How Wrestling Wins – Chapter 13

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Chapter 13

Going the political route. While there are a few of us attempting to get the sport’s act together, we need to find ways to slow the train that’s barreling down the tracks toward our destruction.

Here are two thoughts we might consider, both political, and most likely iffy, but they’re worth throwing out for those who know how to navigate those waters. How about suggesting to the NCAA that their 501c3 tax exempt status may be in jeopardy if the Olympic sports they administer begin to disappear.

The reason they enjoy a tax benefit in the first place is they serve a large enough percentage of the collegiate student population to be considered an essential part of the educational process.

But for them to allow or accept the loss of most, if not all Olympic sports due to football’s and basketballs financial arms race, it can be argued that they no longer represent the interests of a large enough cross section of the academic community to partake of the schools tax exempt status.

This would have to get their attention given they’re a billion dollars a year corporation. The thought of having to pay taxes on such an enormous amount is enough to make any grown man cry and think twice about allowing even a single sport to be lost.

As for each individual institution, an argument could be made that if the NCAA is no longer tax exempt, neither are any of the individual athletic departments for the same reason.

You might or might not know, but the poorest athletic department in America out of the nation’s Top 40 universities deposits 60 million a year into their account. The richest one, the University of Alabama, deposits 125 million.

I would think that the faintest chance of losing tax exempt status would have every administrator not only completely supporting the sports they have but considering adding a few more for good measure.

The second way is to appeal to the government for protection. There are laws on the books that are designed to protect the interests of small businesses against the predatory practices of larger businesses. It’s referred to as monopolies. Governments have understood for centuries that monopolies, which is a word that comes from the Greek meaning mono or one seller, are the antithesis of capitalism.

When athletic administrators push for or close their eyes to the loss of all Olympic sports, they’re knowingly creating a monopoly of the few at the expense of the many. That might or might not be legal, but in either case it’s still worth looking into.

Then again, given the power the NCAA wields I’m not holding my breath but it’s the best I can come up with given what I don’t know.

13. Wrestle where you belong. There are too many D-I, II and III programs who have no business wrestling the Iowa’s and Penn States’ of the world. But they do anyway because coaches feel it makes their program appear relevant while it hones the talents of their best athletes. Well, no, yes and no. It doesn’t make a program relevant, instead it points out how far the program is from being relevant. But it can help one or two of a program’s best athletes. However for the rest of their good, average and below average wrestlers it’s just embarrassing.

Most athletes know where they fall in the pecking order but to publically expose their level of proficiency in front of their friends and family, without even a chance of success is insensitive at best, bullying at worst.

Athletic Directors want success, and the spectators we don’t have yet want to see wins. Neither of them really care who their team is wrestling, all they know is wins are fun and losses aren’t! Few understand the philosophies that our wrestling coaches have that their wrestlers need this high level of competition so they can perform at a higher level by the end of the year.

But when D-II programs are granted permission to move to D-I it hurts all of wrestling. Bloomsburg doesn’t schedule Ohio State in football for good reason; half their team would be in the hospital before halftime. Lock Haven doesn’t compete against North Carolina in basketball because a triple digit loss is way beyond humiliating. So why is it reasonable to expect those schools to be able to handle Iowa in wrestling? They can’t, they don’t, and it hurts our sport and it puts their programs in harm’s way of being dropped. Maybe not initially but over time the weight of the financial burden to keep up becomes unsustainable.

Even the Edinboro’s of the world should focus on other D-II teams for several reasons, the first of which is their ongoing success provides hope for the few remaining D-II programs that it’s possible to move up and be successful. But if Edinboro didn’t have Bruce Baumgartner as their Athletic Director they wouldn’t be doing quite as well so it’s deeply misleading to assume others can step out as they have done. Two thoughts:

  1. Let’s look at what’s not happening at Edinboro instead of what is. How many Edinboro starters would be D-II All-Americans that aren’t at the expense of having half as many D-I All-Americans? How fair is that to those who work just as hard as the team’s leaders; wouldn’t they like to be an All-Americans too? There’s no doubt that Edinboro is an exceptional team coached by one of the best men we have in wrestling; just as Central Michigan and Clarion were during their days in the sun. But being D-I has kept the Scotts from winning a National Team Championship in D-II and their D-I All-American’s from winning individual national championships in D-II. I know the answer why they wrestle where they do. It’s just that we give such premium status to being D-I because we consider D-II and D-III to be something just north of high school which is not only ridiculous but patently wrong.
  2. Edinboro’s successes gives hope to those other D-II schools who still have the sport that they too might someday duplicate what Coach Flynn has done. The days of the Golden Eagles, Chippewa’s and probably soon to be Scots is coming to an end because of the nation’s economy and the majors throwing more and more money into their programs. America’s wrestling middle class has all but disappeared because those who would normally be in that category chose to believe they’re upper class when the real upper class has seriously stepped up their game.

The results of all this is Athletic Directors at the D-II level who are competing at D-I are being expected to provide wrestling with champaign budgets while the rest of the sports in their department receive beer money. This creates institutional jealousy among the other coaches which only worsens when the wrestling team gets schooled by legitimate D-I programs; which leads to Athletic Directors wondering if they’ve made a huge mistake to allow their program to jump divisions – not to mention the interdepartmental strife that ensues.

Athletic Directors wonder; “if we can’t be competitive, should we even have a wrestling team?” They typically overlook the other option; which is moving back to D-II.

Now I do get it, there were definitely some D-II teams who use to be able to tackle the biggest programs and win, none better than Clarion in the 70’s. But those “good old days” of one program out of dozens being able to make the jump have come and gone.

How can any D-II school afford to keep up with the majors when some D-I coaches have larger salaries than most D-II schools have budgets? Tell me how that equates to being able to compete? I know, we’re all ex-wrestlers, everyone thinks they can beat anyone. But the facts repeat themselves every week all season long; they can’t, they won’t, they haven’t and they aren’t about to.

As I mentioned, in the 70’s and 80’s it was Clarion who slayed giants. In the 90’s and early 2000’s it was Central Michigan who stole the show and now Edinboro. The upside is each was successful. But the downside is it emboldens other lesser programs to think they can someday join this elite circle of champions; given that’s how wrestlers think. But having the mentality of a lemming doesn’t always serve their community well either.

I think we are all aware of the reasons why D-II schools feel they’re justified in wrestling a D-I schedule but none of them benefit the sport. It doesn’t elevate the status of a program to get shut out by Minnesota or crunched by Oklahoma State. Actually it does just the opposite by providing 34-3 reasons why their school’s wrestling program isn’t really D-I and as a result, deserving of their budget or unfortunately their existence.

If you listen to the coaches of D-II, they’re the first to tell you they have been successful. They had an All-America two years ago and finished 27th in the country. But I’m afraid that isn’t the definition of success.

I really worry about losing programs and what I’m writing about is a cost-analysis sequence. When you spend big bucks administrations expect big returns. Look at Slippery Rock, their administrators selected to drop the sport instead of taking on a prolonged fight with the coaches and the programs alumni over funding. Administrators aren’t daft; they understand very well that the wrestling community thinks of themselves as David’s living in a world of Goliath’s. But unfortunately in this case wrestling is living on a planet without stones. No administrator wants to take on a prolonged battle with wrestling so a quick excising makes complete sense. It’s just easier to drop programs than move them back to where they belong.

Now I understand, and love the mental toughness that develops in those who graduate from wrestling, but mental toughness without logic is how we landed in the pot we’re stewing in now.

I just had a very nice conversation with Keith Ferraro, the new Head Coach at Clarion about this very subject. There was a great deal of give and take both ways and he felt just as passionate that the Golden Eagles could compete in D-I as much as I felt they no longer could. In the end I was able to see a few of his points and altered to some extent some of these paragraphs. But in the end we agreed to disagree but I am glad we had the conversation.

Keith pointed to the success that Edinboro is having as proof positive that it is possible to take on the big boys. And of course he mentioned Clarion’s past. To those extents I agreed but then asked, “At what cost?” In the Pennsylvania Conference, which is a D-II conference, they’ve lost Mansfield State, Slippery Rock, West Chester, Indiana University of PA and California State. They were the ones who didn’t make it, how quickly we forget why? Then there are those who were retained as a sport but seriously downgraded like East Stroudsburg and Millersville.

The whole issue here isn’t what Keith or I think; it’s what is happening nationally in the sport with administrators. Wrestling as a rule and not the exception isn’t on their “must keep” radar and anything we do that’s even marginally questionable hurts our chances of survival.

As an alternative thought; might I suggest that the NCAA consider in all Olympic sports a national program of competing where you belong based on budgets; a realignment of sorts, forcing teams to have like funded schedules. If a school makes a small commitment to a sport, it shouldn’t be expected to compete against those who have made large commitments. Wouldn’t it make sense to group each sport by likeness of funding and scholarships for the purpose of competitiveness and parity? Isn’t that what they do in high school with the various divisions like A, AA and AAA?

I know; it’s a crazy thought but schools should compete against one another based on resources. That’s probably un-American, but if the alternative is extinction, which of the two makes the most sense to you?

Or maybe it’s not un-American? Why do you suppose the NFL touts the slogan, “On any given Sunday?” Isn’t it on any given Sunday that anything can happen? Well, except for the Jets and Raiders this year! But New York did beat the Steelers and Oakland did defeat their rivals from across the bay. So I guess the NFL is right, “On any given Sunday!”

But how is that always possible?

The answer is parity. It’s what drives ticket sales and creates the interest the networks have in broadcasting the games. The NFL has bet their entire existence on parity.

That’s why the first round draft choice goes to the worst team in the league; to assure parity. That’s why they have a salary cap so teams with deep pockets can’t out spend others who aren’t as financially well off; again parity. This is also why teams with the worst records each season are given games the next year that are outside of their division against others with the poorest records. The NFL is determined to make sure the league has parity because that gives way to great games; every Sunday.

So why is it wrong to ask or expect wrestling coaches, since they are the ones who do most of their scheduling, to work equally as hard toward parity? In our case that means if we can’t control what another team spend or have access to a draft, we should at least create parity by who we schedule. That means D-II shouldn’t be scheduling shutouts or near shutouts all in a misguided effort toward development. Yes, you might get large crowds for those meets but in doing so kill most of your future support because everyone witnesses first hand how bad your program really is.

Remember, everything I’m writing about here is in relation to the spectators we don’t have, not the ones who think these ideas are ludicrous. Spectators in all sports, at all levels, prefer to attend events where their team has a chance of winning, not ones where the match is only a technical demonstration of superiority. How many spectators would come to a Steeler game if they knew beforehand that they were going to lose 54-7? Not many is my guess and the terrible towel clan is a rather large and loyal group.

Being forced to wrestle where you belong also eliminates the urge by smaller programs to recruit athletes who are either socially marginal or academically questionable. Poor decisions are made all the time in hopes of becoming competitive. But I’m afraid that the urge to win for many is greater than their fear of losing their program in the process.

Scheduling budget appropriate programs also minimizes the two and three-a-day practices that some coaches require of their athletes in an attempt to close the gap between themselves and those teams they’ll never catch. In some instances issuing side arms won’t even help these schools.

Athletes at smaller funded institutions didn’t sign on to train like Olympians and aren’t being reimbursed for that level of commitment; either in scholarship dollars, the numbers of spectators they don’t wrestle in front of or to see a reduction in their academic performance.

Could it be that the 15-point technical fall, wrestling’s equivalent of the Mercy rule, was put into effect to handle these poor decisions and corresponding athletic mismatches?

Wrestling has to be considered and treated like a team sport with an individual component. As long as the sport is viewed as an individual sport with a team component, coaches will continue to make bad decisions. It’s all about growing the sport and keeping programs alive. Sometimes that means upsetting coaches, but I much prefer a world with the sport than one without it.

What others are saying:

“Leave it to Wade to ask the tough questions and raise awareness about what wrestling needs to do to save itself. This is a must read for the entire wrestling community!”

Rob Williams, Bethesda, Maryland

Blood time? Just thinking out loud here, how many blood borne illnesses has wrestling had in the history of the sport and certainly since we’ve become so anal about, “OMG, he’s bleeding!” None is the correct answer, at least that I’m aware of which begs the question, “Are we doing such a terrific job when someone leaks a little red or is it really worth stopping the world from spinning to fix?

Wrestling hasn’t batted over .500 in anything it’s done so why would we think that the way we’re handling bleeding is correct, or a better question; necessary?

I’m all about safety, but I’m also about the flow of a match, no pun intended as it pertains to spectator appeal and what potential parents think about the sport before they allow their little ones to give it a try.

This is more a question than an attempt at correction but is the gymnastic circus we see occurring during a blood time-out really necessary? You’d think someone just spilled a vile of anthrax on the mat by the way people scurry about.

Has the UFC or any of the other MMA organizations had any problems with blood issues? Has boxing or rugby? It’s not that these athletes are incapable of bleeding. I guess my question is, has anyone ever heard of or have evidence that a single problem has ever occurred as a result of blood redistribution in combative sports?

Now I’m not talking about the type of cut where 18 stitches are necessary. Of course there’s a point where medical attention is always prudent. But for boo-boo’s and the occasional cut lip let the match continue. A shower and a washing machine will take care of those issues after the match is over.

If this was a real issue in any sport we’d know about it. There would be law suits galore.

I just worry about the wussification (hope I spelled that right) of our sport. We talk so much about how tough we are but the number of stalemates, potentially dangerous calls and twirley fingers keep increasing. And heaven forbid if someone doesn’t get a 30 minute break between matches, you’d think they just got a letter from the IRS telling them they’re being audited.

Why don’t we have a sliding scale for aggressiveness in wrestling? Certainly protect our little guys but as athletes mature, what’s wrong with allowing a little more aggressiveness and athletes maybe wrestling two weight classes in dual meets? We talk tough but act like we’re fragile.

And wouldn’t you think that the chances of blood issues arising in MMA to be far greater than in wrestling? Don’t the percentages favor our sport given the fact that the average age and corresponding number of life experiences of MMA combatants is so much greater than what we do? So if they don’t have issues, couldn’t one conclude that we’re going a little overboard?

I guess I’d like my readership to wonder; “Are we better off with blood timeouts and the scary display of medical personnel scrambling about with mops, towels and disinfectants versus leaving it as it was for the first 80 years of collegiate wrestling when there was never an issue?”

Chapter 14 next Sunday.

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11 thoughts on “How Wrestling Wins – Chapter 13

  1. Wade,
    First let me say, “How Wrestling Wins” is inspired. I have not been able to stop reading. Having just read the chapter regarding parity and the previous chapters regarding dropping tournaments and focusing on duals the following idea occurred to me.
    Would it be possible to keep the Midlands in some form? I would recommend the following change. It would be a an open tournament. Everyone who competes gets there on their own dime, no school affiliations.
    This would allow the D2 guys who wanted to test their skills against the D1 guys that very opportunity while not dragging their school into the fray. Not to mention the fact that having to foot the bill themselves would thin the herd to some degree. I’m not real particular on when the tournament would have to take place. It could be dropped into the schedule at the spot that makes the most sense; A pre NCAA tournament warmup or a post NCAA grudge match. Just curious about your thoughts.

  2. Wrestling where you belong:
    “But when D-II programs are granted permission to move to D-I it hurts all of wrestling.”
    Wade,
    After reading the article and reflecting, I would disagree on the basis of opportunity. Wouldn’t it be great if ALL wrestling programs were fully funded and D1??? The thorn is Title IX and the loss of 400 programs, which has eliminated many post HS opportunities for boys.

    I hear your point about dominate D1 teams, but that is what leagues and schedules are for. I wrestled in the EWL, back when PSU, Pitt and WVU were there. It isn’t the same level of D1, but that is ok. So what if it is a second tier D1 level, where many good wrestlers get a collegiate experience? And then you get a few individuals who can run to the top. I don’t see how that really hurts wrestling.

    If your thesis is that all D1 programs must be at the current top 25 level and field a full team, or go D2, then you are proposing an NCAA D1 tournament of about 25-30 teams. Do we want that. What about the underdog teams and individuals in an individual sport?

    Wrestling fans and alumni will support their local college team and do want competitive matches. If the program is run poorly and can’t win a single match, that is another issue, not a problem with the NCAA or structure.

    DR from MD

    • Dan . . . you’re missing my point. First, Title IX has never dropped one single wrestling program. Not one! The AD’s drop programs. Title IX may dictate that some programs have to go due to equality issues but it’s the AD that decides which programs stay and which go.

      Wrestling isn’t competing well against the other non-revenue sports at their institution. So the problem is the wrestling coach who is either making more mistakes than the gymnastics coach, swimming coach, baseball coach etc. OR the wrestling coach isn’t doing as much as those other coaches at his school to elevate his sport in the eyes of the administration. Title IX isn’t the assassin, it’s the bullet that the AD uses to eliminate programs. Unfortunately wrestling has become the target at too many schools.

      My point in wrestle where you belong is financial. Smaller schools can’t win arms races with bigger schools. When they try and spend increasingly more money than they bring in that’s puts a bullseye on the sports back. Then Title IX bullets start flying our way.

      Thanks for writing . . . Wade

  3. There are several flaws to your evidence about playing where you belong. First, Bloomsburg can’t play Ohio State in football. It’s not allowed for FBS to play DII. Similarly, Lock Haven can play North Carolina in basketball but again its not allowed to count. But every year PSAC basketball teams play elite DI schools and sometimes they win. The evidence you use doesn’t line up. Secondly, Edinboro is the Fighting Scots, not Scotts. They are Scottish – not a school of people named Scott. It’s a minor detail that takes away from your argument.

    Last year Edinboro finished in the top ten of Division I. How again are they out of place? They could and would be higher if the school had a better academic reputation and better wrestling facilities. Being DI in wrestling doesn’t hurt the wrestlers. It hurts the football and basketball players because resources are committed to fielding a top wrestling program up a level that take away from fielding above average men’s programs at the DII level.

    • Scott . . . sorry about the Scotts spelling, more a typo than an error on my part. I didn’t catch it but I did change it. Thanks.

      What really throws things out of whack is one or two good wrestlers ability to score major points at the NCAA tournament. This causes individuals to feel some schools can in fact compete at the D-I level. But that’s simply no so when you look at dual meet scores.

      Although there is always exceptions to any opinion, I think I presented a far larger case for schools to wrestling where they belong. The grave yard is full of programs who thought otherwise.

      If Clarion had one NCAA Champion on their team this year, they’d possibly finish in the Top 10 as a team but in no way would they be competitive with a D-I schedule. And most fans of D-II programs don’t go to the NCAA’s, but they do follow them in far greater numbers for home dual meets. And it’s never good when they get crunched.

      All this is about perception and I realize this is a VERY hot button issue with some D-II schools and their fans.

      I’m sorry if I ruffled any feathers, I’m working really hard here to provide different viewpoints for the same reason as you; to improve that which is near and dear to us both.

      Regards,
      Wade

      • As a high school wrestler, and also a Penn State wrestler that used to go to your matches in Clarion , I believe you are spot on with your analysis. I had wondered about the decline of programs such as Clarion, Slippery Rock, etc. and I think this is by far the best explanation I have heard.

    • Scott . . . love your enthusiasm. But the point is Edinboro has the support of Bruce B. who controls the budget. The Clarions and Bloomsburg’s and Edinboro’s CAN compete against the big boys and did decades ago. BUT the money has dried up at the smaller schools and been increased at the larger schools. The gap is considerably wider today than ever. Thus my statement.

      Cael makes more money coaching at PSU than Clarion has in their entire wrestling budget including scholarships. That’s where the problem lies. The lesser sized schools who don’t have an Olympic Wrestling Champion as their AD can’t keep up and in trying to keep up spend themselves into non-existence. Exactly what Ronald Reagan did to the former Soviet Union. They lost the financial arms race in the 80’s and lost their entire country.

      What we’re experiencing in wrestling isn’t much different. ALL wrestling coaches, well, at least 95% of them all think they can beat anyone at anytime, just give them the resources. So they demand the resources and the AD’s are tired of trying to feed a sport with an ever increasing appetite.

      My take on this has been proven time and time again by the number of schools that have been dropped. It’s not Title IX, never has been, it’s ALL ABOUT MONEY. If every school in American was financed by Bill Gates, no program would ever be dropped. Title IX would go away because schools would just add more women’s programs.

      P.S. My remark about Cael has nothing to do with him being worth what he’s receiving, he’s doing a wonderful job and deserves everything he’s being paid. It’s just to point out the absurdity of thinking that D-II schools can keep up.

      Appreciate you writing . . . Wade

  4. Consider the physical aspects and psychological aspects of any sport, be it a combat sport or not.

    Your post last week and this week caused me to think more closely why beginning athletes, in any sport, not just combat sports, quit.

    Last week you focused on bullying and suggested beginning wrestlers be limited to demonstrating kata at meets. I liked the idea. I liked the idea parents could learn kata and be more involved with their young ones.

    What I didn’t remember when I thought about bullying, there are two aspects to bullying.

    There is the physical aspect to bullying. Limiting beginning wrestlers to kata can reduce this bullying.

    There is the psychological aspect to bullying. Limiting beginning wrestlers to kata can give them time to psychologically mature, giving them time to handle the psychological aspects of losing.

    From your posts, it seems coaches are focused on winning. It’s win, win, win. I suspect this is not being fair to coaches.

    How do coaches deal with losing? The physical aspects of losing are temporary. The body recovers quickly. The psychological aspects of losing are longer lasting. I suspect beginning wrestlers quit the sport because of the psychological aspects, not the physical aspects.

    Are there ways to help a beginning wrestler mature psychologically? Are there ways to test psychological maturity?

    While you are learning how to win, you must also learn how to lose. Each person, from personal experience, can answer the question, how did I learn how to lose if I did learn how to lose?

    Team sports seem to have an advantage over individual sports, when it comes to losing. Psychologically, and emotionally, your loss is shared with the team. You are not singled out. You can hide within the team.

    This is not the case in wrestling or other individual sports. When you lose, you are singled out as losing. You have nowhere to hide. Your team may give you comfort, but your team cannot remove the psychological sting you feel.

    I suspect beginners at any sport quit because they can’t handle this psychological sting. How do you help them psychologically mature to the point where they can?

    Attacking the NCAA will be pointless. The NCAA will survive, with tax-exempt status if the only NCAA sport is football. The Olympics aren’t everything or even the only thing. All that matters is the NCAA can claim it’s not in the business of making money, even if the NCAA happens to make money.

    There seem to be this focus on the Olympics. Why? I do not believe new fans will go to a wrestling match because wrestling is an Olympic sport. Some Olympic wrestling matches can be exciting when there is decisive action, but aren’t most Olympic wrestling matches too defensive, too careful, almost orchestrated to be boring?

    When I say, decisive action, I mean action where one wrestler actually makes progress toward pinning the other wrestler.

    Saying your style of wrestling is like what they have in the Olympics will not add new fans. You will only retain the existing fans who want to watch the Olympic style of wrestling anyway. To top it off, you style of wrestling is not like the Olympic style of wrestling. The minor differences in the rules create major differences in the styles.

    Football is not an Olympic sport. Football does quite well not being an Olympic sport. Being an Olympic sport does not disqualify a sport. I honestly doubt if being an Olympic sport helps a sport.

    Regarding this question of division I or division II, I have a question. I have the impression, probably wrong, if the school decides to compete at division I in one sport, all other sports at the school have to compete at division I. I hope I am wrong. Can a school compete at division I in some sports and division II in other sports?

    • Rick . . . thank you for taking the time to respond. You just dug deeper into these issues than I wanted to or the reader has the time to devote.

      Young kids have so few friends when they lose, at least in their minds. It’s tough for anyone to just jump into the sport and survive. What I was trying to say is that we lose more children when we use the total immersion system than if we start in the shallow end and walk slowly toward the deeper water.

      Any D-II school can move up to D-I in a particular sport, but only one. The reverse isn’t true. If you are a D-I school, you can’t move down to D-II in any sport. At least that is the way it was a few years ago. That may not be the current rule but I think it is.

      Regards,
      Wade

  5. Oops, yep, you’re right! Changing it now. Thanks.

  6. Wade, I believe you meant “parity” not “parody”.

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