When you combine the following baseline changes and short synopsis of why each is important with last week’s Chapter 16, you have the future of wrestling. But remember, none of what I’m espousing is perfect and I implore you not to get caught up in the finite minutia. Each of us can find things we don’t like about any of these proposals and why we’ve always failed. I understand nothing’s perfect, but the question we should ask ourselves is; do these recommendations move the bar significantly higher than it is now? I believe it moves it appreciably more than significantly and by the time you’re done reading I hope I’ve convinced you to the point that you agree.
You have to understand, your opinion doesn’t count any more than mine does. Even if the rule book said all athletes had to wear pink leotards and matches were going to be decided by riding time we’re still going to watch wrestling because we’re die-hards. We love the sport and what is does for America’s youth. So what I’m focusing on here and is a responsibility that I take seriously is the creation of an atmosphere that will attract the 10 million potential fans that wrestling currently doesn’t have. For they are the ones given our declining numbers that will pull us from the jaws of defeat.
So here we go, here are some of the initial changes I’d make if I were calling the shots and why. The remaining ones you’ll be able to read in my final chapter of How Wrestling Wins that will post next week.
Scholarships need to be reduced to 7.9 from 9.9 or I like even more keeping scholarships at the 9.9 level but make them tuition only. The latter is a far superior option if cost containment is the goal. Either way, pick one but the important thing to remember is we must start controlling expenses and each of these two options do three things. 1) Athletic administrators will applaud the reality of our vision while it 2) Creates greater parity within the sport. Now I can’t prove 3) But I believe a reduction in the maximum number of scholarships will actually increase the total number of scholarships that are available to the sport. There has to be 3 times more mid-level programs that currently have 4 to 7 scholarships than there are fully funded ones at 9.9. That being said, how many of those mid-level programs would add a scholarship or two to become fully funded when they can’t possibly reach 9.9? I hope I’m right here but even if I’m not, reducing scholarships is still something we have to do. Remember what happened when football reduced scholarships from 120 to 100 to 85? Before those reductions took place who ever thought that it was possible for the Baylor’s, Oregon’s, Boise State’s, Mississippi and Mississippi State’s of the world to become title contenders? The thought of reducing scholarship numbers certainly creates debate but it also broadens the sports power base to the chagrin of those who are part of the nation’s top programs. But what’s good for the sport and the masses has to take precedent over what’s best for the powerful elite.
The start of the season needs to move from November to January. (Chapter 10) This proposal isn’t new, it’s been debated for decades and during that time I’ve never heard one good reason why we shouldn’t change the season other than a few self-serving ones or the old stand-by; “it’s not the way we’ve done it in the past.” Without putting much thought to it I can come up with at least a half-dozen good reasons why this change is extremely positive. 1) The biggest one is it moves our national tournament away from the men’s and women’s basketball championships. Remember, their conference tournaments and national championship all fall on the same weekends as ours does. That’s not good for us when the lifeblood of any sport is the amount of media coverage one receives. 2) It gives our freshman athletes, many of whom are the first members of their family to attend college, an opportunity to become academically acclimated to the grind before season begins and weight is shed. I wish to remind everyone that our sport is academically either next to the bottom or two spots up from the bottom of all male sports. This fact hurts us as much as Title IX does. 3) Moving the season is also a safety issue because it trades December for April when our teams are driving on icy roads. 4) Waiting until January also opens the door for football players to come out for wrestling given their season has officially ended. In the past many wouldn’t come out because doing so meant they only had half the time to get in shape prior to the nationals. I could go on but you have to see the strength of this change whose time has come.
And while we’re at it, the time has come to accept the serious nature of implementing an official NCAA National Dual Meet Championship. Because the spectators we don’t have demand it. Yes that’s right, the ones we don’t have because we’re not going to survive doing what we’ve always done with the spectators we do have. As soon as the NCAA Dual Meet Championships is no longer a wish but a reality, we need to flip-flop the dates of that event with our individual tournament to make things work for the sport. You read that right too; move our current national championship. But read on, you can burn me at the stake for heresy later. In the last several years Mike Moyer at the NWCA has been getting beat up by influential coaches over his support of a National Dual Meet Championship. Bruised and battered he’s still at the plate trying to work with Division I coaches and some television networks to see what might be possible.
But the coaches are right to oppose it the way it’s being proposed.
I believe almost everyone agrees a Dual Meet Championship is a good thing but somehow the NWCA can’t make it work because they’re trying to fit it within the confines of the present seasonal structure. The largest objection and the one that counts is the number of high intensity matches that athletes from the top programs will have to wrestle going through a national dual meet championship before tackling their very vigorous regular season schedule leading up to exceptionally tough conference tournaments and then of course the individual nationals. That’s completely suicidal for their athletes and why coaches reject this proposal. Teams like Penn State, Iowa, Ohio State, Minnesota and Oklahoma State shouldn’t be asked to go through such a meat grinder when the other 80% of the DI programs sit back and watch the carnage. The toughest teams shouldn’t be penalized in the middle of the season because they’re our sports flag bearers. Having a Dual Meet Championship in January is a bad idea. But it’s a great idea if it’s held at the end of the season. Wrestling shouldn’t get caught up on what we use to do but instead look to what we must do. If the sports survival was my prime directive, here’s how I would handle it. I’d start by delaying the start of the season until the first of the New Year.
Season Begins – First week of January
Conference and Qualifying Tournaments – Middle of February
NCAA Individual Tournament – End of February
National Dual Meet Championship Series Begins – Early April
Now don’t get caught up on the exact dates and lose sight of the premise. If you want to move the time frames up some or backwards a bit, okay, that’s fine. But let’s work together on the big picture of having two championships in the correct order.
Let me explain. Who among us can’t see the genius and absolute must of a) having two championships and b) moving each of them away from basketball’s March Madness? Just answer those two questions please; not the order of the events or the dates. If you don’t think having two championships is a good idea, skip down and page and move to the next topic.
But if you feel two championships makes sense, the only decisions we have left is deciding on time frames and the order of the events. Anything other than having the National Duals going at the end of the season is as unreasonable to ask of the participants as it is impossible to get passed the coaches.
So the only alternative is to get the national dual meet tournament accepted and then flip-flop the timing of it with the individual tournament. That way everyone gets their cake and gets to eat it too. Athletes are fresh for the individual tournament which is a dream for every coach and the sport gets the much needed, and media favored dual meet tournament.
Plus, this is a huge marketing windfall for wrestling; the sport ends up with 10 NCAA Champions and 70 other All-Americans still in uniform for the remaining 2 months of the season! Just think of the potential match-ups we’d see once the pressure is off and the athletes go prowling for additional stardom? How about the crowds we could attract to watch a current All-American take on this year’s national champion or better yet, one national champion moving up a weight to wrestle another NCAA champion? Can you imagine the media excitement a David Taylor/Mark Perry or Ed Ruth/J’Den Cox would have generated! This is how you make legends in our sport and give our younger wrestler’s hero’s to look up to.
The way it’s done now, the season ends the moment all our best athletes receive their All-American plaques; half of which will graduate two months later so the sport NEVER gets a chance to market these young men’s achievements.
As to the National Dual Meet Championships, remember, there would only be 16 out of 77 DI teams wrestling in the Sweet Sixteen round, followed by the Elite Eight weekend and then the Final Four Championships 7 days later. What does that accomplish?
Most teams would finish their season by the end of March. I would imagine the NCAA would quickly support this arrangement because it actually shortens the season for 80% of the DI programs by 3 weeks. Only the best of the best programs would go for another week and then half of them would be eliminated and so on until we have a champion. This is also a tremendous way for those programs that aren’t financially competitive to reduce spending because they more than likely won’t be selected as one of the Sweet Sixteen. Cost containment has to be one of the sports priorities.
Wrestling must become an event, not just competition. The only way to do that is to become dual meet centric if we’re to continue as a sport (Chapter 10). Triangular’s, Quadangular’s, Dual Meet and Individual Tournaments during the season have to completely disappear. Our survival is based on becoming financially viable and that means attracting new spectators to wrestling’s New and Improved fan friendly format while keeping our die-hards in the stands. Who wants to attend something that will take a full day to complete that reminds people of watching grass grow? Even football fans wouldn’t attend an Ohio State-Oregon game if they knew it was going to take 8+ hours to complete so why would we believe we can tie up a person’s entire day with wrestling and have them lining up to buy tickets? All our events, other than pre and post season tournaments must be dual meets. No exceptions, we need to get our spectators in, out and home in a 2-hour time frame if we expect to increase revenues and start our march back to relevance (Chapter 6).
Place a seasonal maximum number of matches, not dates, on athletes. Right now there are athletes finishing the season with almost 50 matches. And we wonder why wrestling is near the end of the list regarding academic performance and leading all sports in the number of concussions. By voluntarily placing a limit on competitions to 30 matches a season (just a suggestive number) it does several things. First it reduces operational costs which help us in the eyes of administrators who determine which sports stay and which ones go. Next, logic would suggest that a move like this has to increase the sports academic standing because with every weigh-in there are at least 3 days of weight reduction. Who can get excited about doing more in class when they’re so dehydrated that they feel like they’re capable of passing dust? Limiting the number of matches to 30 also has to correspondingly reduce the percentage of injuries that are reported to the NCAA while increasing the amount of time coaches would have to market their programs and play nice with their administrators. And if I were a betting man, I would wager if you asked the athletes about limiting the number of matches to 30 a vast majority of them would agree if it was done by a silent vote.
Matside weigh-ins must start immediately. This is so easy to do and it removes the need to have a medical oversight committee monitoring our existence. The only reason wrestlers cut weight is the internal fear that they’ll lose matches to athletes who are larger than they are. Who can blame them; everyone wants a level playing field that’s based on individual talent and work ethic, not one that pits one athlete against another substantially larger athlete; even if it’s only in the mind of the athlete. Wrestlers certainly don’t cut weight because they enjoy cottonmouth and dizzy spells. But if the rules didn’t give them a minimum of 2 hours to rehydrate, I’m sure everyone would go up a weight. Who wants to suffer and then lose a match because his body is functioning at 74% of capacity? Doesn’t every wrestler want to feel strong, be mentally hungry and actually having a chance of winning? That will only happen with matside weigh-ins because everyone will go up a weight and best of all, the same athletes will still be competing against one another but this time with smiles on their faces and considerably more gas in their tanks. Some other positive outcomes are; 1) Matside weigh-ins should make a significant difference in class room attendance and performance while it 2) has every wrestling mother in the country applauding the decision. 3) It will completely eliminate those damaging articles the media enjoys writing about the horrors of weight reduction while 4) eliminating the costly medical communities involvement in the process. Weighing in matside also provides a promotional visual like you see in boxing where the athletes step on a scale in front of a crowd. And just like horse racing, wrestlers will weigh-in with headgear in hand like jockeys’ do with their saddles. Then each athlete walks to the center of the mat without as much as a single swallow of water and the bout begins.
That’s the magic of this regulation; there’s zero chance of recovery so athletes won’t lose that much weight if it’s going to reduce their chances of winning.
To handle the logistics of this, whether we add a three pound allowance for the additional clothing and equipment or change the weight classes, either works. But let the athletes solve the problem that the rules committee created. This will work because there’s not one wrestler on this planet who wants to suffer twice.
“People don’t come to watch 2-1 defensive struggles; they come to see exciting action. You are right as usual and as Pogo once said “We have found the enemy and it is us”.
USA Wrestling National Staff, Retired
Kill the singlet as the sports competitive uniform. (Chapter 8) We should consider having multiple competitive ensembles that programs can choose from besides the singlet. Each institution and athlete should have choices in what they select to wear when it comes time for competition. The question we need to start with is what’s wrong with choices, it’s the 21st century. Why are we forcing wrestlers to wear something that were originally fashioned by the caveman using animal hides and only flatter those with developed bodies? Swim suit manufacturers understand this; 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 where self-esteem issues are high on everyone’s list. Making a young person put something on 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 the sport constantly dismisses as being inconsequential. 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.” He 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!”
Personally I think wrestlers should all be wearing various forms of compression gear which sculpts the body. (See the photograph in Chapter 8) Whether an athlete wears long tights and sleeveless top or half-length tights with long sleeve tops, does it really matter? As long as it doesn’t interfere with the match? 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. Please take note; athletes do care about their appearance and sometimes that means a well-fitting singlet; but many other times it doesn’t. All this is why the fashion industry from Paris to Milan to New York is an ever changing 1.2 trillion dollar industry and why the new collegiate football uniforms have received such a positive reception. The point is this is creative, it’s fun and it sends a message that we’re a wide open sport with few boundaries; we’re creative and deserving of our spectator’s time.
As for our youth, long sleeved compression gear is the equivalent of a cover-up in swimming but with form fitting and slimming characteristics. All 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 in terms of spectator appeal? 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, maybe thousands that didn’t come out for the opposite reason. So over the years, this issue has to translate into a very large pool of youngsters who didn’t try wrestling because of the way we handle weigh-ins and our selection of uniforms.
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, improved self-esteem and of course sex appeal. 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, sales and promotions cheer it.
Chapter 18, the final chapter, next Sunday. Topics will include::
1. Create a national partnership with a non-profit organization.
2. Create a consumer pledge and booklet that puts spectators before coaches and athletes.
3. Allow athletes to “double up,” wrestle in 2 weight classes per dual meet up to 3 times a year.
4. Alternate weight classes back and forth throughout dual meets.
5. Eliminate forfeits; for they are arsenic to wrestling.
6. It’s time to lose the name Amateur Wrestling.
7. Create new starting positions for standing and down positions.
8. Create a New and Improved advertising campaign.
9. The importance of creating a Wrestlers in Business group in your town.