How Wrestling Wins – Chapter 8

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Chapter 8

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

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

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

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


What others are saying about How Wrestling Wins:

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

Dan Sloan, Petersburg, Alaska

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

John Albertson, Taos, New Mexico


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

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

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

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

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


Speaking of closets, here’s another rule change to digest. Wrestling should consider having multiple competitive ensembles that programs can choose from besides a singlet. Each institution should have choices in what they select to wear when it comes to competition. The only question we need to answer here is what’s wrong with choices, it’s the 21st century. Why are we forcing wrestlers to wear singlets that were originally fashioned by the caveman using animal hides which only flatters those with developed bodies? Swim suit manufacturers understand that; it’s why they make one and two piece suits for women as well as cover-ups because not all bodies are the same; just as it’s true for adolescent children versus their post pubescent counterparts.

I can’t begin to tell you how many young wrestlers I’ve talked to that won’t give the sport a try because they 1) have to wear a singlet or 2) have to strip down to their underwear for weigh-ins. Remember, this is the century of sensitivity training and where self-esteem issues are high on everyone’s list. Making a young person wear something that isn’t flattering is an immediate turn-off just as having them stand in front of dozens of their peers in their underwear is embarrassing. If you’re not sure this is a big deal with kids; take a group of elementary children and divide them into shirts and skins for a game of kick ball. Then see how many children on the skins side ask if they can be a shirt instead or say they don’t want to play? This is a really BIG deal with kids that we seem to overlook to our detriment.

I recently showed this segment of How Wrestling Wins to a friend who coaches and he responded, “Oh my God, you’re right on the money here.” And continued, “You have no idea how many times I’ve heard, “I know I’d get in great shape if I came out for wrestling but I’m not wearing that leotard.” And when I tell my P.E. classes that we have a home match tonight I hear the girls snickering and whispering, “gross . . . man thong!”

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

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

Again, we shouldn’t care what the coaches think or the fans that don’t go to meets, as long as it doesn’t interfere with the wrestler’s ability to compete. It’s all about the spectators who buy tickets and what they see, it’s about the perceived strategies multiple outfits provide and how the sport is viewed by the media. Athletes do care about their appearance and sometimes that means a well-fitting singlet, then again it may mean something else. This is why the fashion industry from Paris to Milan to New York is an ever changing 1.2 trillion dollar industry.

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

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

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

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

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

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

chap 8 first picAll this is a win-win for everyone and if the sports goal is to work toward reducing the amount of skin infections, what better way of doing that than minimizing the use of singlets which provide the most skin on skin contact?

Of course there’s the likelihood of increased scoring when “slipping out of a hold” becomes far more difficult to do as a result of additional material. But is that a bad thing?

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

Nationally on both the scholastic and collegiate levels, wrestlers are allowed to wear t-shirts underneath their singlets for those who have a doctor’s note for dermatologic skin issues. To that point, we have been doing cover-ups for decades and there hasn’t been one safety or strategic issue ever mentioned. So what’s the problem?

If we look back in time there has always been precedent regarding change. Wasn’t it the ancient Greek’s that wrestled in the nude? Amateur wrestlers in the 1930’s were bare-chested and wore full length tights. In the 1960’s and 1970’s wrestlers wore full length tights with short shorts over buttoned down tops.

If for no other reason, do it for our little guys because we need as many of them as we can attract. And as far back as I can remember I’ve never known one wrestler who came out for the sport because he couldn’t wait to wear a singlet but I have known hundreds that didn’t come out for the opposite reason. So over the years, this issue has to translate into thousands of youngsters who haven’t tried wrestling because of the way we handle weigh-ins and our selection of uniforms.

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

Can you think of any good reason why we shouldn’t make some visual changes? It certainly conveys to society that wresting is undergoing change? It works in retail sales when companies change the look of a products packaging and then market it as being “new and improved.” Besides, what’s wrong with having a variety of options relative to what an athlete feels good about wearing? Certainly not the cost of development; let the athletic clothing companies handle that end of things and then enjoy the return on investment from sales.

Whether you agree with adding fashion statements or not, please don’t get caught up in the specifics. Think variety, new and improved, skin infections, styling, strategic applications and self-esteem issues. This is really a no-brainer but somehow there will still be members of the rules committee who won’t like the idea while those from marketing and promotions cheer it.

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

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

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

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

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

Mat side weigh-ins achieves all our goals.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So let’s begin with an advertising campaign.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chapter 9 next Sunday.

How Wrestling Wins – Chapter 7

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Chapter 7

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

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

We should seriously consider allowing wrestlers to compete in two weight classes during a dual meet; but no more than 3 times a season. Yes, you read that right, it’s called the Doubling Up. I’m sure it’ll create as much buzz with the media and our fans as it is doing in your head right now. Doubling Up would be huge for our sport.

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

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

So why is it acceptable to keep our franchise athletes on the bench for 90% of a dual meet; or worse yet 95% of the evening’s event given our legends of the sport seldom wrestle half a match before ending it with a pin or a technical fall?

In business you wouldn’t pull your best salesman off the road after the first hour of the day and you can’t win the hearts of spectators when your flagship wrestler spends 95% of the evening sitting on the bench.

If we want to develop hero’s and legends that the media will pick up on, what better way than to have David Taylor go out and decision Oklahoma’s Tyler Caldwell and then Andrew Howell back to back. Wouldn’t that be worthy of a feature article in Sports Illustrated and then being a guest on ESPN’s Outside the Lines?

So why not; please don’t say it’s a safety issue. Really? If wrestlers are as tough as we tell everyone they are, that we’re in better shape than any other athlete on the planet, how can basketball, football and soccer players go for 2-hours, marathon runners for 26 miles and wrestlers for safety sake can only wrestle 7 minutes? How many matches do coaches make their team wrestle every day in practice back to back to back to back without a break? No one has ever died from 45 minutes of live wrestling and I’d bet medical evidence would show nothing but positive effects from those cardio-vascular experiences. So how bad can 14 minutes of competition be when it’s less than a third of what wrestlers go through every day and its one minute less than the length of an undercard bout in the UFC.

I realize what I’m professing here violates our sports rule relative to the 45 minute rest period. But let me ask, who came up with 45 minutes in the first place?” I don’t mean the organization, what was the name of the idiot who saddled us with that number? I’d like to challenge him to produce any medical documentation that supports what he’s made us live under for decades. I’d be willing to bet he can’t and I have a strong feeling that he made the number up.

Sometimes it’s really tough to understand how completely obstinate the wrestling community can be about almost everything we do or things that are suggested and Doubling Up will be just another example. Yet they never question what is already etched in stone regardless if it makes sense or not and will fight to the death anyone who suggests otherwise.

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

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

In Olympic competition, any athlete may participate in as many sports and events as he or she can qualify for; there’s no limit!

Football players are allowed to go both ways and play non-stop for the entire 2 hours if they’re good enough. But we have to worry about our athletes because they’re delicate wall flowers who can only manage 7 minutes of activity before having to sit down and rest. Are you kidding me; even basketball players are allowed to go non-stop for 2 hours. That should be enough said, 45 minutes of rest in wrestling is laughable!

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

  1. The obvious strategic value. Think how exciting it could be, all the decisions that coaches have to make and all the tactical options that spectators get to discuss? Should Coach Robinson put Ness in for a second time and use one of Dylan’s 3 Double Ups given Minnesota is down by 4 points with just 3 matches left? Or should he hold him back with the knowledge that he has Penn State, Iowa and Ohio State still on their schedule where he might be needed? There are so many possibilities and strategies here that it becomes nirvana for armchair quarterbacks and a blessing for the shrewdest of coaches.
  2. Doubling Up could also help reduce forfeits. Coaches can now push wrestlers up a weight class after competing in the lower one to fill a void they have in their lineup. We might even consider making it mandatory that any team who is surrendering a weight class must use the athlete directly below that weight to avoid the forfeit. Obviously such a rule wouldn’t fix forfeiting the first weight class but anytime you can fix 90% of a problem, why wouldn’t you go for it?
  3. Why only 3 times per season per athlete? That’s easy to answer; coaches might be tempted to abuse the rule and take advantage of lesser athletes in their lineup who are a weight class above their team’s best wrestlers. Continually bumping young men out of the lineup after they’ve earned a varsity spot is wrong on so many levels.

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

Scrambling the Weight Classes for all dual meets; but not in the way we’ve done in the past. Flip a coin before each meet and the winning coach selects the first weight class to be contested. After that bout occurs the other coach selects the second weight class and back and forth it goes throughout the evening. There wouldn’t be a specific order to weight classes anymore, every dual meet would be different. Now the twist that makes this so strategic and fun for the spectator is no one knows, other than the coach whose turn it is to select, which weight is going to wrestle next. 

Think of the tactical value of who goes out on the mat next? Does the coach whose turn it is to select send his best wrestler out to stop the momentum the opposing team has built up or hold him in reserve for later? What weight class does a coach use after Logan Stieber just finished winning a close match against one of his better wrestlers? Should he jump a couple of weight classes and get Logan off the mat. Or should he challenge him with his 149 pounder while he’s somewhat fatigued or are the Buckeyes even going to use Logan a second time in this dual? Maybe the coach should jump to 197 pounds and try and take advantage of the one athlete on the other team’s bench who hasn’t been warming up?

Do you see where this could go? Similar to military strategy, where and when do you attack; how do you take advantage of actual or perceived weaknesses and which asset do you throw into battle next?

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

Relative to our spectators, can you imagine the variety of opinions they’ll come up with regarding which weight should go next and what athlete should Double Up? This is so important to attracting and keeping new spectators. The more we compound the number of strategies that coaches have available to them the more we correspondingly engage those who are sitting in the stands. It’s important that we give the spectators the ability to outthink, at least in their minds, the coaches whose decisions determine the evening’s outcome. Armchair quarterbacks are a good thing in any sport.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chapter 8 next Sunday.

A Must Read

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


How Wrestling Wins – Chapter 6

x and o

Chapter 6

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The logic behind being dual meet centric is:

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

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

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

Chapter 7 next Sunday.

How Wrestling Wins – Chapter 5

x and o

Chapter 5

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chapter 6 next Sunday.

How Wrestling Wins – Chapter 4

x and o

Chapter 4

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

Message received; wrestling isn’t relevant.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Part 5

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chapter 5 next Sunday.

How Wrestling Wins – Chapter 3

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

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Chapter 3

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

All these have to be good signs; right?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chapter 4 next Sunday.

How Wrestling Wins – Chapter 2

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Chapter 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What do you do; sell or hold?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Where’s the outcry?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From the Ninth Circuit court’s decision:

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

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

Chapter 3 next Sunday.

How Wrestling Wins – Chapter 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Part 1

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

Wrestling Challenges

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Year    Points Scored

1979               19.5

1981               13.2

1986               11.0

1994                 9.0

2002                 8.0

2005                 7.9

2013                6.9

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

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

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

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

Super Bowl Points Scored

2014            51

2013            65

2012            38

2011             56

2010            48

2009            50

Average       51


1972              27

1971              29

1970             30

1969             23

1968             47

1967              35

Average       27

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

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

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

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

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

There are two things wrong with these fights:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chapter 2 next Sunday.

How Wrestling Wins – Prologue


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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