The NCAA’s that Changed Wrestling

Before I share my thoughts on this year’s NCAA Wrestling Championships, I wanted to remind everyone of the most important blog I have ever posted. It’s entitled; A Point Scored is a Point Earned and it’s the most significant alteration to the rules I’ve ever suggested and if nothing else ever happened in wrestling, and if I were fortunate enough to be selected King for a Day, enactment of this action driven policy would be my first decree. And I can say without hesitation that I’m completely convinced this one change would be judged by historians as the moment when wrestling started climbing back into relevance.

If you haven’t read it yet, you should. It’s over on the right, down 7 blogs, just click on the link. But readers beware; its tenets might be a bit startling, initially anyway. Think about what you’re reading in relation to all the other sports that are succeeding and then forget for a moment what we’ve always done, which historically hasn’t advanced our cause.

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As to Madison Square Garden, watching Penn State wrestle this season I’ve noticed that Cael’s coaching style is very similar to A Point Scored is a Point Earned. Every one of his wrestlers are bonus point addicts. So much so it has opposing coaches shaking their heads and wondering how they can close the gap. The answer is simple . . .  

Duplicate the Nittany Lions “score more and score often” philosophy or get used to losing.

In a way, both A Point Scored is a Point Earned and Cael achieve similar goals . . . they force coaches to adjust their perspective relative to putting points on the board. No longer is squeaking out a 2 or 3 point win acceptable.

If the teams in the Top 10 want to compete for the big prize they have to change what they’ve been doing. What choice do they have and for that huge kudos to Cael. He’s doing more for the sport in the way he coaches than he ever did as a competitor . . . and that’s saying a lot.

And staying on the Penn State train for another moment if I may; it seemed when every one of their wrestlers were interviewed they gave smart and thoughtful responses to questions. Without any appearance of being coached each athlete indicated competition is all about scoring points and having fun; something they all did for 3 straight days which has Happy Valley happy again for the 5th time in 6 years.

As for the other teams who aren’t in the Top 10, A Point Scored is a Point Earned will force coaching staffs to create scoring fest atmospheres in the practice room. If they want to succeed they have no other choice; it’s the price of success and relevance.

So given what Cael is already doing and what I’m attempting to do by modifying team scoring, wrestling might finally become a revenue sport in spite of the howling cries of coaches.

Which brings me to this point; if football has quarterback, linebacker and line coaches, why doesn’t wrestling have pinning coaches? It always seemed silly to me that Head Coaches would hire Assistants that mirror their skill sets? Wouldn’t you think that teams who are great on their feet like Iowa, Okie State and Minnesota would insist on hiring assistants that are bonus point crazy? In business it’s widely accepted that if you have three managers with the same skill set, two of them aren’t necessary. Why wouldn’t that be true for wrestling, coaching staffs should consist of “up” and “down” coaches; those who are proficient on their feet and those who can teach the boys how you rub their opponents noses in the mat.

The good news for those who live in Pennsylvania is that’s exactly what Penn State is doing and the bad news for everyone else, until they embrace a philosophy of bonus points, the odds of winning a Team Title has flown the coop.

Speaking of the NCAA’s, they were amazing, especially if you were watching them from home. I loved the competing noises of great matches being wrestled throughout the arena each round. The teamwork and efficiency of the officiating crews and the quality of the finals had to be some of the best wrestling I’ve seen in decades. I never thought I’d see such a shift in wrestling like was evident in Madison Square Garden.

Now I’m not suggesting that everything was peaches and roses, but the transformation I witnessed was a game changer, especially when you take in to account the glacial pace that wrestling typically travels.

All in all my heart soared for three full days of competition. It wasn’t all about Billy Baldwin’s trained professionalism or ESPN’s “take it to the next level” production of the event or the Buffer-esque arena announcers, the whole experience was simply a pleasant combination of the sum of its parts.

Hopefully our leadership is smart enough to embrace the changes we saw or at least clever enough to find ways to take credit for the transformation.

In the meantime I’d like to say thank you to Beat the Streets , Madison Square Garden, ESPN and the NCAA Championship Committee; for they were the ones who are largely responsible for what will be forever known as the NCAA tournament that changed wrestling’s course in history.

And then there’s Dave Martin, Chairman of the NCAA Rules Committee who saw the immense benefits of having Madison Square Garden host the event four years ago and pushed to make it happen.

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NCAA Facts That Matter, Or Not

  • Did anyone notice in the championship rounds which weight class was the most productive relative to bonus points? Care to guess? For the 5% of you who said heavyweight you’re right. They had 29% more than the second most productive weight class! Here’s the breakdown. 125-8; 133-10; 141-6; 149-9; 157-9; 165-10; 174-8; 184-9; 197-10 and Heavyweight-14.
  • In one of the craziest first days in NCAA history, we had 7 returning All-Americans eliminated from competition.
  • There are upsets, there are surprises and then at times you’ll experience both. The following is one of those times. During the first round 6 wrestlers who were seeded in the Top 5 went down to defeat.
  • Out of the 55 officiating challenges that took place, 14 were overturned. I’m not sure what conclusion we can draw from that but it doesn’t make a lot of sense to me for anyone to ask the person who made a contested call if he thought he was right? Paralleling that; it might also be interesting to see if any of the 10 officials who were chosen to referee the finals had a contested call and if they did, did they overturn it? That might shed some light into why only 14 challenges were overturned and one more reason why this self-policing practice should be rethought.
  • The sport had the most fans ever sitting in their seats for this year’s opening round. Previously the NCAA might have sold the same number of first session tickets but a greater percentage of the fans voted with their feet to be in their seats.
  • Total attendance for The World’s Most Famous Arena was 90,924, a number slightly south of ticket sales in St. Louis. TV viewership for the finals came in around 650,000, roughly 10% lower than last year’s event.
  • It was apparent that Kyle has wrestled more high pressure matches than Nick and it was the difference in their heavyweight bout. To me it appeared by the slimmest of margins that Gwizz was slightly better but his mind meld with 30 seconds left in the match opened the door for Kyle to get back in the match. As far as heavyweights go, that bout ranks up there with the Lou Banach-Bruce Baumgartner battle in 1981 as the best of all time.
  • A big shout out to Andrew Hipps, Senior Editor of InterMat and Ryan Holmes from Flo Wrestling. Both are insightful writers who always find interesting ways to pull the reader into their articles.
  • Three fun facts . . . 7 of the 10 champions scored the first takedown, 8 of the winners wore the red anklet and more points were scored in the third period of the finals than either of the first two.
  • While it might seem like a no issue to fans, the lack of accessibility to floor passes for journalists who wanted post-match quotes wasn’t well thought out. When you deny reporters the ability to access information that will punctuate their articles; that probably isn’t a good thing. Then to put press row in the end zone, what a boneheaded move. And we wonder why wrestling continually receives shoddy media coverage.
  • In closing, I was excited to see we made weigh-ins for the 20 finalists a television event like boxing and MMA does, even if it was staged. It’s a move in the right direction all be it somewhat disappointing. While they meant to draw attention to the sport, it seemed to be less about the athletes and more about those in charge of showcasing it. Promotion is a great thing, but intelligent promotion is far better.

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As an aside; why do we have collegiate team rankings for all 3 divisions but in high school we still only have 1; there’s something wrong here. How is it fair to pit exclusive private schools that in some cases have dormitories, scholarships and no travel restrictions against public schools that can’t recruit and many times aren’t allowed to leave their state for competition? If the various high school associations realize there’s a difference between A, AA, and AAA schools why can’t wrestling’s media recognize the differences? Having various classifications would have to attract more interest in the sport and fuel some wonderful discussions about who’s the best?

  

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7 thoughts on “The NCAA’s that Changed Wrestling

  1. One set of comments from the Point Scored is a Point Earned post surprised me.

    I see money as a real problem in college athletics.

    I see Title IX as a tool for insuring college athletic budgets do fund women’ athletics.

    Of even greater concern, I see college football budgets skyrocketing, draining college athletic budgets.

    there are those who argue colleges are nonprofit, and this may be true in other countries that are more socialist, but I do not believe this is the case in the United States.

    Minor sports, not just men’s wrestling, but men’s swimming, men’s diving, men’s gymnastics, and several other minor sports are facing cuts. Women’s sports are only surviving, as well as they are, because of Title IX. Without Title IX, women’s sports would be equally destroyed.

    The problem, I believe, stems from football. I find websites claiming a fair number, I can never get a handle on how many, or if the number is a majority, of football programs are operating in the red.

    These websites say football expenses are caused by huge coaching salaries, player scholarships, expensive facilities, you have it.

    People who defend the current system where football is getting the lion’s share of the college athletic budget say this is the free market system at work, BUT IT IS NOT!

    In a free market, those college football programs that are not profitable would go out of business. We would have fewer college football programs creating less demand for players and coaches and expensive facilities. Players and coaches and expensive facilities would be in less demand.

    We wouldn’t have the socialistic behavior of using student fees to help supplement the funding of unprofitable college football programs. Unprofitable college football programs would be on the chopping block.

    College football has too many supporters. The problem of college football on the college athletic budget will not be fixed. The supporters claim it’s the football program that gives the school its identity. I would suggest a school should get its identity from its academic program, not its athletic program.

    The only fix I see for men’s swimming, men’s diving, men’s gymnastics, men’s wrestling are to become club sports. Men’s minor sports can’t compete in the current environment for college athletic budget dollars.

    For those who argue their college is nonprofit and they can maintain a college wrestling program, I commend them. Sadly, I must point out, when other schools in their division can’t or won’t maintain a college wrestling program, it becomes increasingly difficult to be one of a few colleges maintaining such a program. Again, I think the solution is to go the club sport route.

    There are ample websites on the Internet where people are quoting data showing what college football earns and what college football spends. Many of these websites also give lists of college football programs that are in the red.

    Title IX, I believe, is a convenient excuse used when the athletic director must fund college football to remain competitive and doesn’t have enough money for other sports, much less women’s sports.

  2. Wade,

    You are getting people to comment anew on your post, A Point is a Point Earned.

    You are doing some very heavy lifting for which you need to be praised.

    It is my habit to look at history when I don’t understand a problem. I hope history can teach us what worked, or more importantly, what didn’t work.

    The bane of amateur wrestling seems to have been and still is stalling.

    Even in the 1928 NCAA Guide for wrestling, in the Forward, is the comment,
    “3. The Committee on Wrestling believes that “stalling’, is the outstanding drawback of intercollegiate wrestling and urges all coaches and officials to use their influence to eliminate this all-too-common practise, and to encourage fast and aggressive wrestling. In many instances, referees are criticised for not enforcing penalties in wrestling contests and in many cases defend their position by stating that the coaches do not wish to have these penalties enforced, and, therefore, the committee requests that each of the competing coaches endeavor to secure from the .other coaches compliance with the full enforcement of the rules and so instruct the referee before the bout starts.”

    The guide tried to list penalties for stalling, Rule XVI, section 10, has a list of penalties.

    What was being said when the point system was being introduced?
    Let me copy from the 1940 NCAA Guide for wrestling, Page 44.
    “44
    SPALDING’S ATHLBlTIC LIBRARY.
    Basis For Decisions
    BY R. G. CLAPP, M.D.,
    Chairman N.C.A.A. Wrestling Rules Committee.
    Frequent inquiries come to the Chairman of the Wrestling Rules Committee for an explanation of just what is meant by the statement in Rule 16, Section 4, that “maximum credit shall be given for ‘near-falls’.” A number of different point systems have been drawn up, tried out and recommended to the Wrestling Rules Committee for adoption. None of the point systems thus far presented have been approved by a sufficient number of wrestling coaches and members oi the Rules Committee to warrant adoption of the same by the Committee.

    The most valid criticism of all point systems is the fact there is a wide variation in the credit which should be given for “Near-falls,” “Take-downs,” etc. In pne case the “Near-fall,” Takedown,” etc., is entirely earned by the contestant through his own aggressiveness and skill. In another case the advantage comes to a contestant who stalls because his opponent is trying to wrestle aggressively and throws himself open. The one who secures this advantage has shown no aggressiveness, cleverness, or even a willingness to wrestle.

    Obviously, it would be most unfair to give equal credit in these two cases as, in the first case, the contestant has earned his advantage and deserves maximum credit, while in the second case, that contestant deserves little or no credit. It is my personal opinion that the Wrestling Rules Committee will never approve any point system which does not have sufficient range in credit allowed to properly evaluate earned and unearned advantages and the various gradations between these two extremes.

    The Committee has agreed upon a general evaluation of the different essential points of wrestling and these are stated here to aid Referees in making decisions and to inform coaches and contestants of the Committee’s convictions.
    1. An earned “Near-fall” deserves much more credit than any other feature of wrestling except the fall itself.
    2. True aggressiveness (i.e., real, continued effort to go behind opponent from the neutral position ; real, continued effort to “pin” opponent when in the offensive position on the mat; and real, continued effort to escape or go behind when in the defensive position on the mat) deserves more credit than a single, earned “Take-down” or “Go-behind” from the defensive position on the mat.
    3. Earned reversal of position from defensive “Referee’s Position on Mat” deserves as much credit, or slightly more credit, than earned “Take-down” from feet.
    4. Earned “Take-down from feet” and earned.reversal of position on mat deserves considerable credit.
    5. Earned escape from defensive position on mat deserves about half the credit indicated in No. 3 and No. 4 above.
    6. Unearned advantages should be given little or no credit.
    7. Partially earned advantages to be evaluated in accordance with the degree of skill, etc., shown.
    8. Stalling, waiting tactics, unsportsmanlike conduct, etc., to be scored against the offender. Such conduct might justifiably deprive a contestant of a match otherwise won.
    It is the aim of the Committee to encourage active, aggressive wrestling and to discourage the waiting and stalling type. The Committee urges all Referees to follow the foregoing suggestions as the basis for their decisions and thereby help to improve the sport from the standpoint of both contestants and spectators. ”

    In 80 years the problem of stalling has not been solved.

    Referees were given the task to prevent stalling. Coaches are admonished to discourage stalling. You still see stalling as a problem.

    A Point Scored is a Point Earned is yet the latest attempt to solve this problem.

    How do you define stalling? When is it stalling?

    Does a wrestler always have to make the first move to not be stalling? Isn’t there a style of wrestling where one tries to counter the opponent’s moves? Can’t this style also be very fan pleasing? Isn’t this a judgment call?

    It is certainly stalling to push an opponent off the mat or for an opponent to flee the mat. Was it pushing or fleeing? Isn’t this a judgment call who is to blame when the wrestlers go off the mat?

    I am beginning to believe stalling is like pornography. You can’t define it, but you know it when you see it. I am beginning to believe no set of rules or scoring system can eliminate stalling. i am beginning to believe you are going to have to use human judgment.

    Perhaps the solution is to accept stalling is a judgment call, and have 2 judges plus the referee signal when they believe stalling is happening. When 2 of the 3 agree, stalling is called.

    You deserve praise for trying to raise the issue of making wrestling more exciting for fans. I would ask your critics what is wrong with the sport of wrestling and how they would fix it?

    Do they see stalling as a problem?

  3. Nico stalled the entire 3rd period in his finals match at 125 vs. Gilman. I would hardly call him a bonus point addict – he should’ve been hit for stalling (aside from the inconsequential call far too late in the match) which should’ve forced him to try to win the match rather than not lose it. Wrestling the entire match – not just the first five minutes – would’ve convinced me that he deserved the title. I was there Thursday & Friday night and watched the Finals at home – without question it was a tremendous event that did justice for the great sport of wrestling. You raised many salIent points, Wade. And I remember you as a clinician fondly from Stroudsburg Wrestling Camp in the ’70s when I competed. All the best to you.

    • There are times when you’re stuck wrestling the same person over and over again. That tends to screw up demographics when excitement is expected. And if you’ve been in the finals two other times and lost twice, you might be a little reserved. But overall the Lions score points. Thank you for the kind words and your perspective, both are always appreciated.

    • First, dissing Nico for stalling in the 3rd is a bit unfair when you consider just how “brave” (Ben Askren’s description) it was for him to reach dangerously for Gilman’s far ankle in the 1st. Now that was fun wrestling! Second, I have to say this. Nico wrestled Tomasello twice this year. Tomasello did *nothing* on his feet for 14 minutes both times, and relied on Nico doing something so he could counter. It was awful wrestling for the spectator. Gilman and Nico gave a far, far better match than would have been the result if Tomasello had wrestled in the main event.

      Also, as Mr. Schalles pointed out, the Nittany Lions as a whole are bonus points crazy. Just look at Nickal. There’s no way Nickal should have lost to Martin. Martin *still* hasn’t successfully executed a takedown from his own shot, but Nickal gave him every point he needed with two overly bold throws. He lost to Martin because he was so focused on scoring lots of points that he went for moves that weren’t there. That says it all about PSU. Finally, with all due respect, to look at one period of one match and say “Nico isn’t a bonus point addict” is really unfair. Nico wrestled hundreds of matches as a PSU wrestler, and most of them ended in bonus point victories. Outside of his freshman year battles with McDonough and Zach Sanders, the number of matches in which he wasn’t the clear aggressor approaches zero. Stalling in one period of one match does not negate that (and I have to say his stalling was not as egregious as what we see elsewhere).

      Thanks for your thoughts. Cheers!

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