The NCAA’s are this week and I’m so glad that most schools are back on the mats. COVID has been a terrible experience for the country in so many ways.
Good luck to all, and may the sport once again, demonstrate to all those in attendance, just how amazing wrestling is.
. . .
In the last blog we discussed naivety, the importance of establishing a unified leadership team, and what the public, not our fans, think about wrestling.
Continuing with what I believe to be wrestling’s top issues, I’d like to cover four other must dos. In no particular order of importance, they are:
1. Make wrestling a second semester sport.
2. Wrestling must become dual meet centric.
3. The creation of a non-scholarship D-I league.
4. And of the four, by far the most important one, the removal of Regional Training Centers from college campuses.
I believe these issues will keep everyone reading at least long enough to find out what possible justification I could have for these opinions?
The only thing I ask in the interim, is a little leeway before those who disagree, launch on the grounds of heresy.
Make Wrestling a One Semester Sport . . . without a doubt, our first problem, second, fifth, and tenth are all the same. Wrestling doesn’t generate enough revenue to come close to breaking even. And companies that can’t pay their bills; go out of business. That’s where we’ve been for decades, with big brother, the athletic departments, continually bailing us out. But, with the tightening dollar, and an out of control arms race with football and basketball, the question becomes, for how long?
Basically, the sport needs to find ways to put butts in seats, and to do that, we need to change the way we look at our sport in order to find ways to become, at least, revenue neutral.
Football has spectators, as does basketball, baseball and soccer. So what’s different about those sports and us? Why do people find them interesting enough to have not only collegiate successes but professional leagues?
And then the question; why not wrestling?
To start, the answer might be; we’ve never taken the time to ask those who aren’t our fans, why they’re not, and then listen.
Every company that’s part of the S&P 500 has focus groups. They ask questions of people who use their products and services, and then for those who don’t; why, and why not. Then they listen to what being said, and have the smarts, and willingness, to adapt.
But not wrestling, we never ask anyone who’s part of our sport, let alone those who aren’t; but I have. And here’s some of the things I’ve heard.
One of the first is, “why are you a winter sport?”
I’d respond, even though I knew the answer, “I guess because we’ve always been; why do you ask?”
Responses varied but here is the one I heard the most. “Because I never see anything about wrestling in the media. And you should know, if you aren’t there, you’re not a sport.”
Most of them go on to say, “it seems stupid for you to try and compete for eyeballs when the first half of your season occurs during the end of the NFL and NCAA football seasons. Then you hold your championships when the NCAA basketball seasons, for both the males and females, are in the playoffs.”
So, moving the season to the second semester makes sense on multiple fronts . . . the least of which is it has the possibility of attracting the interest of football and basketball fans; yes, even basketball fans because anyone who loves watching competition by definition, loves competition. Why wouldn’t we want to reach out and make it easier for people to sample what we do?
As a parallel; you can’t sell a brand new Mercedes-Benz for $500.00 if no one ever knows you have it for sale.
And why wouldn’t we want to make it easier for those who report on sports, to cover our sport? April and May are down months for media coverage in sports, at least relative to December through March.
To a much lesser degree, why wouldn’t we want to swap out the month of December and part of January for the months of April and May? Given that wrestling is primarily a snow belt sport, why wouldn’t we want to get our teams off of the snow covered roads? Just the optics of that alone would play well with our administrators.
As for academics, given that wrestlers aren’t always the sporting world’s top performers, having the entire first semester to focus on academics, especially for freshman, can’t be a bad thing?
If anyone is concerned that moving the season would encroach on our international efforts, we need to decide. What, or who is more important?
I want to make this clear, I love America’s current trajectory when it comes to international wrestling, but I vehemently disagree with the way that USAW is encroaching on collegiate wrestling. More on that later.
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As an aside, you’re going to want to watch this video:
I’m never heard of the sport, or maybe we should call it a war. Calcio Storico; you won’t be disappointed for taking 3 minutes out of your day to watch it.
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Wrestling Should Be Dual Meet Centric . . . think about entertainment for a minute? Almost everything we do in America is centered around two-hour increments. Go to the movies, two hours. Go out to eat; two hours. Go to your son’s soccer meet or basketball game; two hours. See a play; two hours.
But not wrestling.
No sir; coaches prefer triangulars, quadrangulars, and eight team dual meet tournaments wherever they can find them. Then, if they have an open weekend, they go find an individual tournament that starts when the sun comes up and ends when it sets.
Let me ask you two questions and see if you can identify the problem?
How many people do you think would go to one of the final four basketball games if they knew it was going to last for 8 hours? And, who would scramble to buy a ticket to the Super Bowl if kickoff was scheduled at 9AM, and you weren’t going to get back into your car until 10 that night?
Anyone see a parallel here to how wrong we are?
If you’d ask fans, they go to sporting events as much, if not more, to root for their team as much as they do to watch Curry sink 3-pointers, Brady to outsmart the opponent’s defense or Lee to crunch someone. And they want to do those things within the confines of 2 hours.
Now think about wrestling. The fans that we have in Iowa traditionally don’t give a hoot about the Midlands, or they’d fill McGaw Hall. But they will scramble to buy a ticket to watch the Hawks wrestle for two hours against the Gophers in Minneapolis. Why is that; what’s the difference? Sure, it’s the head to head competition, but just as important, it’s their state, and their team, being pitted against their neighbors to the north for a year of bragging rights. Individual bouts are important, but so is the team element; within a reasonable time frame.
Being dual meet centric is such a no brainer, and another reason why coaches should have no say in anything but their athlete’s academics, social development and on mat performance. They’re not marketers, and they don’t have promotional degrees.
Wrestling needs butts in seats far more than it needs athletes going to the NCAA tournament with 48 matches under their belt (in normal years).
The Formation of a Non-Scholarship D-I League . . . because there are way too many D-I programs who used to be able to compete with the big boys; but not anymore.
But yet the coaches of those outmatched programs hang on with stubborn recklessness, hoping to find a way to be successful as their budgets shrink and double digit losses become the norm. The days of Clarion, North Dakota State and Cal Poly knocking off a Penn State or Oklahoma has come and gone.
So what are those teams to do, so many used to be competitive? The obvious answer is they have to move to a division where they have a chance of being competitive.
Now, I’m not talking about those D-II schools who are competing a D-I levels dropping back, or telling those underfunded D-I schools to give up. I want to throw out the idea of developing a non-scholarship D-I League.
Think of the formation of a forth NCAA division? One where the sport can crown 10 more individual NCAA Champions and be able to hand out 80 more All-Americans certificates.
That can’t be a bad thing. And there isn’t a wrestling fan who won’t know who the big boys are in each weight class so don’t say that’s a reason for not considering it. Holding on to old beliefs has put us where we are.
And all of this done in a way that allows coaches, teams and the school’s alumni to save face; if you want to call it that by staying at the D-I level.
And, given that scholarship obligations for these struggling to keep up with the Iowa’s and Ohio State’s of the sport, I wonder how many wrestling programs would be saved by such a move?
And then there’s this; how many institutions at the D-I level, that don’t have wrestling, might consider starting a program if there wasn’t the financial strain that scholarships create?
Think about this for a moment. How many schools are there that are desperate to grow their undergraduate enrollments? Way more than you think.
That’s why Mike Moyer, the Executive Director of the NWCA, has been very successful at growing D-II and D-III programs using this “grow your enrollment” model.
So, let me ask, what’s wrong with having 80 more All Americans each year? And how many Division II schools who wrestled at D-I no longer have the sport? Would Slippery Rock, or Western Michigan, still be wrestling had there been a non-scholarship option when they dropped?
The Removal of Regional Training Centers from College Campuses . . . now I realize what I’m about to write won’t be well received by those who support America’s international effort, but it has to be said.
Here’s the problem. Actually it’s several problems. The first one; since the RTC’s don’t have anything to do with collegiate programming, except to use their facilities, and their coaches to train USAWrestling’s athletes, at no cost to USAWrestling; why are they on college campuses?
The answer is obvious; to help advance Colorado Springs agenda while the unintended consequence is the widening of the competitive gap between the have’s and have not’s of college wrestling.
For USAW, it’s like 37 of Coca-Cola’s largest bottling plants creating Pepsi-Cola products; at Coke’s expense, for Pepsi’s profits. Who could possibility think that’s a mutually beneficial arrangement?
In the case of collegiate wrestling, for every penny that collage coaches raise to fund their USAWrestling program, that’s a penny that the owners of the facilities don’t receive, which are the various athletic departments.
There’s no doubt that has to irritate the bejesus out of every athletic administrator, who has for decades asked their wrestling coach to help fund raise, only to be continually disappointed.
Then, magically, an RTC appears, and that same wrestling coach who couldn’t find any money, magically finds oodles of it.
And we wonder why wrestling doesn’t have political support with administrators?
Now I get it, RTC’s are absolutely amazing for our international effort. And financially beneficial to the athletes who need the income to continue to train. That’s all well and good, but isn’t this the responsibility of Colorado Springs to provide, and fund?
So, why are RTC’s popping up on college campuses?
Several reasons, but the largest by far is the magnet they provide institutions who have them to attract the nation’s best scholastic wrestlers. Who doesn’t want to sign a letter of intent with an institution who has multiple All-Americans and National Champions at his/her disposal for their entire collegiate career?
I understand the panic of those coaches who don’t have the finances to start an RTC. And that’s exactly why the NCAA put parity front and center when they limited coaching staffs, and the number of scholarships a school could offer; and then, put in place regulations about who can, and who can’t, train together.
If anyone doesn’t believe that RTC athletes aren’t practicing with their collegiate counterparts, in season, and out, I have a bridge you might be interested in buying. Now, to eliminate any confusion, I’m not saying that RTC’s are bad, they’re exceptional, they just don’t belong on college campuses.
And my reasoning for this; to have one organization syphoning resources away from another, is wrong on so many levels.
Having Regional Training Centers is just a slick way of sidestepping the policies and desires of the NCAA; and in the end, enabling the rich to get richer while the competitive gap widens . . . as we infuriate our administrators.
These are the types of things that continue to put collegiate programming at risk.