The struggle before us is enormous and the fight begins with words that I hope will help us navigate through that which is holds us back. As you know, wrestling is taking a beating and for some reason we’re still cheering. I’m not sure what we’re cheering about; it could be the great wrestling we’ve seen of late or Penn State’s meteoric rise to national prominence, or something as simple as our eternal optimism that being part of the sport instills in us. But whatever the reason, we might want to consider taking our rose-colored glasses off to look at the sport not for what it is but for what it’s not; which is exactly what the nation’s Athletic Directors are doing while we continue to lose programs.
I’ve been writing for some time now that for wrestling to survive we need to consider some substantial ideological changes in our thinking. One in particular is the absolute need to return to the days when dual meets made up a majority of a team’s schedule. Tri’s, Quad’s and the various forms of all day events are killing the sport and need to disappear. Spectators will never come to all day events and those who do aren’t in the numbers we need to make a difference. And without customers, those who purchase tickets and sit in the stands, we’re just another business who’s bleeding red ink; with bankruptcy looming on the horizon.
It’s critical that we reestablish institutional rivalry’s while limiting most of our events to 2-hour windows of time. No one wants to sit in the stands all day, and to think we can attract the casual or curious spectator using that metric is beyond ludicrous. Heck, the NFL, NBA, the National Hockey League and Major League Baseball, as popular as they are, would all go belly up if their events all lasted 10 to 12 hours. It seems to me if we don’t back off from our “more is better” approach to competition, the athletic directors are going to continue thinking that “less is better” regarding the number of programs they offer.
Look at gymnastics, their events always last at least 4 hours with the awards ceremonies seemingly longer than the competition. And like our sport, you had to be a serious fan or a parent of one of the competitors to be crazy enough to attend. They are still as resistant to change as wrestling is now.
So where is gymnastics in 2017? As a collegiate sport they’re way ahead of us in their decline but we’re competitors, I’m sure we’ll find a way to catch up. Currently they have 17 teams and that’s counting all 3 NCAA divisions. Scholastically it’s not any better; they’ve lost over 1500 teams or 87% of their programming.
As to our specific challenge of shortening our events by creating more dual meets; our coaches are not so inclined. They’d rather follow the lead of their gymnastic brethren by ignoring the sound of crickets in the stands.
But I do understand the coaches, and why they prefer multiple event days to individual dual meets. They realize that more matches mean more experience, and combined that leads to a stronger chance of post season successes. But what coaches must also understand is their athletic administrator’s power derives from the Golden Rule; without Gold you don’t rule.
So if our coaches can’t see that the sports survival hangs on their ability to understand the absolute need to reestablish dual meet rivalries, and with it revenue streams, then what has been the norm for us will continue to be.
Here’s what Flo had to say about Boise State and how a shortage of dual meets played into their decision.
When statements were released by the Boise State administration about the falling success of the program they made no mention of their NCAA appearances or PAC 12 finishes, they only talked about their dual record. Duals are just easier to digest; only total wrestling nerds like me (and probably you) are going to sit down and watch an entire wrestling tournament. There must be a standard for dual meets at a division one level. As a coach if you are not automatically identifying your school’s biggest rival and putting together a game plan not only to beat them, but to get as many eyes on that match as possible you are doing yourself, your team, your institution, and the sport a serious disservice. When you judge the vitality of a program the amount of money generated from dual meets must be taken into account.
Unfortunately for us, our coaches have no interest in changing . . . and neither does our Rules Committee because they are one and the same. It’s a typical fox-hen house scenario. That’s the reason why we’re in the pickle we’re in, and will be tomorrow; those who should have the best interest of the sport at heart have the best interest of their programs at heart; because a fox is a fox and chicken is on the menu.
The problem isn’t that the Rules Committee creates, alters and adapts rules; it’s that they overlook those that are the most painful to discuss, hard to pass and will do the most good.
And Flo is right on track about athletic administrators not giving a fig about the number of wins a program has or All-American’s they produce, they care about one thing, the income that rivalries produce. For those in doubt, ask Boise State; or Auburn; or UCLA; or Oregon; or William and Mary and the list goes on.
The Bronco administration, in defense of their recent action, asked two questions of themselves and then answered them in a press release. Here they are and regarding baseball, notice the school didn’t say “are” adding the sport, but “intends” to add the sport which is a significant difference of adjectives.
Why is Boise State discontinuing wrestling? Because we intend to add baseball. The elimination of wrestling alone will not be enough from a budgetary or structural standpoint, but it was the first step that needed to be taken to build the future structure of the athletics department.
Is there a possibility for wrestling to return to Boise State? Highly unlikely.
Something’s not right here when you look closer at the schools rationale for dropping the sport? They indicated that they intend to add baseball; really, in Idaho? When during the school year doesn’t it snow there? I can just see the shortstop chasing down a grounder in snow shoes.
Besides, were you aware that their state has so few scholastic baseball teams that the high school association doesn’t even offer a state championship in the sport? Wrestling on the other hand has so many high schools competing that the state not only holds a state championship but does so in 4 different classifications.
I wonder how their athletic department is going to justify the use of state funds to help develop a sport that will need to be propagated almost entirely by out-of-state athletes while denying opportunities to thousands of in-state wrestlers whose parents pay taxes there.
That is unless Boise is using baseball as subterfuge to hide what they are least proud of divulging, or have the most difficulty in defending. That’s what 65 years of life has taught me; never believe any of the reasons that are given as to why someone gored your ox, look to what wasn’t being said and you’ll be close to the truth. Administrators always select whatever justification is easiest to defend and pokes at the beehive the least.
So baseball; hmmm, I don’t think that’s the real reason for their decision.
Maybe the school is jumping on the hostage-taking bandwagon as other institutions have done in the past, waiting for some Sugar Daddy or group of well-to-do alumni to come to the program’s aide. That makes more sense than the baseball excuse.
But back to the Rules Committee. This may not be a popular statement, and maybe a little draconian, but if our coaches can only manage the sport without growing the sport, they need to lose their rights of leadership. The NCAA, not our NCAA Rules Committee, has to step in and save us from ourselves.
Which begs the question; since they haven’t stepped in, and they have to see the trend, why haven’t they?
Could our plight be so dire that they’re allowing our coaches to administer our sport out of existence? Remember, they’re administrators too and might this be another politically expedient way of achieving an unspoken agenda? Ask yourself, if wrestling were to die tomorrow, which NCAA administrator would come to the viewing? You already know the answer, you just haven’t thought about asking that question of yourself before.
By allowing our coaches to call the shots, the NCAA isn’t poking the beehive that’s wrestling, just the opposite actually; they’re allowing the sport to think its respected and special, and that they believe in us. Maybe they do . . . but if that’s the case, then we have more than one group wearing rose-colored glasses.
In closing, for those who feel I’m off base here, I am. That’s if you judge me by wrestling’s metric but it’s not if you see things as I do. Wrestling is so used to having their hat in hand that we are not only overjoyed, but empowered when we add 4 Division III programs a season, have a 40% retention rate instead of 50% for 1st year wrestlers and fill all of the seats in one arena; once a year.
But that’s not the way skyscrapers were built, Fortune 500 companies created or cancer cured. You have to dream much larger than you ever thought possible and then roll up your sleeves.
We need to focus on making wrestling as financially successful at the UFC; they did it, why not us? We need to set a 5-year goal of creating 7-figure salaries for the Top 20 coaches in America, why not, football and basketball has them. What’s wrong with signing a 7-year contract with CBS Sports for 200 hours of annual coverage like auto racing has done? We can you know, but we have to plan much larger and execute much bigger than we’re currently doing. Why not set a short term goal to looking forward to having fights with fire marshals over occupancy numbers for matches?
We can do all this and more; why not? I’m tired of hearing . . . “it’s only wrestling.” The WWE never felt that way. Neither should we but it takes a willingness to dream bigger than logic dictates. Then act on it.
To an Earlier Point
Over a decade ago, in order to upgrade the NBA’s image, Commissioner Stern put in place a mandatory dress code for both players and coaches. It directed that everyone must dress in business (coat and tie) or conservative (sport coat and collared shirt) attire while arriving and departing during a scheduled game, on the bench while injured, or when conducting official NBA business (press interviews, charity events, etc.). The dress code also specifically mentioned items of clothing that are not considered appropriate such as jerseys, jeans, hats, do-rags, T-shirts, large jewelry, sneakers and Timberland style boots.
The National Hockey League has a similar policy.
Penalties for non-compliance in either sport usually involve fines such as having to pay for one’s own airfare to wherever the team was going, rather than flying on the team charter.
Maybe the Rules Committee for wrestling should consider doing something similar and institute a matching set of guidelines. At this year’s NCAA wrestling championships, as is always the case, there were far more coaches without coats or ties than with them. And if you’re wondering about the athletes, the numbers are depressing.
But isn’t the bottom line; if we don’t have enough pride in ourselves and our sport to dress appropriately, how can we possibly get upset when we’re treated as we dress? Even if we have to mandate how we look, which it appears we have to, isn’t it something that’s needed? We already know the overall image of wrestling is far from stellar, and it doesn’t matter if that impression is earned or imagined; it needs a serious upgrade.
And yes, for those of you who knew me during my younger days, I would have fought such a mandate tooth and nail; but I would have been wrong. And I would have gotten over it and learned to enjoy the attention I now receive from dressing beyond the expectations of others.
The USOC is Wrong
I learned a long time ago that if you say something often enough, regardless if it’s correct or not, everyone eventually believes it. So is the case with the USOC inaccurately naming USAWrestling America’s National Governing Body for the sport of wrestling. The fact is they’ve never been the National Governing Body for the sport and it’s not fair to their organization to be accountable for such a huge responsibility. The point is we’ve never said anything, we’ve always allowed the USOC to continually suppress the achievements of USA Wrestling by the silence.
Here is how the USOC has always phrased it; USA Wrestling is the National Governing Body for the Sport of Wrestling in the United States and, as such, is its representative to the United States Olympic Committee. Simply, USA Wrestling is the central organization that coordinates amateur wrestling programs in the nation and works to create interest and participation in these programs.
All this is impressive but when you actually look at what USAW does, they’re a domestic event operator who is also responsible to select athletes to represent the United States in international competition. They have no say or control over anything that happens within the borders of the United States, in any style, unless it involves other countries. And then it’s only relative to freestyle and Greco-Roman wrestling so the USOC is overstating both the capability and reach of USAWrestling.
If you think about it, Colorado Springs doesn’t oversee Jack Roller’s Reno World Championships because that event is being held in folkstyle wrestling. They have no control over anything the AAU does with freestyle or Greco-Roman wrestling as long as it is confined to our borders. They don’t oversee the operations of Nuway or the NCAA. They have nothing to say about what the National High School Association does or doesn’t do with wrestling and they certainly don’t control the WWE.
The problem is it doesn’t help the sport or their organization if we believe they’re the overseer of amateur wrestling. This claim provides the sport with a false sense of security that USAWrestling has the sports back in all things wrestling when that’s simply impossible given their limited resources and organizational structure.
When was the last time you heard their name mentioned in the battle over Title IX? Are you aware of anything they do with regards to utilizing their influence to develop new collegiate programs or offer assistance to help other event operators become more successful?
Now some of you might think I’m taking a shot at USAWrestling because I’ve been critical of them in the past. I do feel they could be doing things far better than they are but I’m a big fan of the organization; they do a lot of good.
As an example, let’s look at our amazing comeback on the international stage. Since the fall of the Soviet Union’s “better athletes through chemistry” program, which one might assume their satellite states were doing as well, and for decades, plus the recent development of some very talented and mentally strong American wrestlers, the Red, White and Blue is now the country that the competition doesn’t want to see in their half bracket.
What appears to have happened, besides the IOC catching up with those who duped by doping, is the development of 4 or 5 truly world class athletes in both our men’s and women’s freestyle programs who unconditionally believe in themselves. We’ve been missing that final piece for decades now. We’ve always had the athletes and were technically proficient enough; we were just missing the absolute belief in ourselves, something Gable had in the 70’s. He taught those around him to believe. His poise and assuredness was so contagious that athletes who might not have world championship talent won in spite of it. That was the secret sauce that also made Iowa so great during the 80’s and 90’s; Gable simply made believers out of those he touched.
But since his retirement from competition we lost that aspect of championship performances. Individually we had it with Schultz and Kemp, Smith and Baumgartner and certainly a few others, but not as a team. You could always see it in the big matches; we just didn’t wrestle with an “I’m number one, get off my mat” mentality. And now in hindsight, I sort of feel that we were cheated out of accomplishing a lot more over the decades given the competitions chemically induced performances.
We were so used to losing to the Russians and more recently the Iranians that they became very much our big brother. No matter how good we were, in the back of our minds, we always remembered the beatings they gave us as a country and were never able to overcome that mindset. It was that mystique they had that defined their successes.
But today, things have changed for the better with the IOC’s ability to finally match the steady advancement of performance enhancing drugs with an equally advanced system of checks and balances. Combine that with a serious uptick in confidence that our athletes now possess and great things are continuing to happen.
Today, Burroughs doesn’t have exactly what Dan had but when you combine his coolness under fire with the certainty of Kyle Snyder we end up with the James Green’s and J’den Cox’s of the world. From there Logan Stieber rises to the level of his talent just as Taylor has done and Dake could do at any moment. The United States is now a world power because we’re entering competition with an “I wonder who’s going to take second” attitude against others who are no longer juicing.
Our women’s program is also very close to accomplishing the same thing but their big sister, Japan, has always loomed large. But since Helen put a noticeable dent in their armor of invincibility I feel comfortable that things are about to change for them as well.
God Bless the USA.