That needs to be accomplished two ways. The first, we need to move our season from being a Winter sport, to becoming a Winter-Spring hybrid . . . where we start training in December, begin competing in January and space our national events out so they occur before and after the men’s and women’s NCAA basketball championships.
Yes, I used the word events, because we need to bring back the National Duals, but not as it was; a mid-season event. We tried that and it wasn’t successful. However, if we flip-flopped the NCAA’s and the National Duals, then we’d have something.
Before I explain this, moving the season isn’t a new idea, we’ve debated that for decades and to be honest, I’ve never heard one good reason why we shouldn’t. Other than the old stand-by; “it’s not the way we’ve done it in the past.”
But, why not? I don’t see a downside. It moves the first half of our season away from the second half of collegiate football and their media heavy Bowl Games. And at the same time it moves our two national championships to before and after the men’s and women’s basketball championships. That’s a smart move all around.
Remember, football and basketball are kings when it comes to every major media outlet; both electronic and print.
And none of this is good for wrestling when the lifeblood of any sport is the amount of national coverage it receives. That’s what brings fans to any sport.
Come to think of it; when was the last time Sports Illustrated did a feature story about our NCAA championships? Could it be that they’re too busy covering every one of the 128 basketball teams who are fighting to make the Sweet Sixteen, Elite Eight and then the Final Four?
Moving the season to a Winter-Spring hybrid also provides our freshman with a greater opportunity to become acclimated to the academic grind before the season begins and weight is shed. Remember where we are academically.
Moving the season is also a safety issue as well given that wrestling is primarily a northern sport. We’d be swapping out our travels on icy roads in November and December for dry ones in March and April.
Waiting until January to start our competitive season also opens the door for football players to come out for wrestling. How many upper weights do we lose to football each year, especially at the scholastic level, who figure it’s probably not worth coming out for a sport that’s already in their third month of conditioning, and starting their second month of competition?
Moving the season forward also allows our wrestlers to be home with their families enjoying Thanksgiving and Christmas turkey. Like it or not, that’s a big deal with mother’s and you know the role they play in decision making.
Regarding the National Duals, coaches had a right to squawk about holding the event in the middle of the season. Especially those who were from the Big 10, given those programs dominate our sport on a national basis. They certainly don’t want their athletes to go through the grind of a national dual meet tournament before and after tackling their very vigorous regular season schedule? Then two weeks after that, if some of their athletes are still standing, an exceptionally tough conference tournament followed by the NCAA tournament.
Holding the National Duals in the middle of the season was a bad idea.
But, on the other hand, the National Duals is a great idea if it’s held at the end of the season and here’s how I would handle the entire season.
– Practice begins in December
– The Dual Meet season begins the first week of January
– Conference and Qualifying Tournaments – Early February
– NCAA Individual Tournament – Middle of February
– The second half of the Dual Meet season continues to the end of March
– National Dual Meet Championship Series Begins the first week of April
Now don’t get caught up on the exact dates and lose sight of the premise. If you want to move the time frames up some or back a bit, okay, that’s fine. But the big picture is having two championships in the correct order.
Let me explain. Who among us can’t see the absolute must of a) having a season with two championships and b) moving each of them away from the Bowl Games and basketball’s March Madness? Just answer those two questions first; not the order of the events, or the dates. If you don’t think having two championships is a good idea, stop reading.
But if you feel two championships makes sense, the only decisions we have to decide is the time frames and the order of the events. Anything other than having the National Duals going at the end of the season is as unreasonable to ask of the participants as it is to get past the coaches.
So the only alternative is to get the national dual meet tournament accepted and then flip-flop the timing of it with the individual tournament. That way everyone gets their cake and gets to eat it too. Athletes are fresh and healthy for the individual tournament at mid-season which is a dream for every coach and the sport gets the much needed, and media favored dual meet tournament.
Think about it . . . this is a huge marketing windfall for wrestling; the sport ends up with 10 NCAA Champions and 70 All-Americans who are still in uniform for the remaining 2 months of the season! Just think of the potential match-ups and the quality of competition the spectators would see once the pressure is off and the athletes go prowling for additional stardom?
What’s not to like about seeing current All-Americans taking on this year’s national champion or better yet, one national champion moving up a weight to wrestle another current NCAA champion? This is how you make legends and give our younger wrestler’s hero’s to look up to.
The way we currently have it, the season ends the moment all our best athletes receive their All-American plaques; half of which will graduate two months later so the sport NEVER gets a chance to market these athletes with the media.
As to the National Dual Meet Championships, maybe we only have the Top 8 teams involved. Then expand the field to 16 teams as interest grows and we iron out any challenges.
How do you think the Athletic Directors would feel about such a change? Actually, how could they not support it? It would mean that 90% of the 74 DI teams would finish their season by the end of March, actually shortening the current season by two weeks. Only the best of the best programs would go for another week and then half of them would be eliminated and so on until we have a team champion.
This is a tremendous way for over 90% our D-I programs that aren’t financially competitive to reduce expenditures, because they wouldn’t be selected as one of the Elite Eight. Cost containment isn’t a bad thing for non-revenue sports, certainly in the eyes of the Athletic Director.
As to the media, these two changes remove the standardized reasoning the sports writers and broadcasters use regarding why they don’t cover wrestling; they’re too busy with the Bowl Games and the NCAA tournaments for basketball.
I realize all this isn’t an easy sell but the rewards far exceed any fears that leadership might have regarding change. And remember, our current number of spectators is about 5% of what it’s going to take to become relevant as a sport. And we don’t have the other 95% yet but maybe, just maybe, the time has come to do things a little differently?
I have been saying that wrestling season should start competition in January for years. All of the reasons in the article are valid. In our Division III program, we had three (3) football players and one soccer player who became wrestling starters by the end of the year. Usually we have one or two. Every year we get fall sports athletes who were wrestlers in high school and want to play both sports in college. Most only do it for a year or so. Then they end up choosing one or the other, usually based on success in one sport more than the other. If they have success in football, they usually drop wrestling. Why? Because its a big “ask” for a football player to finish his season playing a football game on our first weekend of wrestling competition (and that’s if the football team doesn’t make the playoffs) and then step into a wrestling room where the athletes have been training since September and practicing every day since the first week of October. The football players, and especially freshman, are far, far behind in every aspect of college wrestling. If we started competition in January, the football players could use November to recover from football and work their way into the wrestling workouts, and then have December to train in earnest before January competition. That would be a good for our sport. For DI power conferences, it doesn’t matter because their football seasons pretty much mirror the NFL. But for lower level NCAA divisions, this would really help. By the way, two of our four football players who split time as 285 starters will keep playing football because they are football starters. Two other football players who were wrestling starters are not continuing to play football because they aren’t getting football playing time. Our soccer player is not playing soccer next year (he came in as a freshman starter in soccer, then was replaced by an upperclassman the second half of the soccer season).
Another outstanding thought. This system allows the individual tournament to become analogous to the mid-season All-Star breaks that MLB, NBA, and NHL use. For the last half of the season, you have match-ups between current NCAA champs, AAs, and scoring leaders. When combined with doubling up, and jumbling weight classes, the possibilities are staggering. None of this hurts the sport; all of it benefits the sport and fans. Keep up the great work.