Another Opportunity Blown

Wrestling, and those who are in charge have, once again, stepped in it. I could be wrong, but either I’m operating on 70 years of experience, or, I’ve severely overestimated what I learned during those 70 years?

Recently, both the leadership of the EIWA and the NWCA have come out with statements relative to coronavirus and this year’s wrestling season. After you finish reading my take on this, you might say, what’s the deal Wade? These releases are internal to the sport, from the coaches to coaches, and our fans.

Unfortunately, that’s not the case, given these releases are out there on multiple platforms for everyone to read, including our administrators.     

Let’s take a look at what has me scratching my head.

EIWA Release

VILLAS, N.J. — The Eastern Intercollegiate Wrestling Association is a wrestling only association whose member schools are all affiliated with other conferences. As such, our member teams may be subject to restrictions imposed by their parent conferences and home states with respect to athletic practice and competition during the current Covid-19 pandemic.

The Head Coaches are planning an EIWA-centric schedule designed to maximize the number of bouts for our wrestlers. There are currently eight weekends between the new year and the final weekend of the regular season. Dual meets will be the priority although a series of limited tournaments to offer competition may be explored. All activities are subject to the prime concern of ensuring the health and safety of our wrestlers, staffs, and campuses.

We intend to proceed with the understanding that:

– Practice during the fall semester is permitted

– Recommended competition will begin no sooner than 1/1/2021

– Some potential opponents may not be able to compete at times

– Current preliminary schedules are not going to be possible

– Non-conference matches are permitted but will by necessity be minimal and might be limited to regional opponents

– The EIWA Championship tournament will take place as scheduled, at Cornell University on the weekend of March 5-7

– All plans are subject to change

The coaches have agreed to meet frequently for the foreseeable future to exchange information and adjust our approach as needed.

On the surface, this looks like a reasonable release. Well, sort of. But in twenty-one lines of text, the coaches only mention their concern for the health and safety of their athletes once. And that was buried at the end of the second paragraph. The issues of health and safety should have been sandwiched; beginning with a statement of concern at the front end, and then at the back end. 

Maybe what the coaches were trying to accomplish would have carried more weight had they done it that way, demonstrating to their administrators that they have some level of political acumen.

Granted, there’s no question that every coach in the EIWA is committed to their athlete’s well-being. But without placing their commitment front and center, in writing, what message were they sending to those in power?

What’s said, and how it’s crafted, given all the wake-up calls the sport has received over the last 50 years, is how our athletic administrators view wrestling. Did we lose our ambassadorial skills, or did the sports leadership skip that class?

When it comes to the hierarchy of sports, have we forgotten our place? We’re not anyone’s equal. Well, maybe we are with gymnastics and sand volleyball, but not with any of the other sports. We’re so far behind in the non-revenue pack that all we’ve been seeing for decades are tails and butts. 

Do you realize that the non-revenue sport of Cross Country has 9 times more collegiate teams competing than wrestling does? Nine times; with almost 2000 teams. That Lacrosse is 4 times larger than we are, and dare I mention that wrestling has lost over 750 collegiate wrestling programs in the last 50 years? Folks, we’ve been in a pandemic of our own doing for so long that no one seems to be able to notice it anymore.

Continuing with the EIWA’s sport release, the coaches talk about starting the season the first of January while maximizing the number of bouts they plan to wrestle. But then they turn right around and put in writing, that each wrestling program may cram as many matches as they want into the second half of the season. Wow, that might be what they actually want to do, but is it really what they wanted to say? Fear not though, for America’s athletic administrators aren’t sophisticated enough to pick up on the nuances of the written word.    

Then the coaches followed that gaffe by mentioning that every program can start practicing anytime they want this Fall, as if nothing was happening. Should any of us harken back to our days in a wrestling room and recall how one athlete with ringworm, or herpes, turned into fourteen by the following morning? Dare I ask if it’s possible that Covid-19 might be equally as communicable? Given the number of collegiate football players and professional athletes who have already tested positive, I’d say yes.  

Now I know our coaches would put their lives on the line for each one of their athletes, but to put the opposite in writing demonstrates a stronger interest in winning than protecting those who represent them. Being politically unknowing, or insensitive, is exactly how we continue to get our wings clipped.     

The message I’m reading here is we’ll do what we want, and it was highlighted for me in capital letters by the sentence;

Non-conference matches are permitted but will by necessity be minimal and might be limited to regional opponents.

Define minimal and what exactly does might be limited to mean? They didn’t say won’t be permitted or will be limited. You don’t have to be a genius to read between the lines here. They’re giving themselves a green-light to wrestle whoever they want, where ever they want. The coaches phrased it that way to make sure that no other coach will win the annual battle of matches wrestled.

This mentality is a combination of extreme competitiveness and in today’s environment, fanatical foolishness. It’s not the thought process that’s bad, but why would you put any of this in writing? Someone needs to remind coaches that words matter.

Let’s look at their second paragraph again:

The Head Coaches are planning an EIWA-centric schedule designed to maximize the number of bouts for our wrestlers. There are currently eight weekends between the new year and the final weekend of the regular season. Dual meets will be the priority although a series of limited tournaments to offer competition may be explored. All activities are subject to the prime concern of ensuring the health and safety of our wrestlers, staffs, and campuses.

Here’s how our athletic administrators will read it:

The Head Coaches are planning an EIWA-centric schedule designed to maximize the number of exposure opportunities for their wrestlers. There are currently eight weekends between the new year and the final weekend of the regular season. Dual meets will be the priority although a series of limited (to a maximum that the coaches will determine) tournaments to offer competition, anywhere within the lower 48, will be explored in order to compact a full season of matches into the second half of the season. Academics will be placed on hold during this time, and all activities are subject to the prime concern of ensuring the health and safety of our wrestlers, staffs, and campuses, as long as it meets our needs.

NCWA Release

The National Wrestling Coaches Association has a very similar release that was crafted at their convention in Florida.

A sport-imposed delay to the 2020-21 competitive season, starting on, or around January 1, 2021.

a. The start of official practice will remain in place, or at the decision of the respective state, institutional, or conference guidelines.

2. If institution(s) decide to compete prior to the self-imposed start date, those matches should not create a competitive advantage over all those who follow the self-imposed start date. It would be the goal to not have matches prior to the self-imposed start date count toward the 2021 NCAA Championships’ qualifying criteria. (This would need to be supported by the NCAA DI Wrestling Committee as they address the new qualifying criteria for the 2021 NCAA Championships.)

3. The NWCA Leadership group will reassess the trends, data, and models related to COVID-19 on a bi-weekly basis so that if the environment were to improve and safety restrictions were reduced, the 2020-21 wrestling season could be restored to its traditional format.

Let’s begin by asking a question. Where did the coaches mention anything about their individual concern for the health and safety of their athletes? I couldn’t find it if it was there. Might that be something they should have included?

Who writes these things, and more importantly, approves them for release?

They did recommend that the wrestling season be shortened and competitions begin right after the new year. But if they think they scored any points by that, they lost just as many when they indicated that practices will begin as soon as the coaches want, assuming their individual institutions are okay with it.

Here was the perfect opportunity to advance the sport with their administrators by saying as a group; wrestling coaches agreed to postpone the start of wrestling practice by one month so they could reassess, on a daily basis, the status of the pandemic and the risks associated with practice.

I had to read their second point three times to make sure what I was seeing. All the coaches seem to be worried about, or it wouldn’t have been the largest paragraph, was the fear that someone, other than themselves, might get a leg up on seeding at the NCAA’s. Not one mention of safety, not one mention of the possibility of discontinuing the traditional handshakes before and after matches, or wearing a face covering underneath those full face masks one wears for a broken nose. No thought was given to maybe making it mandatory for everyone to shower right after weigh-ins, and then again immediately following competition. How about social distancing the chairs that competitors sit on during events and remind our administrators that wrestling has been “sanitizing” their mats for decades?  

Will these things help athletes and programs, absolutely. Will they bolster how the sport is viewed by our administrations, yes. We need to continually demonstrate that wrestling’s focus is on safety, that the coaches are capable of thinking of others as well as out of the box. But right now it appears that their competitive nature is overshadowing the sports well-being.

And none of that plays well with those whose opinions count.          

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6 thoughts on “Another Opportunity Blown

  1. REMEMBER ME WADE ? WALLY MORRELL I WRESTLED AT INDIANA HIGH SCHOOL IN THE 60’S. YOU AND I WERE HOLLIDAYSBURG TOURNAMENT CHAMPS IN DEC.,1968. I WON DISTRICT 6 IN 1970. WRESTLED 167 FOR PITT AND YOU DECKED ME IN JAN. OF 1974. I NOW HAVE TERMINAL MS AND LIVE IN TUCSON. AZ WHERE CAN I FIND VIDEOS OF YOU WRESTLING IN NCAAS ?

    THANKS WALLY

    • Wally . . . so glad that you reached out. Wow, memory lane. Sorry to say there aren’t many videos around of my years. As you remember, technology was just getting started then. I did my grad work in Tempe, loved my time in the state. So sorry to hear about the MS, but you’re a wrestler, stick your middle finger in the air and demonstrate by your fight who’s boss. Too bad we aren’t closer, love to have lunch and tell each other how great we were. :>)

      • WADE

        NEVER FINISHED TYPING MY MEMORIES OF EARLY 70’S AND SUMMER TOURNEYS – DID YOU GET THOSE TEXTS- THEY SUDDENLY DISAPPEARED- SUBJECT MATTER: JIM BUTLER ENABLING ME TO LOSE MY …., ST. CHARLES CAFE TEAM, INDIANA HIGH AND HOLIDAYSBURG MATCH 1968 OR 1969, CHRIS TAYLOR AT CARLISLE, THE TIME I WRESTLED YOU JAN 31, 1974, AND WHAT YOU SAID DURING THAT MATCH. ETC. LET ME KNOW I WILL TYPE IT ALL OVER.

        WALLY MORRELL

  2. Let me play Devil’s advocate.

    The athletic directors have at least three reasons to cut the sport of wrestling:

    1) it’s a non-revenue producing sport

    2) fewer and fewer schools in the conference have the sport

    3) Title IX

    Athletic directors don’t need any other reasons to cut the sport. Athletic directors need a reason to keep the sport.

    Please offer one compelling reason why wrestling should be a NCAA sport. Please offer one compelling reason why wrestling should be a high school sport.

    Football has a compelling reason. Football is a revenue generating sport.

    Women’s rowing and women’s lacrosse have a compelling reason. Title IX.

    It’s no longer good enough to argue student athletes want this or that sport. There must be a compelling reason to keep ANY sport.

  3. Doug . . . you’re right. And I would hope that interns wrote these releases, but from my experiences, that may not be the case. I think we need a commission of administratively polished individuals, none of which are currently part of the “establishment.” Individuals who can take the lead with the sport. A group who has the support of the fans who want and expect more from the sport. And are tired of the “I get mine first” group.

  4. There is no real excuse for this kind of communication failure by organizations this sophisticated.
    If I read point 2 from the NWCA correctly-it says member schools can do what they want.
    For an organization populated by coaches who carefully craft and time every key communication to the gents in striped shirts, it’s a real miss. Interns should never be left alone…

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