Monday, December 5, 2011

4 Ways To Improve College Wrestling

First off, let me just say that I love college wrestling. I believe Folkstyle is by far the most exciting and has the most intelligent rules of any form of wrestling out there. The only thing against folkstyle wrestling is that it is not in the Olympics. This hurts Team USA in international competition, because the best wrestlers in other countries spend their entire lives focusing on Greco and Freestyle wrestling, while our wrestlers focus on a hybrid of both in Folkstyle. But seriously, college wrestling is awesome. But as with all things awesome, it could use some improvements to help the sport grow.

1. Education 
Let's face it, most sports fans are morons, and wrestling is a sport full of nuance. It's easy to understand a guy running across the goal line or shooting a ball in a basket. It's a little harder to describe what constitutes a takedown. I really like most wrestling announcers as they are usually on point with their descriptions of matches, but if I was in charge, I would piss off wrestling fans and tell them to dumb it down. I think announcers need to describe why there are points and why there aren't being points given any time the situation arises. This will obviously annoy wrestling fans, as any junior high wrestler can understand the sport, but wrestling fans will stick around either way, and college wrestling needs to do a better job of drawing new fans in.

Also, this needs to be stressed. Over about two hours, with an intermission, a person will see about 70 minutes of wrestling. Basketball plays 48 for about 2.5 hours, and football gets takes over three hours for 60 minutes of football. The only mainstream sport that compares is soccer, and wrestling is not a sport filled with flopping nancy boys.

2. Exposure 
ESPN, I know we have had our differences, but if you could do me a solid on this one, it would be greatly appreciated. Showing 4-5 Friday Night/Sunday Afternoon duals a year is definitely worth it. Amateur athletics is only growing in popularity, the College World Series, which very few people used to care about is now a very large summer event for ESPN. Showing a few top-notch duals would be cheap to produce and should at least get solid ratings. Iowa-Penn State, Iowa-Minnesota, and Iowa-Oklahoma State would all be worth of a national television audience. And that may seem like I have a horrible bias towards Iowa, but people know Iowa wrestling, so whether people love them or hate them, Iowa is a team that will get a casual sports viewer to tune in. Even AC Slater wanted to go to Iowa:

Plus, the rise of popularity of the UFC makes college wrestlers much more interesting since they are the closest thing to MMA prospects out there. ESPN needs to use that and always show highlights from former college wrestlers, whether it's Cain Velasquez, King Mo, Brock Lesnar, or even Dolph Ziggler. Stress that the wrestlers competing could be the next stars of the UFC or even the WWE.

Also, note to Big Ten Network: Wrestling gets your third highest ratings behind football and basketball, show more meets.

3. Adapt The Rules
The people in charge of college wrestling have done a fantastic job of helping the sport these last few years. They have made major changes to overtime, and this year they are going to be more aggressive on stalling calls as well as letting an opponent pick the starting position after someone takes an injury timeout. These are fantastic changes as less stalling means more action, and wrestlers will stop faking injuries to catch their breath in the middle of a match.

Another change I would like to see is them adapting a rule from freestyle wrestling where a wrestler receives a point for forcing his opponent out of bounds. This would cut down on wrestlers hanging out with their back near the outside circle, so they can just get out of bounds when someone shoots in for a takedown. It is really just another way for them to force action, which will help the sport overall.

4. Eliminate Bad Decisions
What happened in yesterday's Iowa-Iowa State duel was a travesty, and it's those kind of decisions that hurt the entire sport of wrestling. People might think that a decision in a meet that is only shown to Mediacom subscribers in the state of Iowa is not that big of a deal, but it definitely is. Despite it only being available to those select few people, it will still probably be one of the ten most watched wrestling meets this year.

For those who didn't watch (definitely most of you, possibly all of you), Iowa's Vinnie Wagner had just taken down Iowa State's Boaz Beard to tie the match at 9-9. They went out of bounds, and Beard had 1:12 of riding time with 13 seconds left on the clock. Since a wrestler needs a minute of riding time to receive a point at the end of the match, it looked like all Wagner had to do was ride Beard out for the remaining 13 seconds to force overtime as Beard would be left with just 59 seconds of riding time. Beard struggled to get out from under Wagner but was unable to do so and the horn sounded signaling that overtime would follow. This is what EVERYONE thought was going to happen.

Iowa State's coach, Kevin Jackson, argued that there should somehow be a minute of riding time, you know, because in Ames, 12 comes after 13. This is where things got crazy, as he actually WON the argument. The match ended 10-9 with no overtime period. The claim was that there were actually only 12.3 seconds left on the clock, but there are no decimals of seconds on a wrestling clock, while the wrestler had 12.5 seconds of riding time, hence giving him 1:00.2 seconds of riding time.

Even in Ames, the boos far outweighed the cheers for the decision, and Iowa's coaching staff understandably was very upset and had to have some of the coaches hold back other coaches to avoid being penalized another team point. Kevin Jackson remarked to the ref, "They can't be acting like that," and that just shows that he doesn't get it. He and the refs were the ones that were at fault there. Jackson cannot look to take a victory like that, and the ref needs to do what is best for the sport in that situation. Both wrestlers were of the understanding that Wagner needed to hold him down for overtime, and Beard needed to escape for the win. They wrestled as such, and Wagner did what he needed to do to force overtime. The refs need to let the wrestlers decide the winner, not a technicality on the clock. Honestly, it was probably the most entertaining match of the meet from start to finish, so I have absolutely no ill will towards Beard, because him and Wagner both wrestled a hell of an entertaining match.

But it's decisions like this that turn people off from, not only wrestling, but any sport. It's the type of decision where a casual fan walks away and says, "That was stupid. Why would I want to watch this again." Earlier in the meet (I believe it was about a lack of stalling calls), Tom Brands said, "You're setting the sport back." His words rang more true after the ref's decision in this matter as it truly is setting the sport back.

Still, Terry Brands summed it up the best when he said, "Only in Ames, Iowa."

I couldn't agree more.

-Joe

P.S. For some reason, I don't see these autograph sessions happening in Iowa anytime soon, but Steve Alford is still a legend in Indiana:

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