Where We Fail, Part II

Before I cover the next two “must do’s” in order to make the sport fun to watch, by those who don’t attend, here’s another item that chafes my posterior. How can we grow and become mainstream, without being smart enough to see that which is poisoning our water?

Instead of writing a feel-good blog about the Top 10 programs in America, how about we write one to embarrass the Bottom 10 programs, by naming them and saying why? Now, I know there are many of you who would say, “Wade, why don’t we reach out and help those who need help. We don’t need to embarrass anyone.”

Sure we do, it’s the only way that works. These programs I’m talking about are so stagnant, they’re more than likely beyond help. The coaches are so traumatized by personal failures that any effort to help them is immediately met with an explosion of feelings as a result of their own embarrassment.

Look at programs like Iowa State. Dresser has worked miracles in Ames and no doubt will continue to do so. He’s a class act and on par with Tom Ryan in Columbus. Before either of them arrived on their respective campuses, the programs were beyond hope. The athletes they inherited were either incapable of competing on a national stage or so demoralized by previous coaching staffs that their interest in being the best had flown south for the winter.

Fortunately, Ohio State is now at the pinnacle of success and Iowa State, being in a state rich in wrestling tradition, is on its way. But what if Iowa State had been located in Colorado, Tennessee, or anyone of a dozen other states? What would have happened to the program? The administration would have simply dropped the sport stating ineffectiveness as the reason, not to mention it being a drain on shrinking resources.

But what of those other institutions whose programs aren’t in Iowa, those who are enduring shut out after shut out, loss after loss. Especially to teams that have 25% of the finances and scholarships they have available to them?

It’s no secret that administrators are under a great deal of pressure to reduce expenditures and increase revenue. They are also reminded by the universities Board of Regents that a winning, or a losing sport program, is reflective of their institution’s academic reputation; and as a result, their positions as leaders.

For all the smaller D-II and D-III programs Mike Moyer and the NWCA help create, they’re never sizable enough to overshadow the sting of losing existing programs.

I know this is a radical position to take, but it wouldn’t be so radical if we thought of ourselves as a business. This is about survival, it’s about sustainability, it’s not about turning a blind eye to what’s happening.

Listing the Bottom 10 programs, not so much by looking only at wins and losses, but wins and loss’s relative to budgets, scholarship numbers and geographical access to recruiting grounds should be the criteria. Right off the top of my head, I can think of four major D-I programs that would be at the very top of my bottom list. They’re probably on your list as well.

Closing our eyes to embarrassing programs doesn’t make the failures go away, it just contributes to wrestling maintaining its position as an oh hum sport in the eyes of those who make decisions regarding our existence.

Coaches need to be forced to produce or get out, regardless of the effort they’re putting forth. Performance is the key, not effort, and this might be callous, but it doesn’t even matter if the head coach is a good guy or not.

All this is only if we’re serious about growing the sport and admitting that wrestling is a business.

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A few years back we lost a great opportunity when Dave Pottruck, a very passionate retired wrestler/graduate of the University of Pennsylvania was CEO of Charles Schwab. Imagine if someone would have sat down and asked Dave to consider aligning themselves with wrestling and what such an marriage would have done for the sport. Envision television commercials with video of a wrestler helping a vanquished opponent back to his feet and having his hand raised in victory to the sound bite: “When wrestling with your investments remember Charles Schwab is here make sure you come out on top!”

Name one athletic administrator in America who would dare drop his wrestling program when the sport has AT&T, Bayer Aspirin, or AutoNation as a national sponsor?

Either the wrestling community can’t see the amazing possibilities that sponsorship’s provide or they do but would rather be independently obstinate than work together as a team. Pick one, there isn’t an option C here.

Regarding strategic alliances and the responsibility of giving back, wrestling as a sport and its individual programs has to begin to give back to others just as we expect to be given. We need to be seen as more than just a sport. We have to think beyond ourselves and share with others our good fortune of having health, happiness, strong mental capacities and an immense internal drive.

No matter the age of our athletes, where they’re from or the team they represent, each program must find ways to make a difference for society. We need to be known as “America’s Give Back Sport.”

Serving food at homeless shelters would work; reading books to hospitalized children is another. Donating time to an animal shelter or assisting at a senior citizen’s center are a few other possibilities. But we have to pick one national cause, splintering won’t work.

Think of the cumulative benefits wrestling would receive when the sport combined its efforts for social good, not to mention how those we serve benefit.

In a national survey, 84% of Americans have a more positive image of a company or group when it supports those who are less fortunate. 79% of Americans indicated they would likely switch from one product brand to another if it was associated with a cause they believed in.

For wrestling in general, the Wounded Warrior Project seems to be a natural fit given the number of military personnel that were or are currently wrestlers. And of course, the great service the group does for those who give up a part of their tomorrow’s so we can have all of our today’s. And ironically, the Wounded Warrior Project’s logo is one soldier carrying another over his shoulder in a double leg.

The American Red Cross would also work and regardless of the one or ones we choose, developing a reciprocal relationship with these sorts of companies would strengthen the public’s image of wrestling. When we work together, wrestlers and companies, wrestlers and local charities, each group exceeds the sum of its parts.

Can you name any major corporation who doesn’t look for this type of global synergy? The Walt Disney Company partners with the United Way because it’s good business and helpful to society. Microsoft supports the Boys and Girls Clubs of America; Procter and Gamble has been affiliated with UNICEF for decades and the list is endless. So, why isn’t it good for wrestling to do?

As to rule changes, here’s another one of my Top 10.

Allow athletes to “Double Up” 3 times a year. Wrestling needs to create a lot more heroes and legends like baseball has done with Babe Ruth, boxing with Joe Louis and Mohammad Ali, and basketball with legends such as Bill Russell and Michael Jordan. We need to find ways to make our stars just as well known to the general public as the other sports have done.

Doubling up is allowing wrestlers to compete in two weight classes during a dual meet; but only 3 times a season.

I wonder, how many people would buy a ticket to watch LeBron James play if they knew he was only going to be on the court for seven minutes of the first quarter each night? So why is it acceptable that we keep our franchise athletes on the bench for 90% of a dual meet; or worse yet 95% of the evening given these stars 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 athletes spend 95% of the evening 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 Nolf, Nickal or Micic go out and decision the # 2 guy in their weight class and then move up a weight and tackle the # 5 guy in back to back matches? Wouldn’t that be worthy of a feature article in Sports Illustrated and then a guest appearance on ESPN’s Outside the Lines?

So why not? Please don’t say it’s a safety issue. Are you kidding! 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 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 athletes wrestle every day in practice back to back to back to back without a break? No one has ever died from 45 minutes of non-stop 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 in practice and its one minute less than the length of an under-card bout in the UFC.

I realize what I’m professing here violates our sports rule relative to the 30-minute rest period. But, “who came up with that idiocy in the first place?” I don’t mean the organization, what was the name of the person who saddled us with that number? I’d like to challenge him to produce any medical documentation that supports what he made us live with for decades. I’d be willing to bet he couldn’t and most likely he made up the number.

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 that which is already etched in stone regardless if it makes no sense at all and will fight to the death anyone who suggests something different.

Folks; Doubling Up is nothing new in sports so let’s not ruffle our rooster tails. It happens in tennis where an exceptional athlete can represent his team in both singles and doubles competition. Track and Field and Swimming and Diving allow their athletes to participate in 4 different events per meet. 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? Making our athletes sit down to rest is simply laughable!

As to the reason behind limiting our athletes to Double Up only 3 times a season, I worry that coaches would 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.

Another solid reason for Doubling Up is the strategic value. Think how exciting it would be, all the decisions that coaches would have to make and all the tactical options that spectators would get to discuss and then second guess the coach’s decision? Should Coach Smith put Fix in for a second time and use one of his 3 Double Ups given Oklahoma State is down by 4 points with just 3 matches left? Or should John hold him back with the knowledge that he has Penn State, Iowa and Ohio State still on their schedule? 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 would also eliminate forfeits. Because as part of the rule change, I’d make it mandatory that any team who is surrendering a weight class must Double Up the athlete directly below that weight to avoid the forfeit. And to eliminate the situation of a forfeit occurring in the first contested weight, add this modification; a dual meet cannot start with a weight class that is being forfeited. Problem solved.

Regarding the fine print; athletes can only move up and wrestle one weight class above their certified weight and when you think about it, how often will an athlete actually wrestle back to back matches? Given that both coaches can jumble the weight class order as you’ll read about next, I would imagine those who are doubling up would get a chance to rest at least 10 if not 30 minutes before being called back into battle. But if that doesn’t happen so what, either we are or aren’t the toughest athletes on the planet?

Jumbling weight classes; let’s consider alternating weight classes back and forth throughout duals. This makes Doubling Up, doubly exciting, interesting and strategic. We’d still have a flip of a coin before the meet with the winning coach selecting the first weight class to be contested. But after that bout ends the other coach gets to select any of the remaining 9 weights to wrestle next. This concept goes back and forth throughout the dual. So no one knows who’s wrestling next except the coach whose turn it is to decide, and of course his athlete. How exciting would that be for the spectators?

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 a later match or dual? What weight class does a coach use after Myles Martin just finished winning a close match against one of his better rivals? Should he jump a couple of weight classes and get Myles off the mat. Or should he challenge him with his 197 pounder while he’s somewhat fatigued or are the Buckeyes even going to use Myles a second time in the dual? Maybe the coach should jump to 141 and try and take advantage of the one athlete on the other team’s bench who hasn’t been warming up? The strategic possibilities are endless and exactly what spectators would love to see, and debate the benefits, or stupidity of their coaches decisions.

Relative to spectators, can you imagine the variety of opinions they’d come up with regarding which weight should go next and what athlete should Double Up? This is so important to attracting and keeping those who want to give wrestling a try. 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 critical that we give the spectators the ability to out-think, at least in their minds, out-coaches those whose decisions determine the evening’s outcome. Armchair quarterbacks are a great thing in sports.

As to the naysayers, most will claim that not knowing what weight is going to go next isn’t fair to the opposing athlete. Why isn’t it fair? Anytime you make changes that are uniformly applied to all, then by definition, it’s fair to all. In basketball, doesn’t the coach yell down the bench, “Smith, get in there for Jones!” Smith then says, “yes coach” and in he goes; no warm-up, no prior warning. The same happens in football, soccer and baseball. Seldom do athletes who are substituting for others know when they’re going to head into battle. Only in wrestling do we feel our athletes are so fragile that they need to be forewarned. There’s simply no physiological reason why this rule is bad and only because “we’ve never done it that way before” doesn’t mean we shouldn’t.

Regarding forfeits, there is no question that the sport needs to fix this issue. We should either fix it or have such a heavy penalty associated with it that it becomes obsolete. I’m sorry but I just don’t believe a team doesn’t have or can’t find someone to wrestle. It’s the coach who doesn’t want to take the time to find someone knowing a lesser replacement is probably going to get pinned anyway so why bother? I simply don’t believe any coach who says he can’t find someone to wrestle.

If the rules committee wanted to, they could pass legislation tomorrow that would stop all forfeits. All they’d have to do is say the team who forfeits a weight class also forfeits the dual meet. Period, end of discussion. The individual matches would be still wrestled but the team outcome would already be decided. I realize that might be a tad much to ask of the rules committee to swallow but forfeits are that damaging to the sport. And if you think about it, there are other sports that already handle events that way and have similar rules; games are simply not played unless both teams have full lineups.

If the rules committee would adopt such a rule, I believe it would take coaches 14 seconds, maybe 15, to find someone they could insert into their lineup. The point is if something is worth doing, legislation can accomplish it as long as the penalty is greater than the benefit of not doing something is advantageous.

I would like to remind everyone that when there’s a forfeit, the offending coach is also breaching a legal contract spectators have with the host school to provide a set number of matches for the price of admission. Go to a football game and you’re promised, and receive 4 quarters of action. 9 innings in baseball and 3 quarters plus several fights in hockey. But in wrestling we’re allowed to cheat our spectators and do it regularly along with a “we don’t care if you like it” attitude.

There has to be additional costs beyond a 6-point penalty for those who forfeit. Wrestling cannot grow as a sport when we knowingly choose to shortchange customers. That behavior tears at the basic tenet of customer service and to think it’s somehow okay is to be sadly mistaken.

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One thought on “Where We Fail, Part II

  1. Wade, excellent suggestion on forfiets! Having wrestlers competing 2, even 3 matches in a row is nothing compared to many practices. I think many wrestlers would welcome the opportunity to wrestle in another match during a dual meet. Keep up the great articles.

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