspaper did a story on wrestling and it listed two reasons why the sport was having trouble relating to the public.

Wrestling Challenges

The first was spectators are thrown for a loss by the scoring system. Nothing has changed in 60 years.

How can a boy win 10-3 and only earn 3 points for his team when in dozens of other sports every point scored is a point recorded? Can you imagine LeBron James scoring 44 points in a game and then the public address announcer informing the audience that because of his outstanding effort the Heat will receive not the 44 he scored but 5 team points? That’s what we do in wrestling when a person wins his match 22-7. Why shouldn’t the team whose wrestler scored 22 points get to keep 22 points and the vanquished his 7 points? Hasn’t each athlete earned that right as a result of his effort? But actually LeBron would have never gotten to 44 points because he would have been forced to sit down after scoring 15 more points than his opponent. How crazy is that – but that’s wrestling for you!

I know; we’ve always had 3 point decisions, 4 point majors, 5 point techs and 6 point pins. Well, not really. The 4 point majors and 5 point tech falls only came into being in the 1970’s. Before that there were three scoring sequences.

  1. A tie which gave both teams 2 points each.
  2. A win by decision and regardless of how many points were put on the board the victor received 3 team points, the loser 0 points.
  3. A pin which was worth either 5 or 6 team points. 5 if the pin occurred in the second or third periods and 6 if it occurred in the first.

During those years it wasn’t all that unusual to see individual bouts end by scores of 25-6 or 34 -12. Wrestlers were putting points on the board trying to pin their opponent because it was potentially worth twice the number of points than a decision. Remember that as you read the next several paragraphs, every wrestler had a very persuasive incentive to score points and his coach was more than motivated to push his athlete toward the pin.

Then the rules committee decided that it made sense to reward those who put more points on the board than others and why we now have the 4 point major and 5 point tech which is similar to the mercy rule that baseball has for its little league players. That confuses me; if we’re as tough as we claim to be, why are we treating our senior athletes like little leaguers?

Let’s take a look now at the unintended consequence of the 4 point major and 5 point tech; a reduction in pinning instruction and as a result the number of pins you see today. Why would a coach want to teach or an athlete learn two completely different skill sets when knowing just one can earn 5 team points? Being a master of takedowns assured the athlete not only of victory but being able to score almost as many team points as he/she would have by way of a fall. Basically those who were proficient on their feet could rack up so many points that tech falls became takedown clinics which supplanted the need to pin someone.

Then after pinning became a non-issue, winning by tech fall also lost some of its luster. Athletes started thinking, “If a major is worth 4 team points and a tech is worth 5 points, why am I killing myself for just one additional point? It doesn’t make sense to put myself at risk of possibility getting caught on my back for minimal reward.” The philosophy of the day became:

“I’m going to have to score probably somewhere in the neighborhood of 10 more points to get from a major to a tech when I consider all the escapes I have to give up to get there so why am I killing myself?”

As a result, athletes began backing off technical falls in favor of major decisions given the adverse risk to reward percentages.

Then the very same “the heck with the tech” thought process started infecting the athlete’s willingness to work toward majors. Why risk scoring all those points for one extra team point when history favors (with wins) those who take a conservative approach to scoring and where we are today.

This calculated style of wrestling has crept into our mindsets so gradually over the last 35 years that it has been virtually impossible to notice the shift; first away from pinning and then away from bonus points. Today the object of wrestling is simply to get your hand raised. If that means the only sounds we hear from the stands are crickets, well that’s simply the price of winning matches as we lose the sport.

The following represents the average points scored, per bout in the NCAA finals by year. Note the continual decline in scoring since major decisions and technical falls were introduced.

Year    Points Scored

1979               19.5

1981               13.2

1986               11.0

1994                 9.0

2002                 8.0

2005                 7.9

2013                6.9

Since the late 70’s, scoring has declined 282%. Still not convinced? During the 1970’s there were 10 pins recorded in the NCAA finals which works out to a 10% pin to win ratio. Since 2000, in the last 14 years, there have been 5 pins or a 3.5% pin to win ratio. That’s a 285% drop in pinning percentages over the last 44 years.

But the good news is we can reverse the trend if we want to, but there has to be willingness on the part of leadership. It’s all about incentives with the basic premise; if you make something worth doing, you’ll have people lining up to do it.

The NFL knows that, they constantly change their rules; a small tweak here, a noticeable change there. It’s all designed to increase scoring and why might I ask? Because they found their spectator numbers improved and media interest skyrocketed as points increased.

The following numbers represent the total points scored in Super Bowls for the first 6 years of the event versus the last 6 years. Notice the average has almost doubled over that 48 year period.

Super Bowl Points Scored

2014            51

2013            65

2012            38

2011             56

2010            48

2009            50

Average       51

 

1972              27

1971              29

1970             30

1969             23

1968             47

1967              35

Average       27

One way to increase the number of points being scored in a match is to increase the number of pins we see. The way you do that is make the pin worth 10 team points, or double that of a tech fall. Remember pinning for many years was exactly that; worth twice that of a decision and no one had a problem with it. So move the pin back to where it once was as king of scoring and I’m positive you’ll witness a sharp upturn in people bridging; because coaches know what will happen if they don’t start teaching half nelson’s again.

Besides increasing the pin value to 10 points, try this rule change on for size. The buzzer ending a period doesn’t stop the action if a person is on his back. The match continues until the athlete is either pinned or he fights his way back to his base.

If we want to make the pin king again, we need to put the crown in the hands of the offensive man.

The newspapers second reason why wrestling was having a tough time relating to its spectators was the rules were too complex to understand relative to the visual simplicity of the sport.

Nothing has changed there either, except now we have more governing bodies, organizations and event operators; each with their own variation of the rules and ways of handling difficult situations. That leads to each one believing their way is not only the best way but the only way; ergo the sports devastating amount of infighting over everything imaginable.

There are two things wrong with these fights:

  1. The pie everyone is going to war over is only getting smaller as a direct result of the battles.
  2. Only a small percentage of these groups actually care about the health of the sow they’re suckling from which seems to be an appropriate metaphor for the sport.

The rest of the field only wants to be positioned in a way so they’ll get more milk today than they did yesterday and if that kills the sow, so be it.

Yet despite our efforts and love for the sport, a vast majority of everything we’ve tried to right wrestling’s ship hasn’t worked. Rule changes, creative promotions, inventive marketing; they’ve all had little effect because nothing leadership has ever done was creative or inventive. All they do instead is put fresh coats of paint over decaying floor boards. It certainly makes things appear new and improved but as you can imagine, you don’t want to walk across the room.

Wrestling needs to go back to the basics and determine what it wants to be, erase most of what we’ve done in the last 50 years and start anew.

Yet it’s a testament to the greatness of wrestling, in spite of our failures we somehow manage to survive, not with exceptional growth or notable spectator interest but the word endure might explain it best. But more and more we’re like the frog who doesn’t know he’s in trouble as the pan of water he’s floating in gets increasingly hotter.

Wrestling needs a top down, not a bottom up overhaul like we do every year. We can’t win by tweaking the rules or maintaining the same mind set. That has only gotten us where we are now, bridging with Chris Taylor on top.

Chapter 2 next Sunday.

How Wrestling Wins – Prologue

Prologue

Wrestling is in absolute jeopardy of no longer being an NCAA sport by the end of this decade. But amazingly, it also has the ability to become one of America’s staples in the sports entertainment industry. Actually it’s the only sport I’m aware of that has that capability; and my reason for writing this manifesto.

Everyone must understand the absolute truth about where the sport is going; and stop listening to what leadership is telling everyone. The truth is somewhere closer to 180 degrees away from where we’re headed.

So I view my words here as a responsibility, an IOU fulfillment of debts I incurred growing up in wrestling. Without a father at home, the sport provided an unending supply of role models that illuminated the path I traveled. It gave me the ability to put food on my families table, cloths on my children’s backs and a roof over our heads. I owe it far more than I can ever repay and it’s what keeps me up at night.

But be forewarned. Today’s leadership is going to say How Wrestling Wins is nothing more than a collection of out of the box viewpoints and over-the-top ideas. I’m actually expecting this because it’s the only way leadership can possibly quiet the whispers this read will launch.

I begin by reminding everyone how special and amazing the sport of wrestling is and follow that with a computation of our failings, from leadership’s unwillingness to embrace change to our community’s apparent indifference to our decline. But I spend most of my time writing about the importance of spectators and how we attract them; because without a continuous stream of reoccurring revenue the sport will disappear.

Unfortunately, nothing you read here will come to pass. It’s just an undeniable absolute that for change to occur, those who lead must see the need for that change and have the willingness to endure the discomfort of change. That just isn’t going to happen.

So in the interim, please enjoy the read. Just as great photographers shoot the same scenery as amateurs, the difference between run-of-the-mill and great are the angles they select, the lighting they use and the composition they choose. I’ll let you decide who’s right when you’re done reading but given leaderships history of using slower shutter speeds, all you can be assured of receiving from them are blurry outcomes?

Each week I will post one segment after another until the total work is in print.

How Kids Learn to Reach their Full Potential

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 cheerleading, tennis and chorus.

The prevailing philosophy is that students are more apt to improve classroom performance when carrots are dangled and pressure to perform 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. Continue reading

A Call to Action – by Mike Novogratz

I had the privilege of listening to Mike Novogratz speak at the pre-meet social at this weekend’s NWCA All-Star Classic.  He left us all energized and encouraged. Here is his speech below. . . notice if you would the differences between what those who have achieved are saying and those who are struggling to lead are doing?

A Call to Action

By Mike Novogratz – Chairman of the Board-Beat the Streets-New York City

Continue reading