USAWrestling Isn’t What It Used To Be

By | November 2, 2013

Looking Back

USAWrestling isn’t what it used to be. I remember very vividly when the AAU were the bad guys and a fledgling group known as the USWF headed by Steve Combs wore the white hats and began making waves. To look back on it now, comparing the old AAU to the current USAWrestling, there’s not much of a difference. Both had a Board of Directors, voting members and leadership teams but in each case, the only opinion that counted came from the very top. That’s a good thing when you have people like David Stern, Roger Goodell or a Bud Selig calling the shots. They’re all businessmen who understand when politics should not impede progress. But when you don’t have that . . .

Quick History Lesson

When USAWrestling (USWF) finally wrestled control away from the AAU, philosophies changed dramatically. Gone were the days of organizations attacking one another as the primary means of improving market share. I’d like to think that was due to class, character and maturity but it probably had more to do with the length of our war and the combatants being exhausted.

Regardless of why, the outcome was monumental as the health of the sport was on everyone’s radar screen. We learned the hard way that the strength of each of the sports organizations determined the strength of the entire sport; basically the sum of its parts.

In other words, it’s perfectly acceptable to compete for market share by offering the public a better product but to get ahead by attacking the competition is to endanger mother wrestling. This is exactly what the AAU was doing then and USAWrestling is doing now.

Absolute Power Hurts Consumers

A lot of people feel we should only have one wrestling organization in America. That would be wrong. It’s the worst thing we could do. We already had one organization for decades, the AAU, and how did that turn out for us? One organization will always look out for itself and ignore the reason they exist, to supply quality goods and services. When you have two or more organizations in the same marketplace, competition assures that the consumer wins.

Look to the IOC’s decision to dump wrestling. There were quite a few unsavory issues that caused our departure. None of the bad ones were ever mentioned and for good reason. But each one was created by a lack of checks and balances. FILA’s leadership lost their way and their Board was powerless to stop it from happening.

Without competition, consumers will always pay higher prices; receive poorer service and products of inferior quality.

Competition Is Essential

Hertz is a viable, thriving business because of the pressure the other car rental companies create. Winchester owes their success to companies like Savage, Remington and Beretta. The cola industry is a multibillion dollar enterprise thanks to Pepsi and Coke marketing the heck out of their products on a daily basis. The only reason General Motors cleaned up their act in the 1970’s was because of Japan’s entry into our domestic marketplace. Up until that time GM made unspeakable cars that would rust out before consumers could finish paying for them. Of course that was assuming the cars weren’t already in the junk yard.

Competition made GM produce or perish. Granted, they didn’t like the pressure of introspection let alone having to make changes but in the end America’s car industry altered its behavior and regained its reputation.

This is where USAWrestling has been for the past decade, refusing to do what’s necessary to succeed. Instead of spending time and resources correcting deficiencies they spend it obstructing the growth of the competition. Colorado Springs should lose their National Governing Body status for the way they tread over others who don’t wear their colors. As the NGB, their primary responsibility as given to them by the USOC is to grow, develop, support and defend the sport of wrestling every way possible, not just their organization. 

I wish I didn’t understand why USAWrestling prefers to travel the path they’re on but I do. You see it’s far easier to tear the opposition down than it is to grow your own program and develop your own organization. This is why Colorado Springs is exactly where GM was 40 years ago.

We Started Our Climb During The Alphabet Soup War 

When the AAU and USAWrestling (USWF) were fighting for control over America’s international wrestling program our global competitiveness began to climb. It was this infighting between athletes and coaches, officials and administrators that forged the beginning of America’s three greatest decades of medal accumulation. It started with the era of Dan Gable and Steve Combs and ended with Stephen Neal and Jim Scherr. Athletes and administrators leading by example, working together, both measuring success by the strength of the sport, not the organization.

Today less than a handful of individuals actually govern USAWrestling contrary to years gone by and what others might tell you or the 35+ Board members might suggest. Each member of that “handful” has been carefully chosen in the likeness of leadership. That makes governance easy for the Executive Director but if you have multiple people who think alike, all but one isn’t necessary.

This is why the sport wonders what’s going on at USAWrestling. If it wasn’t for Burroughs, USAWrestling would have produced only one (1) Freestyle World Champion since the 2000 Olympics in Australia. That’s right, in 13 years, just one! But what is even more glaring and most people overlook are the staggering numbers of weight classes each year that don’t medal and go 0-2? The graphic below reflects how well the current leadership has done since taking over.

Decade – World Freestyle Medals – Leadership

1970’s – 35 – Roderick & Combs

1980’s – 56* – Combs, Rader, Scott, Kurdelmeier & Miller

1990’s – 43 – Scherr

2000’s – 21 – Bender

2010’s – 5 – Bender

In 1980 America boycotted the Olympics. Most likely we would have won at least 5 medals given we won 7 at the 1979 World championships.

If I believed for a moment as I did 10 or 5 or even 2 years ago that we could right the ship I would be the first one patching holes and bailing. But we’re beyond that now. With the Olympic debacle and now hearing from personnel at USAWrestling complain about not being allowed to have an opinion let alone voice an opinion; well it’s more than disheartening.

Daily change is the lifeblood of growth; it’s a prerequisite to survival. It’s like the little boy who doesn’t want to change his underwear every morning. If his mother doesn’t make him, the outcome is always the same.

When I was an administrator for the AAU all I ever heard Colorado Springs say when I offered our membership benefit upgrades was, “stop being predatory Wade, you’re stealing our membership.” I’ve heard similar comments from USAWrestling regarding the current growth of Nuway.

Is USAWrestling serious; stealing memberships? I wonder if they know that no one owns consumers. People buy what they want, when they want and where they want and are likely to change their minds anytime they want. That’s capitalism at its best and at the heart of capitalism is competition. Those who compete succeed; those who don’t complain about it and watch their market share drop.

The real question is why do consumers purchase one product over another? What makes someone choose Geico over Progressive, shop at Giant instead of Safeway, trade in their Chevy for a Lexus?

The answer has something to do with either price, quality, convenience or pleasure.

Any company that doesn’t provide reasonable pricing for perceived value loses customers. Any organization that fails to make the experience of membership pleasant will see the competition gain in strength. Any product that doesn’t match the quality of another company had better find out why or watch their stock take a hit.

For USAWrestling to feel someone is stealing their membership is to be either 1) completely void of the principles of supply and demand or 2) unwilling to compete or 3) unable to compete or 4) be so arrogant as to refuse to compete.

If I were in charge in Colorado Springs I’d find out why Nuway was kicking my pants? Is it price to perceived value, product quality, convenience or customer experience? I’d learn why and we’d change to meet the needs of the consumer. Losing market share is never anything more than failing to please your customers. As to our falling medal count, completely different issue, don’t get me started.

In business, changes that will eventually be made should immediately be made. USAWrestling needs to become competitive again and understand how the sport becomes stronger. If that means new leadership, then so be it.

4 thoughts on “USAWrestling Isn’t What It Used To Be

  1. Mike West

    Here is an interesting thread at this site:

    At the end, Joshua Resnick, one of the moderators, a former Judo player at San Jose State and, current youth wrestling coach wrote this about USA wrestling:

    “My kid is doing judo. For now. I make no qualms about the fact that I would rather have him fall in love with Judo and want to do nothing but judo..


    Wrestling is so much more attractive. $77 for a club under SCWay.$14 annual memberships. $10 tournament fees. Tons and tons of kids from ages 8 and up attuournaments. The refs are not acting like stuffy, arrogant pricks towards kids. Coaches are not yelling and cussing at one another.

    When you then go and purchase a USA Wrestling membership and decide to try all 3 styles, those events are insane. Truly insane, even on the local level. Dozens of kids, lots of competition, affordable events, an honestly good time without any pretension. Amd, they sure as snot do not charge you more money if you don’t stay in this, or that, hotel…

    Lets also not mention, but USA Wrestling has it right– they are focused on trying to spread college programs through the NAIA, d3, 2, and 1 for men and women.. Unlike USA Judo, which is stupidly still unable to figure out how to get along nicely with the NCJA and finally produce college judo to where it should be…

    I don’t know how much longer I can handle being part of a system with it’s own head so far up the dark hole. “

  2. Ernie Ciaccio

    You trying to get exiled to CA NY or MI? On a serious note great post from a guy who is in the thick of your posts subject matter I can tell you people have no allegiance to titles or organization at the grassroots level they follow vision and altruism. Thanks for sticking your neck on the line for truth

  3. kevingdrendel

    Illinois went through a civil war about 15 years ago. We all thought it was the worst thing that could happen. Instead, it spawned a decade of better wrestling, better coaching and better organization. It is time for a change.

  4. scott shaffer

    very well said Wade!! i was around and wrestled in the aau jr olympics in st cloud in the 70’s and had my USWF card and wreltled in Uswf jr nations in 70’s!! I just wanted opportunity to go all over the place and kick butt! I’m still a coach and president of a youth wresling club for the past 24 yrs i do it for the future of wrestling for the Kids and the young adults so some day i can say i helped these young wreslters get to state or national or even the olympics!! Best article i have read in along time !!


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