Television: The Devil You Don’t Know

By | July 28, 2022

Regarding broadcasts, the general consensus within the wrestling community, and among its leadership is; isn’t it great that ESPN, the worldwide leader in sports programming, thinks enough of us to televise our NCAA Championships?

But is that really a good thing?

Not if you’re capable of thinking outside the box, or seeing outside the box as I tend to do.

Sure, having the NCAA’s nationally televised is extremely exciting for the fans we do have but if you think it’s going to expand our minimal support base; it’s not, it hasn’t, and it won’t. Actually, any broadcast of wrestling is one of the main reasons why our fan numbers have been flat lining for decades, while the population of the U.S. has tripled during that same period.

Simply stated, television doesn’t help wrestling, it hurts our sport; and here’s why.

What we do isn’t a product that people who are unfamiliar with our sport want to watch, and by placing it in an average of 850,000 households for three days every March, that only guarantees we’re not going to attract new fans.

At least if they were in the arena they could ask questions of our fans about what’s going on. But seeing the matches without having anyone to explain what in the world is going on only guarantees one thing; that we just lost another 850,000 potential fans.

As you know, you only get one shot at making a first impression, and we only get one shot at turning someone into a fan.

Instead we confuse those who might see the broadcast because 1) our rules are not intuitive and 2) they’re too frequently applied. Simply stated, the matches aren’t fun to watch and like going to the movies, how would you feel if the projectionist kept stopping the show every two minutes so he could reset the projector? Have you ever counted the number of times a referee blows his whistle during a match? That’s the rules committee’s doing . . .

Another question; how many of you would watch Jeopardy if the questions were so hard to answer that you had no chance of getting even one right? It’s never a good idea to make anyone, especially a potential fan, feel stupid.

That’s exactly what we’ve been doing for decades, especially those who have just tuned in to give wrestling a try? Our sport is way too complex for a first year wrestler to understand let alone someone who’s watching the sport for the first time; and that’s our rules committee’s fault.

And what action we do have is so anemic that we can’t excite anyone even if they decide to overlook the intellectual rebuke, and that’s our rules committee’s fault.

In football, all you have to know is it’s important to get the ball into the end zone while the other team is trying to stop you. Ditto for basketball; putting the ball in the little round hoop while the other team is trying to keep that from happening. The UFC is rather basic too; the object is to kick the hell out of your opponent, with very few rules or interference from the referee. But not wrestling, heavens no. At least in the UFC you get to see someone throwing a punch every 2.1 seconds. But in wrestling, someone is trying to get a takedown every 2.1 minutes. Why is that anyway? Because there’s no incentive to score often, actually, it’s just the opposite.

Again, that’s the rules committee’s doing. They’re so busy trying to make the sport caring, cerebral and safe that they’ve forgotten what we do is nothing more than hand to hand combat that has points attached.

And I really don’t get it! Why don’t the coaches, why doesn’t our sport administrators, and why doesn’t the fans see what’s happening in our sport? We’ve slowly morphed over the years, sort of like death by a thousand cuts, from being a three position sport; standing, top, and bottom, to just one; standing, or should I say, standing around?

And if USAWrestling had their way, we’d be adding a push out rule to our collegiate programming. How dandy would that be? Can anyone say Sumo.

Speaking of USAWrestling, in my next blog, I’m going to share some thoughts on how Colorado Springs is slowly undermining folkstyle programming to their benefit.

Recently I’ve even heard it said that Webster is telling us that the word ‘pin’ is the least searched word in the dictionary. What does that tell you? Maybe it has to do with that aspect of wrestling making the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service’s endangered species list.

Is television good, of course it is. But not for any sport, or any show that either confuses its viewers, or bores them to tears. But wrestling is special in that way, we do both.

Please don’t tell me that I’m off base because you can name a dozen great match-ups that excited you at last year’s NCAA Championships. I’ll even give you that there might have been 25 great match-ups. But when you divide those 25 matches by the 310 bouts that actually took place, you have an excitement rating of 8%. Heck, if a student doesn’t even know what he’s doing, he can get at least 50% right on a true and false test.

So we either have to decide to thank ESPN for their kindness and continue to stumble, or tell them no thanks until we get it right. Either way, we need to get off our duffs and start working toward making wrestling considerably more fan friendly; and as a result, watchable. Remember, it’s the fans money that makes us solvent, which we aren’t.

A point scored is a point earned anyone?

8 thoughts on “Television: The Devil You Don’t Know

  1. Curt Sexton

    I like Wade’s concept: A point scored is a team point earned. It would make a major change in aggressive wrestling and the team scoring would be interesting. It would be great if we could experiment with a national level tournament like Midlands and study the effect on attendance while using Wade’s team scoring system.

    1. Schalles

      Curt . . . thanks for writing. Appreciate the support, the sport needs it badly. But NO to a trial event. This will only work, increased scoring when the coaches, who will oppose this because they’re scared of what it might mean to their success, will try and torpedo it. Only when the coaches are forced to coach to the new rules will they start screaming at their wrestlers to score more often and then the athletes will respond. In this type of change, a trial period won’t work when the people who are responsible to adopt the change are against it.

  2. Curt Sexton

    It is time to extend the time when a worthy scramble is underway while the buzzer is sounding. The ref can stop the match when the action stops. We should be rewarding wrestling, all wrestling before, during and after the bell. No one should be saved by the bell—ever. The officials extend the Time in Soccer. In basketball the shot is scored if released before the buzzer sounds. So this is not a completely foreign concept.
    While we are at it, let’s eliminate riding time. The top man is supposed to be attempting a fall, not hanging on and pretending to attempt to turn the bottom man.

    1. Wade

      Curt . . . I like what you were saying here, but I’d rather see if a man is on his back, then the period continues until he gets off his back, is pinned, or the referee knows that a fall will never occur. Riding time stops being an issue when a point earned is a point scored. Everyone will be scrambling.

  3. Rick S.


    What do you think of the idea, rather than have the referee decide that a match should end when the technical fall criteria are met, the wrestler who is ahead or his coach decides?

    This is a minor, evolutionary rule change.

    The justification for this rule change is as follows:
    A technical fall is worth five team points.
    A fall is worth six team points.
    The wrestler may wish to try to pin his opponent instead of getting the technical fall.
    The wrestler’s coach may feel the team needs the additional team point.

    Some details on how this might work:
    If a wrestler or his coach opt to continue the wrestling match after the criteria for a technical fall has been obtained, the wrestler or his coach risk the opposing wrestler undoing the technical fall criteria.

    If, at the end of the match, a fall has not occurred and the technical fall criteria are met, give the winning wrestler the technical fall team points.

    I’ve not thought this through completely.
    When should the wrestler or his coach indicate what they want to happen when the technical fall criteria are met?
    1) the wrestler or his coach might indicate, before the match starts, what they want
    2) the wrestler or his coach might indicate, any time the clock is stopped, what they want.
    3) the wrestler or his coach might indicate, any time the wrestler is in the top position in control, what they want.

    Why would you want this?
    Fans might see more pins.

    Why would the coaches want this?
    It gives the coaches more power and control over the match.

    What do you think?

  4. Morris

    Wade! I agree with a lot of what you say, but not all.

    We don’t get only one shot at turning someone into a fan. People become fans over time. They knew a wrestler when they grew up, their school had a good wrestling team, they watched the NCAA’s, their neighbor was a wrestler, etc, etc. Multiple positive exposures over time is what makes people a fan, there’s not “one chance” that is do or die.

    I agree that folkstyle (sometimes I think it should be called stall-style) rules make a lot of matches boring, and there are comparably few amazing matches. But wrestling is not unique in this. Talk to die hard baseball, basketball, etc, fans. There are few truly amazing games, and a lot of so-so games where nothing amazing happens. Our sport should not be held to an unattainable standard where every match must be amazing and exciting and singularly responsible for attracting new fans. That’s just unrealistic.

    I disagree about the step-out rule. Freestyle does not resemble sumo and it leads to fewer of the whistles you hate so much.

    1. Wade

      My comments are not meant to be all or nothing, I’m just trying to take wrestling from a 38% failing grade to an 82%. Nothing I write is all knowing, but it is far better than what we currently have. As for the new fans, you’re right about some fans, way toooooo few fans, become fans over time. But those numbers are so few, it’s put us where we are today. A vast majority of potential fans are a one shot deal.
      My idea is to make every point scored by a competitor count toward the team scores. That’s what would help make the sport watchable.
      You might have a great 14-12 match which would be exciting but so would a 15-7 match when the loser’s team won the dual 77-72. His 7 points in a losing effort made the difference for his team to win. The fans would love it. Obviously not the team that had 72 points but they had 9 other wrestlers who needed to do more.
      I have to disagree regarding the push out. First off, freestyle doesn’t have fans. At the USAWrestling nationals this year in Vegas, their national championship, akin to folkstyle’s NCAA’s, the athletes outnumbered the fans. That’s always been the case and if I’m wrong, not by much. Maybe that’s an outcome of the push out rule, maybe it has nothing to do with it, but I have to believe that pushing someone out is a heck of a lot easier than taking someone down. And once you get your point, which I’m sorry, was boring to watch, then the other wrestler puts on his track shoes and works hard at staying in the middle until the match ends. And skinny kids and most medium sized wrestlers can’t hold their ground against the shorter studs. I’m not interested in taking all tall kids out of the sport as a result of the push out rule.
      Thank you for taking the time to write.

  5. Rick S.

    Right on!

    The projectionist keeps stopping the show to reset the projector.
    When we know the projectionist exists, we know we don’t want to come back to this crummy, broken theater.

    And what about the movie itself?
    Wrestling is too focused on points, and not on actually accomplishing something.
    I don’t care about points.
    I care when the referee slaps the mat signaling the action is over and something has been accomplished.

    Well said.


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