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:
- 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.
- 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?
- 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.
Think 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.