I’ve received a few comments over the last year asking if I might consider spending more time on stories that uplift.
And believe me when I say, nothing would please me more.
But our desire to read about wrestling’s glass being half full comes at the expense of knowing that it’s also half empty. We crave the feel-good; we want to know that our passion and belief in the sport is justified.
I would like that as well.
But I also realize, as much as some might not want to believe it, to take our next step forward, we have to also identify the ones that have been tripping us up.
As a case in point, in 2020, the NCAA has decided, unwisely; that our national championships will be held at the Brick House, the University of Minnesota’s domed football stadium. It seats almost 57,000 spectators. That’s just wonderful; can anyone say binoculars? But the largest point here is even if we attract an NCAA record crowd of 20,000 fans, the facility is still only a third full. That’s what our distractors will see. “Wrestling is a dying sport, they use to have sellout crowds,” they’ll say. “The sport had way more empty seats than ones being used.” But if there’s something that’s good about the Brick House, at least there won’t be a shortage of parking spaces.
And it doesn’t matter why we had empty seats; when anyone attends a play on Broadway or a bowl game on New Year’s Day and half the seats are empty, they don’t think how lucky they were to get a seat, they wonder what everyone else knew that they didn’t?
I can just hear administrators who are under pressure to get their finances in order, “why do we have wrestling, the sport can’t even fill half the seats at the biggest event they have every year!”
I’m sorry but this is a very big deal because administrators and every other non-revenue sport have an appreciation for self-preservation greater than their compassion for others. So when the time comes and someone has to go, everyone points out the weaknesses of the other guy? A football stadium, regardless of how you format it, is a terrible idea but it does help the NCAA with their bottom line. For those who might know, all profits are theirs to keep.
And it doesn’t help us that wrestling is mostly made up of hard working optimists, but having a few realists within our ranks doesn’t hurt. When an institution comes to the conclusion that they have to drop a sport or two, of course football and basketball are never mentioned, they look to members of their non-revenue family. Then the question becomes, who goes and who stays? It’s simple, those with the lowest scores and highest levels of political impotence disappear.
So during all this, what do you think the tennis, track and swimming coaches are saying; “pick me, pick me.” Heck no, instead they’re doing their best to highlight their positives while quietly pointing out the limitations of those around them, the ones they perceive to be weakest. It’s a dog eat dog world and no one understands that more or does it better than we do . . . but only within our own ranks. We wouldn’t think of positioning ourselves above others and that’s a moral strength wrestling has but politically it’s very foolish.
Regardless if we decide to do battle or not, we have to look at wrestling for what it’s not, and be aware of how those who wish to do us harm see the sport.
And why I write the way I do. Because I love rainbows as much as the next guy, but I’m also aware that they only exist because their parents are storm clouds.
The National High School Association that governs scholastic wrestling just approved an alternate uniform to compete with the singlet and it couldn’t have come at a better time; a two-piece form-fitting compression top paired with either compression shorts or a looser version similar to what the MMA community wears.
Was it something I said or is this coincidence? Maybe my writings have begun to reach those who decide. Whatever triggered this break from tradition doesn’t really matter; it’s most definitely a step in the right direction.
We are finally forcing our traditionalists to take a back seat to what has to be “new and improved” if we’re to ever rebound from the sports non-voluntary downsizing. If that means dragging the weak of vision kicking and screaming into the light, then so be it.
There’s no doubt that this uniform variation is going to take a few years to catch on but the sooner the better, especially at the elementary levels. I’m not so worried about our older athletes who have the physique to make a singlet look good. It’s all about the little Johnnies and Janies that concern me; especially the ones who decided not to give the sport a try in the first place.
How many Burroughs’ and Stieber’s have we lost; how many champions of life like Mike Novogratz, Abe Lincoln and Norm Schwarzkopf decided against the sport because of how they felt they would look in a singlet?
Or maybe not knowing is a blessing?
Heck, I bet Kyle Snyder didn’t look like the Kyle Snyder of today when he was 7 years old. Folks, this is a great move forward, it’s time we divorce the singlet; surrender the house, the car and a generous monthly stipend so we can move in with new appearance altering, body enhancing uniform option.
And if you think about it, what would be so wrong if we allowed the sport to become a fashion show for the human form; multi-colored fight shorts or tights, long or short legged singlets, various designs and materials of long or short sleeved compression tops; this could be so much fun, the men creating a look for themselves, the women doing the same. I get it, the traditionalists will hate this too but they would still come to matches. But what we’d gain is the attention of a new group of fans who’d want to see what all the hubbub is about?
And regardless of the outfit a team or individual selects, as long as it meets safety standards and a reasonable level of decorum, why not bring the fashion houses of Paris and Milan into the mix while curtailing one of the largest barriers to entry we have.
Traditionalists need to get a grip here; wrestling is a sport, it’s an entertainment source and it’s also a business. Actually, reversing the order is more precise. We’re a business first, an Entertainment source second and then a sport if we’re serious about developing into a media supported industry.
And as we saw at Boise State, when you think you’re only a sport . . . bad things happen.
Speaking of Boise State
Boise, ID — Attorney General Lawrence G. Wasden today filed an enforcement action against Boise State University alleging that the University engaged in misconduct, fraudulent and unlawful practices against tens of thousands of Idahoans.
The suit alleges that BSU engaged in serious misconduct against tens of thousands of Idahoans that pay taxes with in the State of Idaho and should have been given due process of notification.
BSU haphazardly assembled its official decision. This deprived Idahoans of the ability to have their voice heard. Attorney General Wasden has action seeks to halt all actions in regards to the Elimination of the Boise State University Wrestling Program until the Tens of Thousands of voices within the State of Idaho, with 4 different classification levels of high school wrestling have their opportunity to be heard. As your Attorney General, I believe that everyone should have their Day in Court.
Consumers who believe they have been victims of this misconduct may submit a complain on-line: http://www.ag.idaho.gov/index.html
This is great news . . . and I guess that makes me 2-0 now. Someone obviously received my memo regarding the need to be professional (along with the singlet) when doing battle with professionals. Boise is fighting an institutional decision with a judicial remedy. That’s the only way to get the attention of anyone who aims to do us harm.
Wrestling has never really defended the sport in this manner, at least at this level. Typically we like to confront problems of this nature with pitch forks, 4-letter words and t-shirt sales; all of which may feel good at some level but in the end guarantees not only the loss of the program we’re trying to save but probably others as well. It’s our lack of being combat ready that emboldens college administrators to select wrestling as a place to begin cutting when revenue is scarce. Every time we demonstrate how lowbrow we are and politically inept the sport can be; we become even larger targets.
At least going through the court system will get people’s attention and I applaud those who have their hands in this pie; maybe it’s a golden apple moment for us, a blueprint for future successes; even if it is reactive.
Now if only we could combine that with a proactive approach to survival we’d have something. Especially when we never have the resources of those who will do us harm. And if you think about it, there isn’t a military General that wouldn’t tell you if you’re attacked, without warning, and have the inferior force; the battle is over before it begins. That’s where wrestling has been for decades, and it’s reactively sad. We will always be that lesser foe. And administrators with very, very few exceptions have always won the battles they started with us because wrestling has never seen a need to be proactive.
Why do you think that is? Are we so used to getting kicked around that we’ve resigned ourselves to always knowing we’re going to lose? Could it be that our naivety is so blinding that we unconditionally trust our administrators up until the point when we take a torpedo amidships? Or might it be that we don’t like being proactive because it takes too much energy preparing for the worst while hoping for the best? And coaches, don’t count on your colleagues who compete in your conference lifting a helping hand. They can’t, it’s too difficult to do when they’re busy dialing the phone numbers of your best athletes.
Actually I happen to believe that wrestling knows there’s a battle going on; it’s just that we’re too busy being competitive with one another to see any threats outside of those the opposition poses.
The plight of wrestling is winnable, it really is, but we have to focus our energies on two fronts; being proactive and having available a nuclear option.
We must protect ourselves from outside attacks by developing the type of defense that North Korea has adopted. Basically acknowledge that any battle we undertake with administrators is going to end badly for us BUT it won’t be without both combatants getting hurt. Those who want to hurt us need to know that we won’t go gently into the good night. We need to have our artillery pointed at the administrator’s desk and make him or her aware that we have nukes; and we’ll use them if need be. The fear of mutual destruction is the key; administrators need to understand that it’s far better to tackle anyone of the other non-revenues than pick on us.
More on wrestling’s Star War Defense Shield in the next blog.
Attendance Says It All
The attendance numbers are in for the 2016-2017 collegiate wrestling season. The Top 20 Division I teams in America averaged not 15K, or 10K, or 5K fans per event, but a paltry 2,844; with the 20th best team in America drawing less than 1000 fans. These numbers include Penn State who continues to attract record numbers as are Iowa and Ohio State so you can imagine what the other institutions aren’t doing that makes this average so pitiful.
And even though I’m unaware of the exact numbers for the other 55 Division I schools, it’s fair to say as a group they don’t average 500 fans per event; with a majority of those schools not even charging admission fees given the cost for ticket sellers, takers, parking attendants and security guards would be greater than any revenue generated.
Attendance numbers for Division II (61 programs) and Division III (101 programs) are even more sobering. There are a few divisional leaders with programs in states like Ohio, Minnesota and Iowa but their numbers aren’t worthy of publication either.
So say what you want, but until wrestling addresses our excitement and entertainment issues, administrators will continue to forget that their wrestling team had several All-American’s and finished well in their conference meet as they drop the program.
Revenue talks . . . loudly, deafeningly so and a team that hasn‘t won a dual meet in 25 years or had any athletic or academic AA’s will never become a causality if they’re revenue neutral. Money talks and, well, you know the rest of that adage.
Excitement and Entertainment, the two E’s of survival, pride, power, influence, bragging rights and as a reminder to my coaching friends; mid six figure salaries.
Putting all this in perspective, and why administrators are looking for ways to make difficult cuts, there are only 20 athletic departments in the entire country where income exceeds expenditures. And these numbers are getting worse as income grows at an annual rate of 3% while expenditures are increasing 3 times as fast.
That’s the bad news. The good news for wrestling is society is becoming more and more sedentary with the exponential explosion of technology. Everyone’s life has been made easier in one respect and at times more difficult in others. But either way, American’s are looking for more and more convenient ways of being entertained; either for the purpose of reducing stress or filling a void in daily routines.
And it doesn’t matter why that is; this is a huge opportunity for wrestling, the likes of which we’ve never seen before. Whatever sport or source of entertainment adapts the quickest to the needs of the consumer, they will be the ones who receive the lion’s share of a very large pot of gold.
Sports like the NHL and UFC are rolling in dough for that very reason. Commercial free shows on Hulu and Netflix are booming because they adapted with technology as has Amazon, Uber and Airbnb. They all have leaders like Elon Musk from Tesla; individuals who think out of the box and don’t change with the times, they make the times.
But not wrestling, we do whatever we can to stay the same as the revenue gap between those who get it and those who don’t widens.
We can do better and I will always believe we have the right vehicle.
The only difference between wrestling and the UFC is leadership and vision. Our sport has the possibility of being terribly exciting and very entertaining if we let it. But we’ve grown so accustomed to sub-standard levels of action that what we believe to be our most exciting and entertaining bouts are really average. We’ve just gotten so used to the bar being so low for so long that we mistakenly accept ho-hum for yippee.
If we ever expect to survive we have to think differently.
Why not make Zane Rutherford our poster child for what’s average in wrestling and go from there? Crazy, maybe not.
Remember all the great wrestlers America had in the 1950’s and 60’s? Every one of them knew, beyond any doubt, that their training methods and level of conditioning was beyond reproach, clearly they were all 10’s on a scale of 1 to 10. No one could possibly work any harder or get in better shape. Then came along a guy named Gable and it became apparent that what was considered a 10 was actuality a 6 on Dan’s scale.
So is it possible that Rutherford is a 6, could we be doing better? We won’t know unless we look at other ways of creating excitement.
Up until 1954 it was believed that the human body was simply not capable of running a 4-minute mile. Folklore had it that someone even released a group of bulls behind a bunch of runners to increase the incentive to do the impossible. But within a year of Roger Bannister breaking the 4-minute mile, 24 others did it as well. All it took was someone who could create a certainty in himself, even without seeing any proof that it was possible. Today high-schoolers now run sub 4-minute miles on a regular basis so maybe Zane is a 6 . . . I happen to believe we have so much more to offer than we’re currently doing.
But it begins with a willingness to see what’s currently not visible.
Thought for the Day
It’s not actually a thought, probably more of a “what do you think?”
Given that most everyone agrees that forfeits aren’t good for the sport, and given that too many of them occur as a result of one team having a very good wrestler facing off against an opponent who is far less accomplished, maybe the rules committee should consider the following:
Anytime a team forfeits a weight class, the wrestler who receives the forfeit may move up a weight class and compete there should he and his coach choose to; in essence receiving two opportunities to score points for his team but actually only wrestling once.
Is this perfect, no. Does it eliminate all forfeits, not even close. But it does move the needle in the right direction. Too many times teams will forfeit to superior athletes for no other reason than to keep them off the mat. And when that happens the sport is knowingly cheating our fans out of matches they drove a distance to see and bought tickets to enjoy only to be disappointed.
If there’s one thing I believe we can all agree on it’s the sport has to showcase its stars. There is no reason, short of a medical emergency that should keep the best of our best on the sidelines. Of course that’s if we want to see the sport continue.
Can you name any other sport that works as hard as we do at keeping our stars out of the heavens? I wonder why the UFC has 8 undercard bouts leading to a Main Event; why not just say tonight there is going to be 9 fights? Because it’s obvious, the last one is different; it’s the headliner that involves the best two fighters that are available. You never see one of the undercard competitors forfeiting his bout, ever!
Why does LeBron James play in at least 80% of each Cavalier game; and the entire game most of the time? So the fans will buy tickets and attend the game. If he wasn’t playing, does that help or hurt attendance?
What would happen to a Broadway play when people are paying big bucks to see Nathan Lane in the lead role and every night end up with his understudy?
When coaches forfeit to a superior athlete for no other reason than to keep him off the mat its consumer fraud; and it’s rather obvious how that would hurt any company, organization or sport that provides entertainment for a fee.
Heck, wrestling doesn’t even play the bait and switch game using my Broadway play as an example; we just bait and cheat.
This rule eliminates some of which ails us; except at heavyweight. Those athletes can’t move up a weight. But if we improve 90% of something that needs serious attention, why shouldn’t the sport “go for it?”