Solving the Problem of Forfeits

By | July 11, 2021

For this edition of How Wrestling Wins, I will attempt to put an end to the pandemic of forfeits, and then offer a suggestion regarding how we can improve wrestling’s pinning percentages.

I hope you’re sitting down . . .

To begin, I believe everyone would agree that we can’t allow forfeits to continue, they are the bane of our existence, and basically arsenic to the sports growth.

Besides demonstrating to the media and athletic administrators that we’re a dying sport; we cannot continue to cheat our fans out of matches that they have bought tickets to watch.

None of that can possibly be good for our sport.

Regarding the spectator; when forfeits take place, the offending coach is actually breaching a legal contract that spectators have with the host school to provide a set number of matches for the price of admission.

Cheating our fans out of what has been promised is simply a ghastly business practice.

When you go to a football game, aren’t you’re expecting 4 quarters of action? In baseball aren’t you anticipating 9 full innings of play? What about ice hockey; regardless of the score, you know you’re going to see three 20-minute periods of action, plus a fight or two.

But in wrestling, we seem to go out of our way to regularly cheat our guests; complete with a “we don’t care if you like it or not” attitude. If the rules committee actually cared about this, they’d do something.

Answer this please; how would you feel if you went to a restaurant, ordered a dozen oysters, paid for a dozen oysters; but were only given only nine oysters?

Isn’t that exactly what we do in wrestling?

Or, how about going to a movie and noticing that the projectionist has cut 20 minutes of action out of the middle of the film? Would that be a good business practice?

Isn’t that exactly what we do in wrestling?

As to fixing this issue, it’s simple. We attach such an exceptionally heavy consequence to the practice that overnight, the problem all but disappears. Here it is;

If a team forfeits a weight class, they also forfeit the dual meet. The dual meet still takes place, but the results of the match has already been determined. 

The same rule would apply to tournaments.

Forfeit a weight class at a tournament, and your team is exempt from scoring points.

I love this idea. It’s simple to explain, simple to understand, and simple to administer. As we all know, change only occurs when penalties are created that are greater than the benefit of not having them are advantageous.

I’m sorry, but I just don’t believe a coach when he says he can’t find someone to fill a certain weight class, especially in college. Now I realize that isn’t always the case, but it’s more often the case than not.

The why is simple; coaches would prefer to forfeit a weight than put a warm body on the mat who will most likely get pinned. At least by forfeiting, they don’t have to watch the carnage, while losing team momentum.

What if both teams forfeit a weight class, or multiple weight classes? That’s simple too, they both take losses on their records.

Now I realize this might be a tad much for the rules committee to consider, but the point is, we need to do something more than we’re doing because forfeits have become far more the norm than the exception.

Now take a deep breath and think about this for a minute; is this proposal really that draconian? How many other sports are there that have even more stringent rules when it comes to being short the number of athletes it takes to fill a starting lineup? For them, and there are several sports I can think off right off the bat, the games aren’t even played. At least with what I’m proposing, it allows every wrestler who has an opponent the opportunity to compete.

Folks; we have to impose rules with substantial costs, for schools that forfeit weights, beyond the loss of 6 team points. Wrestling cannot grow when we knowingly choose to shortchange those who are in attendance, and demonstrate to the media and our administrators how desirable wrestling isn’t. That behavior tears at the fabric of customer service, and for us to think it’s somehow acceptable, is to be sadly mistaken.

This problem reminds me of a Ralph Waldo Emerson quote; What you do speaks so loudly that I can’t hear what you are saying. We can tell the world about how great wrestling is, but a failing spectator base and growing number of forfeits reflects something else entirely.   

How about another change to the current rules that goes like this; an athlete who’s being pinned, can’t be saved by the buzzer?

Here’s how I would write it if the rules committee wanted some help.

If an athlete is on his back when time expires at the end of any period, the match will continue until a pin occurs, OR the athletes are determined to be out of bounds, OR the official concludes a pin isn’t going to happen.

Again, using other sports as examples; in basketball, doesn’t a basket count when the buzzer sounds after the ball has left the players hand? That’s not the case in wrestling.

In football, isn’t a wide receiver allowed to score a touchdown after time has run out as long as the ball was snapped before the quarter ended? That’s not the case in wrestling.

In boxing, a fighter cannot be saved by the bell. But they can be in wrestling.

The point is; if the object of wrestling is to pin your opponent, shouldn’t we go out of our way to please our fans, and make that outcome easier to accomplish?

I’d be interested in hearing your thoughts.




10 thoughts on “Solving the Problem of Forfeits

  1. Art Donahoe

    As usual, Wade, spot on! Rick S. might have some points about extremes; but it will take something drastic to eliminate this bane of forfeits.

  2. Lawrence Marchionda

    Great observation Wade, and it is even more detrimental than your points. With so many weight classes they become filled with unprepared wrestlers who get mauled and quit. We need to have fewer weight classes at the varsity level and more weight classes at the JV and lower levels. Spectators expect to see 10 to 12 matches of high-level and prepared wrestlers. Larry Marchionda

    1. Stephen Schalles

      Larry . . . agreed, that was going to be one of the topics for my next blog. We have toooo many weight classes, especially as it relates to the starting lineups for major sports. I’m wondering if there’s a correlation between major and minor sports here. Hmm.

      Everyone seems to want more weight classes, more money, and more respect but seem to be doing little to convince their administrators why they deserve that level of attention.

  3. Rick S.

    This brings up the question: is it possible there are valid reasons for a forfeit as well as invalid reasons for a forfeit?

    What about the case where the varsity wrestler is injured for any reason, be it on the wrestling mat or crossing the street, and the coach has difficulty filling that weight class?

    While I love the concept of making forfeits super expensive, I suspect this remedy is too extreme. Is there a middle ground?

    We need to encourage schools (I’m thinking high schools, but the same might be said for colleges) that don’t have strong wrestling programs to continue to wrestle. Why should a school with a weak wrestling program bother schedule a dual meet, let alone show up at a dual meet, or even have a wrestling team?

    How do you get a wrestling program in a high school or college that’s dropped the program? How do you grow a weak wrestling program into a competitive, if not strong, wrestling program?

    A suggestion. When there is going to be a forfeit, can we have an exhibition match take its place? The exhibition might be wrestlers from the two teams, or the exhibition might be two wrestlers from the same team. For example, the home team might have two wrestlers from its school have a wrestle-off.

    I accept exhibition matches aren’t the same as team matches, but its still wrestling. The home crowd might be a little less disappointed to see a wrestle-off between two tough, home wrestlers, instead of seeing no wrestling at all.

    I love the idea, one can’t be saved by the clock (or in the case of boxing, the bell).

    I believe, if your wrestling product were “better”, and I don’t know how to define “better”, you would want to have more wrestling, not less wrestling. You would want matches to last longer, not shorter. You would stop reducing the length of time for a wrestling match, and instead increase the length.

    If I go back through college yearbooks, I can find wrestling matches with no time limits. Please google search for University of Iowa Hawkeye yearbook, 1912. Pages 263-264. They had two out of three fall, no time limit matches. For some matches, each fall took only a few minutes. For other matches, a fall might not happen for an hour or more. In a match between a Nebraska and Iowa middleweight, one fall happened after 1.5 minutes while the other fall happened after 1 hour, 17 minutes. I realize no time limit matches are too extreme.

    Now, we have only one fall wrestling matches with very short time limits. The answer must lie somewhere in the middle between matches with short time limits and matches with no time limits. I argue these shortened wrestling matches have gone too far in the other direction.

    Let the wrestlers wrestle long and hard. If both wrestlers aren’t completely exhausted at the end of a match, either one of the opponents was “easy” or the length of the match was too short.

    You keep shortening the length of a match, you might as well adopt the rules of sumo. The sumo wrestler to touch the ground with any part of the body first or go out of bounds first, loses.

    If you think amateur wrestling is boring, and that’s a good excuse to have shorter matches, we can adopt the rules of sumo and have a dual meet last, at most, ten minutes so the fans can do something more exciting in their lives. This paragraph should make you angry. This paragraph is not what any of us should want to hear.

    1. Stephen Schalles

      Rick . . . there is always “what ifs” and “how abouts” in every idea. I try to pick the best of every option when I write realizing there will always be holes in my thinking. But I’d like to think my batting average is, and has been, at least .800. Never perfect, but too many of our sports rules and concepts are way below .500. Nothing is perfect, but if you can make a significant improvement, why wouldn’t you?

      And if the NCAA would adopt my Doubling Up rule from the previous blog, how about adding, if there is a forfeit, the athlete from the previous weight class on the offending team must wrestle and use one of his 3 Double Ups.

      1. Rick S.

        You are quite right.

        Need to get a general rule and then deal with the exceptions as they come up.

        Just trying to be helpful.

  4. Rick Zeiders

    I think a better remedy would be if a coach forfeits a match, each time he does so at the conclusion of the match the opposing coach selects a previous match to declare it a forfeit-default and a loss to the wrestlers record so it could infringe on that wrestlers seeding and permanent record and also would afford his team 6 pts and no points for offending team. This would make a coach really think about forfeiting if it affects a wrestler.

    1. Stephen Schalles

      Rick . . . thank you for taking the time to respond.

      But I’m not so sure it’s right to penalize athletes for coming out for the sport, working hard to make the starting line-up, and win his or her bout to then be the one who receives punishment. For rules to work, it must be as a result of the pressure these rules place on coaches. It’s the coaches who recruit athletes to come out for the sport and then whether or not they continue to be a part of the program. The uncomfortableness that coaches will feel at losing dual meets will be the thing that effects change.


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