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 Amazon.com had this to say regarding his company’s success in the global marketplace. “I’ve build this company around three basic principles.”
- Our customer’s come first.
- Our employees come second.
- 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:
- 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?
- 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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.