The NCAA’s are this week and I’m so glad that most schools are back on the mats. COVID has been a terrible experience for the country in so many ways.
Good luck to all, and may the sport once again, demonstrate to all those in attendance, just how amazing wrestling is.
. . .
In the last blog we discussed naivety, the importance of establishing a unified leadership team, and what the public, not our fans, think about wrestling.
Continuing with what I believe to be wrestling’s top issues, I’d like to cover four other must dos. In no particular order of importance, they are:
1. Make wrestling a second semester sport.
2. Wrestling must become dual meet centric.
3. The creation of a non-scholarship D-I league.
4. And of the four, by far the most important one, the removal of Regional Training Centers from college campuses.
I believe these issues will keep everyone reading at least long enough to find out what possible justification I could have for these opinions?
The only thing I ask in the interim, is a little leeway before those who disagree, launch on the grounds of heresy.
Make Wrestling a One Semester Sport . . . without a doubt, our first problem, second, fifth, and tenth are all the same. Wrestling doesn’t generate enough revenue to come close to breaking even. And companies that can’t pay their bills; go out of business. That’s where we’ve been for decades, with big brother, the athletic departments, continually bailing us out. But, with the tightening dollar, and an out of control arms race with football and basketball, the question becomes, for how long?
Basically, the sport needs to find ways to put butts in seats, and to do that, we need to change the way we look at our sport in order to find ways to become, at least, revenue neutral.
Football has spectators, as does basketball, baseball and soccer. So what’s different about those sports and us? Why do people find them interesting enough to have not only collegiate successes but professional leagues?
And then the question; why not wrestling?
To start, the answer might be; we’ve never taken the time to ask those who aren’t our fans, why they’re not, and then listen.
Every company that’s part of the S&P 500 has focus groups. They ask questions of people who use their products and services, and then for those who don’t; why, and why not. Then they listen to what being said, and have the smarts, and willingness, to adapt.
But not wrestling, we never ask anyone who’s part of our sport, let alone those who aren’t; but I have. And here’s some of the things I’ve heard.
One of the first is, “why are you a winter sport?”
I’d respond, even though I knew the answer, “I guess because we’ve always been; why do you ask?”
Responses varied but here is the one I heard the most. “Because I never see anything about wrestling in the media. And you should know, if you aren’t there, you’re not a sport.”
Most of them go on to say, “it seems stupid for you to try and compete for eyeballs when the first half of your season occurs during the end of the NFL and NCAA football seasons. Then you hold your championships when the NCAA basketball seasons, for both the males and females, are in the playoffs.”
So, moving the season to the second semester makes sense on multiple fronts . . . the least of which is it has the possibility of attracting the interest of football and basketball fans; yes, even basketball fans because anyone who loves watching competition by definition, loves competition. Why wouldn’t we want to reach out and make it easier for people to sample what we do?
As a parallel; you can’t sell a brand new Mercedes-Benz for $500.00 if no one ever knows you have it for sale.
And why wouldn’t we want to make it easier for those who report on sports, to cover our sport? April and May are down months for media coverage in sports, at least relative to December through March.
To a much lesser degree, why wouldn’t we want to swap out the month of December and part of January for the months of April and May? Given that wrestling is primarily a snow belt sport, why wouldn’t we want to get our teams off of the snow covered roads? Just the optics of that alone would play well with our administrators.
As for academics, given that wrestlers aren’t always the sporting world’s top performers, having the entire first semester to focus on academics, especially for freshman, can’t be a bad thing?
If anyone is concerned that moving the season would encroach on our international efforts, we need to decide. What, or who is more important?
I want to make this clear, I love America’s current trajectory when it comes to international wrestling, but I vehemently disagree with the way that USAW is encroaching on collegiate wrestling. More on that later.
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As an aside, you’re going to want to watch this video:
I’m never heard of the sport, or maybe we should call it a war. Calcio Storico; you won’t be disappointed for taking 3 minutes out of your day to watch it.
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Wrestling Should Be Dual Meet Centric . . . think about entertainment for a minute? Almost everything we do in America is centered around two-hour increments. Go to the movies, two hours. Go out to eat; two hours. Go to your son’s soccer meet or basketball game; two hours. See a play; two hours.
But not wrestling.
No sir; coaches prefer triangulars, quadrangulars, and eight team dual meet tournaments wherever they can find them. Then, if they have an open weekend, they go find an individual tournament that starts when the sun comes up and ends when it sets.
Let me ask you two questions and see if you can identify the problem?
How many people do you think would go to one of the final four basketball games if they knew it was going to last for 8 hours? And, who would scramble to buy a ticket to the Super Bowl if kickoff was scheduled at 9AM, and you weren’t going to get back into your car until 10 that night?
Anyone see a parallel here to how wrong we are?
If you’d ask fans, they go to sporting events as much, if not more, to root for their team as much as they do to watch Curry sink 3-pointers, Brady to outsmart the opponent’s defense or Lee to crunch someone. And they want to do those things within the confines of 2 hours.
Now think about wrestling. The fans that we have in Iowa traditionally don’t give a hoot about the Midlands, or they’d fill McGaw Hall. But they will scramble to buy a ticket to watch the Hawks wrestle for two hours against the Gophers in Minneapolis. Why is that; what’s the difference? Sure, it’s the head to head competition, but just as important, it’s their state, and their team, being pitted against their neighbors to the north for a year of bragging rights. Individual bouts are important, but so is the team element; within a reasonable time frame.
Being dual meet centric is such a no brainer, and another reason why coaches should have no say in anything but their athlete’s academics, social development and on mat performance. They’re not marketers, and they don’t have promotional degrees.
Wrestling needs butts in seats far more than it needs athletes going to the NCAA tournament with 48 matches under their belt (in normal years).
The Formation of a Non-Scholarship D-I League . . . because there are way too many D-I programs who used to be able to compete with the big boys; but not anymore.
But yet the coaches of those outmatched programs hang on with stubborn recklessness, hoping to find a way to be successful as their budgets shrink and double digit losses become the norm. The days of Clarion, North Dakota State and Cal Poly knocking off a Penn State or Oklahoma has come and gone.
So what are those teams to do, so many used to be competitive? The obvious answer is they have to move to a division where they have a chance of being competitive.
Now, I’m not talking about those D-II schools who are competing a D-I levels dropping back, or telling those underfunded D-I schools to give up. I want to throw out the idea of developing a non-scholarship D-I League.
Think of the formation of a forth NCAA division? One where the sport can crown 10 more individual NCAA Champions and be able to hand out 80 more All-Americans certificates.
That can’t be a bad thing. And there isn’t a wrestling fan who won’t know who the big boys are in each weight class so don’t say that’s a reason for not considering it. Holding on to old beliefs has put us where we are.
And all of this done in a way that allows coaches, teams and the school’s alumni to save face; if you want to call it that by staying at the D-I level.
And, given that scholarship obligations for these struggling to keep up with the Iowa’s and Ohio State’s of the sport, I wonder how many wrestling programs would be saved by such a move?
And then there’s this; how many institutions at the D-I level, that don’t have wrestling, might consider starting a program if there wasn’t the financial strain that scholarships create?
Think about this for a moment. How many schools are there that are desperate to grow their undergraduate enrollments? Way more than you think.
That’s why Mike Moyer, the Executive Director of the NWCA, has been very successful at growing D-II and D-III programs using this “grow your enrollment” model.
So, let me ask, what’s wrong with having 80 more All Americans each year? And how many Division II schools who wrestled at D-I no longer have the sport? Would Slippery Rock, or Western Michigan, still be wrestling had there been a non-scholarship option when they dropped?
The Removal of Regional Training Centers from College Campuses . . . now I realize what I’m about to write won’t be well received by those who support America’s international effort, but it has to be said.
Here’s the problem. Actually it’s several problems. The first one; since the RTC’s don’t have anything to do with collegiate programming, except to use their facilities, and their coaches to train USAWrestling’s athletes, at no cost to USAWrestling; why are they on college campuses?
The answer is obvious; to help advance Colorado Springs agenda while the unintended consequence is the widening of the competitive gap between the have’s and have not’s of college wrestling.
For USAW, it’s like 37 of Coca-Cola’s largest bottling plants creating Pepsi-Cola products; at Coke’s expense, for Pepsi’s profits. Who could possibility think that’s a mutually beneficial arrangement?
In the case of collegiate wrestling, for every penny that collage coaches raise to fund their USAWrestling program, that’s a penny that the owners of the facilities don’t receive, which are the various athletic departments.
There’s no doubt that has to irritate the bejesus out of every athletic administrator, who has for decades asked their wrestling coach to help fund raise, only to be continually disappointed.
Then, magically, an RTC appears, and that same wrestling coach who couldn’t find any money, magically finds oodles of it.
And we wonder why wrestling doesn’t have political support with administrators?
Now I get it, RTC’s are absolutely amazing for our international effort. And financially beneficial to the athletes who need the income to continue to train. That’s all well and good, but isn’t this the responsibility of Colorado Springs to provide, and fund?
So, why are RTC’s popping up on college campuses?
Several reasons, but the largest by far is the magnet they provide institutions who have them to attract the nation’s best scholastic wrestlers. Who doesn’t want to sign a letter of intent with an institution who has multiple All-Americans and National Champions at his/her disposal for their entire collegiate career?
I understand the panic of those coaches who don’t have the finances to start an RTC. And that’s exactly why the NCAA put parity front and center when they limited coaching staffs, and the number of scholarships a school could offer; and then, put in place regulations about who can, and who can’t, train together.
If anyone doesn’t believe that RTC athletes aren’t practicing with their collegiate counterparts, in season, and out, I have a bridge you might be interested in buying. Now, to eliminate any confusion, I’m not saying that RTC’s are bad, they’re exceptional, they just don’t belong on college campuses.
And my reasoning for this; to have one organization syphoning resources away from another, is wrong on so many levels.
Having Regional Training Centers is just a slick way of sidestepping the policies and desires of the NCAA; and in the end, enabling the rich to get richer while the competitive gap widens . . . as we infuriate our administrators.
These are the types of things that continue to put collegiate programming at risk.
Raul Ramirez is a catch wrestling person.
He produced a YouTube video regarding some training tips from Frank Gotch.
At the beginning of this video, before he got into the subject of the video, he expressed his opinions regarding what is wrong with folk style and Olympic style wrestling.
I will try to include a link to the YouTube video.
I would like your comments regarding his opinions. His opinions are in the first six minutes of the video.
I believe the gentleman is saying much of the things I’m trying to convey. He used different words and situations to make his point, but we’re both in the same church, all be it maybe a different pew. There is no such thing as a stalemate in my opinion. There is always someone, if not both wrestlers who can get out of whatever situation they’re in. They just choose not to because there is a stalemate rule and they have every intension of taking advantage of it while they kill time waiting for it to be called. Stalemates to me are akin to giving everyone participation awards.
Wrestling, it is said, is physical chess.
In Chess, a game may end in one of three ways:
2) draw — there are 5 ways for a draw to occur
3) loss on time control–
You must make a certain number of moves in a given time.
In chess, to make the game more “exciting”, we have different time control rule sets. There is “bullet” chess, “blitz” chess, “rapid” chess. This is besides the much slower, regular chess and the very, very slow, daily chess.
In regular chess, we use regular time control. In high-speed games, where “bullet” chess is the fastest, one has less than 3 minutes to make 40 moves in a game.
“Bullet” chess and the other high-speed games of speed chess do NOT replace regular chess. They can never replace regular chess.
In regular chess, you have positional play. You plan your offenses and defenses based on your opponent’s moves. You have time to think, as does your opponent. You can evolve new strategies. You seek weakness and create weakness where you can. You fortify your defenses and try to resist your opponent’s pressure. But, it is slow, giving more time for thought.
In regular chess, a game can end based on time control, but it’s less likely, than one of the types of speed chess.
How does this compare with wrestling?
Wrestling is like speed chess, akin to bullet chess. You have three minutes plus your opponent’s three minutes, or up to six minutes to make your moves.
In speed wrestling, you don’t have time to wear down your opponent, create weakness, really break down your opponent’s defenses. Even the strategy of putting your legs in, applying a power-half, and trying to turn your opponent, is rushed (I wonder how long this ploy will remain legal). Of course, you are going to have more stalemate and stalling calls. The referee has to keep the match moving at a goodly pace. The wrestlers are going to rely on the referee’s interventions.
Shame on the wrestling community for getting rid of regular wrestling, replacing it with this speed wrestling. Speed wrestling should be an addition to, not a replacement, for regular wrestling.
Please go back to the early 1900s. They had regular wrestling. They had matches lasting fifteen minutes. The referee wasn’t so quick to intervene. The wrestlers had to work out of stalemate-like situations on their own. A wrestler could, and did, try to break down his opponent’s defenses and weaken his opponent, it’s called riding, to make his opponent more susceptible to getting pinned. The referee was there to prevent injury and look for the pin.
Riding is considered stalling in speed wrestling.
The rules I would suggest for high school and college would be a modified form of catch wrestling with chokes and submissions barred. I would also introduce a belt system.
White belt matches would be restricted in the moves and holds wrestlers can employ because they wouldn’t know how to do certain moves and holds correctly and wouldn’t know how to defend safely against certain moves and holds.
In brown belt matches, the wrestlers would be expected to have greater knowledge and skill and would be allowed a wider range of moves and holds.
In black belts matches, the wrestlers would have the greatest range of choices, with only chokes and submission holds barred.
I would try to limit wrestlers to wrestling only those with the same belt color. Obviously, this doesn’t work when a high school is fielding a team.
The best wrestler at a weight in the high school might only be an orange belt, and might be facing a brown belt from another school. I would encourage the brown belt to remember he’s got a orange belt opponent and not be quite as rough.
If we don’t bar chokes and submission holds, we might as well call it catch wrestling.
Why do we want regular wrestling? Wrestlers should have the “killer” instinct.
In speed wrestling, I contend, wrestlers have as much the “survival” instinct as the “killer” instinct.
How many times has one watched a speed wrestling match where the wrestlers are trying to “survive”, trying to earn enough points to win?
I believe, if you give the wrestlers enough time, and give the wrestlers the motivation they can only “win” by pinning their opponent, one or both of the wrestlers on the mat will exhibit the “killer” instinct. I want to stack the rules and motivations against a wrestler who just tries to “survive”.
Question: should wrestlers be there to show the “killer” instinct or should they be there to show they can “survive”? I ask this question in such a way as to make one choice undesirable. In speed wrestling, the “undesirable” choice is actually the more desirable choice.
Good thoughts on season shifts and enhanced focus on dual meets.
Breaking up competition among teams into different days like football does with conference championships, bowl games, and national championship gives fans a chance to anticipate the next match and talk the teams up more between each competition.
Even the tournament style “March Madness” has 2 or more days between each game. That enables media outlets to jump in on the reporting and anticipation.
I still see value for the wrestlers to offer a few individual tournaments, but perhaps after all the smoke cleared from a season of dual meets, you could have individual conference qualifiers and an NCAA individual tournament.
`Regarding RTCs, I’m not familiar with the structure and sources of funding, but would it not be possible for RTCs to commit a percentage of funds raised to the host facility/Institution?
That could serve the dual purpose of adding value to the athletics department and giving those departments incentives to help grow the RTC.
Also, could your alternative D1 league blunt the negative impacts of RTCs on other programs?
Regarding not understanding the rules, football referees take a moment to announce to everyone in the stadium and the world what the infraction was (false start, holding, etc..)
With technology as it is today. In a dual meet we could have any number of infractions broadcast by an announcer and on a jumbotron along with a video example of such a penalty. It would be a pretty simple software program to put together that could be distributed to teams across the nation.
Looking forward to hearing your post on making the matches more engaging.
Wade, I agree with making wrestling a 1 semester sport to get away from the football and basketball shadows. I would like to see more action from during the matches and would like to see the referees call stalling sooner in the match. Also, get rid of the stall warning- award 1 point for every stall call. Imagine how much more excitement when its a 1 point match and the wrestler ahead cant just run away from his opponent. The lack of stall calls by referees is making this sport boring. The 184 pound bout with NCSU and PSU is not good for the sport. The NCSU wrestler was backing up almost the entire match. The ref should have hit him with stalling 30 seconds into the match and kept hitting him until he stayed around the small circle. This also was occurring in the 125 pound match. ASU wrestler did more dancing and circling than wrestling without being penalized. Again, bad for the sport and fans. I could keep going on about stalling, but I hope you get the point.
Thanks Wade, keep up the great writing.
Wade, this is a serious question.
What is something “special” that happens in wrestling that we can anticipate and wait for?
I equate excitement with the anticipation of something “special” happening.
For example, is a baseball game stupid, uneventful, and boring, when a pitcher throws a no-hitter? All the pitcher is doing is playing catch with the catcher yet we celebrate, and find “exciting”, no-hitters. A no-hitter is something “special”. Isn’t it equally “exciting” when the baseball score is close and we are in the bottom of the 9th and something “special” happens, either the batter hits a home-run or strikes-out?
Is European soccer (they call it football) stupid, uneventful, and boring because they score so few points in some of their games? Their rabid fans find a single point score extremely exciting. Scoring a goal is something “special”.
I could find other sports that are stupid, uneventful, boring, until something “special” happens.
In my fishing example, catching a fish is something “special”. The long wait could be considered, stupid, uneventful, boring.
For deer hunters who sit in a tree and wait for a deer to pass by, the wait might be considered, stupid, uneventful, boring, until something “special” happens, the deer comes into view and you bag the deer.
My question is serious. What is something “special” that happens in wrestling that we can anticipate and wait for?
Wrestling should be a spring and summer sport.
Dual meets: I like running 2 mats at once, it’s more action for the fans. I agree with your point; a 2-hour time limit is best for the fans.
Tournaments are important, they should be 1 day in duration.
Regarding “what the public, not our fans, think about wrestling” and “S&P 500 has focus groups”. I use my wife as a focus group for wrestling. She loves all sports (except boxing). Here are her comments:
1. There are not enough points scored in a typical wrestling match.
2. She has a basic understanding of a pin, takedown, reversal and escape. She does not understand team points, near falls, stalling, illegal holds and penalty points.
3. She thinks riding time and control of an opponent is stupid. It’s dull, un-eventful and she won’t watch it.
4. She thinks a wrestling match should be stopped when one wrestler is dominating another wrestler.
5. She feels that once a wrestler gets behind in points, it’s hard for the wrestler to even the score. Wrestling is not like other sports where teams come from behind to win. I tried to argue this point, saying “a pin would win the match”. She asked “how often does this happen”?
Kirk . . . thank you for your response. Always appreciated. Your wife is right on so many levels, a very amateur fan who is bored and doesn’t understand. Not that she can’t understand, but her interest level to care enough to dig down into the nuances of wrestling just isn’t there. And that’s like 20 million other fans the sport doesn’t have. In the next blog, or the one after that, I have her solution. But between now and then, she’s exactly the type of person the sport needs to listen to. But you can count on the coaches saying this instead, “she’s wrong, we’re okay, ignore her.” That’s what we’ve been doing forever and why we’re where we are. If the sport was as great as the coaches say it is, they would all be making 750k a year, and their assistants 320K. And Campbell University would constantly have a waiting line to get into the gym for a meet.
Your wife is entitled to her opinions.
She has a point. How often does a wrestler, who is behind, get a pin?
Actually, how often does a wrestler, who is ahead, get a pin?
I only wish, if a wrestler were truly dominating another wrestler, that wrestler would try to end the match by going for a pin.
I also agree with her when she says riding time and control of an opponent is stupid, when it’s uneventful. I don’t find it stupid and uneventful when it leads to a pin.
To me, it’s like fishing. Fishing is uneventful, stupid, boring, until one catches a fish. Landing a fish is exciting. Watching a pin happen is exciting.
Well said, Wade.
When one scratches below the surface of Calcio Storico, one finds a lot of strategy involved.
There is also a lot of emotion. It is war.
Chess is a game of war. Go is a game of war.
People are schizophrenic. We love to fight when there are little or no consequences. We are afraid to fight when we think we might get hurt. We freeze in fright. Then, it’s fight or flight. Sometimes, we have no choice but to fight.
Calcio Storico reminds me of when we tried to play basketball. No blood no foul.
I agree with your first 3 comments, but maybe a little more information will help with the RTC position.
With Title IX limits, RTC’s provide the wrestling program with a way to finance spring/summer freestyle wrestling that can’t be funded by the College programs. Even if the wrestling coach could come up with more funds, the colleges won’t let them be used by the program because they would have to come up with matching funds for women’s programs. Also, think to back in the day when we would pay our own way to the Erie Open. Now the clubs pay the way. We could have probably eaten and slept at better places. Plus we wouldn’t have had to spend the money we earned that week working the summer wrestling camp.
Dale . . . memory lane. Thank you. :>) As to your comment regarding RTC’s, I like what they have done for our sport, but they don’t have a place on college campuses. The money Bubb raised each summer from his camps went to the general fund, not wrestling’s. So, it worked for all sports, and met Title IX requirements. Granted, Lignelli would allow Coach to dip into the funds, but they were placed in the general fund. As you pointed out, I’m aware of the benefits of RTC’s, but on the backs of the sport where the rich are getting richer, with programming gaps widening; the negatives far out way the positives. Almost to the school, when programs are being dropped, administrators use a lack of funding as the reason. And, no one wins a financial arms race, unless the sport in question has enough fans to fund it. We must care more about the Slippery Rock’s of the world, than whether Penn State finishes #1 or #2 each year.
If the RTC’s are sent off campus then then the small schools like Clarion will left with no place to go for Spring and Summer wrestling. Where would they go to find a gym or recreation center that would let them set up mats? Plus the additional cost would be prohibitive for these smaller schools. Thus the smaller schools would have to do without any financial support for their spring freestyle wrestling. The rich would get richer.
Sure, you can mention any number of downsides to moving RTC’s, but the bottom line is, programs are being dropped, or put at risk because of the RTC’s. And really, how many wrestlers at Clarion, or anyone of the other institutions that finish anywhere from #30 to #78 at this years NCAA’s are training in the off season? The days of schools being Jack the Giant Killer like we were back in the days have long disappeared.
Team wise, yes the days of a small school pulling off a team victory against Penn State or Iowa would be a stretch. But wrestling has an individual component. This years NCAA’s prove the point. How many small schools, Utah Valley for example, had an individual do extremely well in the National tournament. One of the things that attracted many wrestlers to the smaller schools was the chance to compete against the “Big Boys”.
The chance to show that like underdog teams in basketball, lightening can strike in the most unlikely place (example you and Garry Barton).
Also, like the case with Stanford, who raised over 10 million dollars in pledges, college administrators are not interested in providing an existential experience to its students. They are only interested in supporting athletics that will garner interest and advertisers on ESPN, ie. women’s sports, football and Basketball. RTC’s have little or no impact on College Athletic Directors decisions.