Wrestling Beware

It appears there’s a strong possibility that collegiate athletics are about to see some major changes.

The California State Assembly voted 73-0 in favor of State Bill 206, also known as the Fair Pay to Play Act, which is a proposed law that would allow college athletes to profit from their name, image and likeness, above what they receive in scholarship aid.

This is just the beginning of what’s to come, with salaries and bidding wars to follow. That should scare the bejesus out of all the non-revenue sports; plus, every college and university, as well as the NCAA. Just think, handing out money above and beyond scholarship limits, plus, big-time inducements and contracts.

While none of this is going to happen in the next few months, the term, slippery slope, is about to turn from snow to ice.

Personally, I have no interest in taking a side here on whether star collegians, in any sport, should or shouldn’t receive additional compensation for their services. But the point of this blog is, when these proposals start gaining traction, the NCAA won’t be able to stop them.

Sure, they can say no, but that comes with great risk to their very existence.

As to numbers, basketball brings in 800 million dollars, just for the rights to broadcast March Madness. And, the athletes see none of it. Fair, not fair, right, wrong, you make the call?

But, when you throw in the television rights for football, the numbers are beyond staggering. While, on the other end of the spectrum, all the athletes ever receive for their efforts on the gridiron are bus rides to the stadium to play, and a warm shower afterwards.

This is what’s at the heart of the far pay to play movement. And no question, this a game changer.

College athletes in California, if the Governor signs the State Assembly Bill, will be allowed to sign endorsement deals; plus earn compensation based on the usage of their name, image and likeness. They would also be able to hire agents to represent them in licensing contracts.

How will this play out with the NCAA, that question will be answered sooner, rather than later. So far, they have politely threatened the state of California that if they pass the bill, that every one of California’s 61 institutions of higher education, will be denied the right to participate in all of their national championships.

I guess I should remind everyone, including the NCAA, that they’re a voluntary organization. They might have held monopolistic powers over the nation’s colleges and universities for over a century, but if schools want to thumb their noses at the organization and create something new, they can.

All the big boys have to do, the ones who control the narrative, about 30 schools in all, is tell the NCAA to go pound salt, and make the BCS its own regulatory organization. Basically, they can take the television money and run. And be assured, there are tremendous forces at play to make a model like this a reality.

As to the NCAA as an institution, they have to remember that money and power always speaks louder than any loyalty they’ve built up.

Do I think the NCAA will be broken up, heck no. They know what’s at play here, and I believe they’ll be forced to acquiesce, even if this doesn’t pass their smell test.

So, what does all this have to do with Wrestling Beware?

Just this . . . it’s not a matter of if, athletes are going to receive compensation above that of scholarships, but more a question of when, how much, under what model, and, what happens to the sports that aren’t revenue producers?

Whatever the answers are, they’re going to have a huge, with a capital H, impact on wrestling.

Our challenge, when this happens, is survival. Schools may very well have to spend up to double what they are now to appease the appetite of the athletes, and programs in the power sports.

Where’s the money going to come from?

It’s simple, non-revenue sports are going to become club sports, and even when that occurs, the savings that the athletic departments will realize, won’t come anywhere close to covering the shortfalls.

So, wrestling as we know it, as an intercollegiate sport, is going to disappear faster than you can say jack rabbit.

This is coming, don’t fool yourselves. I don’t think it will be tomorrow, but excrement hitting the fan by 2023 is a possibility.

What I’m trying to do here, is suggest to our leadership that this is something they might want to get out in front of.

The only sports that will survive this carnage will be those who are already money producers, not ones who then promise to work harder toward that end.

Let’s use Penn State wrestling as an example. If the 10 starters receive on average, another 10K each in inducements, or use of their likeness etc., that’s another 100k the Nittany Lions will be responsible to produce at the box office.

This is why wrestling’s leadership needs to get off their duffs, and start making enough changes to our sport that will significantly increase our fan base. Wrestling must become a serious revenue producer.

We have to, we must, find ways to put significantly more butts in seats, because what we have now, and what leadership is doing, is bupkis.   

The question remains; are we going to go the way of intercollegiate boxing and more recently, gymnastics, or are our leaders going to swallow their pride, retire their stubbornness, and do the uncomfortable?

Using history as a gauge, I believe we’ll end up going the way of gymnastics. Leadership will move so slowly that wrestling will go from being a semi-major non-revenue sport to having a grand total of 16 schools, exactly what gymnastics has today, competing for NCAA titles; in all three divisions.  

All this isn’t a climate change Chicken Little prediction, that the world is going to end in 10 years.

The only non-revenue sports that will survive this will be those who have substantially more money coming in, than going out.

Currently, wrestling is not even close to being in that category.

What many may not realize, beyond the obvious outgoing flow of precious resources, is what the Fair Pay to Play Act will devour, besides the obvious. Consider this:

If salaries to athletes are included in this arms race, beyond grants in aid, then federal taxes for Medicare and Social Security, with matching amounts paid by the employee, will have to be paid. They aren’t hidden expenses, but for most of us, they weren’t initially obvious.  

What does that mean financially? Well, if a school’s star quarterback receives an income of 150K, the institution he attends would be on the hook for an additional 9.5K in federal taxes. Ditto for likeness, or equipment contracts. 

And, if the Fair Pay to Play Act is enacted, and incomes are involved, there’s a strong possibility that the IRS might take a second look at how they classify athletic departments. Might that mean schools would lose their 501(c)3 not-for-profit status?

That would mean institutions could be on the hook for state and local categories of taxes; one of the big ones; property taxes.

Just think about the school’s golf course, football and baseball fields. That acreage is typically high-value land that would no longer enjoy the benefits of being protected by the 501(c)3 statute. Thus, taxed.

How about all the contributions that alumni give to schools? If the institution is no longer a not-for-profit, contributions wouldn’t enjoy tax deductible status.

Adding insult to injury, would income producing athletes be exempt from receiving say, Pell Grants? Probably. So, the 5k a year that those previously qualified athletes use to receive, will no longer be there.

So, if we multiply that out, using as an example, 110 of the 570 student-athletes at Clemson University that hypothetically are receiving Pell Grants, that would mean a loss of over a half a million dollars a year in scholarship assistance the school wouldn’t receive from the federal government.

How about the 500-pound gorilla that we haven’t mentioned yet; Title IX compliance issues. Especially when is pertains to comparable compensation regardless of gender. If the star center on the men’s basketball team receives a contract; or name, image, likeness payments, what the goose gets, so must the gander.   

So, to wrap this up; if you’re a non-revenue sport, be forewarned. The Fair Pay to Play Act is coming to a theater near you.

What happens to us, is up to wrestling’s leadership? But if it’s true that history repeats itself, we shouldn’t get too excited.   

The scariest part of all this; regardless of how good, or quickly wrestling acts, any changes will take years to bear fruit.

Unfortunately, the Fair Pay to Play Act tree already has buds.         

Final X Matches

Dake v. Deiringer

For those who attended the Final X competition between Kyle Dake and Alex Deiringer, the entry fee of $10.00 was $9.50 more than it should have been.

To be clear, what I’m about to write, has nothing to do with the quality, skill, intelligence or level of sportsmanship regarding either of these gentlemen; just as the words I use in this blog have nothing to do with those who coach, either these athletes, or in general.  

But in the cross-hairs for me, is the UWW, regarding their philosophy of rule creation and then, when it becomes painfully apparent that some of them aren’t advancing the sport, they refuse to say, oops!

More on that later . . .

But for anyone, to have to sit through two complete bouts, wrestled between two of the best athletes’ in the world, and have each of them go the distance without a single takedown occurring; it was truly disappointing.

To make sure everyone is clear where I’m coming from, I believe the wrestlers in this case, wrestled to the rules, just as the coaches in this case, coached to the rules. But those two bouts, helped the sport more than I’ve seen in years, continue its meteoric rise toward mediocrity.

For those who disagree with my assessment, I’m not going to spend time debating the notion that both athletes were so evenly matched that neither could score. Hog wash, pure unadulterated nonsense! They could have scored 10 points had the rules forced them.

But, both athletes wrestled to the rules, and Kyle was better at them than Alex was; and why he’s the one going to the Worlds.

My best to you Kyle, go make us proud.   

But at what cost do these rules hurt wrestling? Who walked away from the gym in Austin thinking, “I can’t wait to see more matches like that?”

Does anyone actually believe that these two bouts were the types of catatonic events that would start a bidding war between television networks for broadcasting rights?  

I haven’t thought much about what to do, I’ve been so focused on the collegiate side of things that international rules haven’t been on my radar.

But obviously, things need to change.

Now, I wouldn’t support such a rule, but if Kyle and Alex had been told before the matches that we changed the rules; there’s only going to be one bout, 10 minutes in length, and the first one to score 3 takedowns wins. And, by the way, if no one gets 3 takedowns in the allotted time, then the outcome is simple; the United States doesn’t send a representative to Kazakhstan at 79kg.

Had that been a rule, I would bet my entire 3rd grade collection of baseball cards that someone would have had 3 takedowns.

My premise is simple, athletes will do whatever they have to, in order to win. If you don’t like what you’re seeing, change the incentives. It’s not rocket science.   

Again, wrestlers’ wrestle to the rules, coaches’ coach to the rules. And they do both while minimizing exposure to losses. In today’s wrestling, that’s the way you win. So, basically, and sadly, knowingly, the UWW has turned our sport into a physical chess match with all the excitement of an actual chess match.

Three cheers for them.

Of course, great matches happen at times, in spite of the rules. But that has more to do with the individual make-up of the competitors than it does about the rules. I wrestled with a damn the torpedo’s mind set, and yes, it cost me on several occasions. But people would travel a great many miles to watch Wade wrestle and never drive home saying, “well, that was a waste of time.”

Mills, Askren, Lewis, Nickal, Sanders, were all like that too. So, for the UWW to hang their hats on some of the wrestlers of today like Snyder, Burroughs and Taylor as a shining example of their rule creations, would be disingenuous at best. There will always be athletes that will charge ahead and keep the score keepers busy; just as the other 98% are perfectly happy to win by a push-out.     

What I’m saying is the way the UWW is doing business doesn’t lend itself to spectator development. And one might ask, why wouldn’t they want spectators?

Why doesn’t the UWW want all their gyms full of screaming fans, and all their events televised? How bad would it be, to be forced to manage hundreds of millions of marketing dollars like the UFC has to do?        

I think they’d love it, if it didn’t come at the expense of them losing control. Which brings me to the heart of the More issue I mentioned earlier.

The UWW doesn’t want the sport to become any more exciting, or popular, than it already isn’t. Because status quo keeps those who currently decide, deciding; in two ways.

#1 People always rise to their level of incompetence. You seldom see the same CEO, or Board of Directors, maintaining their positions, at any company, when it moves from 5 million dollars in annual revenue to 100 million. Larger, smarter, more competent dogs move in, who have decidedly sharper teeth, and oust those who are no longer capable.

The challenge wrestling faces, is, both collegiately and internationally, the survival of leadership happens at the expense of the sport.

#2 Everything is politics. Okay, here’s how it works, or doesn’t work in international wrestling. At what was FILA, and now the UWW, those in charge wish, as you can imagine, to stay in charge. The following is a secondary example of maintaining power.

When anyone’s term limit from the UWW ends, it’s those who are still in governing positions who vote on keeping that same individual or name someone to replace him or her. So, it certainly appears, to remain in the good graces of those sitting next to you, everyone has to go along to get along by creating rules that dummy down scoring, and stagnate action, all for self-serving purposes.

The more matches that are close in score, the easier it is for leadership to insert themselves in the outcomes. And, the more matches we have that are ho-hum, revenue falters and leadership thrives.

Anyone who believes I’m wrong, has to also believe that wrestling isn’t as great a sport as they thought. That wrestling isn’t capable of rising to the level of the NBA, NFL, or the UFC.

I happen to believe, with all my heart, that we have that potential. But there has to be something holding us back; it can’t be maturity. We’ve had several more centuries than any other sport to get it right.

So, in the absence of popularity, one of two things has to be wrong. Either the sport isn’t capable of greatness, or leadership isn’t capable of greatness? Pick one, I don’t see a third option here.             

I just finished watching the Retherford-Yanni wrestle off. There were at least three calls, or no calls, that could have altered the outcome. Or, maybe one or more of them, did?

But as I mentioned with Kyle, go make us proud Zain.

As to inserting themselves in outcomes, leadership has always had a, if you help me come home with a medal at 57kg, I’ll help you when your 79kg wrestler is competing relationship. It’s a one hand washes, or greases, the other agreement.  

Don’t think for a minute that it doesn’t happen that way. Why do you think they inserted the two balls in a bag rule that, thankfully, is no longer around? Might it have been that flipping a coin was too easy, less time consuming, and actually fair?

Fortunately, leadership can’t alter outcomes when matches have athletes who are actually trying to score. That’s good, well, maybe it is. But more than likely it’s bad because it gives leadership the ability to point to those rare occurrences as, “Look see, wrestling is great, and so is the job we’re doing!”   

Sadly, what we have today is leadership making a secondary sport out of the primary one called political gamesmanship. It’s called You give me, I’ll give you.

FILA was caught doing exactly that, on too many occasions. When the IOC finally figured out how bad it was, they were appalled, and we got tossed from the Olympics. But to be clear, the IOC didn’t toss the sport of wrestling, it tossed wrestling’s leadership.

What caused the most difficulty for us, to convince the IOC to reconsider their position and reinstate wrestling, was the belief that it was the sport that was being tossed; when it was its leadership who received the vote of no confidence.

So, we struggled, we had a hell of a time getting the sport back, because FILA was redirecting the attention away from their failures, and pointing fingers at the sport.         

Eventually though, only after FILA was forced to say 3 mea culpa’s, and force their President to resign, did the IOC, reluctantly, decide to reinstate the sport.

But, it didn’t take long before it was business as usual; changing very little, while promising to change a lot.

One of the changes was to promise to increase scoring, to make wrestling more exciting. They accomplished that immediately by doubling the number of points a wrestler would receive for a takedown; then pointed out that bout scores had doubled under their leadership.

They also made a name change, which did make sense. Look, we’re now the UWW, we’re New and Improved. The New portion seemed to be their attack on improprieties, while the Improved part seemed to be their skills at hiding improprieties.

The only reason we have a push out rule is due to the misnomer that athletes are so even; it’s the only way to keep scores from constantly being tied at the end of regulation.

Once again, hog wash.

Why would anyone risk taking actual shots when a push out will achieve the same outcome? How can anyone call that wrestling? Sumo maybe, but not wrestling.

When you make rules that knowingly discourage offensive activity, we’re definitely going in the wrong direction. But it does serve certain purposes within the sports leadership.

Fans have always wanted to see the equivalent of two cats fighting over a ball of yarn. They crave, and deserve, to see score boards lighting up like a winning slot machine.  

Then, they added, God help me, another leadership controlling rule; the shot clock! That’s another inactive inducing way to win a match. And given that, that call is solely at the discretion of the referees, who’s rankings, and number of trips they’re assigned to take, is controlled by the UWW leadership, hmm. I wonder what happens there?

It appears, or a case could be made, that both the push-out rule and placing athletes on a shot clock are in effect to be used as platforms for re-election campaigns. For these rules not only encourage inactivity, the sports leadership thrives on inactivity.               

Maybe it’s time to dump those rules and allow ties to occur? And as crazy at it might sound, only winners advance to the next round. If you lose or tie, one or both of you are out of the winner’s bracket.

Sound harsh, maybe.

But you’d see a heck of a lot more action with that rule than the ones they’re coming up with now. I firmly believe we need to allow athletes to decide. Not the referee’s, or members of the UWW who enjoy the trips, per diems, and bottles of wine that aren’t found on the bottom shelves.

These quotes, are from fans who were at the Dake-Deiringer matches:

“Had those matches been televised, casual fans would have been bored.”

“If we want the sport to grow, we need the rules to force the tempo.”

“These bouts were the kind of wrestling that got the sport booted from the Olympics.”

“Sad the World Team spot is determined without a takedown taking place in either match.”

“Those matches were yawners. And people are happy with the rules as the spectator numbers flatline.”

Yanni v. Rutherford

This match was more exciting than the Dake-Deiringer bouts, but there wasn’t a takedown scored here either.

And although Zain was in deep on several shots, the rules, permitted him to take stalemates when the situations didn’t call for them. That was probably a good thing, given he was wrestling a master of the unusual.  

But as with the previous bouts I wrote about, Zane wrestled to the rules, and was the better at them than Yanni.    

But to my point here; our current freestyle rules, have severely reduced scrambling opportunities, which is some of the most exciting aspects of the sport.  

Others I spoke with who were present, felt Yanni was stale and unimaginative, in relation to what he’s known to be. Zain on the other hand looked fresh, and sharp.

Neither or those were my opinions of the match; I just thought they were wrestling to the rules.

And for the sport, that’s a shame.

Hearing Loss

I’d like to speak to referees for a moment. Are any of you having trouble with your hearing?

I’m wearing hearing aids now, which might be normal for someone of my age. But my hearing began to go south after my first year of officiating, and that was when I was in my 40’s. And I’ve struggled with Tinnitus since that time as well; and the ringing drives me crazy.

To my point, with the way Fox 40 whistles, and others, advertise their products, without any consumer warnings, I was just wondering if I’m alone here?

The manufacturers do advertise their products as being “clear and loud;” maybe they should have added, “continual use could lead to partial or extended hearing loss.”

Of course, that’s assuming there is a problem?

I’d be interested in hearing if other referees have experienced these challenges? Write to me at: wschalles@cfl.rr.com.   

Jim Phillips; and Weight Classes  

Jim Phillips

Rest in Peace my dear friend; was not only what my heart said when I heard of Jim’s passing, but also the opinion of everyone who knew Coach Phillips.

The mark of greatness, for any human being, is his or her ability to make others smile, and feel fortunate for having known the person. Jim had that rare ability, and given the number of people who have taken to social media to send his family their regards, and share their memories of him, his greatness becomes obvious.

Jim Phillips; wrestling coach, mentor, father, trainer, educator, friend and dare I mention, owner of a leopard vest that I hope, along with Jim, makes it into the National Wrestling Hall of Fame.

As for me, I met Jim for the first time in our wrestling room at Clarion in 1974. He had just taken over the wrestling program at Morgan State and as he told our coaches; Bob Bubb and Neil Turner . . .

“I want my athletes to have the best chance to be whatever they can be, and being here, is the best way I know of how to achieve that.”

There’s no question he learned a lot during the time he was on campus, but so did we! Jim’s smile, and genuine interest for those he met was infectious. For five full days he asked questions of everyone, from our trainers, to equipment managers, to the athletic department’s administration. Nothing got by Jim without him asking, why, how, or please show me.

When the team finally left, Jim took with him a complete playbook for what he told me years later became the foundation of Morgan State Wrestling.

At his retirement, 30 years later, Jim had coached 75 All-Americans, 2 national champions, won 13 MEAC Championships and was named MEAC Coach of the Year 12 times.

For all he achieved, one might be surprised to learn that Jim never wrestled himself. But instead, he was a professional football player who lined up alongside such greats as Willie Lanier and Leroy Kelly.

Even the coaches he competed against have had nice things to say, which for anyone who knows wrestling, it’s the ultimate test of greatness.

Mark Manning, “He deserves to be in the National Wrestling Hall of Fame.”

Cornell Bass, “No one could out recruit Coach Phil.”

Carl Adams, “Jim was one of the most special personalities in the history of the sport.”

Jim lost his battle with diabetes at the age of 78, but even today, we’re smiling, because that’s the way he left us, with a smile.

PA Drops 2 Weight Classes

This week, the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association, has decided, but it hasn’t been announced yet, to drop 2 of its 14 weight classes. Starting next year, there will no longer be competition at 106 or 182. That’s what I’m hearing anyway.

Here’s how it happened.

How can you have all these spectators this week at the World Championships in Sofia and expect anyone; athletic administrators, advertising executives, or anyone thinking about trying out for the sport, not to mention members of the media; to believe that what we do is worthy of their time?

The answer is, no it’s not, and that is the basis of ALL our problems.

We argue among ourselves about issues that are important to coaches, while ignoring those that are important to administrators and potential customers. Notice: I didn’t say our customers, I said potential customers, the ones we don’t have, but could have, if our product was worthy of their time. That’s the focus of this story.

Listen to the rhetoric this Summer, and going into the Fall, about our shrinking weight classes. It will all center on how stupid can the PIAA be; “They didn’t do their homework. Statistically, they chose the wrong weight classes to drop if they wanted to reduce forfeits.”

As long as we’re always looking inward, and fighting battles that in the big picture is at best a 4X6, only deepens the divide that exists between administrators and coaches.

Sure, losing weight classes is worth discussing, but it’s not the battle ground we should be standing on.

Instead, we must change people’s perception of wrestling! That’s the far larger picture. Not for those who are currently considered the sports die-hards, but the perception of those who are not currently part of the sport, those which are non-existent at matches. They are the ones who will determine if we’re a viable sport.

Without fans, and that is the one, and only issue our leadership should be focusing on, wrestling will maintain its nothing burger status. Why do I say that; because there are way too many dual meets and tournaments where the athletes themselves out number the fans.

That’s our leaderships fault. And as I’ve been beating the drum for too many years, they should either lead, follow or get out of the way. Even within the sport at the scholastic level, we’ve lost 25,000 wrestlers in the last 5 years. That might surprise some but the numbers are far worse than what you just read. Because other sports are growing at an annual rate of 3% and 7%. So, using the lowest number, 3%; instead of losing 25k wrestlers that are trackable, we’ve lost well over 50,000 when you figure in lost growth.

How can the UFC go from drunks in bars beating one another up to a multi-billion-dollar industry in 20 years and wrestling in the last 150 years is still trying to move from red ink to black? Do you realize that there isn’t one program in America that’s making money!

Without fans, the sport is without revenue. Without revenue, coaches have zero support with their administrators. Without fans and revenue, the media couldn’t care less about us. Without fans, potential sponsors aren’t interested in losing money by advertising with us. And without people cheering us on, does anyone care to guess how many athletes we lose that never came out for the sport because they didn’t want to wrestle in empty gyms?

And yet, here we are, arguing about the loss of 2 weight classes, or tomorrow, over whatever is an affront to our senses. Isn’t it time we make wrestling fun to watch? Not for those who will argue with me over this, but for the millions of fans who have already said they have no interest in our product.

Enough said . . .

As to the weight classes themselves, and the legitimate beef the sport has about 106, and taking opportunities away from our smaller, younger athletes; how about this as a compromise?

Establish two separate sets of weight classes, one for the varsity at the HS level, and the other for the JV’s?

Why we haven’t done that before has always been a head scratcher for me. Younger kids always come in smaller sizes than their older counterparts.

So, why wouldn’t we want to service their needs? Shouldn’t our leadership seriously consider loading up on weight classes at the bottom end of the weight scale for these athletes? Start at maybe 98-pounds and then go to 106-pounds and so on, spacing the remaining upper-weights to meet the needs of these athletes.

Why we haven’t done this before, just points out that those who decide, aren’t problem identifiers, let alone problem solvers.

And I get it, I’m making some enemies out of friends in leadership roles by writing these blogs. And that bothers me a great deal. For that, I’m can’t tell you how truly sorry I am!

But I love the sport more, and owe it more, than to go-along to get-along while the sport eats its own tail.

Fixing the sport isn’t hard, but it requires a willingness to do whatever it takes.

The NCAA Championships

The city of Pittsburgh did a wonderful job hosting the event. From friendly, helpful airport greeters to welcome banners hanging on seemingly every lamp post in the city. Everything Pittsburgh did said, “welcome, and thank you for visiting,” and the Steel City did us right. The arena where we wrestled and the Penguins play, was comfortable and without question, a championship facility.

Overall, I’d support returning again, actually quite often. Just like “Bo knows wrestling,” the Keystone State also knows wrestling. And as is the case every year, we had more than our share of exceptional bouts and surprising upsets. If someone would have told me before the event began that Nick Piccininni, Alex Marinelli, Myles Martin, Sebastian Rivera, Steven Micic and Gable Steveson wouldn’t win the tournament, or even make it to the finals, I would have said they were showing early signs of dementia.

As to those who did win, here are a few of my takeaways . . .

125; Spencer Lee, wanted it more than anyone else in the weight and even though he hit a few pot holes during the regular season, he obviously found the entrance to the freeway by the time weigh-ins began.

133; Nick Suriano, is a physical beast. Can you imagine how much better he could be if he had a wrestling room full of like talented workout partners?

141; Yianni Diakomihalis, even though McKenna gave him all he wanted, and some might say more than was necessary to win, he has the most kinesthetic sense of anyone in the tournament. You could throw him in the air 10 times and like a cat, he’d land on his feet just as many times. I’m not sure you can say that about anyone else in the tournament.

149; Anthony Ashnault, it was obvious from the beginning of the tournament he was the most solid performer in a weight class that wasn’t overly stacked with contenders. Regardless, he was consistent, tough and technical. In any other year I’m sure Anthony would be in the mix, regardless of who was standing across from him.       

157; Jason Nolf, was the country’s bonus bunny all year, averaging over 5 team points a match. Some might think that his weight class was weak given how he walked through and over the competition (except in the semi’s), but it was just the opposite, and he’s that good. Actually, he’s one of the best that ever wrestled in the weight class.       

165; Mekhi Lewis, so much talent, and heart. Given he was a freshman, it appeared no one told him he should respect his elders, or his peers. Or maybe it was the competition who needed to respect him? He did win the Junior World Championships this past Fall. And of all the wrestlers in Pittsburgh, he was the one who stood out as actually enjoying the event. His infectious smile and unlimited energy could be seen from any seat in the arena. Although he didn’t win it, he was my tournament’s Outstanding Wrestler.

174; Zahid Valencia, he didn’t have the season he was capable of putting together but someone kicked him in the pants when it came time to show the nation who was #1. Conversely, Hall seemed uninspired, there wasn’t an urgency to his wrestling, especially when he needed to score. If he’d only let go of the reins, and allow the thoroughbred that’s in him to run, he’d win every race he entered.

184; Drew Foster, who knew? Especially with shoe-in Myles Martin in the weight class. But Drew, in workmanship fashion, took each match as they came and when the smoke cleared, he was the man still standing. At-a-boy, well done!

197; Bo Nickal, a tremendous athlete and technician who can do pretty much what he wants, whenever he wants, against whomever he wants. Next year’s NCAA tournament, and the Nittany Lions, will sorely miss his confidence, swagger and electric performances.

Hwt; Anthony Cassar, I give Cael a lot of credit here. Besides always ending up with more points than his opponent, Anthony did it through the type of tactics I haven’t seen in years. He didn’t poke the bear in the semi’s, rather he continually flirted with stalling calls as he lulled Steveson to sleep, then stung him at the final buzzer to win. In the finals he did just the opposite, immediately attacking what appeared to be an apprehensive Cowboy; who never recovered from the opening takedown.

Regarding the team race, Rutgers surprised everyone with 2 champs as did Oklahoma State, Ohio State, Minnesota and Michigan with no champs.

And even though Penn State ran away with the team title, they seemed to be “a little off” their game in Pittsburgh. The only Nittany Lion who wrestled above expectations was Cassar.

And how about the job the Princeton coaches are doing with 3 All-Americans. The Tigers finished 15th in the country and I can’t tell you in the last decade when that happened. And they had more than a few great individuals. During the season they knocked off Lehigh, North Carolina, Virginia and only lost to Rutgers by a point.

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An Open Letter to ESPN

Dear Programming Director,

Each year your production of our championships keeps getting better and better. I can say without hesitation; the sport of wrestling truly appreciates all you do to help us demonstrate our greatness.

As a suggestion for future events, would it be possible to broadcast our sport like you do golf; with over half of the approach shots, memorable putts and cringeworthy flubs aired by way of tape delay.

With wrestling, like golf, a lot of the action that is broadcasted is actually inaction. But if you look at what’s taking place on the other 7 mats, like you do with an entire field of golfers, there’s always something exciting to see.

This is why our fans currently prefer to attend the NCAA’s rather than watch them on television. When you’re in the arena, it’s an 8-ring circus, there’s always something fun to watch. All anyone has to do is swivel their head.

Do you think you could do for us what you do for golf? You already have cameras on every mat. Just direct those who are in the control booth to capture whatever action isn’t being aired, add some dialogue, and air it when you’re ready. I’m not suggesting that you cut away from big matches to show the action, just use your picture in picture technology to bring it to the viewers.

The point is, it doesn’t matter if these video snippets are tape delayed, our fans will enjoy them as much as those who love golf enjoy the way you handle their sport.

I hope I didn’t overstep any boundaries here in sharing this suggestion. I just see things that others tend to overlook and like them, love the sport too much not to say anything.

But regardless, thank you for being a part of man’s oldest sport.

Warmest Regards,

Wade Schalles

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Television at its Best

Speaking of television, I just finished a program on Netflix, the first full season of Northern Rescue.

What an entertaining show. I only paused the series once to grab a coke. Well, it might have been a rum and coke but regardless, I highly recommend it.

It stars Billy Baldwin, one of wrestling’s largest supporters and brother of Alec and Steven, who by the way, all wrestled for Al Bevilacqua on Long Island.

The show’s worth your time, and it never hurts to promote those who continually support us. Give it a try.

Well done Billy.

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Seeding the NCAA’s?

For the life of me I can’t understand the NCAA Rules Committee. They may know their escapes and half-nelsons but marketing and self-esteem not so much. Why, help me here, why do they feel that seeding every wrestler at the NCAA tournament is either desirous or helpful?

From the personal side of things, if it were one of the rules committee’s sons who was seeded 23rd or 33rd, I wonder how they’d feel about it? Why would anyone do that to any athlete, or child; and for what purpose? It couldn’t be that the wrestler would want to brag to his family and friends that he was chosen by his peers as one of the worst wrestlers in the tournament.

Wouldn’t that be considered labeling, or possibly, bullying?

Seeding every athlete in the tournament doesn’t serve any reasonable purpose. Everyone knows who the top athletes are, and after the top 8 seeds, it doesn’t matter where an athlete is in the bracket. All that means for those wrestlers is the round when they’re going to begin their travels back through the consolation bracket.

The bottom line for me is, seeding the lower half of a weight class is unproductive, unnecessary and amazingly insensitive.

If you want to talk marketing, which media outlet, or fan, is sitting on the edge of their seat to watch the 32nd seed take on the 1st seed? At least in previous years, if the 1st seed was competing against an unseeded wrestler of unknown capability, the media would at least pause before dismissing it as a potential white-wash.

Relative to self-esteem, something the Rules Committee has seemingly overlooked, which of these athletes would want to answer the question when their grandson or granddaughter asks, “What were you seeded at the NCAA’s when you wrestled Grand Pa?”

This isn’t hard to fix . . . here’s what I wrote about 3 blogs ago relative to seeding . . . and it’s still a winning suggestion any way you slice it.

Relative to seeding in any wrestling event, and certainly at the NCAA’s, we need take a page from basketball’s playbook. They break their NCAA tournament into quarter brackets and then seed each one as if it were 4 separate tournaments.

I like it . . . a lot.

It gives their sport four 1st seeds, four 2nd seeds, four 3rd seeds, four 4th seeds, and so on while achieving the same goal we have in keeping the best athletes apart; but through empathy, compassion, and with an emphasis on marketing.

Why wouldn’t we want to do the same thing for wrestling? Could be that we’re too stubborn, or proud, at the expense of our athletes, to admit that basketball had the idea first?

All we have to do is take the top four seeds in each weight class and give each one of them a 1st seed designation in their respective quarter bracket. Then seeds 5 through 8 would receive a 2nd seed designation and so on through 4th seed. That takes care of the top 16 wrestlers in the field of 32.

Now I realize this suggestion might have a few readers saying, “I don’t like it.” But wouldn’t this elevate every seeded wrestler while still achieving the primary goal of keeping the best wrestlers apart, as long as possible?

Why would this be bad, why would it be wrong to make so many more of our wrestlers feel important than we do under the current system? The best wrestler in each weight is still going to win. The second-best wrestler will still take second and everyone would still be aware of who the 16th seed is; he’s the 4th seed in the top quarter bracket.

Why not do what we can to uplift our athletes, I see plenty of upside, and no downside.

Regarding the media, when several of our 1st seeds hits the 2nd seeds in any of the quarter final rounds, sportswriters have something exciting to write and ESPN to talk about.

Now, if those who decide these sorts of things, still insist on seeding everyone in the tournament, as lame as that might be, they can still use this system. It would give our 32nd seed an 8th seed designation.

This certainly seems to be a Gold Medal suggestion. It doesn’t change anything we do with the actual wrestling, but it does help us market the sport while reducing those self-esteem issues that the Rules Committee has to know they’re creating.

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Refereeing in Pittsburgh

It was the best I’ve ever seen. We can always debate the benefits, or disadvantages of any rule, new or old, but none of that has anything to do with the officials. Their job is to apply the rules as they’re written, and in that regard, the referees scored very high marks in Pittsburgh. They were more consistent and professional than I’ve ever seen them.

In that regard, those who oversee the officiating corps, did a whale of a job.

And imagine this, all without any obstruction of justice or collusion.

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Shameless Advertising

If you’re looking for a present to give the young wrestler in your family, or looking for a great read for yourself, may I suggest Jacob’s Cradle. I recently finished it, and in the last 2 months both the sales, and reviews, have been beyond amazing.

It’s the story of young wrestler trying to win the Olympics while as an agent of the CIA, settling a score with one of the most dangerous men in the world. But at the center of Jacob’s universe is his wife, Charlotte, an independent free-wheeling boat captain who sails the pirate infested-waters of the African coast. Together they go through adventure after adventure like no other love story.

Here are four reviews from dozens that I’m proud to have received.

“Wade Schalles writes the same way he wrestled – all out, holding nothing back and with a very exciting style! His first novel is a thriller with great characters and numerous plot twists. He keeps a pace that will have the reader eagerly turning the pages. Wrestling people will love the hero and enjoy his journey through a tangled web of international intrigue and escapades, with fascinating locales and settings. Read it and enjoy!” Mike Chapman, Historian Founder, WIN Magazine

“This book is so good it’s distracting me from the weather, I can pay it no higher compliment.” Joe Bastardi, Meteorologist WeatherBell Analytics 

“Regardless of what brought you to Jacob’s Cradle, you are in for a treat. Wade Schalles has effectively transferred his creative imagination to pen and paper. In doing so he has successfully blended world class wrestling with love and intrigue. This book is bound to have readers asking for more from one of our sport’s all-time greats.” Rich Bender, Executive Director USA Wrestling

“I couldn’t put it down. Started reading the day I got it. Finished it in one sitting. It was that entertaining and I loved the wrestling scenes. Great job.” Sheila Wager, International Wrestling Official and Distinguished Member, Amateur Athletic Union

Jacob’s Cradle can be ordered through Amazon, Barnes and Nobel, or any of your local book stores.  

Where We Fail, Part II

Before I cover the next two “must do’s” in order to make the sport fun to watch, by those who don’t attend, here’s another item that chafes my posterior. How can we grow and become mainstream, without being smart enough to see that which is poisoning our water?

Instead of writing a feel-good blog about the Top 10 programs in America, how about we write one to embarrass the Bottom 10 programs, by naming them and saying why? Now, I know there are many of you who would say, “Wade, why don’t we reach out and help those who need help. We don’t need to embarrass anyone.”

Sure we do, it’s the only way that works. These programs I’m talking about are so stagnant, they’re more than likely beyond help. The coaches are so traumatized by personal failures that any effort to help them is immediately met with an explosion of feelings as a result of their own embarrassment.

Look at programs like Iowa State. Dresser has worked miracles in Ames and no doubt will continue to do so. He’s a class act and on par with Tom Ryan in Columbus. Before either of them arrived on their respective campuses, the programs were beyond hope. The athletes they inherited were either incapable of competing on a national stage or so demoralized by previous coaching staffs that their interest in being the best had flown south for the winter.

Fortunately, Ohio State is now at the pinnacle of success and Iowa State, being in a state rich in wrestling tradition, is on its way. But what if Iowa State had been located in Colorado, Tennessee, or anyone of a dozen other states? What would have happened to the program? The administration would have simply dropped the sport stating ineffectiveness as the reason, not to mention it being a drain on shrinking resources.

But what of those other institutions whose programs aren’t in Iowa, those who are enduring shut out after shut out, loss after loss. Especially to teams that have 25% of the finances and scholarships they have available to them?

It’s no secret that administrators are under a great deal of pressure to reduce expenditures and increase revenue. They are also reminded by the universities Board of Regents that a winning, or a losing sport program, is reflective of their institution’s academic reputation; and as a result, their positions as leaders.

For all the smaller D-II and D-III programs Mike Moyer and the NWCA help create, they’re never sizable enough to overshadow the sting of losing existing programs.

I know this is a radical position to take, but it wouldn’t be so radical if we thought of ourselves as a business. This is about survival, it’s about sustainability, it’s not about turning a blind eye to what’s happening.

Listing the Bottom 10 programs, not so much by looking only at wins and losses, but wins and loss’s relative to budgets, scholarship numbers and geographical access to recruiting grounds should be the criteria. Right off the top of my head, I can think of four major D-I programs that would be at the very top of my bottom list. They’re probably on your list as well.

Closing our eyes to embarrassing programs doesn’t make the failures go away, it just contributes to wrestling maintaining its position as an oh hum sport in the eyes of those who make decisions regarding our existence.

Coaches need to be forced to produce or get out, regardless of the effort they’re putting forth. Performance is the key, not effort, and this might be callous, but it doesn’t even matter if the head coach is a good guy or not.

All this is only if we’re serious about growing the sport and admitting that wrestling is a business.

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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 aligning themselves with wrestling and what such an marriage 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, Bayer Aspirin, or AutoNation as a national sponsor?

Either the wrestling community can’t see the amazing possibilities that sponsorship’s provide or they do but would rather be independently obstinate than work together as a team. Pick one, there isn’t an option C here.

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. But we have to pick one national cause, splintering won’t work.

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.

In a national survey, 84% of Americans have a more positive image of a company or group when it supports those who are less fortunate. 79% of Americans indicated they would likely switch from one product brand to another 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 or are currently 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 today’s. 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 has been affiliated with UNICEF for decades and the list is endless. So, why isn’t it good for wrestling to do?

As to rule changes, here’s another one of my Top 10.

Allow athletes to “Double Up” 3 times a year. 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.

Doubling up is allowing wrestlers to compete in two weight classes during a dual meet; but only 3 times a season.

I wonder, how many people would buy a ticket to watch LeBron James play if they knew he was only going to be on the court for seven minutes of the first quarter each night? 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 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 spend 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 Nolf, Nickal or Micic go out and decision the # 2 guy in their weight class and then move up a weight and tackle the # 5 guy in back to back matches? 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. Are you 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 athletes 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 under-card bout in the UFC.

I realize what I’m professing here violates our sports rule relative to the 30-minute rest period. But, “who came up with that idiocy 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 made us live with for decades. I’d be willing to bet he couldn’t and most likely he made up the number.

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’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? 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.

Another solid reason for Doubling Up is 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 would get to discuss and then second guess the coach’s decision? Should Coach Smith put Fix in for a second time and use one of his 3 Double Ups given Oklahoma State is down by 4 points with just 3 matches left? Or should John hold him back with the knowledge that he has Penn State, Iowa and Ohio State still on their schedule? 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 eliminate forfeits. Because as part of the rule change, I’d make it mandatory that any team who is surrendering a weight class must Double Up the athlete directly below that weight to avoid the forfeit. And to eliminate the situation of a forfeit occurring in the first contested weight, add this modification; a dual meet cannot start with a weight class that is being forfeited. Problem solved.

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?

Jumbling weight classes; let’s consider alternating weight classes back and forth throughout duals. This makes Doubling Up, doubly exciting, interesting and strategic. We’d still have 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 any of the remaining 9 weights to wrestle next. This concept goes back and forth throughout the dual. So no one knows who’s wrestling next except the coach whose turn it is to decide, and of course his athlete. How exciting would that be for the spectators?

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 a later match or dual? What weight class does a coach use after Myles Martin just finished winning a close match against one of his better rivals? Should he jump a couple of weight classes and get Myles off the mat. Or should he challenge him with his 197 pounder while he’s somewhat fatigued or are the Buckeyes even going to use Myles a second time in the dual? Maybe the coach should jump to 141 and try and take advantage of the one athlete on the other team’s bench who hasn’t been warming up? The strategic possibilities are endless and exactly what spectators would love to see, and debate the benefits, or stupidity of their coaches decisions.

Relative to spectators, can you imagine the variety of opinions they’d come up with regarding which weight should go next and what athlete should Double Up? This is so important to attracting and keeping those who want to give wrestling a try. 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 critical that we give the spectators the ability to out-think, at least in their minds, out-coaches those 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, “Smith, get in there for Jones!” Smith 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.

Regarding forfeits, there is no question that the sport needs to fix this issue. We should either fix it or have such a heavy penalty associated with it that it becomes obsolete. 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. Period, end of discussion. The individual matches would be still wrestled but the team outcome would already be decided. I realize that might be a tad much to ask of the rules committee to swallow but 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 14 seconds, maybe 15, 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 not doing something is advantageous.

I would like to remind everyone that when there’s a forfeit, the offending coach is also 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 “we don’t care if you like it” attitude.

There has to 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.

Where We Fail

I believe most of you are becoming more and more aware of how precarious the sport of wrestling is, relative to becoming main stream.

It’s not that we’re not one of the most dynamic sports on the planet or that we somehow fail at building character, discipline and exceptional young men. Those pluses are a given.

But where we fail, in spades, is our inability to get that information out to rest of the country while finding a way to make the sport exciting.

You do know, that you can try and sell a brand new 2019 Mercedes S Class for $2,000.00 and have zero takers if it’s under a large tarp and no one’s aware you have it for sale. It’s not that it’s a bad car, or wouldn’t have people beating down your doors to buy it. It’s that it’s out of sight and no one is aware it’s available.

Welcome to the exact issue wrestling faces.

We have the best sport going, it’s everything you and I know it to be. However, no one knows about it, and that’s the sports fault. Actually, it’s all of our faults because we’ve failed at getting the word out. And if we fix that challenge, we fail again because we don’t have a Mercedes for sale, it’s more of a Studebaker. Basically, it’s not a product that others are interested in buying.

We can put wrestling on television, but that doesn’t help if the only ones who are interested in watching it come from our very limited fan base. I say limited because we have maybe 800,000 fans, and that sounds like a lot. But in a country of 350,000,000, that’s two-tenths of one percent, a cringe worthy number if you ask me.

Let’s think about this for a second. Who makes up the 800,000 fans? I don’t know the exact answer, but if I were to guess, I’d say a vast majority of them either wrestled at one time, or were cajoled somehow to fall in love with wrestling because they were a fraternity brother of someone who wrestled, or a boyfriend, girlfriend, or relative of someone who did.

But for the other 349,200,00 people, 10% of whom we need to become a viable sport, they don’t care what, how or why we do it, or the amazing developmental qualities the sport provides America’s youth. If we aren’t entertaining, and we’re not, no one who could be new to the sport is going to be new.

Again, that’s OUR collective faults.

The sport is boring, period. Don’t argue. The sport is boring with a capital B to all those you can’t ask because they never came to a match to ask.

And the rules are confusing.

Just think what would happen if Jeopardy asked questions that no one at home could answer? They’d be off the air so fast it would make Alex’s head spin. You can’t develop a fan base when you consistently make those at home, or in the stands, feel stupid.

Have you ever sat next to someone who was new to the sport? You spend more time explaining what just happened or answering “what was that call for” than you spend watching the matches.

Simplify things. Like 1 point for a 1 count if someone is on their back, 2 points for a 2nd count, 3 points for a 3rd count etc. Now granted the Rules Committee did get close to that change recently but only after I put a hole in my drum from beating it so hard over the last several years.

It’s things like that which make people scratch their heads. KISS . . . Keep It Simple Stupid. And really, who cares if back points are like that? As long as everyone knows what the rules are before the first whistle, both the athletes and coaches will adjust.

As to a lack of action, in the UFC, you see someone throwing a punch every 2.5 seconds. In wrestling, someone taking a shot every 2.5 minutes. See a difference here? Now, I know those numbers are off some, but they’re closer to being non-fiction than fiction.

We need action, NOT scoring, but action. Don’t get the two words confused. They’re vastly different.

If you try to improve scoring, you’re going to fall on your face. But if you find ways to increase action, then scoring will become a byproduct.

Baseball has relatively little scoring, as does soccer and ice hockey, but there is a lot of action in all three sports and why they’re televised, as well as in every newspaper in the country; and doing well financially. People are addicted to action. NASCAR is another example of a sport where action is king. Golf has action too, yes, golf! That’s because the producers know if you follow someone throughout a full round of golf, most everybody would have their chins on their chests snoring away after 15 minutes. So instead, they have multiple cameras covering the long drives, exciting chip shots and breath-taking putts from each of say 35 different golfers – in real time.

The Penn State – Ohio State dual the other night was great; #1 vs. #2, but only if you knew the sport. The first match at 133 had 0 takedowns with just as many shots, 0 reversals, 0 back points and two “let him go” escapes in regulation. So, approximately 10 minutes of running time with little to no action.

So, if we’re to fix our ills, out of the two dozen or so changes I’ve been espousing for decades it seems, here are what I consider to be the best of the best, and not in order of priority.

  • 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 even worse for the sport than that and should be penalized as such.
  • 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) which was somewhat adopted recently. 3-point takedowns, 2-point reversals and 1-point escapes. Do you see a pattern here? Penalties are the reverse. 1-2-3-4. 1 point for the first offense and I don’t know why you have to warn someone for something he already knows he’s doing? 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. But the point (pun intended) is to KISS, 1-2-3-4 or 4-3-2-1, something even 3rd graders can understand.
  • 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 wrestling area OR the official determines a pin isn’t going to happen.

There are 7 more “must do’s” coming in the next two blogs. These are, in my opinion, keys to transitioning the sport from ho-hum status to financially stable.

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What people are saying about my newest book of fiction; Jacob’s Cradle. Just out and available at Amazon or your local Barnes and Noble book store.

 

         “At 97 years of age, I’ve had a chance to read a lot of books. And Jacob’s

         Cradle is now one of my top three favorites. I couldn’t put it down.”

                         Ray Syputa, Vice President, Chevron

                                                                

          “In Jacob’s Cradle, Mr. Schalles takes the reader through as many twists

             and turns as he did his opponents when he wrestled. I truly enjoyed

               the read and marveled at how Wade interlaced the intricacies of

            wrestling with the scrambling storylines of criminals and protagonists.”

       Lee Roy Smith, Executive Director, National Wrestling Hall of Fame

 

Keep Your Fork

My mother shared this story with me as she was in failing health. Now as I’m closing in on my golden years, her words have become even more meaningful, and her message more poignant.

I thought you might like it, and I hope I can do it justice.

There was once a young woman who had been diagnosed with a terminal illness. She was given three months to live. As she was getting her “things in order,” the young woman contacted her priest and asked him to come over to the house. She wanted to discuss certain aspects of her final wishes.

The young woman told him which songs she would like sung at the service, what scriptures she would like him to read, and what outfit she wanted to be buried in.

Everything was in order and as the Priest was preparing to leave the young woman suddenly remembered something. “There’s one more thing,” she said excitedly. “What’s that,” the Priest’s asked. “This is very important, I want to be buried with a folk in my right hand.”

The Priest looked at the young woman, not knowing how to respond.

“Does that surprise you,” she asked?

“To be honest, I am puzzled by the request.”

“Well, in all my years of attending socials and dinners, I always remember that when the dishes of the main course were being cleared, someone would inevitably lean over and say, keep your fork. That was my favorite part of the meal because I knew that something better was coming . . . like velvety chocolate cake or maybe deep-dish apple pie.

I just want people to see me there in the casket with a fork in my hand and I want them to wonder, ‘what’s with the fork?’ Then I’d like you to explain that they should keep their fork, because the best is yet to come.”

At the funeral, as people were walking by the young woman’s casket, they all noticed the fork in her hand. Over and over the Priest heard, “what’s with the fork,” and he’d smile.

During his message to those in attendance, he shared the conversation he had with the young woman, and mentioned what the fork symbolized to her.

When I think of Mom, I always think of this story, and it always makes me smile. For the best is always yet to come and to all my friends, and those of you I have yet to meet, I consider each of you my “yet to come.”

No, I’m fine, there’s nothing wrong with me that I know of but as we enter 2019, I hope this story might make the next twelve months a Happy New Year for you too.

And as for the fork, it’s on my desk, next to the keyboard.

To hair, or not to hair, that is the question.

The national media has been reporting extensively on the Buena High School wrestler who was required to cut his hair or forfeit the match. Whether the incident reveals racial bias, that might be a stretch. But it is where the country is right now.

To begin, rules are rules, if you don’t like them, change them. If you chose not to try, or can’t because you’re not in the majority, then either work harder for change or hush up. This official was just enforcing the rules as they are clearly written, not what others seem to be quoting.

Looking at this a little closer, the young man’s coach had to have known that Andrew’s hair and head covering were illegal. If anyone is questioning the issue of his hair, if it were legal, he wouldn’t be using a head cover. As to the legality of his head cover, a week earlier, Andrew’s coach was informed by another referee that what his wrestler was using was illegal. So, the responsibility here has to fall in the coach’s lap for he is the sports first line of defense relative to rule enforcement.

So, one must ask, why is the referee taking the hit?

It seems the coach was the person who kicked the can down the road so he didn’t have to deal with it himself. I say that because I’m not aware of anyone who is coaching at the scholastic level who doesn’t know the rules of the sport, from shoe laces to mustaches, saunas to diuretics.

Now I realize this is an assumption on my part, but I have to believe the coach did say something to Andrew, and maybe on more than one occasion. If he didn’t, who’s at fault here? If he did, who’s at fault here? We shouldn’t blame the cop every time he writes a ticket for speeding, especially after the road signs (rule book) gives us the speed limit and more than likely the driver’s Dad (the coach) warned his son that going over the speed limit might not end well.

Now I understand the referee wasn’t at weigh-ins. That was a mistake. He could have headed off this entire incident before it started.

But what’s a little sketchy right now is it sounds as if there was another official present for weigh-ins. If that was the case, and he didn’t say anything, then he’s the one who should be explaining himself. If there was only the head official, and he missed weigh-ins, then he should have realized he screwed up. The prudent thing to do at that point would have been to turn a blind eye mat side and let it go. Then after the meet, apologize to the coach for not enforcing the rules and remind him that won’t be the case going forward.

Now I realize I just advocated to ignore the rules, exactly the opposite of what I’m espousing. But the infraction in question is similar to going 57mph in a 55mph zone. The embarrassment it caused, and the national attention it attracted for only 2mph over the limit was clearly a penalty that far exceeded the crime.

Should we re-evaluate the tenets of the hair rule going forward, there’s no question. Especially given todays’ social norms and wrestling no longer being a male only sport.

Another question that has to be asked. What about the responsibility all the other referees have who officiated Andrew this year prior to the incident? The hair covering and hair had to have been illegal then too. So why is this referee, who was only enforcing the rules, in the cross hairs? He just did what he was paid to do and expected to do, all be it unpopular to some.

At this point, I don’t see a racial side to the story. Even as politically sensitive as this might be, this is just outside influences grasping at an opportunity to demonstrate moral outrage. Most of those who see this as a skin pigment issue don’t follow wrestling, let alone understand the rules. I get it, hair is personal and a mat-side haircut is shocking for some to watch. But it is the rules, and this wasn’t, by any means, the first time we’ve had haircuts mat side.

The only way I would think this could be considered racism is if this same official allowed some other young man, who looks like him, to wrestle with similar hair length and hair covering. In the absence of any evidence of this, we need to focus on the facts as we know them. But if we find out otherwise, that intolerance did take place, then I agree that this referee should lose his ability to officiate wrestling, or any sport in the future.

On a positive note, Andrew should be applauded for the way he handled a bad situation. Whatever the cause, apart from who was responsible, he wanted to wrestle. If his hair had to go, then it had to go. He was focused on the match, his team and wanting to compete. That rates a big high-five because Andrew overcame this unpleasantness by 1) competing with the same intensity as any champion would and 2) he even won the match in overtime. That couldn’t have been easy. But isn’t that what we know to be great about wrestling; it teaches us to overcome whatever unpleasantness life throws our way?

This too will blow over and the sport, along with Andrew, will be all the stronger. Wrestling teaches us to get up every time we’re knocked down, shrug when we’re bullied and smile if we’re embarrassed. The sport will do its part here, and we need to do ours.

As for our laundry being aired in public, this is a great opportunity, not something we should worry about or sweep under the rug. Adversity always provides opportunities for individuals, and organizations to show their true colors, and in this case, for the world to see wrestling’s greatness.

World Freestyle Championships

It was a wonderful showing for the Red, White and Blue. Besides the level of class that each of our athletes demonstrated off the mat, 7 of the 10 came home with medals. Not too shabby, but the best year we ever had was in 1987 with 8 medalists.

That was when Barry Davis won a Silver, John Smith a Gold, Andre Metzger won a Silver, Dave Schultz a Silver, his brother Mark won a Gold, Jim Scherr a Silver, his brother Bill a Bronze and at heavy, Bruce Baumgartner garnished a Bronze.

Relative to down wrestling . . . thank you Bill Zadick. I believe we’re now starting to enjoy the benefits of Folkstyle to Freestyle. Actually, it’s always been a great benefit, but in the past our international coaches have been so reluctant to encourage down wrestling when their personal skill sets were on their feet. The result has been more medals lost than I care to think about.

What I’m suggesting here is we’re finally becoming “complete” wrestlers. Something we need to be if we’re to be competitive with the Russians, Iranians and the best of the rest.

Think about what we’ve always heard in support of the international styles. “Greco is a great discipline to teach our young men because knowing how to throw, or at least counter being thrown, can only help you in Freestyle as well as in Folkstyle.” That’s what we’ve always been told, right? And Freestyle enthusiasts, in order to sell their discipline to the Folkstyle community, have always insisted that learning Freestyle makes you so much more aware of where your back is in relation to the mat.

As a result, if we’re to accept that each of those claims are true, which they are, then it only makes sense that the reverse might also hold true for folkstyle to assist athletes in the two international styles.

But in the past, it seldom if ever did. Training camps were always about positioning on your feet and keeping the Europeans off your legs. And exactly how our Olympic coaches failed Ben Askren in 2008.

Basically, those who train in Europe don’t understand, nor see, much down wrestling so when Taylor gets on top or Dake throws in the boots, their opponents not only end up crying, but they lose a lot of points in the process.

I wonder how many of Kyle’s 37 to 0 tournament run on points came by way of down wrestling? I didn’t see all his matches but I can guess it was a bunch.

Now it’s only a matter of time before the rest of the nation’s international coaches have a philosophical epiphany that folkstyle experiences, and techniques, covered in practice, compliment international success. Finally, the beginning of a revolution of thought.

Changing subjects, I don’t know what to make of this but of the 6 Olympic champions from Rio, 4 of them lost in Budapest. Relative to that anomaly, the Iranians, in both styles, didn’t have a single finalist. They took their lead this year from watching the Russian’s fall on their faces in Rio. I wonder what their coach will be doing next year? He won’t be leading the senior team, you can bet on that. Maybe working on some oil rig several hundred kilometers from the nearest town will be the best he can do.

Regarding America’s individual performances, of our 10 athletes, 5 finished higher than their world ranking, 2 tied their ranking and 3 fell short of expectations.

Here’s how they were ranked and then their finishes. Gilman 7th, finished 5rd// Colon ranked 4th, finished 3rd// Stieber 5th, DNP// Green 4th, DNP// Burroughs 2nd, finished 3rd// Dake 2nd, finished 1st// Taylor 1st, finished 1st// Cox was not ranked, finished 1st// Snyder was ranked 2nd, finished 2nd// Gwiazdowski 5th, finished 3rd.

Overall, the freestylers had a great showing. In most years, their performances would have been good enough to win the team title. But instead, the Russians didn’t have a great showing, they had an amazing showing. And the rivalry between the two can only mean the spectators win.

I can imagine there were a lot of exciting moments over the 9-day event. Several young guns making their presence known while some of the older guard reminding those with less experience that it isn’t quite their time yet.

Overall, things look good for wrestling to become an Olympic core sport again in 2020. Given all of our collective screw-ups and the arrogance of FILA’s officers leading up to 2013, there’s been an amazing turn around. We’ve actually become the IOC’s sporting phoenix. I guess it sometimes takes a roundhouse to the jaw before those who call the shots wake up.

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Can anyone say collegiate freestyle for the men at the NCAA level? No, not an addition, but replacing folkstyle. Yea, that’s scary. I use to believe that there wasn’t a chance in Haiti that our scholastic and collegiate programs would eliminate folkstyle. But I’m not so sure anymore.

The NCAA Rules Committee made a monumental mistake several years ago when they didn’t care enough about the women’s program to insist that colleges, whenever they were about to start a wrestling program, did so in folkstyle.

USAWrestling wasn’t complaining though, they were the first ones to say, “we’ll take you,” if the Rules Committee and the NCAA’s male leadership isn’t interested. Actually, it was extremely intelligent on Colorado Springs part. Some might even suggest that the good old collegiate boys mind set here had some “ism” or “ogyny” issues. But regardless, the sports collegiate folkstyle dyke is leaking and the crack is widening each year.

If you were to ask how all this happened, the common response would be, “well, we chose freestyle for the ladies because that’s what they have to wrestle in the World Championships, the Pan American Games, and the Olympics. So it only made sense to select freestyle.

But isn’t that also true for the men?

What might very well happen over time is our domestic international community will begin to espouse the same reasoning regarding the men’s collegiate program. “Hey look, the precedent was set with the women and it’s working rather well.” Historically, over the last 10 years, the ladies have been doing better than the men internationally because of their collegiate freestyle training. So, why don’t we do the same for the men?

I’m not sure that’ll ever happen to folkstyle, but if it does, you’ll know how and why, and then who was at fault.

And the fact that I’m even writing about this, means there’s now a chance.

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The NCAA Rules Committee latest gaffe . . . no more hands to the face. Can you believe they actually spent time debating this and thought it was enough of an egregious action to add another paragraph to our already over-bloated rule book? OMG, there are at least a dozen things they could do to help the sport, instead, they select to side with a millennial anti-bullying mindset.

Someone should have reminded them that they already have rules covering this action, or inaction; it’s called stalling if that’s why a person is doing it or unnecessary roughness. Let’s add more rules, great.

By the way, can you think of any rule that has been enacted during your lifetime that was incentivizing vs. penalizing? If they really wanted to help wrestling, they should be incentivizing action, not penalizing it. Come up with ways to encourage skirmishes rather than safeguarding positions.

I’m sorry, the 4-point near fall was incentivizing and I gave the RC kudos when they made that change given it was in one of my blogs for a year before they enacted it. But other than that, the rule book continually gets thicker as the action becomes thinner.

Just curious, but how should these three situations be called? Wrestler A sits out, reaches over his shoulder and pushes off his opponent’s forehead while kicking away for the escape? Allowed, not allowed? What if wrestler B is caught in a single leg, but has a whizzer on and is sprawling away. Can he use his free hand to push off his opponents forehead or the side of his head in an attempt to free his leg? Legal, illegal? What if the wrestler whose face is being pushed, turns to look toward his opponent and makes the legal action illegal? Who’s going to get dinged? How about countering a bear hug from standing? Can the defensive man use one of his free hands to push off of his opponents forehead to stop from being thrown to his back. Or is this new rule only in effect when both athletes are neutral and have yet to tie-up?

There’s more “what ifs” to this rule than absolutes. It’s all up to the referee, once again, and of course how vocal the offended coach can be?

I think everyone gets what the committee was trying to do, protect an athletes eyes from being poked or scratched; which is laudatory. But why not just say that and penalize accordingly. Isn’t that a rule already?

If this is what we have to look forward to in the future, I don’t know. Tight waists might be next. They slow the action, fall into one of the categories of bullying while hindering the digestive system of the bottom wrestler.

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Amateur Wrestling . . . is such a demeaning term for the professional level the sport continues to aspire to financially and athletically. Can anyone say, with a straight face, that Cox or Snyder, Burroughs or Gwiazdowski aren’t skilled, experts or specialists in the sport of wrestling? Those words are exactly the terms that Webster uses to define professional.

So why are we still calling what we do amateur? Wrestling has never been amateurish.

But it did make sense in the early 1900’s to initially adopt the term because it was the correct expression at the correct time. We embraced the word so our athletes wouldn’t be classified as professionals. Most might not remember, but during that period of time, once any athlete was classified a professional, for almost any reason, his career was over.  Period, end of conversation, ineligible for the rest of the athlete’s life.

So, the term amateur made sense, we had to hide behind its definition in order to protect our athletes. But for the last 40 years, when there was no difference between amateur and professional, at least relative to eligibility, why are we still having a love affair with the term?

Could it have anything to do with our leadership not taking the time to think about what it says about our sport? Is there anyone on any of our committees that understand marketing, promotions, or their importance?

Now I realize the term Professional Wrestling was hijacked almost a century ago by the grunt and groan boys of television fame. And unfortunately, if we were to call ourselves Professional Wrestling today, those who don’t know much about us, might think we’re a minor league feeder system for the WWE.

But how many sports do you know, that have any meaningful level of spectator interest, or importance, or revenue base, that uses the word amateur to describe what they do?

To the point, a Thesaurus describes the term “amateur” as being unprofessional, sloppy, incompetent and unskilled. Is that really the way we want to be thought of by those who don’t understand man’s oldest sport?

Do you think a doctor, lawyer, mechanic or anyone in business would describe themselves as being unprofessional, sloppy, incompetent and unskilled? So why are we still treading water and hanging onto a life-preserver that won’t float and weighs 100 pounds?  

It’s time to drop the term amateur. It’s not helping.

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A friend emailed me this phrase the other day. It relates to our sport and what one receives for having gone through the discomfort of practice and competition. I liked it enough to want to share it.

Wrestling; work now and win forever.

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This past week the No. 5-ranked team in the country, the University of Michigan hosted the No. 6-ranked team, Lehigh University. The outcome of the match isn’t important for this conversation, but the attendance numbers are; slightly over three thousand.

Had this been football, or basketball, it would have been televised nationally and labeled the Game of the Week.  The stadiums would have been full and each sport would have had a waiting list for tickets 10 times greater than the number of fans the Wolverines had in attendance.

That was all they could interest in the match, a little over three thousand fans. Heck, most college campuses could draw that many co-eds to watch a hot dog eating contest.

But as we’re continually being told, the sport is in great shape. No need to do anything different, the numbers are fine.

If they truly believe that, if they’re satisfied with our spectator numbers, then I’m glad the Rules Committee isn’t managing my financial portfolio.

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My next blog will revisit “Wade’s Top 5” changes the sport has to make, in priority order, out of the dozen plus I’ve been espousing for some time. Each will come with rationales as to why they’re needed.

If I may ask you a favor? In the comment section below, I’d love to hear what you believe the number one change we should make to the sport is, and why.

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As always, thank you for taking the time to visit the way I view things.

Rest in Peace

Last week the sport lost one of the finest men to ever walk on a wrestling mat. Mike Milkovich. There was so much more to Mike than just raising a wonderful family or winning championships. He made the rest of the country sit up and take notice relative to promoting the sport. A consummate gentleman, he shared himself with whomever asked for advice. He was simply, the first king of wrestling in America.

I would have loved to have been part of the Maple Heights program when I wrestled and I told Mike so on many occasions. That made him smile because he knew that was the ultimate compliment.

And the fact that he lived to be 96 means he was still overcoming the odds at the end.

Was Wondering

Last season I coached a high school team here in Florida. We ended up with 237 pins on the year. Thought the season went reasonably well. Does anyone know of a program or programs who had more pins? Trying to determine where we ended up. Appreciate the help.

October Gold

I can’t wait for this year’s World Championships. At long last, in part due to the Soviet Union being caught with their better athletes through chemistry program in full swing, the red, white and blue is now king.

Yep, we’re number one, assuming Coach Zadick has the group peaking at the right time.

Actually, this is probably the best team America has ever put on a mat, at any time, in any decade and due to several factors.

  • Being fortunate enough to have probably the most “to-be” Hall of Famers on the mat at any one time in history.
  • USAWrestling doing an amazing job of helping create a mentality that any athlete, at almost any age, can compete against older competitors, regardless of there country of origin. It wasn’t that long ago when you think about the age of wrestling when the largest events athletes could attend at the scholastic level were intrastate affairs. Now wrestlers travel and compete everywhere and anywhere there’s a road, waterway or airport.
  • And probably the most dominant reasons for our success is the retirement age for wrestlers has slowly inched upward over the years from the low 20’s prior to 1970 to over 30 years of age now. This has happened for three reasons. 1) The financial well being of the sport has had a meteoric rise over the last 50 years. 2) The lines between the terms amateur and professional have merged and 3) The expression “Wrestling Bum” disappeared about the same time as the Chevrolet Corvair.

Regarding finances, how many of you remember, or knew, that prior to 1970 most if not every athlete who made an American team was so poor that they had to eat Ramen soup or Mac and Cheese for almost every meal, hitch-hike to competitions and sleep on the mats if they wanted to compete? A lot of this had to do with an athlete’s “amateur status,” because the receipt of any money, from any source, was suspect enough to potentially classify you as a professional and as a result, disqualify you for life from competing. Many of our great wrestlers were so afraid of accepting support, for any reason, that it forced them into retirement way before they reached their peak.

Bill Smith as an example, wanted to defend his 1952 Olympic Gold Medal, but wasn’t allowed to because he was declared “professional” due to receiving a salary as a physical education teacher.

Our national governing body at the time, the AAU had their own issues with finances. So much so that they were forced to charge athletes for the very singlets and warm-ups they were expected to wear overseas.

Back then, there was no such thing as shoe deals, stipends from the national governing body or Regional Training Centers where money flowed to those who represented them. Heck, I remember having to hitchhike in a blizzard to the NCAA’s during my freshman year due to finances.

Today however, our best athletes make upwards of 10K a day working clinics. And if our top 30 wrestlers aren’t earning 50k a year from the sport, well, they aren’t in the Top 30. Actually, I believe I’m right in saying that every member of our starting line-up makes over 75K a year without having to take a job outside of the sport. And it’s my understanding that our top five wrestlers receive well over 100K a year and a few of them are over 200K.

As to the “wrestling bum” stigma. This was a derogatory term that every wrestler received who was still competing by their mid-twenties. It was almost as bad as having a red A tattooed on your forehead if you were determined to be an adulterer. No one wanted to be called a “wrestling bum.” It kept so many great athletes from chasing their dreams, even if they had the money to do so, and America from being the team they are today.

But that was then, this is now. Thank you USAW and go kick-butt guys.

Jacob’s Cradle

Exciting news, my newest book is at the publisher. It’s a 300-page story of fiction with the tagline being, “There’s more to winning than Gold.”

A few people didn’t think I could write a book, my 8th grade English teacher didn’t think I couldn’t read a book. Opinions debunked.

Here’s the summary:

World-class wrestler Jacob Charles has more on his mind than the Olympics. 

As a member of the CIA’s Athletes Courier Corp, a black project that takes advantage of elite athletes’ unique ability to cross borders into hostile territory without scrutiny, Jacob at times moves among people even more dangerous than his wrestling opponents – and he has a personal score to settle with one of the deadliest men in the world. 

But at the center of his universe is his wife, Charlotte, an independent and freewheeling boat captain who plies her trade along the pirate infested-waters of the African coast, and whose life is about to become even more treacherous than Jacob’s. 

From the Olympic Training Centers of the United States to the steamy back alleys of Castro’s Cuba, from the exotic islands of the Indian Ocean to the grand stage of the Olympic Games, author and legendary former wrestler Wade Schalles takes readers on an adventure like no other love story ever has with the explosive and touching Jacob’s Cradle.

I hope you look for it when it hits the book shelves in November.

­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­A Little Humor

I was thinking, most all of the rules we have in wrestling pertain to athletes and how they perform, or select not to perform. Shouldn’t we have some for the coaches?

Yes, there are warnings that can be directed toward the bench and the occasional misconduct calls but typically, coaches spend most of their time saying what they want, when they want.

When I officiated, I remember hearing things coming from the coaches that were absolute head turners.

So, just for fun here, how about we consider the adoption of a “stupid decision” rule? If the coaches can express their displeasure at what, in their judgement, are bad calls on the part of the referee, why can’t there be a rule like this for them as well?

The “stupid decision” rule would work like this . . . anytime coaches say something stupid, the match is stopped and they’re admonished. An example might be; if a coach tells his athlete to shoot a double leg and gets pancaked to his back in the attempt, that would be a violation of the “stupid decision” rule. Similarly, telling a collegiate athlete to cut his opponent lose with 58 seconds on the riding time clock would be a “stupid decision” if 15 seconds later the match ended without any further scoring. Another “stupid decision” would be a coach telling his athlete to take down against Lee of Iowa or Rutherford from Penn State. And that actually happened and were more than “stupid decisions”, they were “really stupid decisions.”

The hand signal I envision for this would be to point a finger at the coach while the referee covers his mouth with the palm of his other hand.

This sounds fair to me. If coaches can hold referees to a 100% standard of excellence, why not the reverse?

I guess because the pyrotechnics of such a rule would be greater than the fireworks over the Magic Kingdom on New Year’s Eve.

But wouldn’t it be fun to watch?

Eastern Michigan Settled

Last weekend, the court case that was brought against Eastern Michigan University regarding their decision to drop wrestling was decided.

Without going into the details, suffice it to say that their wrestling program just had the last shovel of dirt thrown on its grave. And that’s in spite of all the indignation and chest thumping we heard from our leadership.

Okay folks, that’s yet another program gone the way of the Dodo bird. And like Boise State, we’re talking about major D-I programs. Not the less than recognizable D-III and NAIA programs that are being added and touted as something special.

Someday we’ll get it. The sport is in the ICU ward while the coaches are still teaching stand-ups and our leadership, those who are actually attempting to do something about this downward trend, could fit into a Prius.

When a company loses 20% of their customer base, they usually file for Chapter 11 protection. If they lose 40%, they go straight to Chapter 7 and don’t receive $200.00 for passing go. That’s a reference to Monopoly for you younger folks.

But wrestling, the sport we love, has lost well over 50% of its collegiate programming since the 70’s and hasn’t added a “major” D-I program since Clemson in 1975. To define “major”, I’m talking about schools that when you hear their names everyone sits up and takes notice. Texas, LSU, Florida, USC, Oregon, Kentucky, Colorado, Syracuse, Yale, Kansas, Tennessee, Notre Dame; when any of them begin adding wrestling programs we’ll know we’re back.

Scholastic wrestling is not much different than their collegiate counterparts. In PA as an example, they have more teams forfeiting weight classes than are fielding full teams.

Were you aware, today, men’s gymnastics only has 16 collegiate teams competing and they were almost as large in numbers as wrestling was in the 70’s. And of those 16 teams, that’s the total number of programs period, in all three divisions, including the NAIA, and that’s sad.

To my point, if I’m standing next to a friend and a hungry bear eats him. It’s not too hard to figure out who’s next on the menu. Shouldn’t we take lessons from some of our less fortunate non-revenue sports and start carrying a large gun.

Now I don’t see us falling as far as gymnastics, but why even discuss the possibility. We should be planning, preparing and executing a strategy to become financially self-sustaining by 2025 with a secondary goal of having every major university in the country housing a wrestling program.

This is not hard to do unless you feel accepting change is hard? It’s all about the number of paying fans we have in the stands and to get them we have to change the way we’re doing business. Nothing else matters at this point but paying fans. Money makes the world go around. It also fixes most, if not all other ailments, while quadrupling the salaries of everyone in the sport who’s being paid to play some role.

Yet, they still don’t want to change? Maybe we should talk to their wives.

The change I’m talking about is making the sport enjoyable for the fans to the point where our paid spectator numbers double every year.

That means making the sport exciting, which it is now for the educated fan but NOT the casual fan. Don’t even think about arguing with me here. We’re just not anywhere close to where we need to be in terms of excitement. We need to have television networks fighting for the rights to broadcast meets; and we don’t. We need to generate so much cash that every college and university in the country can’t wait to start a program.

But the way it is now, there are probably 50 schools in America that would drop wrestling tomorrow if they weren’t worried about the political fallout. But that may not be the case forever, and that day may come sooner rather than later.

Where’s the sports sponsorship deals with power players like Nike and Under Armor? They can’t be bothered because there’s no real number of fans in it for us and as a result no money in it for them.

All this becomes non-issues if we had fans, in numbers that matter. Which we don’t. Because people want to be entertained, not sit in bleachers for 8 hours to catch an occasional great match. They want to cheer and be exhilarated, not to feel like they just took Ambien.

As to where we are . . . did you know, of the Power Five Conference schools, which include the Big 10, ACC, SEC, PAC 12 and Big 12; of those 63 schools, 25 have wrestling? That’s less than 40% who think wrestling is worth having.

Of the other major conferences . . . American, Mountain West, WAC, Big Sky, Conference USA, Sun Belt, Big West and the New England Conference; only 8 of those 86 schools, or 9%, have wrestling. Do you see a trend developing here?

Changing our trajectory isn’t hard to do, but it’s impossible to get those with power to decide to change.

Fox and Friends

I guess this means “I made it”. Wow, an opportunity to be on Fox and Friends, here with Abby Huntsman, and to be given 2 of the morning segments. We were taking about the significance of replacing Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy with someone equally as conservative. And then the importance of civility when it comes to disagreements with those who reside across the aisle from us.

Sitting diagonally from me, not shown in this photo, was Ira Fleckman, one of wrestling’s greatest fans, coaches and officials. He happens to also reside in Orlando, but he’s much further away when it comes to ideology. Yet we had great fun on the show demonstrating how two individuals should act toward one another while making our points, without either of us being shown the door.

Wrestling’s Attendance Numbers

Just back from a few MMA clinics in Europe and it’s good to be home. I’ve missed my readership but I’ve also been tied up with my novel. I hope everyone is doing well.

Let me begin with the health of wrestling on the collegiate level, which means, the health of all wrestling.

Nothing explains that better than income produced.

Sure, winning the World Championships is amazing but it doesn’t equate to revenue produced. Having NCAA tournaments that are sold out each season is crow worthy, but it doesn’t mean much to those who have to subsidize the sport.

What is important to the health and well-being of our sport, and I do mean everything, is paid attendance. All else is fluff, smoke and mirrors and talking points. AD’s only care about one thing; is their wrestling program a business, or is it a charity? The answer to that determines whether they elect to keep us on life support or feel they need to pull the plug.

Below are the average attendance numbers, per dual meet, for America’s Top 10 collegiate programs. What do they say to you?

  1. 1. Iowa, 8996
    2. Penn State, 7693
    3. Ohio State, 6681
    4. Rutgers, 4680
    5. Fresno State, 4566
    6. Iowa State, 3361
    7. Oklahoma State, 3152
    8. Lehigh, 2705
    9. Michigan, 2615
    10. Minnesota, 2185

I’m sure each of you have a few thoughts, so until I read them in the comment section below, here’s mine.

I believe these numbers absolutely reflect the state of the sport as seen through the eyes of those who decide our fate.

What they say to me, when I stop to listen, is wrestling has decided to put its survival in the hands of everyone else, except where it belongs. With us. And that’s our fault.

Why I feel this way . . . have any of you read or heard one coach, sports writer, business owner or member of wrestling’s leadership team verbally say, or put in writing, what their goals are for the sport? Not what their goals are for their program, magazine, company or organization, but for wrestling? Simply stated, the answer is none.

That’s why we cringe every year when we read about programs being dropped, all the while watching the UFC continue their meteoric rise.

Has anyone you know, come up with a 1, 3 or 5-year plan for increasing the sports overall revenue production, or even its image? I’m not aware of any . . . except me.

It’s not the sport’s lack of leadership, but it is in a way. Rich is definitely leading USAW, Mike has the NWCA’s back, Lee Roy is doing a great job in Stillwater but no one is overseeing the sport as a whole.

I’ve written this before, but it’s worth typing again; wrestling is like a corporation with roughly 7 department heads and no Vice Presidents, President or CEO.

So, without a common vision, or overall leadership, we’re living the outcome.

If we could get leadership together, which won’t happen in my lifetime, I would suggest that we find a way as a sport to jump on the Wounded Warrior team. Support their efforts across all our platforms. We could use the support and good will something like this would develop in the media. It’s actually a match made in heaven. Even their logo is that of one soldier carrying another in a fireman’s carry.

Next, I would find a way to tout out academic successes wherever we can find them. The sport has to kill the dumb jock, toothless mouth breather image that’s definitely not true, but has plagued us for decades.

Of course, we have to, across the board, cheer about the fact that wrestling is the most drug free sport of them all. Whether that’s completely true or not, by claiming it, we’re challenging the other sports to prove us wrong. And they can’t!

The idea is to find ways to elevate the sport, all of us singing together from the same hymnal. The AAU, USAW, NuWay, Cliff Keen, the NWCA, WIN, Wrestler’s in Business, the NCAA, etc. etc.

Folks, our spectator numbers aren’t scary, they’re horrible. When we don’t have one program, not one program in the country making money, we’re not a business. And if you think our administrators aren’t painfully aware of that, you don’t live on this planet.

Did you know that the 60th worst basketball program in the country relative to attendance, Texas A&M, had the same spectator average as Iowa, wrestling’s best?

And Kentucky, who leads the nation in basketball, averages 3 times more fans per game/dual than Iowa does. Plus, they also produce incredible amounts of revenue from television, a word you won’t find anywhere in wrestling’s dictionary.

Yea, yea, I know, we have some reasonable television ratings for our NCAA tournament, but any money that’s generated from that event goes directly to the NCAA and isn’t profit-shared with our institutions. And on those rare occasions when we do receive broadcast coverage, it’s because we paid them to be there, not the other way around. So, in essence, as far as our administrators are concerned, for wrestling, television doesn’t exist.

Continuing with parallels, DePaul, the 100th worst basketball program in America regarding attendance, has more spectators in the stands than the average of the ten best wrestling programs. Ditto for the basketball powerhouse, the University of Hawaii.

But, to get the actual picture of wrestling’s health, we need to see the spectator numbers for the other 65 D-I programs. And although I don’t have them, they have to be far below the 1000 fans per dual mark. And sadly, some programs don’t even generate enough money to pay the referees.

None of this makes wrestling a business, but it does classify us as a charity.

Okay, enough with the charity stuff, but if we’re in such dire straits, how is it we read about the addition of new programs coming online every year?

That’s a very good question, and here’s the answer.

Because Mike Moyer, the Executive Director of the NWCA, is at the pinnacle of our sports administrative leadership. The work he accomplishes, especially given the number of political landmines he has to sidestep, is mindboggling.

Now, for the however. Of all the new wrestling programs that we’re reading about that Mike had a hand in creating, they’re all small institutions who are in desperate need of revenue. And often, they’re schools no one has ever heard of unless you live within 4 miles of their campus’s. That doesn’t make any of these schools less significant, or relevant to wrestling, but in turn, we can’t say, “hey look, the sports holding its own, it’s on its way back.”

It’s all a numbers game.

When institutions add wrestling to their portfolio, the school typically sees an increase to their enrollment of 20 to 30 students. And at private schools, which most of them are, with tuition and fees ranging around 50k a pop, you do the numbers. It works out to be a substantial boost to any colleges bottom-line.

All Mike asks in return, is the school to kick back 200k or so of the 1 million plus they receive. That covers coaches’ salaries and enough coinage for operational expenses. Thus, a win-win.

Most of the wrestling programs we’ve seen added recently, have done so based on this model.

There’s no question this is good for wrestling, but it doesn’t signal a resurgence of the sport.

Only if, and when, we read about major D-I institutions adding the sport, schools whose classrooms are already full, then we will have something to cheer about.

But that isn’t going to happen because wrestling is far more a liability than an asset.

And if my memory serves me right, the last serious D-I program to add wrestling, was Clemson University in 1976. That’s over 40 years ago, yet the sport is still operating like everything is hunky-dory peachy-keen.

On the other side of the coin, the most recent institution to discontinue wrestling is the University of Regina, in western Canada. It cut both its men’s and women’s wrestling programs; so much for those who feel the answer to our challenges is to have offsetting Title IX wrestling programs.

Does anyone care to guess what Regina gave as a reason for dropping the two programs; yep, to save money. The university determined wrestling was “financially unsustainable.” To me, that sounds like another way of saying we can’t afford any more charities.

__________________________________

On a different subject, I’d like to revisit a small change to our sport that I’ve written about before. It doesn’t mean very much to the big picture but it is one of dozens of changes the sport needs to make.

Like basketball does for their NCAA tournament, they have four of every seed. Four 1st seeds, four 2nd seeds, four 3rd seeds and so on. Basically, they divide their 64-team tournament into four quarter brackets. Each quarter bracket has a number one seed, a number two seed etc.

Why don’t we do that for each of our 10 weight classes? Take the top four seeds in each weight class and give each one a 1st seed designation in their respective quarter brackets. I realize this might be semantics and have some of my readers saying, “I don’t like it.” But it does elevate every one of our seeded wrestlers.

So, why is that a bad thing?

The best wrestler in the weight class is still going to win. The second best will still take second. And we will always know who’s the 16th seeded wrestler is, we’re not fooling the wrestling community. But that young man will now be the 4th seed in the second quarter bracket. Why not uplift him?

But regarding the media, when the 1st seed hits the 2nd seed in the quarter finals of any weight class, the commentators have the ability to hype the match more than ever. It’s a Gold Medal move if Marketing 101 is our objective.

And isn’t it better for someone to be able to tell his grandchildren that, “when I wrestled, I was the 3rd seed my senior year at the NCAA’s. Doesn’t that sound better than saying, “I was the 12th seed? Why deny him the opportunity to elevate his achievements?

What’s the downside?

Unless we’re so proud that we can’t bring ourselves to admit that basketball (a revenue sport) had an idea that makes sense for wrestling (a charity sport).

__________________________________

And finally, my congratulations go out to Bo Nickal and Mason Parris who won The Schalles and The Junior Schalles awards this season. Here’s what I wrote for WIN Magazine when they asked for a comment on the two:

Bo Nickal . . . In all the years The Schalles Award has been given out, this is the first time where the recipient parallels exactly what I envisioned the award to represent. Bo Nickal is exciting, he’s unique and creative. He’s the type of wrestler that sells tickets – from spladles to elevators to a natural feel for positioning, pressure and balance, Bo has it all.

Mason Parris . . . For the Junior Schalles, the committee felt that of all the great scholastic wrestlers we had to choose from, Mason stood out above the rest. He’s everything a collegiate coach looks for in a recruit; a disciplined and focused student-athlete who’s bonus point driven.”

 

Eastern Michigan Drop Wrestling

I think we need to pay closer attention to what is happening. With the loss of EMU, a year after Boise State, which followed on the heels of, well, you get the idea. Every time we have an NCAA Championship, it seems we receive more bad news about some institution or institutions deciding to discontinue wrestling.

This is as predictable as old faithful with the issue being a combination of anemic revenue production (the coaches fault), non-existent political clout (absolutely the coaches fault), and coaches (once again) who haven’t elevated the sport in the eyes of their administration.

We really need to stop taking the easy road by blaming administrators, their institutions, Title IX, Congress, Mrs. O’Leary’s cow, or the alignment of the stars.

This is all about a sport which has 1) minimal entertainment value relative to the masses, 2) an NCAA Rules Committee who won’t tackle anything more challenging than locked hands, and 3) coaches who continually fail to elevate the sport in the eyes of their institutions.

I’ve written about the entertainment issue and the Rules Committee in several previous blogs so I’ll refrain from tackling that topic again other than to say . . . if we increase the sports “fun” quotient our fan base will grow, and the first stop on our way to stability will be revenue neutrality. If you haven’t thought about it before, there hasn’t been a school, anywhere in the country, that dropped a program, any program, that was making money. Even if the program has some bad actors in it, or not so nice social issues going on, things always have a way of being smoothed over when a positive cash flow is involved.

So, what am I left with but to zero in on the coaches. They’re the individuals who have been dictating the direction the sport’s been traveling for over a century. They are also directly responsible for the way athletic administrations view the sport of wrestling. This viewpoint may not always be fair, but the buck has to stop at their desks. And sadly, most of them don’t even realize that’s a responsibility they have, or even how to go about making changes. But they’re going to have to figure it out, and soon.

Let’s look at this as being a complex mixture of Competitiveness, Ignorance, Unawareness and Uncomfortableness.

Competitiveness, because most coaches aren’t really concerned if programs go, as long as theirs isn’t one of them. Less programs mean they’ll have an easier time recruiting and in the instance of EMU, there are quite a few coaches in the Mid-American Conference that just moved up one spot in the rankings. So, I hope this makes sense, why would any coach want to reverse this when it directly benefits him?

Now I know all of us would like to think this isn’t the case, but as well all know, competitiveness, which wrestling coaches have in capital letters, dictates how a they think and act.

And I would also be willing to bet that every athlete on the EMU team, a day after the announcement was made, was contacted by at least 3 competing institutions regarding transferring to their program. And it’s also a fair assumption that of all those coaches who made calls, not one thought enough to contact the administration at EMU to ask what they might do to help reverse their decision.

Now understand, I don’t blame the coaches for taking this route, this is what competitors do-they compete. It is not in their DNA to help other programs win. This conflict of interest and competitive urges are simply too great to trust any coach with wrestling’s health and welfare.

Ignorance, because again, too many coaches don’t have a clue what a danger sign looks like relative to their program. They never realize their program is in trouble until the announcement is made and then it’s always too late to do anything about it. Once the AD puts the decision out in the public, the concrete has already dried.

Name one school, okay, Binghamton and Princeton, that reversed their decision to drop wrestling once it was made? And in those two instances, it was the efforts of two men, one at each institution who stepped up and had the clout that was necessary to turn the decisions around. But the odds of that taking place again is so remote that Vegas doesn’t even have a line on it. So, unhappily, say goodbye to Eastern Michigan.

Basically, if coaches don’t identify the problems they have before the announcement, the decision is not only painful, but permanent as well.

Unawareness, because there are too many coaches who think they can do the jobs of 3 men which is simply absurd; maybe 2½, but not 3. And where the unawareness (or silliness) comes into play is they are all hell bent on focusing on growing wrestlers, not programs.

The most important job of a coach, besides teaching technique, is a game called politics and politicians. It’s something that way too many of them find both foreign and repulsive. Instead of broadening their reach within the athletic department, they prefer to double down and concentrate on the sports W’s and L’s. It’s certainly a feel-good way to go, until you don’t have a team to feel-good about. Being a head coach, especially at the collegiate level, is all about bolstering the sports standing within the department while your assistants fulfill the duties you’ve given them relative to the wrestling room.

Now, let me ask this question, when was the last time you read that the number of wins or loses a program had was the reason administrators gave for discontinuing it? Having an All-American, like EMU had at this year’s NCAA’s, means nothing to administrators other than it might weaken their case for dropping the program, by just a hair, and only within the wrestling community.

The real problem, as I see it, is over the last fifty years the Rules Committee (aka coaches) have deliberately increased coaches workloads by expanding the number of hours each week the teams spend traveling and competing. Long gone are the 10 date seasons and dual meets, they’ve been replaced by Quads, 8-team duals and multi-day events. The result of all this has been, assuming everyone wants to be competitive, is the slow extermination of the sport.

Wrestling would be far better off if it had half the number of competition dates and terminated all-day events.

The why for this is simple.

Spectator numbers would go up, no one wants to give up a full day of their lives to sit on hard bleachers, even the die-hards at Penn State and Iowa refuse to do that. The frequency of injuries and skin infections would decrease, which happens to be one of the many reasons why the sport receives a bad rap. Grades would go up because athletes would be trading sitting in a van for sitting in a classroom. Budgetary expenses would go down proportionally to the reduction in competition dates. And maybe the most important thing of all is coaches would now have the time to focus on the other half of their jobs . . . politics and politicians.

My point is none of this can be considered poor time management on the parts of the coaches, it’s more a case of not having any time left to manage. Coaches these days have become so busy that they literally have to put bathroom stops on their calendar.

Uncomfortableness, it hurts the sport that our coaches are uncomfortable doing anything that isn’t training based. As an example, most wrestling coaches refuse to wear white shirts and ties and are terribly ill at ease around those who do. It’s funny in a way, coaches would never think twice about taking on a grizzly bear but to speak with any administrator on a peer to peer basis, well, that thought alone scares them to death. Shirts and ties to wrestling coaches have a way of being the same as what garlic is to a vampire.

Besides something as simple as professional attire, it would be a rare case indeed if someone saw a wrestling coach playing golf with his boss, or challenging him to a game of racquetball, or heaven forbid, taking him to lunch. These things are so far removed from their thought processes that it rarely, if ever, happens.

That alone can be considered as one of the main reasons why wrestling programs are dropped. Administrators can’t relate to their wrestling coach because they don’t know their wrestling coach. It’s not an administrator’s responsibility to get to know their coaches, it’s the coaches responsibility to reach out to their administrators.

It’s well documented, when wrestling coaches don’t reach out, and tough decisions have to be made, they’re the ones who end up dusting off their resumes. It’s always easier to drop a program whose coach administrators don’t know than the one who’s part of their inner-circle and weekly poker game.

If anyone thinks all this is silly, then they’re one of the unknowing. Because the competition wrestlers face on the weekends isn’t near as important, or deadly, as the interpersonal relationships coaches face during the week in the administrative offices.

Once again, it’s the coaches, they’re the ones in charge of their programs, both in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health. So, right or wrong, like it or hate it, they are the sports CEO’s, the ones who are responsible, and accountable, when a program drops.

Look at it this way; Eastern Michigan had 9 male sports as of a week ago, now they have 7. Think of this as a tournament with 8-teams, each one having a line on the bracket. I know, EMU has 9 sports but for the sake of argument here, pretend there are 8 and the school has to cut 4 sports.

In this scenario, all wrestling coaches have to do is win the first round of the tournament. We’re not asking them to win the semis or the finals, just the quarters. But all too often wrestling can’t even do that, but why not? Why can’t our coaches demonstrate that wrestling has more to offer the school than its quarter finals opponent?

It’s just competition, and it’s widely known, when an athletic department gets into financial trouble programs disappear. You can’t blame the athletic directors for having to make tough decisions, you just have to show them that the track coach whose office is across the hall from yours is the one who needs to go. This is all competition and a numbers game.

So, the question wrestling coaches should be asking is how do I win the quarters? What criteria will my athletic administrators use to decide who gets the boot and who moves into the semis?

It’s usually pretty simple. The sport that goes is the one that means the least to the institution and the Athletic Director, it’s the program that administrators can drop and catch the least amount of political hell over. All too often that’s wrestling because our coaches don’t have booster clubs to speak of and if they do, it’s typically a good old boy network that doesn’t have the ear of the Athletic Director or any political clout worth mentioning.

In this competition, the programs that have the largest number of problem children, are the most non-political or have the weakest image outside of their sport are the ones who end up in the consolation bracket.

Remember what the President of Boise State said, which was picked up by every news outlet in the country, “wrestling is a dying sport.” Now I can’t say for certain, but I would be willing to bet that the administrators at Eastern Michigan were influenced by his opinion. And the President was right, wrestling is dying and going to continue to as long as our coaches focus on W’s and L’s, while believing that politics and politicians are a game played by the weak.

Petitions, OMG

Can you believe it, once again, wrestling is taking the same solidarity tack we have always taken; they’re asking the wrestling community to sign petitions in response to Eastern Michigan dropping their program.

Petitions are as silly as they are non-productive, and a really, really, really bad idea. To begin, petitions have never, ever, not once, not ever, reversed a decision to drop wrestling. All they do is make those who sign them feel warm and cuddly that they became involved and took a stand by taking the time to sign their names.

But what actually happens when administrators receive a 103-page petition with 127,826 signatures on it is they now have free kindling for their fire places next winter.

The downside of this involvement is far more serious. Since well-intentioned and caring individuals took part in a gesture that was meaningless, it’s very tough for the sport to go back and ask them to do more. That’s how decision makers win, it’s how they do what they want because they were the ones who created the idea of petitions in the first place. All so the masses would feel that their opinions mattered, when in actuality, they don’t.

 

Observations from the NCAA’s

I was honored to once again be part of the Semi-Final Preview Show at the WIN Memorabilia Show. During one of the segments, I mentioned that Iowa is going to have a very rough time of it getting back to the days of Gable.

One gentleman, in particular, took offense at my observation. He challenged me to defend my position regarding the Hawks.

Here’s what I told him:

Blame it on Dresser! No one disputes Kevin’s ability to coach or recruit as witnessed by what he did with a non-existent program at Virginia Tech. And given what he’s in the process of doing at Iowa State, he’s going to plow through the recruiting fields who have, for the last 30 years, been the exclusive property of the Hawks.

Granted, Iowa is a wonderfully powerful state to recruit in, but with 1/3rd the number of high school programs a person can find in Ohio, PA, NJ or NY, the law of percentages dictates that sharing the spoils with the Cyclones doesn’t bode well for either program.

And, given that, South Dakota State is doing an exceptional job northwest of the border with Iowa, and the Golden Gophers working hard to keep a majority of their state’s faithful local, it’s simply a mathematical certainty that the Hawks aren’t going to sign as many blue chippers as before.

Sure, they landed Lee this past season from Pennsylvania, but I would imagine they wouldn’t have if the Suriano story would have played out sooner than it did.

In summary, I could be wrong here, but it’s my contention that most athletes would rather wrestle within a 200-mile radius of home especially if they could stay local while being a part of a Top 10 program with quality coaching and a competitive wrestling room.

Right now, most of these programs are in the east; Michigan, Ohio State, Penn State, VA Tech, NC State, Lehigh, Cornell, with a list that is larger than what I just mentioned. So why would kids want to travel to the heartland of America to compete?

Add to that, the shining star that was Iowa isn’t quite as bright as it once was. So, for them to just maintain what they’re currently doing, Tom and Terry are going to have to work even harder. And that’s difficult when they’re already living, eating and sleeping wrestling.

What I was and am trying to point out is everything is a numbers game, and that doesn’t bode well for the mid-west now that the east coast is thriving. I wish it were different because parity is always a good thing.

As a side note, for those who remember the good old days when Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Iowa State and Iowa were constantly Top 5 programs, these four teams only had a grand total of 1 finalist at this year’s NCAA tournament and he was actually from PA. And to add insult to injury, if you combined all four of those schools into one super team, they wouldn’t have won the tournament.

Thank you, Joe McFarland. I sincerely hope that retirement agrees with you. As many coaches find, being able to walk away from a career that has demanded so much of your time is tough. But I’m sure you’ll have the time to figure it out, that’s what winners do. Thank you for your service to the sport we all love, you were one of the best – job well done.

I don’t know if I should love or hate the NCAA and ESPN? How both organizations have elevated our championships over the years can only be described as amazingly transformative. Lights, camera, action, the tournament is now a complete show, with wrestling the winner. Well done everyone.

On the hate side, people who witnessed the event in person or from the comfort of their couches, certainly walked away thinking wonderful thoughts about the sport. The arena was more than packed, and this is the first year that tickets were actually as scare as hen’s teeth.

All this is a good news/bad news scenario. The good is that scalpers were actually able to get upwards of a thousand dollars per ticket denoting genuine product demand, actually proving the sport can carry the day as a business, if given the chance. The bad news is that wrestling is not being given the chance. Wrestling’s leadership, not the NCAA or ESPN, is the problem. They’re day to day business of incompetency is still astounding.

I’m sorry, I just refuse to give those who are “calling the shots” any credit for what the NCAA and ESPN just did and where the sport isn’t right now. Man’s oldest sport, a program that makes men, winners, doers, achievers out of young adults, the only sport that activity accepts, encourages and embraces both males and females, all forms of alternative lifestyles not to mention every conceivable form of handicaps; from blindness to birth defects, from deafness to amputees. There’s nothing like our sport, it’s a complete microcosm of life.

And as witnessed by the meteoric rise of the UFC, if leadership thought differently, and decided to embrace scoring rather than encouraging and legislating inaction, we’d be right up there with the NBA, NFL and Major League Baseball.

What a job the referees did. I was blessed, at one time, to referee the NCAA’s myself so I know how tough the job is, and I’m pretty damned good at evaluating performances. And the best of the best we have today are so much more comfortable in their skins than those who preceded them. There’s a relaxed nature about these men, oozing confidence and a comfortableness not seem before. Their mechanics are clear, deliberate, and smooth. Overall, I give them an A+, I can’t say I saw any call in Cleveland where I thought, “they have to reverse that.”

The city did a wonderful job. Cleveland opened their hearts to us. The arena staff was second to none in kindness and willingness to help. Other than it being damn cold with the wind whipping off the lake, I left with a new-found appreciation for the city and its people.

Intermat . . . If you want to know almost anything about the NCAA’s or wrestling in general, go to intermatwrestle.com. There you’ll find solid observations, opinions and viewpoints from some great writers. They do a tremendous job, especially their Senior Writer, Mark Palmer.

High School Numbers . . . as an aside to all the wonderful things we saw in Cleveland, since the 1970’s, our high school numbers have dropped 32% when the population of America grew by 34%. That means scholastic wrestling is one half the size it once was when Lee Kemp and Dave Schultz wrestled.

Currently we’re at 244,000 when we should be at 477,000 if we just maintained our numbers. And God only knows how many wrestlers we’d have, and how many forfeits we wouldn’t see if we were even remotely popular.

So when you hear that wrestling is a growing sport and doing well, be sure to remind the person that numbers say otherwise.

Is USA Wrestling Predatory?

Once upon a time there were clearly defined lines regarding the various wrestling seasons. Mid-October to the middle of March was always reserved for folkstyle competition. Then from April to the end of summer the international styles took center stage.

But in the last 20 or so years things began to move from black and white to various shades of grey while USAWrestling started becoming increasingly emboldened with their programming schedule.

Instead of having clearly defined seasons, the international side has been steadily encroaching into the folkstyle season and its programming. This is obviously good for Colorado Springs but if you like folkstyle, alarm bells should be sounding.

Now I’m not trying to influence anyone’s opinions here, but I did want to make sure that everyone understands what’s taking place by mentioning that USAWrestling is not a fan of the NCAA or the National High School Federation. They might claim to be but if they’re in business, which they are, then by definition the other two organizations are the competition; each one controlling roughly 1/3rd of wrestling’s base of power and revenue production.

Now I realize that some of you might find this blog illuminating while others shrug their shoulders. Personally, I enjoy both our international programs and domestic style of wrestling but I’m not crazy about losing folkstyle without a fight.

Wade, really, you need to get a grip here.

Well maybe, but maybe not. I just happen to believe that USAWrestling is quietly, methodically and deliberately expanding their corporate reach into folkstyle; and it’s wrong.

My supporting evidence; it wasn’t too long ago that Colorado Springs decided for our colleges and universities that the newly formed women’s movement should compete in freestyle. And now they are.

So, why was freestyle chosen instead of folkstyle? Because the National High School Association and the NCAA shrugged their shoulders regarding the women. They were wrong then, and I’m afraid to say it, but it appears they were also intolerant of the movement which is why Title IX got started in the first place.

But either way USAWrestling saw an opportunity and jumped on it with both feet and may I say more power to them while adding; shame on the countries folkstyle leaders.

But still, for those who love folkstyle, be forewarned, Colorado Springs is quietly displacing our domestic style of wrestling. And if that’s okay with everyone, then so be it. But for those who enjoy the entertainment value of the state high school championships and the NCAA’s, you’d better notice there’s a paradigm shift taking place.

And I also happen to believe if USAWrestling could, and not catch hell over it, they’d eliminate folkstyle tomorrow.

You might think that statement is ridiculous.

But it isn’t if you look at it from a business perspective. USAWrestling has bills to pay and programs to run. The faster they grow; the more revenue they generate, the greater their power base becomes.

And I happen to agree with their vision, there’s nothing wrong with Rich and company growing their presence and trying to control the marketplace in the same way that companies like Google and Amazon are busy trying to control their slice of the American pie. It’s just business as usual with competing forces at play.

And here’s the point I’m trying to make; you need to be aware this is taking place. So when that day comes you can’t say, “I never saw it coming.”

Now, if you’d ask USAW about their future goals they would vehemently deny any interest in such a silly notion. But again, if they’re a business, and they are, isn’t the NCAA and the National High School Association an impediment to their growth?

Maybe I should start at the beginning and dip into this objectively. If both the NHSA and the NCAA discontinued their interest in wrestling, would the sport disappear?

No, not even close. It would just morph into the type of programming that every country in the world has except America; city and town based international wrestling clubs, each with their athletes and coaches holding USAWrestling membership cards. The sport wouldn’t disappear, it would just transform itself from having three major governing bodies to just one which happens to be headquartered in Colorado Springs.

That would effectively move USAW’s athlete membership numbers from roughly 160k to 700k while quadrupling the number of coaches who carry their cards. That would effectively raise Colorado Springs annual budget from 16 million to over 50 million while tripling the salaries, and power base of their executives, coaching staffs and state leadership teams. So, anyone, why wouldn’t they want this to happen?

And just to ask a question, “if USAWrestling was so supportive of our folkstyle programs, how come they haven’t contributed one dime to the sports battle with Title IX, something that is completely a folkstyle issue. I believe you can figure that out on your own.

Again, I’m not writing this to say “how dare they”, I’m just pointing out there’s a danger here for those who love folkstyle.

More recently, Colorado Springs has begun taking redshirted collegians overseas during the folkstyle season for competition. This is easily justified, “they’re redshirting, why not provide them with some quality competition during the year?”

And that makes sense but buyer beware, this is just another crack in the dyke, an intrusion into the business of folkstyle.

Come on Wade, that’s silly.

Not really. Once a group or organization gets a footprint inside the opposition’s camp, the story of the Trojan Horse comes to mind.

If any of you still think I’m off base here or over blowing something that doesn’t exist, how do you explain Kyle Snyder? USAWrestling is not only encouraging him, but more importantly allowing him to travel abroad in the middle of the collegiate season.

This is so wrong on the face of it. USAWrestling isn’t paying for his education, Ohio State is and the Buckeyes expect him to be present for competition. Or at least they should expect that.

But this is Kyle’s decision you say. Well, maybe it is, maybe it shouldn’t be. I know what those who are supporters of our international effort are saying, but they’re wrong. USAWrestling should know better, they should have and then honor a “hands-off” policy regarding collegiate athletes during the collegiate season. But the fact that they don’t should speak volumes about they’re intentions.

As an aside here . . . I wonder if Kyle would have majored Nevills to defeat Penn State had he not just returned from Russia or not lost to Coon the following weekend? He looked more than tired, and he wrestled that way.

Now for my Penn State and Michigan friends, I’m not trying discount that both Nevills and Coon aren’t two of the best big men in America. Nor am I trying to downgrade their performances, but rather point out something that anyone who has ever watched Kyle wrestle already knows . . . when he’s fresh, he’s the best in the world.

Maybe we should ask USAW what they would think if the NCAA voted to expand the collegiate season into the Spring and early summer months?

It’s no secret that USAWrestling would like to control wrestling and have folkstyle disappear all-together. And they’re not wrong, they’re in business. What CEO doesn’t want to expand their reach by overwhelming the competition?

It’s just that folkstyle had better get their heads out of the sand and realize they’re in a fight.

Russia’s At It Again

It’s actually laughable. The Winter Olympics are now over and of all the competitors who were in South Korea, from every continent on the planet, only two of them tested positive for performance enhancing drugs. Want to take a guess what country they were from? Good old Team OAR (Olympic Athletes of Russia).

Wow, they really learned their lesson from Sochi and Rio. I can only imagine how livid the leadership of the IOC must be at having to once again wipe egg off of their faces. They bent over backwards to give the Russians a 37th chance at getting their house in order, or was it their 72nd; I’ve lost count.

When is the IOC going to learn what the rest of the world knows, the Russians are not to be trusted; whether in sports, on the floor of the United Nations or with America’s uranium.

They unlevel any playing field they participate on and when caught bending the rules they just smile and give you a stoic what’s your point look.   

The fact of the matter is they can’t win without cheating as witnessed by the number of medals their “clean” athletes didn‘t bring home.

I guess their promise of being “squeaky clean” in South Korea doesn’t mean what it used to and for a penalty, the IOC did the unthinkable.  They didn’t allow them to carry their countries flag in the closing ceremonies.

That ought to teach them a lesson.

The Penn State, Ohio State Dual

A truly outstanding meet with the sport being the ultimate winner. Well, sort of, kind of, well, not really.

The very first thing I noticed when I turned to the Big Ten Network 15 minutes before airtime was a Penn State-Iowa basketball game that was taking place in the Bryce Jordan Center.

I said, “what, I thought tonight’s match was at home?” Then the announcer’s indicated I was right, but the match was scheduled for Rec Hall instead.

Immediately I was shaking my head and then uttering, “you’ve got to be kidding?”

The biggest dual meet of the year and maybe of the decade, with 8, count them, 8 national champions wrestling in the 10 weight classes, and a total of 18 of the 20 wrestlers ranked nationally . . . and the meet is being relegated to Rec Hall?

Don’t get me wrong, Rec Hall is a great building with a storied past, but it’s woefully inadequate for a Super Bowl like dual.

For those who are unaware, Bryce Jordan seats 16K and can accommodate upwards of 2k more with mat side seating and a lenient Fire Marshall. Rec Hall can’t handle 7K even if they allow rafter seating.

I get it, it’s wrestling versus basketball but half the seats in the BJC were without butts for that PSU-Iowa basketball game. And conversely, tickets for the dual meet were as scarce as wrestlers in Boise State’s wrestling room.

The administration at Penn State could have filled Bryce Jordan twice over for the Ohio State dual . . . and most likely doubled gate receipts. (To my point, yesterday the Iowa-Penn State dual was held in Bryce Jordan and it was a sell out, well over 16k fans were present. And the Hawkeyes don’t even have 1 NCAA Champion in their lineup although they are always a strong draw.)

So, who at Penn State didn’t think about the impact this decision would have on the sport as a whole and its bottom line?

Do you realize that wrestling has never been in the black anywhere in America? The sport at every institution loses money every year with PSU being the closest of all the universities to breaking even with a deficit of over 100K. Those numbers are the latest statistics I could find which I believe are two years old but the point is, the sport isn’t doing well. Actually, it’s on food stamps and welfare.

Tell me, what’s wrong with hosting the match in Bryce Jordan earlier in the day, or the next afternoon? Both time frames would have worked, both teams were free of any obligation then and neither were scheduled to go again until the following weekend.

Now I did read that the Lions preferred Rec Hall because it shut out Buckeye fans from acquiring tickets. I can understand that thinking even if it is nearsighted, but in the larger picture it’s a terrible business decision. And why the sport struggles so.

Yes, I realize there’s an added cost in going to the BJC given that PSU doesn’t own the building so charge an extra $5.00 per ticket and the negative goes away.

The point here is the sport desperately needs a program, any program, to show a profit. We need to demonstrate to athletic administrators across the country that we can be self-sufficient if given the opportunity.

Note to coaches, administrators don’t care about your All-Americans and winning record, they are only interested in the color of the ink your program is producing.

This is exactly why the President of Boise State said last Spring, “wrestling is a dying sport!” And if it’s not dying, the best that can be said is the sport’s in neutral when so many other ones are growing in participation numbers, media interest and revenue production. None of that bodes well for wrestling when you realize what our sport could be.

Today we have less than 50% of the collegiate programs we had in the 1970’s and half as many fans. I know that doesn’t look good for us but what makes it far worse is the growth of so many other sports that once were far below wrestling’s numbers. Put simply, we’re becoming less as others become more.

But congratulations just the same to Cael and all the Nittany Lion wrestlers and support personal for the huge win; it was an evening well served.

USAWrestling Had A Great Year

The organization won 32 World Medals this year and 14 of them were Gold! Plus, they brought home the 2017 Senior World Team Title!

Kudo’s to all, exceptional job! Congrats also to Bill Zadick for being named National Olympic Coach of the Year. Well deserved.

Whereas Russia Had A Miserable Year

For the first time since 1951, the Russians failed to have a senior level World Champion at any weight, in any style! I wonder if that had anything to do with the IOC jumping their bones regarding decades of epidemic level doping? It serves them right; but it’s also saddens me to think of all the other great wrestlers the world has produced who had to settle for less than Gold as a result of their indefensible, widespread and government sponsored cheating? A question to chew over: given their medically bionic power, were they ever great wrestlers or just very good wrestlers with great power? That cloud of doubt seems to have merit when you evaluate their recent drop in performance.

And Then Shame On The IOC

How could the International Olympic Committee allow any of the athletes from Russia to compete in the Winter Olympics? I thought we had rules with serious consequences for violators regarding the use of anabolic steroids? And worst of all, the violator this time was the country itself!

I could see from an outsider’s perspective, specifically those not in competition, how this is a feel-good story . . . we’re allowing those who chose not to violate the most sacred of rules to have a path to citizenship . . . I mean competition?

However, it seems the penalty that the IOC imposed on the Russian Federation was purposely written in disappearing ink. A wink-wink, nod-nod sort of agreement between leaderships. “We’ll start by acting indignant, then levy heavy penalties and then when you begin to offer us the right amount of inducements we’ll create work arounds proportional to the incentives.” Does anyone doubt that’s a possibility?

As for the use of performance enhancing drugs, there is no doubt in my mind that they were dirty even when I wrestled against them 40 years ago. I’d swear that everyone one of them was capable of doing push-ups under large cars and small trucks.

But in Rio they were finally, actually, completely and unquestionably caught cheating. Now two years later, and the very first Olympiad since then, the Russians are back.

So much for rules, regulations or their transgressions. They weren’t even forced to say 5 Hail Mary’s or 1 “I’m sorry.”

I get it, athletes shouldn’t be penalized for something their country did, especially if the ones competing are clean. But that’s crap; the only way rules are effective is when they bite everyone who’s in the organization. When a CEO makes a bad decision, everyone in the company pays. When a commander in the field screws up, soldiers die. When a quarterback throws a pick-6, his entire team suffers.

But here, it seems the Russians were playing roulette with the odds in their favor. They knew they were too big to be allowed to fail, because the IOC needs them more than they need to enforce their rules.

So, did anyone get hurt here? Well, actually yes. As soon as the scandal broke two of the three men who masterminded their doping program died under curious circumstances. The other one didn’t wait around to find out what happened, he fled the country.

Now the athletes are not only back but representing oh, wait for it, Team OAR (Olympic Athletes from Russia). Wow, how cunning of the IOC, no one will ever know who these athletes are representing or be able to compare metal counts. Oh look, here’s today’s medal count for the Top 9 countries.

Medals Race
Total Today

NOR

Norway

3 5 3 11 +2

NED

Netherlands

4 4 2 10 +3

CAN

Canada

3 4 3 10 +3

GER

Germany

5 2 2 9 +2

USA

United States

3 1 2 6 +2

FRA

France

2 1 2 5 +2

OAR

Olympic Athletes from Russia

0 1 4 5 +3

SWE

Sweden

2 1 0 3 +1

ITA

Italy

1 1 1 3 +2

So, tell me again, I missed it, what was their penalty for cheating?

We’re Still A Class Group

Not a wrestler, a coach or a fan, at any time throughout the year, took a knee during the playing of our National Anthem. We may be many things, and certainly a very diverse bunch, but wrestling is America . . . it’s amber waves of grain, hard work, discipline and even with varied political views, we’ve always been united under one flag.

Jacob’s Cradle; Almost Done

I’m glad to report that I’m close to finishing the book I’ve been writing. That frees up enough time now to restart these blogs; at least on a limited basis until its published.

Regarding the book, this was my first attempt at a 300-page novel. I hope it’ll be received as graciously as you welcomed my blog.

As to the story line, the book is about Jacob Charles, a middle-aged man in his early 30’s who’s determined to retire from wrestling as an Olympic Champion. Before he can do that though, he has to overcome more than his share of hardships; from the death of his young wife and the twin boys she was carrying to avenging the loss of his father at the hands of an international assassin. But most of all, it’s the story of love found, love lost and love regained; all wrapped around the CIA, Interpol and the underbelly of international wrestling.

Atta-Boy Rich

It’s only fair that I come out of retirement for this particular blog to congratulate USAWrestling and their staff for a wonderful championship performance. World Champions!

It was great fun getting to watch all the amazing competition and the various storylines unfold. To all who gave of themselves to make this happen . . . well done!

Moving forward, as most of you know, I’ve been on Rich’s case for decades now, pointing out how his anemic understanding of how to win has produced even more anemic results. Yes, the gentleman has increased the amount of capital contributions to USAW which no doubt helps programming but there’s more to winning than just revenue production. He’s also amazing at maintaining his power base while navigating the very difficult waters of huge egos. And he’s obviously respected by his counterparts at the other 39 National Governing Bodies. But if we look at the organizations primary goal of dominating in international competition, his understanding of what that means continually falls woefully short.

So you know where I’m coming from, if you subtract the successes and titles of Burroughs and Snyder who would win even if they grew up in Sierra Leone, we have only had two World Champions (men’s freestyle) and three World Champions (men’s Greco) since Rich became the Executive Director almost two decades ago. So we garnished 5 out of 188 Gold Medals that have been awarded during his tenure.

But we won the team title this time around, so what’s changed?

Four things come to mind.

The first is the mentality of our freestylers who represent us in world competition. In the past there’s been little confidence radiating from our athletes or for that matter much buzz from the wrestling community about our chances internationally. This has to do with a shortage of hopefulness that must first emanate from those who oversee our programs.

As a parallel, when Gable coached, he had amazing teams but not always the best athletes. What made the black and gold so feared, and dominant, was an unbeatable mentally that was Dan Gable. He had a specialness about him that drove everyone who came in contact to believe in themselves and as a result wrestle in many instances above their capabilities. The Hawks weren’t always the best, but they were the ones that won. Gabe had the same effect on his teammates who accompanied him to Munich in ’72.

Our international teams since the current leadership came to power has never seemed to believe in themselves, and the Greco program still has that problem. It’s not that they’re inferior athletes, or don’t train as hard as the competition, or are as bad as their performances seem to suggest . . . it has everything to do with a lack of internal belief, not what they say when they’re in public but what they think when they’re alone.

It’s similar to your big brother always thumping you when you were young. Then years later when you finally grew up and were quite possibly the better of the two, you still struggle to win because that’s what you grew accustomed to expecting; being second best. Or the baby elephant that had his leg tethered to a post for so long that when he finally grew up and could pull it out of the ground he didn’t; because he knew from experience that he couldn’t.

This is why we’ve struggled for so long, it has everything to with expectations; there’s no one in Colorado Springs that has been able to make believers out of our Greco guys or the freestylers for that matter; and there still isn’t.

Fortunately for America, we now have a second coming of Gable in Snyder and Burroughs just like we had in Bruce, Curt, Kendall and Tom in Atlanta. Those were wrestlers who believed in themselves beyond anything our administering leaders could muster and their belief was so polarizing that they lifted every boat in our harbor because they became the tide. Sanderson is doing the same thing at Penn State as Gable did in Iowa and the Lions are reigning supreme.

And even though Dake, Taylor and Stieber weren’t in the line-up in Paris, America now has about 10 wrestlers who know they’re going to medal and about 5 of them are certain they’re going to win Gold. It’s all about perception and expectations; something America now has in spite of Colorado Springs, not because of it.

And I’d be remiss here not to mention Helen on the women’s side. She comes from the same egg as the men I mentioned above. Hopefully her poise and self-assurance will become contagious within the women’s program but I’m afraid she can’t do it alone just as Burrough’s couldn’t before the arrival of Kyle.

I really spent a lot of time analyzing what’s happening in Colorado Springs before putting any of this to paper. And I would love to be able to write wonderful things about their efforts but they seem to be like Congress, more interested in doing less than more. Sure you catch arrows for doing less, but there is far more danger in doing more. Less probably upsets about 25% of our community but it maintains jobs; doing more moves the needle above 50% and puts the decision makers at risk.

Fortunately for us, and USAWrestling, the end of the rainbow is the addition of 2 new weight classes that on all accounts puts Taylor and Dake in the line-up. I’m sure some other wrestlers will have something to say about that but regardless, we’ll have at least one if not two more wrestlers joining the team who know they’re going to win because that’s the way they train, the way they act and the way they believe. And maybe the two of them will win it all, maybe they won’t, but if they don’t, it won’t be due to a lack of confidence.

The second has to do with what I suspect the IOC knew about but was afraid to act on; the unforgiveable, inexcusable, indefensible and reprehensible use of the performance enhancing drugs by the Soviet Union, now Russia. Although everything hit the fan just prior to Rio, I’m of the mindset that Russia’s pharmaceutical capabilities have either been one step ahead of those who were responsible to monitor such things or it is possible that the IOC knew and were deathly afraid of the explosion that would occur if they exposed the offenders.

If it’s the latter you might wonder; how could something like that happen?

Well, remember the East German gymnasts in the 70’s and the IOC’s Salt Lake City Olympic allegations of bribery scandal? And all the questions that have arisen over the decades regarding hidden accounts and influence peddling that are attached to enough of the IOC leadership to make any logical thinker shake his head. Should I mention the recent arrest of the Head of the Rio Olympics for corruption, money laundering and participating in a criminal operation that has the IOC in the middle of yet another embarrassing fall from grace? And this new Olympic setback is bound to make the one in Salt Lake look like a Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade by comparison.

So could it be fair to assume, or say, that the Soviets have been doping for decades? I think that’s more of a “daaa” than a “that can’t be”! Personally I don’t doubt it for a second because I wrestled my share of those athletes just as I competed against some of the strongest wrestlers in American history; and in every instance there was no comparison; the Soviets were bears and sub-human when it came to power.

And if I’m as correct as I think I am, it makes me sad and then furious to think how many of our greatest wrestlers never won a Gold medal, or any medal for that matter due to the competition doping?

I wonder if or maybe a better question would be how long has the IOC known about the Russian’s use of performance enhancing drugs. They couldn’t possibly have had their heads in the sand for decades. But due to the Olympic Committee’s history, what could they do given their own personal past of under the table inducements, pay-outs and voting irregularities; for it’s really hard to point a finger at someone else when in the same hand they have three other fingers pointing back there way.

Now this is pure conjecture on my part but if I were to guess, I’d say that the IOC, given their history, told the Russians before Paris (and possibly the Iranians too) if anyone of their athletes gets flagged for drug use moving forward, there’s going to be hell to pay. That might be why three Russian World Champions and three Iranian World Medalists didn’t compete in France which was certainly a head scratcher. Had they attended, it would have more than likely changed the team scores. But given their absence, without a better athlete through chemistry advantage, they were forced to outwrestle us; and they couldn’t. That’s why I believe, along with the exceptional quality and the newly developed elevated expectations of our athletes; there’s a new sheriff in town.

The third is . . . USAW spends zero dollars marketing or promoting the sport outside of their own organization. Sure they support their programs and athletes through their publications and fund raisers but do little to grow the sport outside of the sport.

To me, USAWrestling is like a fleet of fishing vessels that are catching as many fish as they can without regard to how it might hurt the sustainability of the oceans bounty. Why doesn’t USAWrestling feel they have an obligation to give back, to help the sport grow beyond its small and narrow confines?

For those who think I may be off base here, may I remind them that USA Today didn’t print one sentence, or one word about our world team title and yet in last Friday’s paper they ran a huge story about USA Soccer losing to a country of 173 people. Okay, you caught me, Trinidad and Tobago is larger than 173 people but I’m trying to make a point here; that wrestling is less important to those outside of our family than a second tier sport who lost to a country that has less people in it than the state of Delaware. Why didn’t USAW take out a full page ad or at least a half page in the paper to congratulate themselves and our athletes; no to mention alert people outside of the sport that we’re alive and well, doing great and worthy of their attention? Colorado Springs has the money, why aren’t they trying to keep our fisheries healthy instead of just pillaging the stock?

And the fourth is the development of Regional Training Centers which are a tremendous boost to our international efforts but unquestionably hurtful when it comes to collegiate programming. Again, they’re willing to take because the RTC’s provides immeasurable benefits without a cost to them but at a huge price to the health of folkstyle.

As some of you might remember, I’ve written about this before so I won’t bother you by repeating myself. But for those who didn’t read my opinions about the RTC’s, please refer to a previous blog over on the right entitled; Regional Training Center . . . A Cause For Concern.

But regardless of my opinions on these or any subject I cover, I’m always in awe of our athletes and fully supportive of their futures. Go USA.    

Hmmm

Earlier this Spring wrestling formed a Blue Ribbon task force for the purpose of examining who we are, what we’re doing and how can we improve the sport’s long-term health. Each of the four conclusions they came to and voted unanimously to approve came from my previous blogs. So it might be fair to say that I might have had a much larger impact on the wrestling community that I originally thought.

To my detractors, relax. I’m not trying to take credit for what’s happening but with well over a million of you reading my words in the last year; it has to be more than a coincidence given that all four recommendations, complete with why they’re critical to the sports health can be found over on the right.

They are . . . 1) Wrestling will become a one semester sport, with competition starting during the Christmas break and end in late April with 2) An “official” dual meet championship. Then 3) The individual tournament would be moved to later in March and away from March Madness and 4) Is the realization and total support of the notion that our sport has to return to its dual meet roots and away from all day events.

The only problem I have with any of these recommendations are 1) They’re only being recommended for Division I programming and 2) There’s not a firm date set for any of these changes to be implemented.

But I’m optimistic here because every member of the task force is well known and respected within the leadership of the NCAA. So here’s to crossed fingers.

Boise State

Wrestling’s Loss

I was saddened to read the President of Boise State’s review of his wrestling program and the stated reasons for discontinuing the sport, plus the pledge to keep the program on the sidelines as long as he’s in his role as head of the university.

The reasons he used for his decision included declining ticket sales for Bronco football, the yearning of some school supporters to start a baseball program and worst of all, his very painful pronouncement that wrestling is a dying sport.

If one steps back and takes an objective appraisal of what was just said, the President made some very good points. If revenue is down, obviously something has to go. And given that ticket sales for wrestling are almost non-existent at his school, and all the financial pledges to support the program came in after his announcement to drop the sport, it’s not hard to understand why he’s holding his ground. No administrator worth his salt will reverse a decision of this kind once it’s made.

Now here’s where the hard part comes in with regards to writing this blog. I have to say that the President was right; wrestling has done little to nothing to keep its programs safe. Now to his perception and pronouncement that wrestling is a dying sport; oh my gosh folks! That view point alone is worth its weight in gold. It’s the shot that should be heard around the world of wrestling and into each of our locker rooms. What he just said is worthy of his induction into our National Wrestling Hall of Fame.

Granted, the announcement was an unintended favor, but as usual the sport is missing the point. We continually fight the “what” while missing the “why”. Losing the Bronco program, and all the others before it, has been our own doing! President Kustra just said as much and instead of hinting at it, or blaming Title IX, he said it very loudly to make sure it sinks into our thick skulls.

If you’re missing the point here, put simply, the President of a major university just pronounced in a very public forum that “wrestling is dying” . . . and still, besides not listening, we’re helping spread the narrative. Think forfeits for a moment. Coaches purposely forfeit weight classes, because in most instances it makes tactical sense. True the team still loses 6 points but not the accompanying momentum that occurs when they’re forced to watch the carnage of a superior athlete taking apart one of their own. Of course there are always legitimate injuries that might cause a forfeit to occur but a vast majority of them are either tactical or apathetic in nature.

So here’s the question; how does this perception that teams who are unable to field full teams play into the hands of administrators who hear from one of their own that wrestling is a dying sport? I get it; we want what we want and who cares about the consequences until another program is dropped, then it’s way too late to bitch.

Instead of seeing the much larger picture, the sport is still fighting anyone and everyone they perceive had a hand in the Boise State decision. While all this is taking place not one member of any of our leadership teams has begun to develop a post mortem analysis asking such questions as: what happened, why did it happen and how can we keep it from occurring again?

But for USAWrestling its business as usual, just as it is for the NCAA Rules Committee, Brute, WIN, The Hall of Fame, the AAU, Cliff Keen, Nuway, the National High School Federation, Amateur Wrestling News, Wrestler’s in Business and so on.

From my perspective, none of these organizations or businesses realizes they have a dog in this fight, when, in fact, they do, and the dog is getting its butt kicked.

Fewer programs mean fewer fans and smaller numbers of athletes; all of which translates into a downturn in memberships, subscriptions, donations and equipment sold.

We’re all in this boat together. Wrestling needs to understand that what just happened at Boise State is a tragedy and embrace it as such, and then come together to restructure our thought processes.

But I doubt that’ll happen, because it’s as if, the sport is anesthetized to losing programs; we’re like deer in a car’s headlights, frozen in place. Maybe it has something to do with us setting the bar so low for so long that we’ve become used to it. Our way of thinking has come to a point that we don’t even realize what’s possible anymore or how bad we’ve let things become. It’s a frog in the pot of water analogy. We’re piddling along at 26mph in a vehicle that’s capable of going 112mph and yet we think the old buggy is full open.

Well, it’s not full open, and we’re not even close to what we could be; that’s the problem we have to overcome. No one is dreaming of the possibilities or has a willingness to restructure how we do business. For God sake people, when hasn’t mano-e-mano been the best form of entertainment on the planet?

Think gladiators and the coliseum in Rome and packed houses; think about the largest crowds and most important sport in the ancient Olympic Games; think professional wrestling of the early 20th century and every seat in Wrigley Field being taken to witness Frank Gotch and George Hackenschmidt slug it out; think boxing from Marciano to Ali to Tyson and how the UFC is less than 20 years old and worth billions today. People love fights and that might have something to do with the popularity of ice hockey. A good old fashioned scuffle brings out the warrior fan in all of us.

Wrestling could be king but we’re happy with it being the three of clubs.

We’ve sissified the sport to death. We’ve developed so many regulations over the term of being man’s oldest sport that winning is as much about manipulating the rules and playing to them as it is about switches and stand-ups; maybe even more. It’s about making every new fan we attract feel inept and leave the arena perplexed and unsatisfied because they didn’t understand or enjoy what they just saw.

How could we have screwed up the most basic of sports . . . two people fight; one wins, one loses. That’s it, it’s that simple and yet we can’t even get that right.

Boise is dead because of us, it’s not the President of the University’s fault. Wrestling has always refused to study why programs drop and do something about it because it’s far easier being a reactive failure than a proactive success.

And somehow wrestling is okay with that . . .

Incredible

Before I begin here, I’d like to say for the record that I’m not looking for any responsibility that will infringe on my free time in retirement and I don’t want to be seen spitting in wrestling’s punch bowl but . . . really? The NWCA is assembling a Blue Ribbon Task Force to tackle high school wrestling’s participation slide and I’m not being asked? That means, as with the 6 or 7 previous Task Forces that I’m aware of, there’s little sizzle and mostly fizzle.

At the very least I bring to the table a creative mind. I’m a thought leader with 55 years of experience and a perspective that wrestling needs, mainly because I see the entire picture. I don’t get pulled into arguing the merits of riding time or the benefits of creating a push out rule. I’m also not easily awed by the bright and shiny which is why the NCWA is only expanding and Beat the Street’s is growing.

There’s a stark difference between the two.

One is run using business principles to increase programming with the end user in mind and the other is a conglomerate of coaches who, like Congress, look at things from their perspective, certainly not how their constirutients sees things.

All too often when committees like these are formed they’re typically made up of a dozen or so likeminded individuals who are each afraid of invoking the wrath of the others by stepping away from the go-along to get-along agenda. This creates an epidemic of imaginational loss and leads to a perilous state of groupthink where false beliefs are propelled forward as a means of getting along. As a not so distant example; the explosion of the Challenger shuttle right after take-off.

And we wonder why Boise State dropped; why the NWCA Duals are dead; why the sport hasn’t had a major school add wrestling since Clemson in 1975; why forfeits at both the collegiate and scholastic levels are reaching epidemic proportions; why no major Network will even talk with us let alone broadcast the sport* and why wrestling has the poorest retention rate of any youth activity.

If we don’t begin to do the uncomfortable, if we don’t initiate change in the way we’re doing business, if we don’t begin listening to viewpoints different from the norm and find out how all the major sports vary from us; then we’re going to hear a lot more administrators say that wrestling is a dead sport.

*ESPN’s coverage of the NCAA’s doesn’t count because they’re forced to broadcast our national championships as part of a much larger contract they sign with the NCAA.

This Will Be My Last Blog

The more I write, the more I realize how little my blogs have achieved other than to entertain my friends and annoy those who have been a target of my angst.

But I have to admit I have taken great pleasure not only in the topics I’ve tackled but the writing style I’ve developed. I’m probably my own favorite writer which I guess is why anyone writes.

However, though this is my last posting, I do plan to leave the web site up for those who would like it as a resource tool.

As to my immediate plans; I intend to attack the few remaining items I have on my bucket list. The first is to co-author a book on raising children with my lovely wife Deb while continuing to struggle with a 300 page novel I started over a decade ago. Jacob’s Cradle, a story of love, heartache and the struggles an Olympic athlete has to endure while being a clandestine operative for the CIA. It has great potential but what I’ve learned so far about a project of this nature is how much respect I have for the John Irving’s of the world. Writing columns and short stories are a piece of cake. Novels are another thing all together.

In closing I’d like to say thank you to all the 1.4 million visitors who over the last year made my blog the most successful one in the sports history. And if you’d like to help resuscitate our “dying sport”, please grab a pen and write something bold on your Facebook, Twitter or Instagram accounts. I’d love to read your thoughts for a change.

 

IOC Cuts Wrestling Participation

The International Olympic Committee recently announced sweeping changes to its program for the 2020 Tokyo Games and presumably on into the future, trimming the field for wrestling by 56 competitors across the three divisions. What this means to us is one of two things.

Either there will be 5 weight classes instead of the current 6 or I imagine wrestling could decide, which I hope they would elect to do, to reduce the number of qualifiers in each of the 3 divisions by 56. That sounds like a big number but actually it means we would only have to cut 3 qualifying slots per weight class, per division, to comply with the mandate.

It’s definitely the better of the two options, assuming the IOC will go for it.

Reducing the number of qualifiers in brackets of roughly 20 competitors isn’t perfect, but it does preserve the total number of weight classes. That’s a good thing especially when the athletes who are being denied, and I hate writing this, probably shouldn’t be there in the first place if the object is to find out who the Top 8 are in each weight. Those who “just” qualify for the Games aren’t likely to have a break out moment but regardless, I really dislike anytime opportunities are lost for competitors in any sport.

So I wonder; were we forced to go to 8 weights from 10 in 2000 and then in 2004 to 7 when the ladies joined our ranks, only to lose another weight class in 2012 when there might have been an option of dropping our qualifying numbers to maintain the weight classes? Probably not, but I bet FILA (now the UWW) didn’t even try to persuade the IOC to give the sport that flexibility; given they’re certainly not known for showing much interest in anything other than what might feather their nests. Remember, this is the same organization that agreed several years ago to find a way to increase scoring so they doubled the number of points for a takedown and said, promise fulfilled. But back to the question of qualifying numbers, what’s paramount to the IOC is not the number of medals given out as much as it is the total number of athletes who are present at the Games. So why should they care how we satisfied their directive?

If it’s the cost of additional medals that concerns the IOC, which I doubt is the case, the UWW could offer to absorb any additional expenses. They couldn’t cost very much, we’ve all seen how well they were made given the ones from Rio are currently decaying and turning black in spots.

As to how all this came about, the IOC had no choice but reduce the field given they recently chose to add 3 on 3 basketball and BMX freestyle to the 2020 family of sports. Consequently, given their athlete numbers are maxed out, there had to be a corrective shift.

So why us, why wrestling?

If I were to take a guess my money would be on the UWW’s arrogance, sense of importance and inability to make the sport as fan friendly or media attractive as they promised. Of course wrestling’s very obvious and inexcusable cheating (the athletes for monetary and political gain) scandal in Rio hasn’t helped much either. And of special interest, proportionally, wrestling lost more qualifying numbers than any of the other sports. And that means exactly what you think it does, which should send shock-waves throughout our community. Not the UWW though . . . I would be willing to bet not one of their leadership team has done the numbers yet to realize that we’re back at the front of the line for termination.

So if we’re to feel offended by this latest slight by the IOC, everyone’s index finger needs to point to, you guessed it, the UWW and then USAWrestling given that the second most powerful man in the world of wrestling is an American. There’s certainly a lot of blame to go around but most of it has to take roost in Luzerne and Colorado Springs. The sport hasn’t cleaned up wrestling’s governance gang or their reign of error so they’re right back doing whatever they want and whenever they like and the IOC can go pound salt. That might have something to do with how our recent reduction in numbers came to be.

Now, if anyone is offended by my inclusion of USAWrestling above, or would like to defend the IOC by saying that cuts were going to be made regardless of anything we did or didn’t do, are you sure? Yes, the International Olympic Committee had to make some tough decisions, but there are 22 other sports that were ignored and escaped the axe. To my point, had we done what we promised to do in 2013 when wrestling was doing its reinstatement genuflecting, the IOC would have given us a pass and trained their sights elsewhere.

Without a willingness to fall in line, the fact remains, wrestling still has a bull’s eye on its chest. And with every event the UWW administers and each rule they adopt, counter to the assurances they made in 2013 to clean their act up, add excitement to the sport and keep our rules constant for a while; the rings on our chest keep getting larger and the red brighter.

New Rules, Old Themes

Recently the NCAA rules committee released their latest set of changes. Although they’re still insistent on applying Band-Aids to wounds that require stitches and transfusions, and still overlooking topics that are certainly uncomfortable to discuss, I’ll give them some credit here for effort.

Regarding this year’s agenda items, I rated each of them as being either a Gold, Silver, Bronze or DNP (did not place) attempt at improvement. Let’s see where you might agree with me?

Facial Hair; DNP

I have an issue with any rule that specifies what length of facial hair is acceptable? It’s not the length, but the simple fact that they actually invested intellectual energy debating something that shouldn’t be an agenda item? What if the ladies decided not to shave their legs for competition, is the Rules Committee going to decide what length is acceptable there as well?

Yea, that was a silly parallel but seriously, aren’t there larger issues we need to address than getting sidetracked by the actual acceptability of facial hair and then what length works best? All this could have been handled with a simple statement that everyone has to be clean shaven; discussion over. That would have been too logical; keep it simple and make it a black and white decision. Instead they chose gray and with it will come future debates and political posturing such as; “what’s wrong with five eighths of an inch long, it’s only one eighth more than the current rule? What’s the big deal?”

And you can bet this debate will continue; all to accommodate less than .05% of collegiate competitors who feel they are somehow being denied a right to go into battle without a meaningful sized mane.

I guess my position here makes me old fashioned but like clothing, appearances are important and how the Rules Committee spends their time makes me question their ability to prioritize that which is important from that which is not. All they’ve done instead is open a door that should have stayed closed.

The Rules Committee should be focusing things like the length and timing of the season, not the length of an athlete’s facial hair. And in the absence logic, the RC has earned their first DNP.

Third Party Video;   

As I wrote in one of my blogs, allowing the same referee to review contested calls is like asking someone who’s about to receive a speeding ticket if they were actually going faster than the posted limit . . . with the driver’s response determining if the officer can issue a summons.

The same official that makes a call shouldn’t be expected to validate or overturn his own decision; just as our legal system has an appeals court that doesn’t include the trial judge whose judgment is in question.

The NCAA has needed, from the inception of video reviews, to employ a fresh set of eyes, a third-party registered official to be exact, to determine the outcome of protested calls for two very good reasons.

The first is the anxiety that is always generated by the protesting team and their fans. They know from the onset, whether it’s true or not, that nothing positive is going to come out of any protest. But at least the hope is there. Is that actually the case, no, 15% of all protested calls at the NCAA’s are reversed. But looking at it another way, it means that 85 out of every 100 protests are not upheld. And of the 15 that are, most of them are ones where the referee could back out gracefully due to being out of position as was the case in the Valencia – Hall match where the former used his opponent’s headgear to set up a takedown.

But regardless of the situation, it’s still this helpless feeling that any reversal will involve the referee who made the call admitting very publically that he somehow erred. Now I realize that any individual who makes the NCAA’s is an outstanding referee and yes, it takes a big man to admit when he’s wrong but we all know how human nature tends to work.

To that end, most of us believe that officials will always support their calls; as long as the video evidence isn’t conclusive, because who wants to admit they screwed up in the eyes of the fans or in plain view of those who are evaluating them. Granted a small number of calls do get reversed, but only where the video replay is so obvious there’s not really an option.

The second reason why officials always tend to support their calls has to do with competitiveness.  Reversing any protested call might very well be the difference between being selected to referee one of the championship finals or being one of the judges. You need to look at this as they do; its competition! 20 referees start Thursday morning with their names on a bracket sheet. Two days later half of them are in the consolation rounds judging the finals.

Whether you thought about this or not, as much as our officiating corps is a group of professionals, they are also highly competitive or they wouldn’t be here. Having a mat judge, who is never blamed for the final outcome of any decision, provide input to the referee who is accountable, does little to assure a harmonious and collaborative effort.

The bottom line for me is every athlete deserves our best and why I’m giving the Rules Committee a Gold Medal here for doing the right thing. Having a neutral third party decide protested calls is best for everyone and makes the road to fairness all the smoother.

Headgear;

It’s about time that headgear go the way of the Dodo bird. I can see the need to wear them in practices, but at the collegiate level, if these athletes are old enough to vote and give their lives in defense of their country, they should be able to decide whether headgear is something they want to wear.

If you think about the exposure to injury for a minute; the typical athlete wrestles over 10 hours a week in the practice room compared to maybe 30 minutes total of actual competition. So, if you were going to develop a cauliflower ear, where might that be? Now with that answer, I have another question. If the health and safety of athletes is the prime directive of the Rules Committee, why didn’t they ever make a rule that headgear had to be worn in practices? Could it be that the reduction of injuries wasn’t the goal and it was all for show? Hmmm

Dumping headgear, which has been long in coming, does several things that the fans should cheer. First, it eliminates all those irritating readjustment timeouts that we have always been forced to endure while second, eliminating an athlete’s ability to use them to set-up a takedown.

I’m glad headgear is now an optional item and for that the RC receives a Gold Medal.

Weight Assessment Protocols;

I find the Rules Committee’s handling of weight assessment protocols intriguing. They’re not very resolute when it comes to making the sport attractive to new fans but when it comes to weight loss practices and medical examinations they’re dead serious. I’d love to see more consistency and focus when they talk about making the sport great again.

Here’s what they did.

During their annual meeting in Indianapolis, they recommended a penalty change that would require a wrestler to miss eight consecutive competitions on any first offense regarding weight management protocols or prohibited weight loss practices. Wow, they’re putting teeth into this, plus the offending athlete will also be required to recertify their weight at some point during the suspension period. Some examples of no-no’s are urine manipulation during weight assessments, use of rubber suits, saunas, diuretics, intravenous rehydration and skin check forgery or deception.

I wish they’d make penalties as stiff for coaches who don’t wear a coat and tie for competition and be as serious about the epidemic of forfeiting weight classes. An example might be, at the collegiate level, if you want to stop forfeiting; any team short an athlete can’t compete in that dual meet of tournament. Draconian you say, maybe. But is that any harsher than missing eight consecutive competitions for a weight reduction violation? I’ll never buy a coach saying he couldn’t find someone for a weight class. They’re just not looking hard enough but if the entire team had to forfeit when they’re short an athlete, those can’t find athletes would quickly become found.

But either way I like the practice the Rules Committee is demonstrating here that they do take some things seriously. Had they done more of this, I would have awarded a Gold Medal. But in the absence of that they receive one of silver.

Funk Wrestling;  

It’s about time that the rules committee addressed the use of stalemates to neutralize the excitement that funk wrestling can produce. In the past, when the Rules Committee couldn’t wrap their arms around anything that was creative or didn’t fit comfortably within their standardized approach to scoring, they’d find a way to cancel out whatever they couldn’t understand.

This time around, finally, after years and years of overused and misused stalemate calls, which made Funk unpopular, the rules committee decided to embrace this style of wrestling for what it can be, an exciting and non-traditional way of skinning the cat.

Here’s what they decided . . . when in the neutral position, the referee will verbally announce a danger signal to any wrestler who becomes stationary on his back with his shoulders at an angle of 90 degrees or less to the mat surface. The verbal announcement will be followed by an audible three-count. If the referee reaches the third count and the wrestler is still on his back within the 90-degree angle, control will be considered to have been established and a takedown will be awarded.

Is this perfect, no, but it is a far cry from where we’ve been which was . . . if you can’t explain it, stalemate it. To be honest, I don’t know of a single position that athletes can get into which would actually qualify as a stalemate; someone always has the ability to improve their position. They just choose not to because the rules committee has given them a non-physical and a non-intellectual way of escaping a bad position. All a wrestler has to do is stop wrestling, act frustrated and wait for a stalemate call. By encouraging referees to take this way out, the Rules Committee was successful in killing some of the best scrambles a fan could ever hope to see while giving this style of wrestling a bad name.

It’s really simple, all referees have to say is, “I’m not going to call a stalemate but I am going to give green (or red) the takedown if nothing has happened after I count to 3” and sit back and watch the athletes scramble.

The idea of stalemates has always been a “millennial let’s be fair to all” rule that should never have come into being. Nothing is fair in war, it’s either kill or be killed. Nothing should be fair in competition, either you score or are scored on. Stalling calls are nothing more than a “we can’t figure out what to do so let’s have a restart.” And coaches have used that since day one and regard it as a very important strategic option.

It’s all very frustrating but it doesn’t have to be. When wrestling comes to a standstill all the referee has to do is decide who has the upper hand, not control, just the better position and start awarding points. Once everyone realizes that stalemates are no longer in play, things will change forever; and for the better.

This new attitude regarding funk is definitely a move in the right direction but it doesn’t go far enough and why I’m giving it a Bronze Medal, mostly because it’s taken the RC too long to even get to this point.

But Overall; DNP

In closing, I’d like to address those who I know will defend the Rules Committee by saying it isn’t their job to market, or promote, or advance wrestling; they’re just there to manage the rules.

And they’re probably right; well . . . kind of, but not really.

Doesn’t each rule have as a baseline a certain philosophy that triggered the need for the rule in the first place? Maybe they don’t realize it but the RC is already marketing and promoting; everything they do has a direct impact on our survival or advancement as a sport. The weight assessment protocol is a good example of developing major marketing and promotion components. And the number of losses we continually have in youth retention, income production and the preservation of programs, they can all be directly linked to the RC’s actions or inaction.

If you think I’m off base here about the RC, if not them then who; if not now, when? If they were actually serious about helping the sport, they could expand their reach in a New York minute and the sport would be all the better. The NCAA has already given them the right, they’ve said, “you’re in charge, go do good for the sport.” It’s the RC that hasn’t been willing to take on that task. And God help any other group who might try because the RC will be the first to scream foul and say, “that’s our job.”

Well, if it is your job, then do it.

Wrestle Where You Belong

If we look for any additional benefits that might arise from adopting a point earned is a team point scored system that I covered in a previous blog, (on the right) it’s that schools would be compelled to wrestle where they belong.

I’ll explain.

No one knows better than I how objectionable what I’m about to say is going to be with many of you. I don’t like it either but I see where the sport is heading and it’s foolish to keep building carburetors when technology has the world running on fuel injectors.

Teams need to reconsider how they schedule opponents and especially where they wrestle at year’s end. It doesn’t help Lock Haven as an example, a D-II school, when they get blown off the mats by a Penn State, Virginia Tech or an Ohio State. Bald Eagle fans; please, we’ve been friends for decades now, no screaming. No one respects your program and coaches more than I do, from Hubert Jack to Simons to Cox to Poff and the list continues. It’s not that you’re doing anything different, it’s that the other teams you have been playing with for decades have grown up financially and now dwarf your efforts on every front.

As to those three big boy schools I just mentioned, I realize that two of the three aren’t on your schedule but I was trying to use some examples of what not to do, and give my readership a sense of perspective.

The challenge we face is although many of us don’t mind watching a blow-out, or we’ve become numb to it, it’s not in the sports best interest. But we attend these mismatches anyway with fingers crossed that the far better team might pass under a ladder or walk past a black cat on their way to the mat.

However it happens, the challenge we face is administrators aren’t as blind as wrestling coaches are when it comes to evaluating the programs they administer. They base everything by the amount of return on resources invested.

So if any D-II program touts their program as being Division I and pushes the administration to provide D-I levels of financial assistance, which compromises an already stressed athletic department budget, when the rest of the teams are being asked to subsist on D-II budgets, while the wrestling program is winless against Top 20 teams, well, departmental resentment ensues followed by the AD being forced to take a hard look at his commitment to wrestling.

As you can imagine, none of the run-on sentence above is good for the sport. Which begs the question, what’s easier for an AD; cut the budget back to the level at which a program’s preforming or eliminate the sport? If he chooses to keep it, the unhappy wrestling coach will squawk incessantly because his program has been severely wounded. However, if the AD terminates the sport, the parrot will only squawk for a month or so before finding another job. So which is easier to digest if you were in charge?

Now I realize coaches feel the need to get high end competition for their athletes but blow outs and lethargic post season outcomes aren’t good either.

So, can the two ever be balanced?

The simple and reasonable answer might not be very popular here; but it is what we’re facing. Wrestling programs need to compete where they belong. Sure, keep some of the tough duals because steel does sharpen steel but at the very least at season’s end programs should wrestle in the same division as their institution. In the example of Lock Haven, along with maybe 15 other programs I can think of, they should be part of the D-II nationals.

Whoa now folks, wait until I put my noise canceling ear buds in before you start in on me.

I use to feel as many of you do about this topic because I remember the good old days as well when David could, and did, slay Goliath; and a great many of the smaller programs walked away with more than their share of D-I hardware. And yes, they still do it often enough, all be it considerably less, to be able to point out how off-base I am here. But, and this is a huge but . . . at what expense when these coaches are wrong and I’m not?

Sure, LHU had Cary Kolat 20 years ago and no question he’s one of America’s legends and a great source of price for those who follow the Bald Eagle program. But in order to provide Cary with a vehicle to achieve at the highest levels, how many athletes have graduated from Lock Haven during that time or since then who could have and would have been a Division II National Champion or All-American; but never had the chance to be that because they were participating at the far more competitive D-I level?

I guess the eventual question has to be; what’s fair and reasonable? Then we have to compare that with what’s right? Should the potential achievement of 1 varsity athlete overshadow the potential achievements of the other 9? Is one 5th Place finisher at the D-I’s worth not having a 5th place team finish, an NCAA Runner-up, one 4th place and two 7th place athletes in D-II? This is what happens when coaches either refuse to compare resources or they do and prefer to be selfish rather than prudent.

We need to get a grip. I get it that everything we do in our sport is measured by the D-I microscope. But given that the country has a population of 325 million and out of that, maybe 1% knows anything about wrestling, it makes a strong point about how unimportant our opinions really are.

So as a result, when a person indicates he was All-American in college the respect he receives is always universal. No one asks, “In what division”, they just say, “wow”. So maybe we should consider dropping our own divisional prejudices and simply respect every All-American for achieving at the highest levels. We’re our own worst enemy in this regard.

I guess as long as everyone knows what’s going on and the ramifications of wrestling at the D-I level when the school is D-II . . . it’s still not right. How can anyone be okay with taking away a majority of the team’s chances to graduate as an All-American so the squad’s best athlete might be able to say he was a D-I All-American?

Then we have the issue of putting thousands of wrestler’s ability to wrestle in college at risk because of dropped programs for the sole purpose of coaches being able to sit in the corner during Thursday’s rounds at the D-I’s. If you didn’t notice, I was trying to be nice here and not mention that most D-II wrestlers don’t make it to Friday’s rounds.

I believe most of you know that I wrestled at Clarion under one of the greatest coaches the sport has ever had, and I’d do it again but that was then, a time when our budget was the same size as many of the Top 20 teams. But that equality no longer exists with the possible exception of Edinboro, and that’s only due to their Athletic Director being a World and Olympic Champion in wrestling. Today, the worst team in the Big 10 which was 2-16 last year and 0-9 in the conference has a budget that is 3 times greater than the size of Clarion’s and why I’m writing this segment.

Personally I still prefer to remember the days when Penn State refused to schedule the Golden Eagles, and for good reason. But that was then . . . today the landscape is totally different.

I wish I was wrong about all this and sure, there will always be examples that will fill my inbox with “see, you were wrong” emails but in the larger picture, we must think of how to protect the sport and all its athletes even when it’s not popular.

As to how A Point Earned is a Team Point Scored will help, it should be obvious given the rule’s name. You score a bout point; it becomes a team point, just like any other sports you can name. So, instead of the Bald Eagles losing to Virginia Tech this past season by 29 points, they would have lost by 53 points. This is a far more effective way of pointing out to coaches who should stay on the porch and who should be running with the big dogs.

Mea Culpa

I’ve received a few comments over the last year asking if I might consider spending more time on stories that uplift.

And believe me when I say, nothing would please me more.

But our desire to read about wrestling’s glass being half full comes at the expense of knowing that it’s also half empty. We crave the feel-good; we want to know that our passion and belief in the sport is justified.

I would like that as well.

But I also realize, as much as some might not want to believe it, to take our next step forward, we have to also identify the ones that have been tripping us up.

As a case in point, in 2020, the NCAA has decided, unwisely; that our national championships will be held at the Brick House, the University of Minnesota’s domed football stadium. It seats almost 57,000 spectators. That’s just wonderful; can anyone say binoculars? But the largest point here is even if we attract an NCAA record crowd of 20,000 fans, the facility is still only a third full. That’s what our distractors will see. “Wrestling is a dying sport, they use to have sellout crowds,” they’ll say. “The sport had way more empty seats than ones being used.” But if there’s something that’s good about the Brick House, at least there won’t be a shortage of parking spaces.

And it doesn’t matter why we had empty seats; when anyone attends a play on Broadway or a bowl game on New Year’s Day and half the seats are empty, they don’t think how lucky they were to get a seat, they wonder what everyone else knew that they didn’t?

I can just hear administrators who are under pressure to get their finances in order, “why do we have wrestling, the sport can’t even fill half the seats at the biggest event they have every year!”

I’m sorry but this is a very big deal because administrators and every other non-revenue sport have an appreciation for self-preservation greater than their compassion for others. So when the time comes and someone has to go, everyone points out the weaknesses of the other guy? A football stadium, regardless of how you format it, is a terrible idea but it does help the NCAA with their bottom line. For those who might know, all profits are theirs to keep.

And it doesn’t help us that wrestling is mostly made up of hard working optimists, but having a few realists within our ranks doesn’t hurt. When an institution comes to the conclusion that they have to drop a sport or two, of course football and basketball are never mentioned, they look to members of their non-revenue family. Then the question becomes, who goes and who stays? It’s simple, those with the lowest scores and highest levels of political impotence disappear.

So during all this, what do you think the tennis, track and swimming coaches are saying; “pick me, pick me.” Heck no, instead they’re doing their best to highlight their positives while quietly pointing out the limitations of those around them, the ones they perceive to be weakest. It’s a dog eat dog world and no one understands that more or does it better than we do . . . but only within our own ranks. We wouldn’t think of positioning ourselves above others and that’s a moral strength wrestling has but politically it’s very foolish.

Regardless if we decide to do battle or not, we have to look at wrestling for what it’s not, and be aware of how those who wish to do us harm see the sport.

And why I write the way I do. Because I love rainbows as much as the next guy, but I’m also aware that they only exist because their parents are storm clouds.

Yippee

The National High School Association that governs scholastic wrestling just approved an alternate uniform to compete with the singlet and it couldn’t have come at a better time; a two-piece form-fitting compression top paired with either compression shorts or a looser version similar to what the MMA community wears.

Was it something I said or is this coincidence? Maybe my writings have begun to reach those who decide. Whatever triggered this break from tradition doesn’t really matter; it’s most definitely a step in the right direction.

We are finally forcing our traditionalists to take a back seat to what has to be “new and improved” if we’re to ever rebound from the sports non-voluntary downsizing. If that means dragging the weak of vision kicking and screaming into the light, then so be it.

There’s no doubt that this uniform variation is going to take a few years to catch on but the sooner the better, especially at the elementary levels. I’m not so worried about our older athletes who have the physique to make a singlet look good. It’s all about the little Johnnies and Janies that concern me; especially the ones who decided not to give the sport a try in the first place.

How many Burroughs’ and Stieber’s have we lost; how many champions of life like Mike Novogratz, Abe Lincoln and Norm Schwarzkopf decided against the sport because of how they felt they would look in a singlet?

Or maybe not knowing is a blessing?

Heck, I bet Kyle Snyder didn’t look like the Kyle Snyder of today when he was 7 years old. Folks, this is a great move forward, it’s time we divorce the singlet; surrender the house, the car and a generous monthly stipend so we can move in with new appearance altering, body enhancing uniform option.

And if you think about it, what would be so wrong if we allowed the sport to become a fashion show for the human form; multi-colored fight shorts or tights, long or short legged singlets, various designs and materials of long or short sleeved compression tops; this could be so much fun, the men creating a look for themselves, the women doing the same. I get it, the traditionalists will hate this too but they would still come to matches. But what we’d gain is the attention of a new group of fans who’d want to see what all the hubbub is about?

And regardless of the outfit a team or individual selects, as long as it meets safety standards and a reasonable level of decorum, why not bring the fashion houses of Paris and Milan into the mix while curtailing one of the largest barriers to entry we have.

Traditionalists need to get a grip here; wrestling is a sport, it’s an entertainment source and it’s also a business. Actually, reversing the order is more precise. We’re a business first, an Entertainment source second and then a sport if we’re serious about developing into a media supported industry.

And as we saw at Boise State, when you think you’re only a sport . . . bad things happen.

Speaking of Boise State

Boise, ID — Attorney General Lawrence G. Wasden today filed an enforcement action against Boise State University alleging that the University engaged in misconduct, fraudulent and unlawful practices against tens of thousands of Idahoans.

The suit alleges that BSU engaged in serious misconduct against tens of thousands of Idahoans that pay taxes with in the State of Idaho and should have been given due process of notification.

BSU haphazardly assembled its official decision. This deprived Idahoans of the ability to have their voice heard. Attorney General Wasden has action seeks to halt all actions in regards to the Elimination of the Boise State University Wrestling Program until the Tens of Thousands of voices within the State of Idaho, with 4 different classification levels of high school wrestling have their opportunity to be heard. As your Attorney General, I believe that everyone should have their Day in Court.

Consumers who believe they have been victims of this misconduct may submit a complain on-line: http://www.ag.idaho.gov/index.html

This is great news . . . and I guess that makes me 2-0 now. Someone obviously received my memo regarding the need to be professional (along with the singlet) when doing battle with professionals. Boise is fighting an institutional decision with a judicial remedy. That’s the only way to get the attention of anyone who aims to do us harm.

Wrestling has never really defended the sport in this manner, at least at this level. Typically we like to confront problems of this nature with pitch forks, 4-letter words and t-shirt sales; all of which may feel good at some level but in the end guarantees not only the loss of the program we’re trying to save but probably others as well. It’s our lack of being combat ready that emboldens college administrators to select wrestling as a place to begin cutting when revenue is scarce. Every time we demonstrate how lowbrow we are and politically inept the sport can be; we become even larger targets.

At least going through the court system will get people’s attention and I applaud those who have their hands in this pie; maybe it’s a golden apple moment for us, a blueprint for future successes; even if it is reactive.

Now if only we could combine that with a proactive approach to survival we’d have something. Especially when we never have the resources of those who will do us harm. And if you think about it, there isn’t a military General that wouldn’t tell you if you’re attacked, without warning, and have the inferior force; the battle is over before it begins. That’s where wrestling has been for decades, and it’s reactively sad. We will always be that lesser foe. And administrators with very, very few exceptions have always won the battles they started with us because wrestling has never seen a need to be proactive.

Why do you think that is? Are we so used to getting kicked around that we’ve resigned ourselves to always knowing we’re going to lose? Could it be that our naivety is so blinding that we unconditionally trust our administrators up until the point when we take a torpedo amidships? Or might it be that we don’t like being proactive because it takes too much energy preparing for the worst while hoping for the best? And coaches, don’t count on your colleagues who compete in your conference lifting a helping hand. They can’t, it’s too difficult to do when they’re busy dialing the phone numbers of your best athletes.

Actually I happen to believe that wrestling knows there’s a battle going on; it’s just that we’re too busy being competitive with one another to see any threats outside of those the opposition poses.

The plight of wrestling is winnable, it really is, but we have to focus our energies on two fronts; being proactive and having available a nuclear option.

We must protect ourselves from outside attacks by developing the type of defense that North Korea has adopted. Basically acknowledge that any battle we undertake with administrators is going to end badly for us BUT it won’t be without both combatants getting hurt. Those who want to hurt us need to know that we won’t go gently into the good night. We need to have our artillery pointed at the administrator’s desk and make him or her aware that we have nukes; and we’ll use them if need be. The fear of mutual destruction is the key; administrators need to understand that it’s far better to tackle anyone of the other non-revenues than pick on us.

More on wrestling’s Star War Defense Shield in the next blog.

Attendance Says It All

The attendance numbers are in for the 2016-2017 collegiate wrestling season. The Top 20 Division I teams in America averaged not 15K, or 10K, or 5K fans per event, but a paltry 2,844; with the 20th best team in America drawing less than 1000 fans. These numbers include Penn State who continues to attract record numbers as are Iowa and Ohio State so you can imagine what the other institutions aren’t doing that makes this average so pitiful.

And even though I’m unaware of the exact numbers for the other 55 Division I schools, it’s fair to say as a group they don’t average 500 fans per event; with a majority of those schools not even charging admission fees given the cost for ticket sellers, takers, parking attendants and security guards would be greater than any revenue generated.

Attendance numbers for Division II (61 programs) and Division III (101 programs) are even more sobering. There are a few divisional leaders with programs in states like Ohio, Minnesota and Iowa but their numbers aren’t worthy of publication either.

So say what you want, but until wrestling addresses our excitement and entertainment issues, administrators will continue to forget that their wrestling team had several All-American’s and finished well in their conference meet as they drop the program.

Revenue talks . . . loudly, deafeningly so and a team that hasn‘t won a dual meet in 25 years or had any athletic or academic AA’s will never become a causality if they’re revenue neutral. Money talks and, well, you know the rest of that adage.

Excitement and Entertainment, the two E’s of survival, pride, power, influence, bragging rights and as a reminder to my coaching friends; mid six figure salaries.

Putting all this in perspective, and why administrators are looking for ways to make difficult cuts, there are only 20 athletic departments in the entire country where income exceeds expenditures. And these numbers are getting worse as income grows at an annual rate of 3% while expenditures are increasing 3 times as fast.

That’s the bad news. The good news for wrestling is society is becoming more and more sedentary with the exponential explosion of technology. Everyone’s life has been made easier in one respect and at times more difficult in others. But either way, American’s are looking for more and more convenient ways of being entertained; either for the purpose of reducing stress or filling a void in daily routines.

And it doesn’t matter why that is; this is a huge opportunity for wrestling, the likes of which we’ve never seen before. Whatever sport or source of entertainment adapts the quickest to the needs of the consumer, they will be the ones who receive the lion’s share of a very large pot of gold.

Sports like the NHL and UFC are rolling in dough for that very reason. Commercial free shows on Hulu and Netflix are booming because they adapted with technology as has Amazon, Uber and Airbnb. They all have leaders like Elon Musk from Tesla; individuals who think out of the box and don’t change with the times, they make the times.

But not wrestling, we do whatever we can to stay the same as the revenue gap between those who get it and those who don’t widens.

We can do better and I will always believe we have the right vehicle.

The only difference between wrestling and the UFC is leadership and vision. Our sport has the possibility of being terribly exciting and very entertaining if we let it. But we’ve grown so accustomed to sub-standard levels of action that what we believe to be our most exciting and entertaining bouts are really average. We’ve just gotten so used to the bar being so low for so long that we mistakenly accept ho-hum for yippee.

If we ever expect to survive we have to think differently.

Why not make Zane Rutherford our poster child for what’s average in wrestling and go from there? Crazy, maybe not.

Remember all the great wrestlers America had in the 1950’s and 60’s? Every one of them knew, beyond any doubt, that their training methods and level of conditioning was beyond reproach, clearly they were all 10’s on a scale of 1 to 10. No one could possibly work any harder or get in better shape. Then came along a guy named Gable and it became apparent that what was considered a 10 was actuality a 6 on Dan’s scale.

So is it possible that Rutherford is a 6, could we be doing better? We won’t know unless we look at other ways of creating excitement.

Up until 1954 it was believed that the human body was simply not capable of running a 4-minute mile. Folklore had it that someone even released a group of bulls behind a bunch of runners to increase the incentive to do the impossible. But within a year of Roger Bannister breaking the 4-minute mile, 24 others did it as well. All it took was someone who could create a certainty in himself, even without seeing any proof that it was possible. Today high-schoolers now run sub 4-minute miles on a regular basis so maybe Zane is a 6 . . . I happen to believe we have so much more to offer than we’re currently doing.

But it begins with a willingness to see what’s currently not visible.

Thought for the Day

It’s not actually a thought, probably more of a “what do you think?”

Given that most everyone agrees that forfeits aren’t good for the sport, and given that too many of them occur as a result of one team having a very good wrestler facing off against an opponent who is far less accomplished, maybe the rules committee should consider the following:

Anytime a team forfeits a weight class, the wrestler who receives the forfeit may move up a weight class and compete there should he and his coach choose to; in essence receiving two opportunities to score points for his team but actually only wrestling once.

Is this perfect, no. Does it eliminate all forfeits, not even close. But it does move the needle in the right direction. Too many times teams will forfeit to superior athletes for no other reason than to keep them off the mat. And when that happens the sport is knowingly cheating our fans out of matches they drove a distance to see and bought tickets to enjoy only to be disappointed.

If there’s one thing I believe we can all agree on it’s the sport has to showcase its stars. There is no reason, short of a medical emergency that should keep the best of our best on the sidelines. Of course that’s if we want to see the sport continue.

Can you name any other sport that works as hard as we do at keeping our stars out of the heavens? I wonder why the UFC has 8 undercard bouts leading to a Main Event; why not just say tonight there is going to be 9 fights? Because it’s obvious, the last one is different; it’s the headliner that involves the best two fighters that are available. You never see one of the undercard competitors forfeiting his bout, ever!

Why does LeBron James play in at least 80% of each Cavalier game; and the entire game most of the time? So the fans will buy tickets and attend the game. If he wasn’t playing, does that help or hurt attendance?

What would happen to a Broadway play when people are paying big bucks to see Nathan Lane in the lead role and every night end up with his understudy?

When coaches forfeit to a superior athlete for no other reason than to keep him off the mat its consumer fraud; and it’s rather obvious how that would hurt any company, organization or sport that provides entertainment for a fee.

Heck, wrestling doesn’t even play the bait and switch game using my Broadway play as an example; we just bait and cheat.

This rule eliminates some of which ails us; except at heavyweight. Those athletes can’t move up a weight. But if we improve 90% of something that needs serious attention, why shouldn’t the sport “go for it?”

Boise State, another Casualty of Ignorance

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.

Years to Remember

This is how I remember high school wrestling where I lived; packed gyms and enthusiastic crowds. The photo is representative of a typical District Championship in the state, a week before Regionals and two before States.

During these golden days of wrestling in Pennsylvania if you were lucky enough to snag a pair of tickets to anyone of these events, and you let people know you had them, you were opening yourself up to a home invasion. The sport was that popular.

photo 1

And yet, what you can’t see in this photograph is the hundreds of fans that were turned away after standing in line for hours hoping for a ticket. Support of high school wrestling in America was that strong and at its zenith during the 60’s and collegiately in the 70’s when almost 800 campuses had wrestling. Today you can find a seat at almost any scholastic match and anywhere you’d like to sit regardless of when you arrived while there are only 77  Division I wrestling programs left. Oops, now it’s 76 and falling as you read this . . .

So what’s going on; how did all this happen?

Probably the largest reason is the sport hasn’t kept pace with America’s insatiable hunger for quality entertainment in connection with the planet’s rapid growth of technology.

Today, the number of diversions available as a result of this technology is mind boggling. What can’t you watch in the comfort of your own living room? What can’t you find to read on a Kindle or learn from Siri that between the two of them has made libraries virtually obsolete?

The world now has Play Stations, iPhones, iPads, iTunes, iPods and iCan do whatever I want, whenever I want at almost wherever I want; but not us, no sir, not wrestling. We’re man’s oldest sport and if people don’t see wresting’s greatness, that’s their issue. And that’s exactly the attitude that companies who are no longer in business embraced. Where’s Sears now, once the leader in retail sales who thought they were too big to fail is owned by K-Mart, a company whose current slogan is “We Still Exist.” Seriously, that’s their slogan . . . sounds like someone from wrestling gave them advice.

The bottom line is if you’re not finding ways to make your product faster, higher or better you’re about to get passed up or swallowed by those who are.

As to the outdoors, kids have motorized skate boards, drones, blue toothed sound systems and the opportunity to compete in anyone of 741 sports that didn’t exist 40 years ago; everything from 3D Archery to Zui Quan which is a form of boxing with a twist, of lemon that is, given that the competitors must be inebriated to participate.

There’s even one called Aquathlon that I can’t imagine you’ve heard of before. I know I hadn’t. It’s a water sport where two competitors wearing masks and fins wrestle underwater in an attempt to remove a ribbon from the other person’s ankle. The match consists of three 30 seconds periods; I assume a 3-2-2 would be out of the question if they wanted to end the competition with the same number of combatants as they had when it started.

Now granted, wrestling has gotten better but by comparison to the competition that is listening to the consumer and doing something about it, we appear slower, lower, and worse. All you have to do is look at the number of empty seats we have at our events, the percentage of young men who don’t return to the sport from one year to the next, the record number of forfeits we’re registering at duals, and the dramatic drop in program numbers. What else does anyone need to know; or dare I mention, there’s not a single program in America that’s making money.   

The point is, global competition for eyeballs is exploding exponentially and the hunger for entertainment options has never been greater. But only those who are actively working to provide faster, higher, and better will manage to exist. Wrestling, on the other hand, spends its time focusing on what coaches want or believe they need, and if anything positive happens after that, it’s by mistake or as an afterthought.

This might be one of the reasons why FloWrestling doesn’t always get great reviews from wrestling’s elite; they thumb their nose at traditional thoughts, and you might say, go with the Flo regarding faster, higher, and better. Some don’t like Martin due to his roguishness, but it’s made him a millionaire several times over and that’s in spite of wrestling’s decline. Maybe treating our sport as a business really works; we should try that someday.

Here’s what I believe I know . . . in order to get back in the race for survival, we need to focus on the consumer and have an aggressive business plan. No wait; that would mean we’d have to have something that resembles a corporate structure and leadership team. Sadly, neither of those has ever existed and why the photo above will always be reminiscent of the best we could do.

Mea Copa

Regarding the negativity I expressed above, it’s clearly a fault I have when I’m frustrated. And it’s maddening because our community always sees the glass as being half full just as I do in my personal life. But we’re talking about the future of wrestling and don’t have time for rainbows and lemonade. It’s our lack of goal setting that’s so strange and funny if it weren’t sad. Talk about a dichotomy, there isn’t a member of our sport who hasn’t set lofty goals when it came to their days as a competitor – or as a coach. But they turnaround and seem clueless – or apathetic when the future of the sport is on the line. It’s confusing and it’s discouraging.

Dome Stadiums, Bad Idea

God help us, the NCAA is kicking around the idea of taking our NCAA tournament to some of the nations domed football stadiums. Talk about a terrible idea but I do have to give the NCAA two thumbs up for looking at alternatives, it’s more creativeness than our leadership is showing.

But I have to ask them to think twice before they pull the trigger on this idea. I understand the pluses, yes, you would have more space to spread the mats out and be able to place the scoring tables a safer distance from the action. Both sound like good ideas but are minor when you consider the number of injuries that tables haven’t caused over the years. And why would anyone want to wear silk scarfs to minimize the chaffing that would occur from swiveling their head from Mat 1 to Mat 8 and back again for 3 solid days? Having the mats closer together only enhances the spectator experience.

One NCAA Executive, who’s in charge of our championships, recently expressed that the use of dome stadiums may be appealing from an ascetic standpoint so when you look down on the 8 wrestling mats on the first day of the championships, you see all of them perfectly framed by an acre of artificial turf. In addition, the athletes would have more space to warm up as well as additional space for the media personnel to set up. But are any of these really pluses?

Me thinks this executive is missing the obvious – which is servicing the needs, wants, and desires of the fans while enhancing the spectator experience. Sadly, that was never mentioned. The conversation was only about the athletes and event logistics.

Why are we always overlooking the important? No one cares where the athlete’s warm-up or if they do, as long as it’s not in one’s line of sight. K.I.S.S. Keep it simple . . . spectators want, expect, and demand a reasonable return of enjoyment for their expenditure in time and money. Allowing athletes to warm-up anywhere except in the tunnels means someone is getting cheated out of seeing what is taking place on at least one of the mats. And if the tunnels are used for warm-ups, isn’t that two to three times farther away for the athletes to walk to get to their mat? Why is that a plus?

And think about it, in a football stadium – the best seats in the house will be over 100 feet away from the nearest action and 250 feet away from the outside mats. Then add to that those impossible to read Lilliputian sized score clocks; how are the folks going to see without binoculars or have a clue as to who is actually wrestling and winning? To really enjoy wrestling, you have be able to see where a hand is placed on a leg, notice how each athlete is fighting for inside control, heck, for those who did see how Valencia’s fingers ended up inside Hall’s headgear you can forget seeing that again if you’re in a football stadium. Sitting in the upper deck of a basketball arena makes the combatants look like ants, can you imagine how small they would seem in a domed stadium.

If anyone wants to point to the Iowa – Oklahoma State dual meet two years ago as an example of what’s possible with fan support, many may not realize that dual preceded one of the Hawks football games. So having an impressive number of spectators, although memorable, might be a little misleading.

None of this will increase our fan base and will only frustrate those who bought into the idea. The old adage about seating for events has never been truer. “If you’re only going to have 2 people show up for your event, hold it in a location that seats 1. That way you’re assured to have a sell out and standing room only crowd.” That’s Economics and Marketing 101.

As an aside, the first location the NCAA is considering is the yet to be a constructed stadium in Las Vegas for the Oakland Raiders. Vegas might be fun if we weren’t in session afternoons and evenings for three straight days. Two things to consider here . . . 1) 80% of all the college programs in America and their fan bases reside east of the Mississippi so why are we flying out west and 2) how many more seats will be unoccupied during the opening rounds on Thursday and the consolations Saturday morning by those who are sleeping in because they enjoyed the city too much?

As I mentioned in my last blog, we aren’t filling all the seats at the NCAA’s now, and they’re being held in stadiums that average around 17K seats. So tell me one more time, why in God’s green earth would we want to put 15K fans in a 75K seat stadium? Who’s been smoking what? Think for a moment when you watch some of the NCAA Bowl Games on TV and you see the end zones and upper decks devoid of fans, what goes through your mind?

Folks, it’s a football stadium, are we really going to allow the NCAA to pick a location where 70% of the seats are guaranteed to be empty? It’s ludicrous and almost laughable until you realize they’re actually serious.

Might it be time to reach out to our wrestling fans to determine what they want and need and then be creative in the fulfillment – why are we guessing?

The NCAA Tournament

What’s not to like; certainly not the wrestling. The competitors did their job and the fans responded in kind. For me, the real fun began in the semi’s when the number one seeds in the first two weights found themselves in the consolation bracket; and then in the finals when two out of three wrestlers who were shoe-ins to win their third NCAA titles had to settle for second place.

I especially enjoyed watching Cory Clark win his first title in his final collegiate match. The Hawkeye competed all season with a severe shoulder injury that would have sidelined most wrestlers and a much higher percentage of athletes from other sports. Cory was the epitome of toughness which defines our sport and an Iowa coached wrestler; and why the Hawks finished a few places higher than the pundits thought possible.

Then there were the Cowboys from Stillwater with 8 All-Americans coming in third place when in any normal year that would have been good enough to win it all. But I guess there’s a new normal that the Midwest and west is going to have to get used to.

Then we have the city of St. Louis who was again a very gracious host. I’m sure those who took the time to attend the event left pleased with their experience.

Television Coverage

This year ESPN recorded their highest ratings ever for wrestling; 8.6 million viewers in all tuned in over the 3 days and combined with their internet streaming viewership increased by 24% from last year.

For the individual markets Columbus, Ohio was first with a 1.60 ratings followed closely by Pittsburgh with a 1.40 and then Philadelphia and Oklahoma City.

In laymen’s terms, ESPN loves covering wrestling, especially when you consider that a lot of the consumption occurs on digital and mobile devises which is where the younger generation resides. And since ESPN’s coverage is a made for television event where they air every single match, these numbers are great for both groups.

Now if you’re like me and don’t have a clue how to evaluate ratings, I asked Chris Bevilacqua, accomplished son of Al Bevilacqua and an All-American wrestler from Penn State to help out. Because he knows television like no other as founder of CSTV which later became CBS Sports and then the model for the BIG 10, Pac 12 and Mountain West Networks. Here’s what he gave me.

“In relation to our 1.60 Columbus ratings, the cities NHL hockey team, the Blue Jackets, average 1.97. In Pittsburg the Penguins pull a 5.56 rating to wrestling’s 1.40 so you have an idea where wrestling ranks in the larger picture.”

We Are . . . Penn State

“Wow” is probably the best adjective to use if you were from the east. Again, Penn State and their neighbors to the west walked away with a “lion’s share” of the hardware.

So kudos and salutations to both Coach Ryan and the other guy the country knows as Cael . . . each of them came from dynasties and are obviously busy building their own.

I believe Gable had his share of success to go along with 6 NCAA Finalists and 5 Champions in 1986 but no school has ever had 5 returning champions like the Nittany Lions do, or two from the same team that were freshman, or 5 that won in consecutive weight classes.

That is until now.

And as a native Pennsylvanian I can’t begin to tell you how much this shift in power pleases me. The Midwest had their day in the sun, now it’s our turn.

And given what’s happening on the recruiting front with athletes de-committing from some of the nation’s previous powerhouses, I’m not sure there will be another day when those who wrestle for programs west of Ohio will have an opportunity to crow again.

Someone asked me this week what I thought the definition of dominance was in wrestling? I responded, “For next season, if all the other Division I schools in America put together an All-Star team; they won’t be able to beat Penn State in a dual meet. The Nittany Lions are that dominant and will probably begin the season with 6 of their athletes ranked #1 in their respective weights.”

Think about that for a moment, can anyone remember a time or a sport where that’s ever happened? Football, basketball, track, swimming, baseball; is anyone aware of another institution or sport that can say, “bring it on” and then whoop the rest of the country?

Interestingly, I had another conversation with a coach who has to compete against Cael. He mentioned, in passing, (that if I didn’t know better may have been mistaken for a bitch), “with all the 5-Star recruits that want to be a Nittany Lion, everyone else will be fighting for second.”

After thinking for a moment I replied, “you’re right, they’re certainly firing on all cylinders but there’s a danger here that Cael has to be aware of that most coaches never have to worry about; it’s called too much success. You can actually have too many studs in your stable, and at times that’s as difficult to handle as having too few.”

To which he responded, “how can you have too many studs?”

Well, when you’re three deep in every weight class with athletes who all have multiple state titles and only have 10 starting slots, there’s a problem. Given that almost all of them are regarded as Mr. All World by their high schools, family and friends want to know why their star isn’t wrestling. Seldom will those who are second, third or fourth string say they’re not good enough to break into the lineup. So they come up with reasons why they’re not wrestling. They might say, “the coach won’t spend any time with me in the room” or “I was cheated in eliminations.” They’ll say almost anything that sounds plausible but you can bet whatever it is, they’re not admitting to not being good enough. You can see how this might cause a few dark clouds of doubt to form over a program.

Then what typically happens is those who are frustrated sitting the bench will start forming cliques among other teammates who are in similar positions. None of this is ever pretty and it has nothing to do with anything the coach did or didn’t do; other than have too many studs. But the biggest reason this is a serious threat to mega programs is there are so very few coaches who ever reach this point in their careers that you’ll find it as a chapter in any “How To Coach” manuals or as a topic of discussion at coaching seminars. So it’s basically uncharted territory in sports but regardless, my money is on Cael to figure it out.

Now Some Not So Positives

Before I begin my less glowing observations of the NCAA tournament, I feel I should apologize to each of you but then I wonder why I feel that way? If we can’t speak openly among ourselves, how can the sport possibly improve? If all anyone wants to read are highlights, then it’s quite possible we’re destined to live the lowlights.

But either way, I have one rule to live by when I write. I absolutely refuse to mention anything that’s negative without counterbalancing it with at least one suggestion for improvement. Anyone can bitch, that’s easy to do. The hard part is coming up with potential fixes while enduring the arrows that invariably come your way from those who disagree. Oh well, here are my thoughts.       

NCAA Tickets, Diminishing Numbers

It’s probably not a good sign when the NCAA was selling tickets the day before the championships started and the NWCA still had a bunch of lower bowl tickets they needed to dump.

I mention this as a reminder to everyone that our spectator numbers are melting faster than the arctic icepack. So I wonder if and when we need to panic? Or have we already passed that juncture and prefer denial or indifference to the energy that’s necessary for change? Either way please don’t point to the incredible number of spectators that Penn State is attracting as evidence that all is well with our sport. Any team that’s America’s best will pack their arena just as Iowa, Oklahoma State, Iowa State and Oklahoma did decades before; but sadly no longer. Our collegiate numbers are so bad that it would take a combined effort by the last three universities I just mentioned to fill a gym for one dual meet. And that still might not get it done.

The fact is wrestling shouldn’t point to the flavor of the day as evidence that all is well just as we shouldn’t point to the worst institution for the opposite reason. But if there’s one thing I know; when consumer numbers drop that’s never good for business.

Here are several photos of this year’s NCAA tournament that you might find enlightening. Each was taken at the beginning of a new session. Note the empty seats; I hope you find these photographs worth a thousand words.

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Second Round Thursday Evening

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Friday Evening Semi-Finals

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Friday Evening Semi-Finals

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Saturday Morning Consolations

What isn’t so noticeable is the average age of those in attendance. Now I don’t have any evidence to support this but it certainly appeared from walking around the arena that the average age of our fan base is heading north faster than the number of millennials are back-filling our losses.

Solution: we need a bigger dream and then work the dream. Wrestling has far larger problems than our feeble attempts at improvement will fix. We don’t have a vision for what we want the sport to become. We coach our kids to reach for the stars but can’t find a way out of our atmosphere when setting our own goals for the sport. We’re a ship without a rudder and that’s everyone’s fault; leadership for not caring enough to elevate the sport and the fans for not forcing them to care.

Here’s where I would start if I were leading . . . I’d develop a model that had the sport increasing its participation rate by 10% every year and a five year goal of improving our spectator numbers to a point where the salaries of college coaches would range from a low of 6 figures to almost a million dollars. And that’s only to get started.

But I refuse to see why we can’t be like the UFC; have our own television network and become a multi-billion dollar industry. The only thing that’s stopping us is the size of the dream. If you dream big, you’ll plan big and then execute big.

Hoping things will get better is where we are now and that clearly isn’t working.

Officiating

The referees were consistent; and for any wrestler that’s their biggest wish. No one wants to be on the wrong end of a “what the hell was that” call. From season to season this aspect of the sport has gotten even more efficient and professional; so kudos to those who make the calls and of course those who administer them.

Now for the however . . . there has to be a better way of handling video reviews other than having the same person who made the call evaluate his own decision. This is inherently wrong given the nature of man being what it is, that we seldom admit to ever being wrong regardless of any evidence to the contrary and of course our extreme refusal to stop and ask for directions when we know we’re lost.

Now I get it, 18% of the calls that are protested do get overturned but it’s the appearance of either impropriety or obstanance that doesn’t do the sport any favors. Wouldn’t you think it would be wise to bring in a fresh set of eyes to evaluate protested calls? And it doesn’t help that the video review isn’t shown on the larger overhead screens for all to see. Why not, we’re all curious and would love to get a second look at whatever the point of contention is just like football does but in the absence of that, one begins to wonder? We know the technology exists, so why not? Could it be that this, like so many other things in our sport, seems too logical for logic to dictate?

Customer Service and Sales

As anyone who’s in business will tell you, poor customer service doesn’t help the bottom line or the sustainability of any company. Even with a solid marketing campaign no one can survive when the business fails to develop repeat customers.

With that said, once again this year, and last year and the one before that the NCAA set those @#$%& clocks on the floor next to the mats with large white mat numbers stacked on top of each one. Why? Movie theaters don’t place obstacles in front of the screen; restaurants don’t have dividers on the tables so you can’t see the person you’re eating with so what the heck are we doing?

I’ve been nice over the last several years in my attempts to nudge the tournament committee along on this issue but it still hasn’t worked.

How inconsiderate of them, why, why haven’t they taken those blankity blank numbered signs off the tops of the clocks and put them on the floor and lean them against the tripod clock bases? Don’t they like us? Get them out of our line of sight. We can’t see the matches! It’s so simple and it’s even less expensive; they only need 3 pieces of foam board per clock instead of 4 so please let common sense and consideration prevail.

As to the clocks in general . . . why hasn’t anyone figured out it might be nice to hang them from the ceiling and center them over each mat? I’m assuming that blue tooth technology has reached wrestling by now so what’s the issue. Maybe come up with a projection system that would display times and scores onto something much larger than our current scoreboards which hasn’t changed in 40 years and can’t possibly be read by people over the age of 50 or those in the upper deck.

Damn guys, there are solutions, why do I have to come up with them. Stop being inconsiderate at $245.00 a ticket; we want to watch the wrestling and know who’s winning and if there’s any riding time.

I get it, none of us are perfect and I’m okay with that; but refusing to attempt to make even the simplest of improvements is not a good sign (pun not intended).

Why Not

There is little question that wrestlers are America’s cream of the crop when it comes to being the toughest and best conditioned athletes. This image we’ve earned is really something to be proud of – but, with this comes, responsibilities.

The first is to be aware that society tends to believe that anyone who falls into those two categories can only speak in single syllables while scratching unmentionable parts. So, it becomes terribly important for our sport to be disciplined when selecting the words we use and the way we present ourselves because big brother is always watching as is all the little brothers who look up to us.

This line of thinking brings with it the thought . . . why don’t coaches’, assuming they don’t already, tutor their athletes on how to handle interviews with the media? Nothing says more (or less) about a sport, the person or the institution they represent than the way one handles him/herself in front of a camera. What is being said and how the message is delivered speaks so loudly that it becomes a seminal moment that either elevates the sport or keeps us scratching.

It’s all about perception – and doing a lot of small things right. This changes the narrative in our favor when everything is added together.

For example, can anyone explain why the sport finds it acceptable for any coach, trainer or member of any institution to sit in an athlete’s corner during competition without wearing a coat and tie? Yes, we’ve gotten better over the years but we still have too many instances where it appears we simply don’t understand the level of admiration that wearing a coat and tie brings to any profession; and coaching is a profession, or could it be that we don’t respect wrestling enough to change?

I just don’t get it. How tough it is to own a tie and then decide between a Windsor or Half Windsor? If it’s the cost, Good Will has them for a dollar, slightly less if you don’t mind food stains.

I just find this to be somewhat sad and without question confusing. Why doesn’t everyone realize that those who wear a coat and tie receive the benefit of any doubt when their actions fall into gray areas? And given how feisty and opinionated those who sit matside can be, not looking professional only hurts their chances at helping their athletes. Not to mention the sport.

So I have to think that if the coaches won’t demand it of themselves and those who represent their institutions, then the rules committee needs to step in and attach a penalty to each level of attire.

Wouldn’t that be a sad state to have to do that but maybe its day has come.

If you wear jeans, it’s a 10 point team deduction. A polo shirt costs the coach 7 points. And then there’s the ugly tie rule, anyone having a modest sense of fashion has to forfeit 2 weight classes. Now I’m obviously kidding but this is so important for the sport. If we can’t see the need to appear professional then we deserve the way we’re being treated and whatever happens to the sport.

We should be proud that we coach the toughest athletes in the hardest sport; but if we don’t combine that with professional attitudes and appearances, we’re surrendering our destiny to others.

March Madness is Madness

Please someone, anyone, tell me why we’re still wrestling our NCAA tournament in the middle of March? I’ve never heard one good reason from anyone other than, “we’ve always done it that way.”

And that ladies and gentlemen is the nitty-gritty of our struggles. It’s exactly how the sport responds to any suggestion that is made for change.

To the question of March Madness, why are we still fighting Men’s and Women’s basketball for media coverage and losing our pants, it’s beyond logic? Name an NCAA sport that holds its championships in April? The media is starved for events to cover then, why not give them wrestling? Why are we still pulling our athletes away from their families during both major holiday dinners (Thanksgiving and Christmas) so they can make weight? Why are we still thinking its smart (and safe) to drive our athletes to matches in the snow when we could trade the last half of November and first half of December for April? Why haven’t we looked at the benefits of having access to more football players who might consider wrestling if we started the sport a month later? Why haven’t we thought about the benefits of increasing our end of the year attendance numbers given that the scholastic season would have ended at a minimum of a month earlier? Why haven’t we thought about why our academic averages are in the toilet, especially for freshman? Might it have anything to do with the first competitions of the season and the first time down to weight takes place during final exams?

Why do we continue to be stupid or stubborn? Anyone, someone, why are we continuing the Madness in March; the logic escapes me.

Our Bubble Is Opaque

I was watching the Big 10’s last week with my wife. During a commercial break one of our wrestling suppliers had produced a video that showed Jordan Burroughs doing dips with a massive length of ship-sized chain around his neck.

I didn’t think anything of it, but I started to when my wife said, “wrestling never learns.”

I said, “what?”

Deb replied, “Wrestling’s always living in a bubble, and they’ve been doing it for so long that it’s become opaque.”

Then I got her point. In today’s world of PC, millennials and sensitivity training, the idea of having a man of color being shown with chains around his neck . . . well, that’s probably not the visual wrestling wants to portray.

As members of the wrestler community we’d never see anything more than a tremendous athlete in training. Strong, proud and determined through his work ethic to remain one of the world’s best.

But there are a great many more in society that see something entirely different. We could argue even if we granted those individuals some latitude; is this really worth anyone getting their tail feathers ruffled over?

I’m afraid the answer is a resounding yes.

We shoot ourselves in the foot enough as it is, why are we giving all the other sports who, like us, are trying to climb the ladder of relevancy, a saw?

So the logic follows, if we want to be accepted by the press and society, outside of the very, very small .0023 percent of the American population that understands our sport, can we afford to be, or appear, to be insensitive?

When I was the administrator in charge of AAU Wrestling, our President, who understood the American public, always made me pass around, before going to press, anything I was producing for mass distribution.

He beat into me, “Get as many eyeballs on it as you can before it leaves our building! Ask them to tell you what they think the message is you’re trying to convey? Then check to see if the photographs you’re using are representative of our diverse membership and society in general? Think as others think, not as you think.”

The image they had of Jordan training might not be a big deal to us, but I can assure you it is to others. So the question becomes are we happy with the way things are or would we like them to be different? If it‘s the latter, then it has to happen first from within.

In conclusion, I feel badly that I didn’t initially notice anything being inappropriate regarding Jordan’s workout attire. And as much as I disliked the conversation, the point my wife was making was a valid one; wrestling must understand there’s a very large world outside of our bubble that we overlook way too often.

NBC Coverage, Not

The following article appeared recently in FloWrestling which I find consistently to be the sports leader in original journalism. They always cover stories that others shy away from with a writing style that is always smart and crisp.

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Recently, United World Wrestling announced a multi-year partnership with NBC Sports — an agreement that will land the World Championships, Continental Championships, and, yes, the 2017 World Cup on the broadcasting network.

In August, Willie Saylor wrote about how NBC slapped wrestling in the face. NBC Sports chose to not show Helen Maroulis’ thrilling and historic Olympic finals victory against three-time Olympic champion Saori Yoshida in the primetime NBC broadcast. Instead, it elected to air an interview of Ryan Lochte (who failed to earn even an individual medal at the 2016 Games) regarding his fabricated story of getting robbed in Brazil during the Olympics.

NBC’s coverage fell short in Rio and is currently non-existent while the world’s eyes are focused on the World Cup in Iran. This incredible script writes itself: President Trump signs the order banning immigration from seven different nations, including Iran. Iran reciprocates and the U.S. is unable to attend the World Cup. A judge overturns Trump’s decision, and Team USA is back in.

This week, Iran welcomed the U.S. and showered our athletes with admiration and open arms. Two days of incredible wrestling ensued, and it culminated with a storybook finish: Iran versus the USA in the World Cup finals.

CNN even took notice of the magnitude of the event, sending a reporter to Iran and producing content around the World Cup.

During Friday’s finals in Kermanshah, Iran, would NBC Sports at least acknowledge the event that they had ignored up to this point?

Apparently not. This screenshot was taken during the finals of the World Cup:1

That’s the NBC Sports homepage. Here’s a glance at their Olympic sports homepage:2

The  lead story on the NBC Sports Olympic page during the World Cup finals is an article that was posted Thursday at 11:53 AM.

This is confusing after reading a quote from NBC’s president of production and programming, Jim Bell, in the United World Wrestling press release. Bell mentioned being “thrilled” about the opportunity to showcase more wrestling. 

“NBC Sports Group is thrilled to showcase more wrestling, one of the world’s oldest, and best Olympic sports,” said Bell to United World Wrestling in the press release. “This is great news for us and for wrestling fans alike, as more content will now be available on more platforms than ever before.”

What did Bell actually mean when he said the words “showcase more wrestling?”

If our sport is truly the “one of the best Olympic sports,” why does NBC Sports so frequently ignore it — especially on its Olympic page during a time of the year with minimal Olympic sports storylines? Whether it’s laziness or just apathy toward our sport, wrestling deserves better.

The most recent piece of wrestling-related content was an Associated Press release regarding Iran lifting the ban against USA on February 5.

NBC has shown a reluctant or, at best, apathetic approach to covering wrestling. We hope that improves during the life of the current contract. We’d like to see wrestling, and its premier events, elevated to their highest potential.

As FloSports CEO Martin Floreani said on FRL in response to NBC’s poor Olympic Coverage, “When wrestling wins, we win. If the tide rises, then we rise.”

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Martin has a point but I would have preferred to see another paragraph or two covering why NBC continues to overlook wrestling. It’s not always helpful to cover what without mentioning the why. And in this case I believe the why is:

Wrestling doesn’t have a product worthy of coverage.

Now I know that wrestling thinks it does, but no one outside the sport feels that way. And it’s those “no one else’s” that matters most to NBC. If we had half the spectator numbers we think we have, but don’t, we’d see NBC at many of our events. If we had the demographics and purchasing power that Chevrolet, Coors or Target finds meaningful, our events would be televised in prime time. None of this perceived snub is NBC’s doing because wrestling always looks everywhere except within. It’s always someone else’s fault. We point fingers wherever we can without realizing that every time we do that there are 3 other fingers pointing back at us.

Regarding Rio, no one else cheated the wrestlers; it was FILA’s (now the UWW) refereeing corps that did the dirty work for the organizations leadership. And NBC was watching. It wasn’t the IOC’s fault that they washed their hands of the sport 4 years ago. It was FILA’s deafness to IOC concerns and their amazing sense of importance that sealed the deal against us. NBC was watching once again.

As for the recent World Cup, I wonder, did the UWW enter into a contract with NBC or just had a conversation with their leadership? They used the word “agreement” in Flo’s article but is that the same as a handshake or was it a wink, wink, nod, nod sort of arrangement that the UWW is so familiar? If we have something in writing, then the sport has a way to be made whole again. If we don’t, what was anyone thinking to announce a relationship that kind of, sort of, is but isn’t? It sounds like our friends in Switzerland just got put on their backs again, so don’t blame NBC.

Summing this up; our international program and the world’s governing body doesn’t care enough about the sport to do what’s necessary to endear them to any network or major media outlet. And that’s the back story behind the perceived snub.

Some Domestic Thoughts

Similar to our international challenges, domestically we shouldn’t blame Title IX for our decline in programming numbers; might this be an internal issue. It’s not the ladies who are decimating our ranks, nor are they responsible for the loss of over 500 programs. Instead we need to look to the coaches of those institutions who didn’t illuminate their programs in the eyes of their administrators. Once again, Title IX has not been responsible for the loss of a single wrestling program so we need to stop blaming those who just want equality in sports. It was, is and will be the Athletic Directors who decide which sports go and which ones stay in order for their institutions to become Title IX compliant. Painfully, wrestling has become the preferred sport for elimination as it is the weakest of the non-revenues socially, academically and politically. And as we all should know, Athletic Directors are not inept, they keep their jobs by 1) doing their jobs and 2) being able to identify which sports have the strongest support base. The ones that don’t have a team of politically active alumni become the path of least resistance when decisions are made.

Regarding the sports lack of excitement as defined by our fan base, it’s not the athlete’s fault they have to wrestle to misguided rules that encourage, and almost demand, inactivity. Of course my apologies to Nolf, Rutherford and Nichols on the collegiate side of things and Stieber, Dake, Taylor and Snyder internationally. They make any match they’re in worth watching. But if we’re looking for the reason why wrestling fails to fill gyms and the media ignores us, it’s the other 12,243 athletes who wrestle to the rules.

For those who think I’m off the mark here; have you ever been to a sports bar when someone is broadcasting wrestling and taken the time to look around? If you have, you noticed that no one is paying attention to the television airing wrestling. Instead, the patrons are watching the ones that are broadcasting golf, auto racing, soccer etc. etc.; exactly what NBC executives are noticing as well.

Recently we even have a sport video parody out there on YouTube regarding a summer wrestling camp that specializes in stalling. I get it, it’s meant to be funny. But the closer something is to being true the more humor people find in it. That’s why a parody is popular and this is so funny; it’s a satirical look at something we consider as serious. So what does that tell you about our sport?

You can watch it at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cZbIOOpLuds

We also have to do better at reading between the lines when our leadership shares numbers with us. As an example, it was exciting to hear that in the last 15 years the sport has added 170 new collegiate programs. Great news indeed! But then I began to wonder, what weren’t we being told? Then it dawned on me; how many of those new schools are marquee institutions? That’s the one fact that tells us all we need to know.

To the best of my knowledge Auburn hasn’t started wrestling, nor has UCLA, Notre Dame or LSU. Wake me up when Alabama decides to start a program or Syracuse University. I’ve never seen a Kansas singlet at the NCAA’s or one from Washington, California or the University of Arizona in the last 30 years. Why is that? Where’s the University of Colorado, the University of Georgia, Florida, Miami or Yale? The fact remains that most, if not all of our newest programs are D-II and D-III schools with names most of us have never heard of. That’s not a bad thing, nor are these numbers as exciting as one might think.

Now I’m not saying that we’re not doing our best to improve our numbers. We are, but until the time comes when some of those previously mentioned big boys decide to field teams, we’re still not relevant and this is exactly why the media is ignoring us.

Another thought might be, why would any company hitch its wagon to wrestling when opposing coaches have the power to keep their opponents best athletes on the bench as a result of forfeiting? Think about that for a moment, how many sports are there where that’s possible except in wrestling? And name any network that would be crazy enough to invest in a sport that on average doesn’t put a full team on the mat or wrestles in front of crowds that are 1/8th as large as a women’s NBA game?

How can we possibly get better when all you hear coaches say to every suggestion for improvement, “I don’t know what we should do but that’s not it!” How can anyone in their right mind look at how we’re trending and say “wrestling’s okay, let’s do more of what we’re doing.”

Were you aware that in 1985 the sport had 146 Division I wrestling programs and today we have 77. And unfortunately those numbers are a little misleading because we’ve added 10 Division I programs during that time. So actually we’ve lost 79 programs or over 50% of our strength since the days of Jim Jordan and Barry Davis. And of those 10 programs, they’re mostly mid-major in size in relation to marquee losses.

Maybe a suggestion to those who make decisions for the sport . . .

Hope is not a good strategy.

As to our NCAA D-I tournament and the belief that the sport is doing well because they sell-out every year, well, is that actually true? I always hear the tickets are gone come February but when I look around the arena, other than during the finals; there are always plenty of empty seats. And that is exactly what potential sponsors see and care about, numbers of eyeballs, and in the absence of those, so too is Sports Illustrated, the New York Times and USAToday absent.

Did you know that approximately 60% of those who attend the NCAA’s are either coaches, former coaches, wrestlers or former wrestlers? And most of the remaining 40% are family members of those who are competing. That shouldn’t be a surprise to most of us but it does explain why sponsors and networks aren’t interested. If you can’t attract fans that find the sport entertaining on its own merit as opposed to being a participant or supportive family member, why should NBC be interested?

Maybe something to think about, in economics, when the market is flooded with a particular product, prices drop proportionally. If there’s a shortage of product, prices rise. Might there be a parallel here with regards to the number of matches and tournaments wrestling offers the consumer? The short answer is yes, we wrestle way too many times a season which doesn’t help the sports academic average, injury numbers or budget expenditures.

In closing, if we can’t get our own house in order, and that seems to be an impossible task, we have no right to expect anything more from NBC than we’re willing to do for ourselves.

Have You Ever Seen A Time When

The swearing in of the next President of the United States involved two men who sharpened personal skills in the sport of wrestling: Donald J. Trump and Chief Justice John Roberts. It certainly was a memorable day for the country and the sport.

Intermat; Foley’s Mail Bag

The following question was recently asked of T.R. Foley at Intermat and you can read his response below. I agree that making the sport as much fun as possible is always a positive for the younger set and safety a reasonable ambition all around. But I feel he should have spent a little more time explaining why we have the problem we do with first weight class forfeits. So I did . . .

Question from Mike: I coach high school wrestling, and have seen the 106-pound weight class turn into a forfeit fest even against some of the best teams throughout the Southeast. Even if it’s not a forfeit, there isn’t a lot of talented depth at the weight class like many other weight classes. Do you see any chance this weight class moves to 110 pounds in the near future?

Response from Foley: Evidence is pointing to larger children and your anecdote is further substantiation for the realigning of high school weight classes. We don’t need 106 pounds (once 103 pounds) as a number; we need athletes healthy and happy to compete in the sport. If there is a good reason for keeping the number at 106 I’d love to hear, but asking a 14-year-old to put on a few pounds shouldn’t be that difficult and is certainly better than the alternative.

Wade’s Thoughts: I have three. If low numbers and forfeits are currently a high school issue in the first weight class, just think of the number of problems the sport would have if we discontinued the 106 pound weight class? Didn’t those who are now wrestling at 112, 119 and 125 start out at 106? Drop that first weight class and those younger, smaller kids will simply walk away from the sport because today’s millennials aren’t near as willing to pay their dues and wait their turn as the baby boomers were.

Next, if we discontinue 106, doesn’t that make 112 the first weight class? Wouldn’t there still be a problem trying to find a wrestler for that weight? The issue isn’t the size of kids in the room; it’s whatever the first weight class is because there’s nothing below that by definition to pull a kid up from to fill the void. If wrestling had a 98 pound weight class, and I’m not suggesting we should, you’d see far, far less forfeits at 106. Because as I mentioned, in every weight class, other than the first one and at heavyweight, coaches can either push a kid up a weight class or pull one down a weight. So as long as 9th grade is considered high school (and in many states 8th graders can move up to varsity), the first weight class should be 106.

This challenge we have isn’t a forfeit issue as much as it is a matter of recruitment and retention. It seems to me that high school coaches are relying on middle school programs to propagate their rosters. They aren’t making the effort that’s necessary to walk the halls and find the athletes they need to fill a starting line-up. There has to be a lot of little guys who would love to have a shot at being a varsity wrestler if you’d ask them? And why wouldn’t they give it a try, given their size, they’re not swimming in a sea of sporting opportunities.

Why Our Rule Changes Fail To Increase Wrestling’s Entertainment Value

To begin, most of us are under the impression that rule changes are designed to make matches 1) safer and 2) to a greater extent more enjoyable. At least that’s the goal. But regarding safety, most of what has been implemented at the scholastic and collegiate levels reflects a slow creep toward millennial softness. That’s never a good thing for a combative sport if spectator numbers and entertainment dollars are important.

Regarding enjoyable, a vast majority of the current rules being instituted for the purpose of making the sport more attractive to fans aren’t getting it done. If there’s a why here it has everything to do with the athletes being the ones that are expected to implement whatever rules are made with minimal involvement from the coaches.

Let’s back up a minute. The business of wrestling has a Board of Directors which is our Rules Committee. It also has a management team which is the coaches. Then downstream from there we have our worker bees, the athletes.

As everyone knows, in a typical company business structure, decisions made by the Board are given to management to implement. That’s pretty standard in corporations with personnel bonuses and vertical promotions based on how well each member of management accomplishes their tasks. The Board never communicates with those who perspire on the assembly line – just as those in the mail room never make presentations to the Board.

But in wrestling, the Rules Committee overlooks management and goes straight to the athletes. That’s never a winning formula just as the fox having the keys to the hen house doesn’t work well either. It’s actually a rare company that survives in business without middle level management motivating (pressuring) the workers to execute corporate directives.

Now for those who are glassy eyed trying to follow what I’ve written so far, maybe an example will help. When our Board of Directors decides to make a rule or clarify an existing one, they make the athletes directly responsible. They basically say, “Here’s what we want. If you don’t do this, we’re going to penalize you. If you do that we’re going to penalize you. Or you have to change this because that no longer counts.”

As much as I understand where they’re trying to go, no one does what’s in the best interest of the sport; they do what’s in their best interest. If both can be accomplished simultaneously, that’s great, but as we’ve seen, athletes take umbrage at being told what to do by the sports administrators. And given the pressure for athletes to comply and having skipped over the coaches, both the athlete and the coach will work together to find workarounds. And why not, they’re on the same team.

Now, I understand when rules penalize an athlete for something he did or didn’t do it could mean the difference in winning a match. So coaches are somewhat involved – but typically, those 1 or 2 bout points seldom affect the outcomes of a dual meet or tournament finish.

The point is . . . the penalty or the pain that’s associated with the “bad” behavior needs to be placed on the entity (the coaches) that’s directly responsible for managing the behavior. If stalling meant a team point instead of a bout point, coaches would get involved and become highly motivated to protect their interests.

So the implementation and enforcement of rules should be the responsibility of those with the greatest egos (which isn’t a bad thing) and the most to lose: the coaches. My proposed solution of a point earned is a point scored is a prime example of giving leverage to getting coaches involved. The adoption of this one rule, I believe, would transform wrestling forever. Why, because it places athlete performance squarely on the shoulders of coaches. If you haven’t read about a point earned is a point scored, look to the right and drop down 16 blogs. It’s worth the visit.

In closing, wrestling will only take its’ next step in becoming a viable entertainment product when those in power reinstitute the chain of command. They have to place the onus for change on those who sit matside. From there, you can bet they’ll pass the pressure downstream.

This is the way small businesses become big businesses.

An Olympic Challenge

Were you aware that the IOC (International Olympic Committee) just added Baseball, Softball, Karate, Skateboarding, Sports Climbing and Surfing to the 2020 Tokyo Olympic program calendar? That’s certainly great news for the 474 athletes these sports will add to the ten thousand plus that are already a part of the Games.

As exciting as that may be, I have a question, “What does that mean for wrestling?” Is the IOC sending us yet another unstated message that we’re bound to overlook again? Are there any alarm bells going off in Colorado Springs or Switzerland?

It’s obvious, at least to me, that the International Olympic Committee is fine tuning their programming – which is their right and responsibility to do. They’re looking for the greatest possible mix of sports that will maximize profits while increasing their global exposure. And if they can eliminate a few sports who might be considered liabilities in the process, that works for them.

So, is there a message in all of this for wrestling – especially when we received only 49 votes for reinstatement out of the 96 that the IOC’s Executive Committee cast? This means, if my math is correct, that there were 46 members who didn’t want us back or care that we’re man’s oldest sport.

Doesn’t that suggest that we’re either daft politically or our negatives outweigh our positives? We already know that wrestling can’t give away enough tickets to the 500,000 tourists that the Games attract, or the 10,000 plus athletes who are present, or to millions of local residents to begin to fill whatever small wrestling venue the IOC gives us for competition. So given our rather non-existent popularity that has to be strike one; strike two and three has to be our own in your face posturing of – we’ll do what we want to do with total disregard for the UWW’s parent organization.

It will be interesting to see how all this plays out in Tokyo. Should we be given the green light for 2024 and 2028 then kudos to USAWrestling and the UWW. But from where I sit, given the IOC’s policy of having no more than 28 sports, and seeing that they’re testing the waters with 6 new sports, maybe we should be paying attention.

A Bonus Thought

Regarding funk wrestling and the frustrating frequency of stalemates that occur from those positions, what do you think about . . . a 3-count 1-point rule? If the person being “funked” can hold his opponent on his back past the 90 degrees for a 3-count, that’s 1-point. Control isn’t necessary. That doesn’t dissuade those who funk from diving between someone’s legs to gain control, but doing so, for the purpose of hanging on for a stalemate, it will cost them a point. This rule gives both supporters and opponents of funk the ability to have their cake and eat it too.

Child Abuse or Child Development

Wrestling is still wearing its shirt inside out, and our leadership seems to be okay with the look. Somehow they feel it’s fashionable to show everyone ragged seams and a wrinkled tag when it comes to the sport in general, and specifically for this blog; youth wrestling.

So as I attempt to turn everything right side out, welcome to another partisan and I hope thought provoking installment of How Wrestling Wins.

Protecting Our Youth

It shouldn’t be a shock to anyone when I mention how catastrophically abysmal our annual retention rates are for youth wrestling. When we retain in many regions of the country less than 50% of our newcomers, we become the #1 sport in America for chewing up and spitting out little guys. In some years that percentage might be a bit higher, in other years a bit lower but either way, the problem is obvious and it’s not going away.

And regardless of your position, the fact is numbers don’t lie.

Now if any company in America had those statistics, and wrestling had better start figuring out it‘s a company, they would immediately fire the entire management team for incompetence. No organization can continually lose half of its customer base year in and year out and expect to remain viable. So I guess I should ask, why do we allow it? Aren’t we the sports majority stock holders?

Think about what’s happening, is it too much of a stretch to refer to how we handle the sports youth as bullying at a minimum or child abuse to the extreme. It’s actually quite amazing how many kids actually survive our sports culture of cruelty.

Now I’ll give you that what I just typed might seem a little over-the-top and brand me as you’re a mean one Mr. Grinch but bullying is bullying which is defined as; a form of aggressive behavior in which someone intentionally and repeatedly causes another person injury or discomfort. As for child abuse, it’s; any type of cruelty inflicted upon a child that includes mental or emotional cruelty or physical harm? So based on Webster, and knowing what happens in many of our wrestling rooms, where am I off base here?

To be clear, it’s not the sport that drives children out of wrestling rooms; it’s their absolute aversion to humiliation and being subjected to repetitive thumping’s. Whether it comes by way of practice or competition, no one likes to train at Olympic levels during their first week of practice or be embarrassed in competition a month after buying their first pair of wrestling shoes. And the idea that all this is somehow fair because we pair children by age and weight is so far removed from reality when experience is the sports trump card and deciding factor. It’s the first thing a coach should consider when pairing athletes.

Just as troubling for me is the speed at which we tend to forget the names of those we’ve lost as we lump all of them into a category that isn’t appropriate to type here.

I’ve also wondered how many potential World and Olympic champions we’ve run out of our wrestling rooms because they weren’t ready for the sports culture of total emersion? Or the number of adults who are a little less than they could have been because the sport decided they were expendable. And of those we might call the discarded many, how often do you think they go out of their way to support any of their children when they ask, “Dad, can I try wrestling?”

Don’t be confused, it’s not that children don’t enjoy wrestling; they do. What back yard, in any neighborhood in America hasn’t doubled as a wrestling mat at one time or another? What child hasn’t wrestled his brother or tussled with the kid next door? But the difference between organized programs and neighborhood play is, when it’s up to the children, they instinctively understand two things that many of our coaches don’t: 1) If it’s not fun, they aren’t going to do it for long, and 2) They know who to take on and who they should leave alone.

So if the sport’s to grow which it won’t and if wrestling wishes to expand its base and it can’t, we have to change. So instead I write for the pleasure of writing, not for the hope that something miraculous will happen.

As to Practices

In a report recently released by the Aspen Institute on reimagining sports for today’s youth it recommended that specialization should be delayed until adolescence and practices need to be geared to the children’s ability.

I guess that means we’re still on the wrong road because pairing youngsters in practice with others who are of the same age and weight but with considerably more experience borders on the criminal. An eight year old 80 pounder with 4 years’ experience wrestling another 8 year old 80 pounder with 4 weeks experience isn’t a fair fight and it’s exactly how we deplete our ranks.

And no I’m not saying that we should buy a litter of therapy puppies and hand them out to every child along with crayons and coloring books but I do want to see coaches using their judgment centers more often.

As to the makeup of practices, every program should be centered on Fun, Friendship and Fundamentals; the 3-F’s of childhood development. If practices aren’t at least 50% fun, coaches need to rethink their lesson plans. If the students aren’t making new friends because of the sports adversarial mindset the program won’t reach its potential. If students aren’t encouraging the boy next door to give wrestling a try due to the programs lack of enjoyment; that should be a huge red flag.

As to fundamentals, sure we want every child to learn how to wrestle. But you can only achieve that when you have kids to coach. Losing half of those who come out for the sport each year isn’t a strong model for success. Coaches must remember what it was actually like when they started wrestling and how many of their teammates didn’t survive the experience, and not what they conveniently remember or choose to forget.

And don’t get me started on weight reduction at this age . . . that’s shouldn’t even be a consideration. And if you think all I’m trying to do here is make everyone feel good, you’re right. Our little guys can get competitive later.

But I get it; society does judge the success of a coach and his club in terms of medals garnished and championships won. But do we ever look at the costs of that success and could it be that more success would have been possible with larger club numbers? Isn’t the old adage true that if the object is to produce more cream, you have to produce more milk? Everything is a numbers game, and we need to start at the bottom to build the pyramid of winning – children win because they are having fun, therefore, the coaches’ win because they have children to coach, and finally, the sport wins because the wrestling rooms are filled with coaches coaching and children learning – make sense?

But none of that is as important as how the sport handles competition.

Regarding Events

No child should be forced to endure the overwhelming experience of competition during his or her first year of participation. Period.

Have we all forgotten what it was like to walk onto a wrestling mat for the first time, all alone, no Mom or Dad to hold our hands; where every fiber of our beings begs to be back in the safety of our bedroom. To glance over at the other kid and suddenly realize that in a few minutes, or possibly seconds, one of us is going to be considered a loser. Gulp. And to hear your Mother say, “Just do your best” when the look on her face says something quite different is very unnerving. Then you think; when this is over I’m going to ask Dad if it’s too late to go out for soccer?

None of that can be the best way to grow a sport or treat God’s little creatures.

So I’m afraid it’s up to the parents to protect their offspring since the sport seems to be incapable of it. They shouldn’t have to say “no thank you,” to the coach, there should already be a rule in place that outlaws competition during an athlete’s first year.

What effects would this have? Well, the first thing we’d accomplish is reduce most of the anxiety children feel while trying to learn a sport that requires combative aggression when the last thing they learned to do along those lines was playing dodge ball at recess. No wait, that’s right, dodge ball isn’t allowed any longer. Schools have deemed it to be far too aggressive and belittling. So I wonder what the Department of Education would think about our sport if they put it under the same microscope.

Instead, children should learn the rules of the game, some basic techniques all the while learning body awareness skills, participating in drills that coaches have made into games, and learning how to protect oneself through gymnastic like tumbling routines. Finally, the children should be learning fun facts about the sports’ rich history and the tenets of sportsmanship.

Success at this stage should be measured by the number of children who return to the sport the next season.

But not us, most everything we do is backwards; we teach wrestlers how to throw someone before anyone learns how to tuck their head and roll. We scold them for locking hands before telling them when it’s legal and when it’s not. Coaches should be happy with athletes who can sprawl and circle back to their feet when two weeks earlier walking with gum in their mouth was a challenge. Coaches have to stop measuring success by the number of wins an athlete can accumulate. Instead, they should make a big deal out of their athletes being able to shake a person’s hand with a firm grip while looking them in the eye. That’s a skill worth learning and one we should be proud we were able to help them develop; or just being able to do 5 push-ups when 3 were impossible just a month earlier.

So are you saying that we shouldn’t take 1st year wrestlers to tournaments? No, I didn’t say that, I said they shouldn’t enter competition for a year. But they should go to events. They need to be a part of the team, they need to see how events are run and get familiar with their future surroundings. And yes, they’re there to participate . . . just not compete.

Here are two possible participation options. The first is to develop a series of Katas for wrestling and make them a part of tournaments for first year students, just like the martial arts community handles their events. For those who aren’t familiar with Katas, they’re individual exercises, drills or techniques that consist of specific movements that are demonstrated in harmony with a passive partner. It’s still competition, just not under live fire conditions. Employing this alternate type of competition assures that events still receive entry fees from the little guys while eliminating the ugliness of children collapsing into their mother’s arms in tears or having their warm-ups thrown in their faces by some south end of a horse going north.

A second option is to create a round robin scenario with let’s say 8 children in a weight class and divide the mats into 4 equal sized quadrants. Each child wrestles for a minute of running time before rotating to his or her next opponent. There’s no scoring whatsoever and the officials are only there to protect the wrestlers. At the end of four minutes with each child having wrestled 4 opponents, they shake hands and every child has his hand raised signifying the completion of effort, not because someone won by score. Instead each child overcame the unknown which defines winning.

Then if the numbers warrant it, time permitting, the tournament director could repeat the process so each child would receive another 4 sets of matches. The idea is to start each tournament with the little guys going first and a goal of having them at the local Dairy Queen within 3 hours after weigh-ins. Remember the first of the 3-F’s was having fun and nothing does that better than ice cream.

These are just two examples of what the sport might consider if the goal is to stop the bleeding. However it’s done, whoever decides it or takes the credit I don’t care but one thing’s for certain, what we’re doing now isn’t working.

And if there’s one thing we can count on, it’s that the Russians won’t be hacking our sports database or interfering in our programming anytime soon; why would they want us to change anything we’re doing with our youth?

Circle America Tour; 2017

Once again this summer I’m planning on touring the country teaching the power of down wrestling. So I wanted to ask; would you be interested in me stopping by for a day or two? I’m finalizing my dates now so if you think this might interest you, contact me at wschalles@cfl.rr.com or at 407-616-4250.

Now for some shameful commercialism; you won’t find a better clinician. At least that’s what I’ve heard after every clinic I’ve ever done. Coaches enjoy my abilities to entertain and teach what they thought they knew about pinning and down wrestling.

As to my fee, I’m way below what today’s headliners receive. So what’s there to lose, let’s see what’s possible.

A Potpourri of thoughts . . .

Did you know . . .

  • That the average roster size for college programs has shrunk in size from 37 wrestlers in 1975 to 23 today?
  • Scholastically almost 1/3rd of all high school matches are forfeits. Yet the sports leadership, at all levels, is operating under the assertion that all is well.
  • There isn’t a single Division I wrestling program that makes more money than they spend. That means were a red sport, not Democratic, just broke.
  • Academically, wrestling ranks at the bottom or near the bottom (depending upon the year you check) in relation to all the other collegiate sports. Reason; we have too many competitive dates on our calendars and the coaches care more about expanded schedules than elevating athletic department averages.
  • Medically, wrestling ranks at the top or near the top of all sports (depending upon the year you check) in relation to sport injuries. This doesn’t endear us to anyone but the Cramer tape company loves us.
  • At USAWrestling, the national governing body for wrestling, you don’t want to know what percentage of their card holders this year won’t renew their memberships next year. The number is actually staggering, not quite half, which is reflective of not being a customer service organization.
  • Instead of always saying how well we’re doing collegiately, let’s look at a list of big time schools that don’t offer wrestling and maybe we can then see how well we’re doing. LSU, Florida, Mississippi State, Colorado State, USC, Oregon, Washington, UCLA, Arizona, Georgia Tech, New Mexico, Texas, Baylor, Kansas, Notre Dame, Florida State, Clemson, California, Alabama, Arizona, Kentucky, Boston University, UTEP, Tulsa, Utah State, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, UConn, Rice, Yale, Houston, Idaho, San Diego State, San Jose State, Utah, Vanderbilt, Arkansas, Texas Tech, Kansas State, TCU, Georgia, Syracuse, Tennessee, Texas A&M, Colorado, Boston College, Mississippi, Georgetown, South Carolina, DePaul, Villanova, East Carolina, Xavier, Gonzaga, Creighton, Cincinnati, Seton Hall, Dayton, Butler, University of Central Florida, Washington State, Louisville, SMU, Memphis, Temple, Montana, Miami, Duquesne, Auburn and Tulane.

Of the Top 25 Junior Colleges in America, there’s not a single school from Pennsylvania which is the hands down best state in the union for producing All Americans. I know what that says to me, what does it say to you? Whatever it is, it can’t be good.

Of the Top 30 collegiate women’s programs in the country there isn’t a single one from PA either. Yet the Keystone state with 33 intercollegiate wrestling programs can’t convince a single Athletic Director to help their Title IX numbers by adding a women’s program? What message do you think they’re sending us?

Rule Changes . . . just thinking with a glass of scotch in hand.

  • Given that most of us believe stalling has a negative connotation, what do you think about the offending athlete’s team losing a point along with the athlete? If we actually want to stop stalling, let the coach whose wrestler is being passive handle it. You can bet stalling would become extinct, and quite quickly.
  • Allow every wrestler to wrestle 2 weight classes per dual if they want to, but no more than three times a season. Why? Because our stars typically pin their opponents in the first or early second periods and are done for the night. This is akin to paying a bunch of money to watch LeBron James play for half of the first quarter and then sit the bench for the rest of the evening. That doesn’t sound like a great marketing move on the part of the Cavilers just as it isn’t a wise use of our resources either.
  • And how about the concept that an athlete can’t be saved by the buzzer if he’s being pinned? If someone is on his back at the end of the period the referee may, at his discretion, allow the action to continue. If and when it becomes obvious that the pin isn’t going to occur, the action can be stopped.

Random Thoughts . . . I usually have a few.   

  1. The more I look at collegiate wrestling I can’t help but marvel why teams like Ohio State, Oklahoma State and Iowa haven’t thought about hiring assistants who have pedigrees in pinning? Let’s use Penn State’s successes at the NCAA tournament as an example. It’s not that the Nittany Lions always dominate the competition with regards to the number of wins they have or All-Americans they produce at the NCAA’s; they’re just dominant in the bouts they wrestle. That’s what sets them apart from the competition; they typically score about two dozen more bonus points than the next best team. That’s been the difference in most of PSU’s title runs; they simply outscore the competition . . . and by a lot. Hopefully I’m not telling coaches something that should be obvious but if they’re not teaching pinning and developing bonus point mentalities, finishing ahead of Penn State becomes very problematic.

To prove my point, as of the end of November, of the wrestlers who are nationally ranked, Penn State has pinned 45% of their opponents as opposed to 17% for Oklahoma State. If this trend continues, which history would suggest, the Nittany Lions should be able to count on receiving at least 15 more bonus points than the Cowboys at this year’s NCAA tournament. That’s a lot of points in a close race.

  1. I wonder what it says for USAW that both freestyle medalists in Rio on the men’s side were collegians who were coming off successful folkstyle seasons. Isn’t it Colorado Springs that always explains to everyone that their international failings are a direct result of America’s love of folkstyle? Maybe I’m off base here but if anyone counted the number of shots that Cox and Snyder took on their way to the medal stand it would be in excess of twice as many shots as their 4 teammates took cumulatively. Myth debunked.
  2. Given that we finished ahead of Russia in men’s freestyle, I have to wonder how that occurred. It certainly wasn’t that we had a good performance or even a fair one so was this the first Olympics where the soviets were actually wrestling “clean?” Hmmm. We know their track athletes haven’t been playing nice for quite some time and it’s been recently determined that their whole Olympic program is riddled with performance enhancing drugs. So were they always better than us or just superior as a result of chemistry?
  3. I was dismayed to see one of our Greco coaches in Rio lose control of his emotions and throw the protest brick when it was obvious to everyone (except him) that he should have let sleeping dogs lay. Instead of reversing the 2-point call he questioned, the judges decided that he was right about questioning their call and instead awarded 4-points which was enough to end the bout and eliminate the American wrestler from competition. It seems to me if we ask and expect our wrestlers to do everything humanly possible to be ready for world level competition, shouldn’t USAWrestling hold their coaches to the same standard? Those who can’t help the athletes should be in the stands; and those whose actions might cause negative outcomes should be at home watching the competition on TV.
  4. How about the Mongolian coaches stripping down on world-wide television in protest of an official’s call. I understand that removing ones clothes is an acceptable form of protest where they come from but that’s not the case in any other country that I’m aware of. And we wonder why the IOC feels wrestling might not be a sport they want in their stable. Can you imagine Coach Krzyzewski at Duke dropping his drawers at mid-court over a questionable call? Behavior like that combined with internal corruption is exactly why the IOC’s executives have placed wrestling on their soon to be extinct list. I can’t believe it took the UWW 6 weeks to discipline that coach. This isn’t good. It’s the same as spanking a puppy for soiling your rug 6 weeks after the occurrence. I understand due-process and going slow but the IOC is watching. President Lalovic should have walked onto the mat and taken our exhibitionist by the arm and escorted him to an exit. Social decorum has to rule the day. Now we learn that Mikhail Mamiashvili, the president of the Russian Wrestling Federation and Vice President of the UWW is under investigation by the Russian Olympic Committee and United World Wrestling’s ethics committee for punching one of his women wrestlers after a loss. I know wrestling is combative but we also need to be civil, especially in the court of public opinion. This is just another death by a thousand cuts occurrences that hurts what we all fight so hard to achieve. We have to remember that there are three very competent spectator-friendly sports who would love to replace us in the Games and if they can help the IOC decide our fate, they will gladly do so by handing us a concrete life preserver.
  5. USAWrestling might want to consider filling a few of their positions with people who don’t always agree with leadership. The greatest growth in any organization comes from hearing the uncomfortable while understanding the way others see you and the job you’re doing. I understand that surrounding yourself with “yes men” comes with amazing levels of comfort while you’re being fed disinformation, ineffective viewpoints and distorted signals. But you can’t get ahead when all you hear is “you’re right.”
  6. Remember in 2013 when we first heard of our dismissal from the Games how fast FILA began saying they were going to change their image? So they changed their name but not the organizations leadership. They changed the colors of the singlets and mats but not how they do business. They promised more scoring so they increased the number of points a person could earn for a takedown from 1 to 2 points. Amazingly that single change doubled the number of points scored in the finals in Rio compared to those in London. But in math according to Wade if the points for a takedown were doubled from one event to the next, that doesn’t mean the action has doubled. Even a fourth grader can see through that attempt at deception. So has anything really changed? Half empty stands are still the norm and they don’t even try to hide the corruption anymore . . . but we do have different colored mats. Yea for us.
  7. Television and the Games; it’s not NBC’s job or any other network to cover a sport or make it popular. Rather it’s the sport’s responsibility to make itself popular which in turn draws the attention of television executives. Wrestling doesn’t seem to understand that and the fact that the UWW can’t even find a way to structure their events in a way to keep all their mats operating at one time only adds to the sports Ambien moments. None of this is what the UWW promised or NBC is interested in covering.
  8. If you have a restaurant that’s known to have sub-par cuisine, if you upgrade to linen tablecloths and lay new carpet down you still have the same problem. The food sucks and that’s why people pick one restaurant over another. Ambiance is secondary and only adds to the experience if the food is yummy. In wrestling our problem is the sport’s not exciting which is the equivalent of food to a restaurant. That’s where the sport needs to focus its attention. Paying television to broadcast events only points out, with great clarity, how badly we cook. Charismatic announcers, music, cheerleaders, fog machines and elevated platforms won’t make us a meaningful entertainment source even though it does give everyone a sense of accomplishment for doing something, even if their efforts are all false-positives.

Last Words on Rio

Should the IOC Keep Wrestling in the Olympics

Of course they should, but will they? After you read this you decide.

But to start, I’d like to take my hat off to Martin Floreani and FloWrestling. They’re the only media outlet we have that has the nerve to do investigative pieces in areas that wrestling would prefer to keep hidden. It’s actually refreshing because they don’t hesitate to point out that the King has no cloths on those occasions when he forgets to put them on.

Without Martin’s team of journalists and video professionals wrestling would be far less than it is today. In many ways he’s like Bob Ferraro, the father of the National High School Coaches Association. They both march to their own drummer, are extremely successful in what they do and each does it their way regardless of what others think or who’s toes gets stepped on.

Flo always reminds me how much the sport is an enigma of contradictions. Wrestlers wouldn’t think twice about jumping in a ring with a grizzly bear but at the same time they’re as thin skinned as earthworms. When anyone is critical of some aspect of the sport or those in leadership they immediately circle the wagons and collectively attack the accuser; regardless if the information being shared is valid or not. This is the largest challenge wrestling has because great changes always follow noticeable failures.

If WIN, Amateur Wrestling News or any other member of wrestling’s communication family reported on the issues that Flo tackles we’d be a much stronger sport. Martin understands better than anyone that openness and controversies create desirable outcomes and why his company is worth more than all our other media outlets combined.

An example of this was the breaking story of the massive corruption which took place in Rio with the officiating. This story was broken first by Flo writer Christian Pyles who reported on this injustice after the very first matches were wrestled in Rio. (http://www.flowrestling.org/article/46587-how-uww-s-chief-referee-rigged-the-olympic-games) As a consequence, many officials were sent home. But, what about those wrestlers who’s Olympic games were over as a result? To paraphrase one fan’s reactionary tweet, “what are we supposed to say, thank for training for 4 years, coming here to wrestle, and if you want to try again, there’s always Tokyo.”

Never before has our international leadership been so brazen in the way they exercise their power. I’d like to think their actions were honest missteps but it appears that the UWW is still FILA by any other name.

When a group of men knowingly cheat athletes it’s beyond disgraceful and the equivalent of breaking the most sacred of commandments in sports. It goes beyond shameful and I doubt very much if any member of the UWW can say, “I didn’t know what was going on.” Actually each one has to be complicit at some level because anyone who is clever enough to make their board couldn’t possibly have watched the competition without noticing the blatant chicanery. And now, for their organization to collectively stick their heads in the sand and pretend nothing is wrong is the equivalent of waving a red flag in front of the IOC bull.

And for all of you who care about the future of wrestling, especially with us remaining a core sport in the Olympics, you need to go to Flo and read the story. And when you do, you’ll be shaking your head before the end of the first paragraph.

Maybe this isn’t as serious as I’m making it sound but wouldn’t you agree that both knowingly and systematically cheating athletes is the kind of action, and now inaction that could very well affect our Olympic status? What message does this send the IOC who has had their own issues with scandals and corruption?

Remember, it wasn’t that long ago that we were shown the door for our various sins; none of which had anything to do with the sport itself. But it did reflect directly on our leadership’s inattentiveness to repeated requests by the IOC to operate more professionally and end the corruption.

What still amazes me is it was only after we got the boot that FILA reigned in their self importance and dropped to their knees promising change; finally realizing the IOC was serious.

Here’s what was expected:

  • A change in leadership.
  • Being more responsive to IOC requests.
  • End the corruption.
  • Work to create more excitement and spectator friendliness.

So let’s take a look at what they did in the last three years to turn things around. They changed their name because the old one had lost its luster. They redesigned the attire that referees wear and then made a few tweaks to each countries singlet.

But after enduring that exhaustive work they seemed to have stopped.

As to the IOC’s expectation for change in leadership, President Martinetti resigned under protest but was allowed to stay on as a member of the board which remained in tack. Only later when the IOC cleared their throat over promises not being kept did FILA finally force Martinetti out. But other than that, the faces of leadership remained the same; so essentially there was no change – again thumbing their nose at the IOC.

As to ending the corruption, given what we witnessed in Rio the only change they made was to shine a bright light on what they were doing. I guess you’d call that a change.

As to excitement and being spectator friendly, the UWW decided the best way to accomplish this was to double the number of points for a takedown. From that they did chest bumps proclaiming, “Look at what we accomplished! The average number of points scored per bout has doubled in the last three years.”

Really . . . of course there’s more scoring. If you double the number of points for a takedown and have the same number of takedowns, the point totals have to double. Maybe I’m wrong but isn’t that 3rd grade, 2nd month math?

Now following Rio the UWW has decided that par terre will no longer be forced on athletes in Greco matches. That means more defensive posturing and less attacks from standing. I’m confused, is that the direction the sport should head. What could they be thinking when a majority of all the points scored in Greco come from the down position?

All this reminds me of what Pelle Svensson, a two-time World Champion and 17 year member of the UWW Board said about them as he resigned in disgust. They are nothing more than “an inherently corrupt organization.”

And although I don’t agree with the street theater we saw from the Mongolian coaches in Rio, their protest was a direct result of the corrupt officiating. So one might be swayed to say that the UWW is partially responsible for the black eye we received here as a result of the coach’s actions.

I’m worried that so little has happened relative to the UWW’s assurances to reform that bad things are about to befall us. It’s still business as usual for them; political favors and financial inducements flowing upstream while the sport heads downstream and over the dam.

As to the question I posed at the top of the page; IOC President Thomas Bach has promised to fight all corruption, wherever he finds it with zero tolerance. So I’d have to believe he’s going to take a close look at wrestling and be compelled to act.

Now I get it for those who want to defend our sport that the IOC isn’t without sin; or willing to hold themselves to the same standards as they will judge us by. Yes, they had their issues in 2002 with the Salt Lake City Olympics followed by an ongoing string of allegations regarding bidding and voting irregularities. None of that is shocking but we should be very concerned about it because there’s a difference in the microscope settings when a mother judges herself versus one of her siblings; especially an insignificant one like wrestling when zero tolerance is promised. This is a “you or mother” scenario and I’d put money on the IOC deciding that it’s better to clean our house than to shine a negative light on theirs.

To help the IOC with a decision like this, there are several other sports who have been patiently waiting in the wings to become the next member of the Olympic family. And what do you think each of them is saying to every IOC board member they encounter?

”Why are you keeping wrestling? They’ve embarrassed themselves and you once again while cheating their own athletes. I would imagine that Pierre de Coubertin is turning over in his grave right about now. Do you really need the media taking a closer look at your group over wrestling’s transgressions? You have enough problems as it is and they’re continuously demonstrating that they can’t be trusted. Give us a chance, dump wrestling; we’ll bring honor, excitement and twice the number of spectators to your events.” 

And if USAWrestling doesn’t force the UWW to jump on these transgressions with both feet, what message does that send, especially to our athletes here at home; that it’s okay to devote an entire career to that one moment in time when one is inches away from an Olympic medal to instead end up with a ticket home as a consolation prize. All because someone with a whistle got his palm greased.

Here are a few interesting posts on Flo’s website about the corruption in Rio;

“It’s time for entire cleansing of the wrestling world from the bottom to the top!!! To include our very own….”

“Where were the American officials at when this went down?”

“It’s time to get an official statement from UWW on what they have to say about the allegations and how they plan to respond to them.”

“So I guess the Mongolians were onto something.”

“Our country’s great sense of fairness make us gasp in disbelief at the blatant corruption possibilities that play themselves out on the wrestling mat.”

“Sadly this is the kind of stuff that gives the IOC ammo to throw wrestling out of the Olympics…”

“So if this is true they should pull the $50,000 fine they issued to Mongolian team for there protest on the mat seems unfair to fine a team when the officials were cheating.”

“And the decline of my beloved sport continues.”

Adeline and Jordan in Rio . . .  

I’m not aware of what happened to Adeline on the women’s side of things but in talking with people who know Jordan, it seems the consensus is there were way too many distractions. Only JB knows for sure, and maybe he’s not completely aware of how each one added to the letdown but I believe we can agree that Rio wasn’t his best performance.

Actually it was painful to watch . . . to see such a great athlete and spokesman for the sport trying to regain his composure after the first loss and then again after his second. I can’t imagine what was going through his mind. But even if he’s one Gold Medal short of what he prepared for, he’s still our champion.

So what were the distractions? Before we talk about that we need to remember that JB is no longer the same person who won the worlds in 2011 or the Olympics in 2012. There has been a few changes in his life. To begin he married his sweetheart in 2013 and has become the father of two lovely children with all the associated responsibilities while trying to maintain the moniker of being the most popular wrestler in the world.

Besides those things what appeared to have sidetracked him the most is the media. They were so enamored by his intelligence and pleasant demeanor that they pulled him in every direction possible except the one that pointed to the winners circle.

If there was a fifth distraction it was the half million dollar Gold Medal incentive package he was offered. The pressure to win in Rio meant that if he was successful the Burroughs family would become financially comfortable for quite a few years to come.

And finally there was the stress that comes from knowing that your fans are expecting not only the Gold but to win each match by even larger margins than before.

I have to believe that Adeline had similar issues, especially with the media and the pressure that’s associated with being America’s flag bearer for the women’s program.

Combined, each one of these time consuming entanglements moved both Jordan’s and Adeline’s psyches away from the envious position of being the hunter to the exposed position of being the hunted.

When I watched Adeline’s first match it certainly appeared she was just trying to get through it against a women she had defeated 9 times before. The match was simply a matter of her under performing by keeping the bout closer than she was capable of and ended up on the losing end of a last second 2-pointer.

This shocked me because every match I’ve ever watched her wrestle she’s never been that conservative. I place the responsibility for that on the coaching staff. She just wasn’t ready to shake hands, kick fanny and take names.

For those who might take exception to that comment about the coaches, I’ll give you that it’s ultimately the athlete who’s responsible for their own success but keeping them focused and away from the pitfalls of distractions is the coach’s job. It couldn’t have been that Adeline wasn’t physically ready to wrestle or wasn’t emotionally capable of winning her fourth world title so through the process of elimination the easy conclusion is that the coaches simply did not step up to help her with the outside distractions.

In the case of Jordan who was 2-0 against his Russian opponent and beat Abdurakhmonov 9-3 just a month before the Games, I wonder if anyone grabbed him after his first loss and said; “Do you know what’s worse than going home and having to explain to everyone how you lost?” Then after a pause follow that with, “Going home and having to explain to everyone how you lost twice.” As much as we might not believe it, our Olympians are still young adults with quite a bit more to learn. It’s our senior level leadership who should be the ones to provide it. Something they clearly failed to do.

Writing this portion of the blog reminds me of watching Gable wrestle his last collegiate match against Larry Owings. It was probably the most shocking loss I’ve ever witnessed in sports. This defeat had nothing to do with physical preparedness but had everything to do with the number of distractions Dan endured before the match.

Every media outlet imaginable wanted time with our Golden Boy, even the ones that never covered wrestling before because he was that big, his accomplishments were that well known. Never beaten in high school and undefeated throughout his collegiate career the media just couldn’t get enough of Dan. And from what I’ve heard over the years, Coach Nichols blamed himself for not doing more to protect his star from the distractions. He was probably right because the media and all that surrounds them are, by definition, the things that pull a person away from their goals.

Don’t get me wrong, Owings’ was very good but not Dan Gable good. So whatever those things were that pulled Dan away from doing his best caused the greatest wrestler America has ever produced to under produce.

As to Rio, had Dan been the coach I doubt very much if Adeline or Jordan would have lost. For coaching is imparting the wisdom gained from what typically is 40+ years of competing, coaching and life experiences to those who have less than 20 years of competitive experience; regardless of how successful the athletes are.

Dan never forgot the lesson he endured in 1970; how expectations and distractions reduced his level of performance. He took those lessons to form the basis of who he became as a coach. I can’t remember a time when a Hawk wrestled below his capabilities; can you? That had everything to do with Dan continuously controlling his athlete’s access to external disturbances and a major reason why they won so often.

And when the time comes that Jordon and Adeline retires from competition, I’m sure they’ll both remember how dangerous an overabundance of distractions were and like Gable, become exceptional coaches.

So What’s A Person To Do . . .

Have you ever wondered what you could do as a member of USAWrestling if you wanted to express your concern (or displeasure) at our performance in Rio? Or for USAWrestling closing their eyes to the corruption within the UWW without exposing yourself to reprisals; or hurting the organization?

If you have, then maybe this might appeal to you?

Given that nothing significant happens at USAWrestling from September through November why not delay the purchase of your membership card until December? This action won’t hurt the organizations bottom line, but it is a way to express your concerns regarding our senior level programming and how they’re allowing the UWW to bury our beloved sport with the IOC.

This form of organized revenue disruption is temporary but it definitely sends a very strong message to USAWrestling’s Board of Directors and their half dozen or so senior level contributors. It tells them they have your support should they wish to force change.

This is the only way I can think of where everyday individuals like you and I can make a difference without actually hurting the organization or our access to their programming.

Thought for the day . . . things that matter the most must never be at the mercy of things that matter least.

USAWrestling; Red, White and Feeling Blue

Before USAWrestling has much of a chance to spin the results of the Games, you might like to know a few facts. Out of 72 medals that were awarded for wrestling in Rio America won 3 of them. That alone should tell you where we stand in the world and the job Colorado Springs is doing in relation to international competition.

In Rio there were 19 wrestlers in each weight class, 12 of which received first round byes. It’s hard to believe that we can’t do better given all the wrestlers had to do was win their first match to move into the medal round.

Now I’m not suggesting that winning matches on this stage is easy, but if our athlete’s preparedness was equal to their levels of talent, success shouldn’t be a stretch. That’s my point here and where USAWrestling falls short; we have the talent but the athletes aren’t ready and the sad part is they’re not even aware of it because they don’t know what they don’t know. Their unpreparedness is leaderships fault. I’ll take a more in-depth look at this point in the next blog.

As to Greco, of the 138 matches that were wrestled in the Games, Team USA won 2 of them.

We had two 3-time World Champions in Rio and all they could manage was 1 win apiece. Both exited the Games without a medal. So what happened, it’s not that they won their previous championships by mistake? This too will be discussed in the next blog.

Between 1972 and 2000 (the year that the current administration arrived in Colorado Springs), America averaged 5.7 medals per Olympiad. Since 2000, we’ve dropped to 2.25 medals for an embarrassing 250% decrease in performance.

But Wade, there were 10 weight classes per style back then and we only have 6 today so you’re not comparing apples to apples. You’re right about the number of weight classes then but there wasn’t a woman’s division in the Olympics prior to 2000 so the slide in our competitiveness is still over 200% and certainly signifies we’ve fallen off a steep cliff.

In some regards what we’re going through is like death by a 1000 cuts. We’ve grown so accustomed to slowly decreasing performances that we’ve grown numb to the lethalness of our decline. If you wonder why that is it’s because we’re Americans and always prefer to see the glass as being half full versus half empty, to see what we’ve accomplished rather than what we haven’t.

If America has anything to hang its hat on during this Olympic cycle, which granted isn’t much, it’s that we weren’t the only team that did far less than expected. Perennial powerhouse, Russia, finished behind us which is a first as far back as I can remember not counting the Games in Los Angeles that were boycotted. I would imagine their coaches belongings are already boxed and on their way to Siberia as a result of their failings.

Now before I continue I’d like to apologize to the staff of USAWrestling for a comment I made two blogs ago, when I complimented Pete Isais and followed it with . . . “he’s the brightest star we have within a constellation of white dwarfs.” My words clearly suggested something I didn’t mean, and I see how they could be mis-perceived. I was trying to point out that leadership was not preforming to the levels we expect or the athletes deserve. These shortcomings are probably a result of administrative non-decisions rather than poor decisions but either way, the buck stops at the top and my words missed the mark. I’m very sorry.

The staff at USAWrestling is professional, efficient, and devoted to the growth of the sport. Without them we’d be in a real pickle.

And further, to be very clear, every time I criticize leadership I don’t mean that every single decision they make is off the mark or any specific department within the organization is poorly run. To the contrary, USAWrestling as a whole is the envy of many of the USOC family of sports. It’s just that when they fall from grace in competition, as they so often do, they do it in spades, which is reflective of the entire organization.

When it comes to CEO’s or Executive Directors, they’re ultimately accountable to their investors or in our case, membership. In Colorado Springs Mr. Bender has the unenviable task of keeping a wide and diverse organization pleased which isn’t an easy job. And he does it well when it comes to Operations and Finance, Sales and Marketing, Capital Improvement, Human Resources and Employee Training but unfortunately appears clueless with regards to athlete development. Or quite possibly he’s so deep in the political swamp that it’s impossible to win for losing.

So here’s the problem . . . he’s the Executive Director in charge of the entire organization and is the man in charge of finding out when a ball is dropped who dropped it? But if he knows, he’s not saying but regardless he’s the one responsible to fix it.

Here’s the solution . . . Rich needs a buffer, he needs to hire someone who understands his weaknesses who can take the hit when teams have sub-par performances and give the credit to the organization when they succeed. That person should have the title of Director of National Teams and be responsible to provide strategic leadership to the coaches while overseeing athlete training and qualifying tournaments. If that position already exists under a different name, I think we’ve found the person who isn’t doing their job or possibly knowing how the organization works, isn’t being allowed to do their job? We need to approach leadership in today’s fast paced, information overloaded environment like a gardener approaches gardening. Gardeners tend to their gardens and find success when they create an environment where plants flourish, and the gardener only has to perform maintenance as all the ground work was done up front.  However, this type of leadership is not passive but active and requires the leader to lead from the front where the actions of the leaders speak louder than the words.

So if I were in that position, and I’m definitely not lobbying for it, here are a few examples of what I’d insist take place. Most of them will be vehemently opposed by coaches and rejected by the athletes but that shouldn’t be a concern. Greatness in sports never happens by mistake and it certainly doesn’t happen when you allow the athletes or coaches to do their own thing or dictate the curriculum.

1) Insist that every wrestler who receives stipends train at the OTC or lose their funding. I know this idea is not going to be a popular initiative but we aren’t running a popularity contest. Winning is about setting goals and then achieving them. May I remind everyone that Lombardi was hated by every member of the Green Bay Packers until they won a few Super Bowls then the old coach was loved. If championships were easy, everyone would be a champion.

It’s simply impossible for any athlete to be at his/her best when he/she trains with others who aren’t currently at his/her level of development. NFL players don’t become All-Pro by working out with players from their old college teams. You can’t compete with lawyers in New York City when you practice law in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. It’s simply impossible for a David Taylor who I happen to believe is one of our greats to reach his potential by working out in the Penn State room. He needs global level competition on a daily basis with people like Burroughs, Dake, Dieringer, Howe and Cox all who are well within reach of obtaining international greatness. As steel sharpens steel, we must insist that our best toughen one another just as other countries do. What do you think would happen if every member of the Iowa team decided to go back to their high schools to train during the week and then show up on the weekends to wrestle? How crazy is that, Tom would never allow it to happen but if he did, he’d only have to endure four months of losing before he was replaced. Does anyone else see the futility of allowing America’s best to train apart with those who have yet to step on the world stage? Getting along, being politically correct, having the individual freedom to do what you want when you want isn’t how anyone becomes great in a combat sport. It takes discipline, sacrifice and for those who just want to whine; to retire.

Our most successful years in wrestling were when everyone who was anyone lived in Iowa City and trained with Gable. My joints still remind me when the barometric pressure drops of those daily workouts with Dziedzic, Schultz, Kemp, Peterson, Keaser, Campbell and of course “the Gabe.” It wasn’t pleasant, and it wasn’t easy, but it did put all of us in the Hall of Fame. A day of relaxation for me was facing off against Carl Adams, and I can tell you that wasn’t a vacation. But today, everyone trains apart, and the results reflect that.

If anyone’s curious how Jordan, Kyle and our amazing women won championships training apart, remember I said “for athletes to be at their best they need to train together.” It’s just that the best those athletes have is above the line that’s necessary to be a World Champion. They’re that good and would become even better if they worked together while, at the same time, elevating those around them which is of equal or greater importance as USA Wrestling looks to improve their position on the world stage.

Taking this idea a step further, if I had the power to do so I’d add a second criterion for making a World, Pan Am or Olympic team. Instead of just winning the trials, each athlete would be required to fly to the OTC for a predetermined period of time to train. This wouldn’t be optional. Failure to show up means the athlete forfeits his/her position and the second place wrestler immediately replaces him/her. If we want to be serious about winning, then we have to be serious about winning.

2) One size doesn’t fit all and how we coach our national teams should mirror that fact. For the sake of argument let’s say there are three completely different wrestling styles. The first is conservative and hard-nosed like Ramos, Molinaro, Howe and Snyder. The second is moderate and creative which are your Pico’s, Cox’s and Burroughs’. The last one is unorthodox and imaginative like Taylor, Dake, and Rutherford. By the way, this last style is the most fun to watch, the most difficult to compete against and the hardest to dissect if you’re a foreigner.

In my opinion the second largest challenge USAWrestling faced leading up to Rio was every member of our freestyle coaching staff were disciples of conservative and hardnosed. Slay would do wonders with Snyder types but struggle to understand Dake. Zadick could improve Ramos but doesn’t speak Rutherford very well. Burnett believes that basics win matches and he’s right; however that doesn’t always help develop America’s imaginative wrestlers.

Now none of this is to say or insinuate that these men can’t coach, they’re some of this country’s best. I’m just trying to point out that in any organization if you have 3 people with the same mindset, it’s believed that 2 of them aren’t necessary. And if there’s one thing that makes America special it’s our creativeness and innovation. To stifle that for the benefit of conservatism is to witness what we saw in Rio.

Success development of our athletes means matching mindset with mindset, skillset with skillset and that can only take place when you pair athletes with likeminded coaches. This is exactly what Lombardi did when he built the Green Bay Packers into Super Bowl Champions – he used a framework built on what he called the seven blocks of granite; 1.Spartan qualities of sacrifice, selflessness, competitive drive, and perseverance; 2. The American Zeal to compete and win to find their better selves; 3. A man’s commitment to excellence and victory; 4. Too much freedom and not enough authority bringing us close to chaos; 5. Lack of disciplined leadership where people want to be told what to do but also to have freedom – effective leaders needed to understand this paradox; 6. A great leader is one that identifies himself with his group and backs his group even if it means displeasure from the superiors and to give a sense of approval as well as belief in teamwork through cooperation – a balance between mental toughness and love; and 7. The two inseparable qualities that make great leaders stand out are character and will – will is character in action – leadership is in sacrifice, self-denial, love, loyalty, fearlessness, and humility to build the winning team. Bottom line, USAWrestling needs to do a better job in diversifying their coaching staffs and learn from our own history of what makes people and athletes great.

3) Know your enemy without duplicating them. The former is where we score high marks, the latter produces losses. USAWrestling has done great work at gathering and analyzing videos of the world’s best wrestlers. But the question is how to handle this treasure trove of information? Obviously we should use it to identify those techniques the opposition will throw at us and then develop a) counter measures and b) counter attacks after blocking their shots. However, I’m not so sure that counter attacks is part of USAWrestling’s curriculum. If it were, our non-medalists would have done better. Cox and Snyder were successful, in part, to their counter attacks, a staple of collegiate wrestling – a fact which should be noted since those two still have collegiate eligibility remaining. It could be coincidence that they medaled where those who graduated several years ago didn’t but I think I see a pattern. What is obvious to me is we’re missing defensive offenses; ways to score from our opponent’s shots. This is as American as apple pie and exactly the area where the Europeans and Asians have trouble figuring us out. They have all learned to train by the step 1 is followed by step 2 methodology. That’s all well and good for them, but if you throw step 4 in-between steps 1 and 2 you’ll often notice smoke coming out of their ears as their circuitry is fried. No one knows chain wrestling like Americans do, yet, it appears that we’ve shelved it as not being “the way the Russians do it.”

What videos shouldn’t be used for are learning tools to duplicate our attacks to mirror theirs just because “the Iranians or the Russians win with it.” Americans need to wrestle the way we’ve always wrestled. But as an example to tell Ben Askren in ‘08 that he had to completely change from his “give them a leg and win from there” style to an elbows in, square stance, down block and push away philosophy took him from being the favored to win Gold and turned him into a spectator with 1 win and 2 losses. Misguided coaching by the staff of USAWrestling cost him his dream. That’s sad and I’m sorry but it’s also unforgivable.

Now if I offended anyone here, once again I’m sorry but I stick by my one size doesn’t fit all philosophy. It took me years to figure out that how I wrestled shouldn’t be shared with conservative hard-nosed types. That was a miscalculation on my part just as Gable learned after a couple of years at Iowa that his crunch style of coaching didn’t work well for those who were unorthodox and imaginative.

4) Fire any national team coach who sits in an athlete’s corner opposite another American. No exceptions, one strike and you’re out. You cannot have a cohesive program when sides are drawn by individuals who are paid to know better. This is one of the primary reasons why a vast majority of our greats won’t show their faces at the training center in Colorado Springs. They know if they do, they’ll more than likely be scouted, and their weaknesses used against them. Now it doesn’t matter to what degree this feeling is real or imagined, it’s an outgrowth of observing members of the national coaching staff choosing sides during matches between Americans. We can’t be at our best when coaches show favoritism and the athletes don’t trust them, or the organization, for allowing it to take place.

My next blog will go into depth regarding Rich’s more inhibiting challenges and how he might see them in a different light. It should be fun.