By: Eric John
The issues with College wrestling and its decline are nothing new. The reasons or theories are abundant and have been discussed in many articles, committees, forums and other media formats. I am of the belief that so much energy is spent doing this that energy is not being spent on some fundamental things that could help advance the sport. Again, my approach or what I am about to write about is just my theory, one among many. I believe that wrestling suffers from bad marketing and self-promotion. At times we are really our own worst enemy. The saying “If you always do what you always did, you will always get what you always got” – Joseph Juran, could not be more true than in the sport of wrestling.
Change is just something we have not been very good at.
There are many things that have contributed to the decline in wrestling at the Division I level. There is Title XI which we know has had a serious impact on wrestling programs across the country, but in reality there is no real chance in the current political environment to turn that ship around. Money is and will always be a major factor since it is a non-revenue sport. There are some encouraging things to consider when it comes to the money aspect such as the attendance at the national championships, increased coverage by ESPN and the BTN. How much money that is generating and how the money is disbursed is a whole different topic. Some people even go so far as to blame the standard uniform, the singlet. These all certainly contribute to the decline in wrestling, well I am not sold on the singlet theory, but in reality many things are at work here. One thing that can be controlled is how the sport is marketed, how accessible it is to the media and how the sport presents itself to the general public. I want to look at marketing in this case from an information perspective.
Marketing should not be confused with advertising, marketing can drive interest but information and resources need to correspond with the overall effort. Marketing can drive interest. This can be seen in many other arenas. Do you think Justin Bieber and Taylor Swift are super popular because they are great singers? No, the massive marketing machine behind them can sway public opinion, tastes and overall acceptance. One thing I hear as a very common complaint is that we do not get enough media coverage and that is one reason we do not grow. If we want more media coverage, would it not be common sense to have information readily available for media to actually cover it? One would think this is a no-brainer.
Let me look at the current top five programs in the country based on the NWCA Coaches Poll. Iowa does not even have a menu item for statistics much less the current seasons. They do have match by match results, but a media type cannot simply go to their page and see who leads the team in takedowns for example. So I can find out total wins and losses and final results of those matches, but not overall statistics. Moving on we look at Minnesota, who by the way does some great program marketing through their videos and promotions (see video below). The Gophers do have a statistics menu item (Here) but when you click that link you will see this year’s stats are not accessible. Only last years.
Moving on to No. 3 Cornell, they also have a “stats” option on their homepage, but again the only stats available or from last season.
Penn State is the first school in the top five that actually give us access to some solid stats from this season (Here). Although they do not list all stats or wrestlers, this is a step in the right direction. I am not surprised due to the fact that the SID Pat Donghia does one of the best jobs in the country promoting his team. I asked Pat what the barriers may be for wrestling to having full stats accessible compared to other sports and one thing he said was ” The answer is kind of simple and has to do with both technology and the ability of those sports you mention (football, baseball, basketball, etc.) to agree upon one singular statistical program.” On how other sports are able to do this “Football, basketball, hockey, baseball, etc., all use an in-game computer stat program called Statcrew which is/was an independent company based out of Ohio that has since been purchased by CBS Interactive… even those schools that don’t (and there are only a handful) usually have to create a statcrew game file to send to their conference offices. Statcrew also creates, automatically, the XML data that is normally submitted to the NCAA. Pat points out that Open tournaments are one major barrier “If wrestling could adopt this technological standard nationally, well then all that would be simple. In some ways, the new Trackwrestling version of our OPC is a huge step in that direction BUT the issue that complicates things are the open tournaments.” Finally Pat states “Now all that being said, there just is never a reason to not have updated records, wins, losses, majors, etc… updated manually the day (or two maybe) after an event. It is indeed frustrating for media (or other SIDs) to not have quick and easy access to those very manageable statistical constructs. I can’t fathom a reason why that doesn’t happen.”
Finally looking at Missouri, they do have some current season stats (Here), although not complete and is missing things like takedowns for and against etc…
Statistics drive interest in sports. What do you think drives fantasy sports? Its statistics and a billion dollar a year industry. Yet in wrestling we have almost zero access to such information. Trackwrestling does a good job on some levels but with other people now trying to enter the market the data can sometimes be incomplete or just wrong. Also in some cases we can find specific match statistics, mostly for duals, but not tournaments. The NWCA college scorebook used to be a good resource for such data. I am not sure as to what the future of this tool is, but as of now this year has no data and is not useful.
As a sport we have to do a better job of having information readily available to both the public and the media if we want to keep pace and stay relevant. There is no logical reason that this information is not on every team’s website. Other sports can do it, we should be able to as well. Jason Bryant who is the president of the Wrestling Media Association states “Trackwrestling has a stat-tracking functionality with their site, but not everyone is consistent in using it. Promotion of one’s program goes beyond social media, which has been an extremely good way of brand-building. Traditional media still needs facts and figures to build feature angles, which is good for a program. Wrestling is unique because of all the open tournaments and eligibility issues regarding what is or isn’t an official bout. New SID’s struggle with this. From the perspective of the Media Association, I’d love to see every program have a uniform stat sheet they include on their site and their weekly match notes.” Owner of Trackwrestling Justin Tritz shares a similar thought “People using the Trackwrestling stats package create reports and then can make them public or not. So the information would be there if people used the stats program and released it to the public…”. The infrastructure is there, the tools are there and we still do not have access to data that could increase and expand coverage.
Bryant also points out that staffing can be an issue “One thing to consider when looking at the entire landscape of college wrestling programs is staffing. We know there are some programs who have very limited resources, especially at the Division II, Division III and NAIA levels.
Sometimes there are staffers who work 18-19 sports by themselves. With the big programs, there is typically less change over, but even at Minnesota, they rotate their media relations contact seemingly every year. That makes it hard to establish a continuity and a pattern that stays consistent. Other sports have programs like StatCrew, which provides gameday operation systems for a lot of sports. It’s an industry standard. “
In the end Bryant says “We’re only as good as our communication. If programs need to work with their media relations offices better or vice versa, there’s really no excuse for some of the bigger departments not to do statistical breakdowns. A lot of programs have managers, mat maids, or something of the like. This again creates a problem with turnover, but programs, if they don’t get the support they need from their own media relations department, need to do that themselves and provide it to the media relations office. That creates a better relationship and can bridge the disconnect.
Even covering events has its numerous barriers depending on venue, sponsor etc… Some are very accommodating to the media while others simply treat the media as outsiders or afterthoughts. Logic suggests that in a sport starving for coverage and a desire to grow, media would be the main thought and welcomed.
This is not about blame or pointing fingers. This is meant to generate conversation and get people thinking about some of the small details that could have a big impact on the growth and promotion of the sport. There are serious barriers that are pointed out by several different people here. These are real issues that would or rather do need a solution. Wrestling needs to embrace media and allow better access in general but creating a standard when it comes to statistics would be a great start. Make people want to cover college wrestling and stop making it so hard. It is not just about one SID or one program, it is about wrestling taking a step in the right direction as a whole. The sport needs to adopt a standard when it comes to data collection and that standard needs to be used accordingly.