Before I share my thoughts on this year’s NCAA Wrestling Championships, I wanted to remind everyone of the most important blog I have ever posted. It’s entitled; A Point Scored is a Point Earned and it’s the most significant alteration to the rules I’ve ever suggested and if nothing else ever happened in wrestling, and if I were fortunate enough to be selected King for a Day, enactment of this action driven policy would be my first decree. And I can say without hesitation that I’m completely convinced this one change would be judged by historians as the moment when wrestling started climbing back into relevance.
If you haven’t read it yet, you should. It’s over on the right, down 7 blogs, just click on the link. But readers beware; its tenets might be a bit startling, initially anyway. Think about what you’re reading in relation to all the other sports that are succeeding and then forget for a moment what we’ve always done, which historically hasn’t advanced our cause.
As to Madison Square Garden, watching Penn State wrestle this season I’ve noticed that Cael’s coaching style is very similar to A Point Scored is a Point Earned. Every one of his wrestlers are bonus point addicts. So much so it has opposing coaches shaking their heads and wondering how they can close the gap. The answer is simple . . .
Duplicate the Nittany Lions “score more and score often” philosophy or get used to losing.
In a way, both A Point Scored is a Point Earned and Cael achieve similar goals . . . they force coaches to adjust their perspective relative to putting points on the board. No longer is squeaking out a 2 or 3 point win acceptable.
If the teams in the Top 10 want to compete for the big prize they have to change what they’ve been doing. What choice do they have and for that huge kudos to Cael. He’s doing more for the sport in the way he coaches than he ever did as a competitor . . . and that’s saying a lot.
And staying on the Penn State train for another moment if I may; it seemed when every one of their wrestlers were interviewed they gave smart and thoughtful responses to questions. Without any appearance of being coached each athlete indicated competition is all about scoring points and having fun; something they all did for 3 straight days which has Happy Valley happy again for the 5th time in 6 years.
As for the other teams who aren’t in the Top 10, A Point Scored is a Point Earned will force coaching staffs to create scoring fest atmospheres in the practice room. If they want to succeed they have no other choice; it’s the price of success and relevance.
So given what Cael is already doing and what I’m attempting to do by modifying team scoring, wrestling might finally become a revenue sport in spite of the howling cries of coaches.
Which brings me to this point; if football has quarterback, linebacker and line coaches, why doesn’t wrestling have pinning coaches? It always seemed silly to me that Head Coaches would hire Assistants that mirror their skill sets? Wouldn’t you think that teams who are great on their feet like Iowa, Okie State and Minnesota would insist on hiring assistants that are bonus point crazy? In business it’s widely accepted that if you have three managers with the same skill set, two of them aren’t necessary. Why wouldn’t that be true for wrestling, coaching staffs should consist of “up” and “down” coaches; those who are proficient on their feet and those who can teach the boys how you rub their opponents noses in the mat.
The good news for those who live in Pennsylvania is that’s exactly what Penn State is doing and the bad news for everyone else, until they embrace a philosophy of bonus points, the odds of winning a Team Title has flown the coop.
Speaking of the NCAA’s, they were amazing, especially if you were watching them from home. I loved the competing noises of great matches being wrestled throughout the arena each round. The teamwork and efficiency of the officiating crews and the quality of the finals had to be some of the best wrestling I’ve seen in decades. I never thought I’d see such a shift in wrestling like was evident in Madison Square Garden.
Now I’m not suggesting that everything was peaches and roses, but the transformation I witnessed was a game changer, especially when you take in to account the glacial pace that wrestling typically travels.
All in all my heart soared for three full days of competition. It wasn’t all about Billy Baldwin’s trained professionalism or ESPN’s “take it to the next level” production of the event or the Buffer-esque arena announcers, the whole experience was simply a pleasant combination of the sum of its parts.
Hopefully our leadership is smart enough to embrace the changes we saw or at least clever enough to find ways to take credit for the transformation.
In the meantime I’d like to say thank you to Beat the Streets , Madison Square Garden, ESPN and the NCAA Championship Committee; for they were the ones who are largely responsible for what will be forever known as the NCAA tournament that changed wrestling’s course in history.
And then there’s Dave Martin, Chairman of the NCAA Rules Committee who saw the immense benefits of having Madison Square Garden host the event four years ago and pushed to make it happen.
NCAA Facts That Matter, Or Not
- Did anyone notice in the championship rounds which weight class was the most productive relative to bonus points? Care to guess? For the 5% of you who said heavyweight you’re right. They had 29% more than the second most productive weight class! Here’s the breakdown. 125-8; 133-10; 141-6; 149-9; 157-9; 165-10; 174-8; 184-9; 197-10 and Heavyweight-14.
- In one of the craziest first days in NCAA history, we had 7 returning All-Americans eliminated from competition.
- There are upsets, there are surprises and then at times you’ll experience both. The following is one of those times. During the first round 6 wrestlers who were seeded in the Top 5 went down to defeat.
- Out of the 55 officiating challenges that took place, 14 were overturned. I’m not sure what conclusion we can draw from that but it doesn’t make a lot of sense to me for anyone to ask the person who made a contested call if he thought he was right? Paralleling that; it might also be interesting to see if any of the 10 officials who were chosen to referee the finals had a contested call and if they did, did they overturn it? That might shed some light into why only 14 challenges were overturned and one more reason why this self-policing practice should be rethought.
- The sport had the most fans ever sitting in their seats for this year’s opening round. Previously the NCAA might have sold the same number of first session tickets but a greater percentage of the fans voted with their feet to be in their seats.
- Total attendance for The World’s Most Famous Arena was 90,924, a number slightly south of ticket sales in St. Louis. TV viewership for the finals came in around 650,000, roughly 10% lower than last year’s event.
- It was apparent that Kyle has wrestled more high pressure matches than Nick and it was the difference in their heavyweight bout. To me it appeared by the slimmest of margins that Gwizz was slightly better but his mind meld with 30 seconds left in the match opened the door for Kyle to get back in the match. As far as heavyweights go, that bout ranks up there with the Lou Banach-Bruce Baumgartner battle in 1981 as the best of all time.
- A big shout out to Andrew Hipps, Senior Editor of InterMat and Ryan Holmes from Flo Wrestling. Both are insightful writers who always find interesting ways to pull the reader into their articles.
- Three fun facts . . . 7 of the 10 champions scored the first takedown, 8 of the winners wore the red anklet and more points were scored in the third period of the finals than either of the first two.
- While it might seem like a no issue to fans, the lack of accessibility to floor passes for journalists who wanted post-match quotes wasn’t well thought out. When you deny reporters the ability to access information that will punctuate their articles; that probably isn’t a good thing. Then to put press row in the end zone, what a boneheaded move. And we wonder why wrestling continually receives shoddy media coverage.
- In closing, I was excited to see we made weigh-ins for the 20 finalists a television event like boxing and MMA does, even if it was staged. It’s a move in the right direction all be it somewhat disappointing. While they meant to draw attention to the sport, it seemed to be less about the athletes and more about those in charge of showcasing it. Promotion is a great thing, but intelligent promotion is far better.
As an aside; why do we have collegiate team rankings for all 3 divisions but in high school we still only have 1; there’s something wrong here. How is it fair to pit exclusive private schools that in some cases have dormitories, scholarships and no travel restrictions against public schools that can’t recruit and many times aren’t allowed to leave their state for competition? If the various high school associations realize there’s a difference between A, AA, and AAA schools why can’t wrestling’s media recognize the differences? Having various classifications would have to attract more interest in the sport and fuel some wonderful discussions about who’s the best?