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High School Wrestling

TOM Debates the Merits of the Alternate Uniform Decision

Wyoming Seminary

Though we tend to exist in peace, love, and harmony, every now and then the TOM staff vehemently disagrees with one another on a wrestling issue. The two-piece uniform approved as an alternate by the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) has sparked debate throughout the wrestling community and within TOM as well. Today, our editor in charge of day-to-day operations, Alex Steen, takes on the site’s founder and managing editor, Eric John, debating the merits of this decision.

Alex: The announcement that two piece uniforms will be allowed at the high school level is a common sense step forward that eliminates a barrier to entry for some potential wrestlers, adds marketing potential, and more closely aligns us with other combat sports. Introducing it as an option and still allowing singlets is the right move, giving those who believe in this change the freedom to implement it while those who prefer to stick with the singlet can do so. I believe that long term, the two piece uniform will prove to be preferred and we will gradually see the end of the singlet era.

Eric: The idea that they are offering both options seems reasonable and pragmatic. Will it win out? Maybe, maybe not. As to singlets being a “barrier” to entry, I somewhat disagree. Could this be the case for a small number of people? Sure, without a large sampling of data on the issue, it would be logical to assume it is one possible barrier. It seems like a low hanging fruit type of solution to help grow wrestling. Let’s blame the “uniform” really makes little sense to me. Also, I would like to hear the pros and cons of such a change. Getting fingers caught in shirts or loose fitting shorts is never fun and shirts that ride up creating a slicker (as in slippery) opponent does not sound like a great deal either. As for making wrestlers look like NASCAR’s, I think I may also want to pass on that, especially at the lower levels.

Alex: I don’t know what you practiced in when you were wrestling, but every room I’ve ever been in featured wrestlers in t-shirts and shorts. If loose fitting shirts and shorts are such a danger we should probably be practicing in singlets too. No one does that because it just doesn’t cause that much of a problem. In addition, the shirts proposed would be tight fitting anyway. As for the pros and cons of such a change, it seems like we’ve been having that debate for the last 10 years. How long should we talk about it before we take action?

Eric: Fair point on practice and I would have to agree. I did dislocate my fingers on numerous occasions in practice, so from my personal experience yes it is an issue. With that said how is a tight shirt any different than a singlet? Maybe you have been involved in the debate for that long, but for me, I have never had an issue wearing a singlet or anyone else wearing one. Matter of fact you are the first wrestler I personally know who has an issue wearing a singlet. That does not mean I am right and you are wrong, it just means I have never run into a teammate that had an issue.

Alex: In a sport which struggles to attract and retain athletes, we need to do anything we can to make new athletes comfortable and eliminate excuses as to why someone might not be willing to try wrestling. While the exact number of potential wrestlers who won’t try the sport because of the singlet is impossible to know, it is a number above zero. We cannot afford to have an easily fixable problem keeping our numbers down. This change should immediately be followed by a rule allowing individuals on the same team in the same competition to choose a singlet or a two-piece uniform based on individual preference. This would further eliminate the entry barrier for those that hate the singlet and prevent entire teams from having to change immediately to accommodate new athletes. The wrestling uniform has changed throughout history and it will change again. There is no positive to resisting that change and there are gains to be made by adding options.

Eric: As stated, I really do not support this argument. In making the case for the change, I feel this is the weakest one. Also, wrestling often focuses on things such as uniforms as solutions to the sport’s problems. Sure, let’s change the uniform, and just maybe we get one more kid to come out for a team. Is this a good thing? Sure one more wrestler is one more wrestler. With that said, it makes such an insignificant dent in the problem, I feel as if it not the best use of our time. Fixing a broken and confusing scoring system may have a much bigger impact, or maybe not.

Alex: Is there an idea or proposed change on the table that we didn’t implement because we were so busy talking about the uniform? This is a classic case of letting perfect be the enemy of good. The uniform change is not a silver bullet, but it is a step in the right direction. It does nothing to prevent other changes from being made and, if anything, you should be happy it is out of the way now so that we can get on to all these other, more important discussions.

Eric: There are tons of proposals we have not addressed. It’s a fault of our sport, change is like the ice age. You believe it is a step in the right direction which I can respect. I just feel it is more like marching in place.

Alex: One aspect of this change that isn’t being talked about enough is the potential for marketing. A shirt and shorts, especially shorts that are closer to fight shorts than compression shorts, are items that can be worn outside of wrestling competition. If well designed, teams could sell them to non-wrestlers, an option that the singlet does not present. This seems like a small benefit until you realize that this amplifies the exposure for those companies that make the uniforms. High profile teams could get free uniforms or even be paid to wear a specific brand under the assumption that other teams will see them and choose that uniform manufacturer as well.

Eric: This point holds a bit more potential, but again, making kids look like walking billboards IMO will look rather tacky. Would the NCAA even allow this to happen? I doubt it. If they or ESPN or whoever has the broadcast rights are not making money it is highly doubtful they would allow for it. That leaves us with the High School level. This may have more potential and may be appealing to local businesses and may serve as a way to generate more revenue for local programs. If that is the case, I would be all for exploring it with the position that it would look rather odd.

Alex: To clarify, I wasn’t talking about adding sponsors to the uniforms, though we could pursue that in some cases as you pointed out. However, college merchandise sales are big business and each jersey sold from a Nike school has that trademark swoosh on it. I envision the same for college wrestling teams if this rule change moves to that level at some point. That sort of exposure provides added value to the manufacturer and could cut costs for higher profile teams. Even if it doesn’t, being able to sell the “official” jerseys will allow teams to order more and buying in bulk leads to savings even before the proceeds from any sales. There are myriad ways this can benefit programs even before we pursue the local high school team being sponsored by Chico’s Bail Bonds.

Eric: What schools are not selling this already? I have a ton of Minnesota stuff from board shorts to dry fit shirts. Now if it has Nike I do not own it, but that is a different discussion. There is nothing preventing a school from selling what you describe now.

Alex: Finally, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ), in the no gi divisions, and other combat sports that are gaining popularity in this country tend to feature a two-piece uniform similar to what is proposed here. One theory as to why those sports are growing is the rise of Mixed Martial Arts (MMA). More closely aligning the look of our sport with those sports makes sense as many high school and college wrestlers go on to professional fighting careers. We should capitalize on their growth by reminding the public that we are the original combat sport and still great training for those who aspire to become MMA athletes.

Eric: Again, there is some real logic to this, but also argues against the first point made in that singlets are a barrier to entry. So, if a person is shy about wearing a singlet, they would have no issue wearing just biker shorts? Which most MMA fighters wear? Or are we saying loose fitting board shorts and No shirt (like most MMA fighters)? So I am of the opinion you cannot make this argument and at the same time say a singlet is a barrier to entry.

Alex: Just as this change has multiple benefits, it will also appeal to different groups of people in different ways. You’re right that those who are doing BJJ or aspire to an MMA career are probably not concerned about the singlet. However, they may not see a sport that doesn’t allow submissions as the best avenue to develop their skills, especially as BJJ continues to grow. Of course, we know that wrestling is a key component for many great MMA fighters, but image is everything and making our sport look more like other combat sports, even if it isn’t exactly the same, is a good thing.

Eric: I stick with my original comment on this aspect, it goes against the argument as a barrier of entry since MMA fighters wear even less. Now if you were proposing adding submissions to collegiate wrestling you have my ear and interest.

Alex: In conclusion, this should have been made an option a long time ago and considering no one will be forced to give up their singlets, there is absolutely no reason to oppose it. Uniforms evolve over time and this evolution has the potential to increase participation and raise the profile of our sport. Even United World Wrestling President Nenad Lalovic in an interview with Jason Bryant said he was excited about the change as he had proposed a two-piece uniform for international wrestling, but couldn’t get it approved. This is an idea that has been around our sport for a long time. Hofstra and other schools wore them at the college level more than 10 years ago. It makes far more sense to see them at the high school level and down into youth wrestling where attracting and retaining athletes is paramount. This rule change is a great thing for our sport and I hope to see many coaches embrace the alternate uniform. It does nothing to hurt wrestling or prevent other changes from being made while it has plenty of potential to help. I’m glad to see it.

Eric: All is all I am not 100% opposed to the idea and having a choice does make sense. I just do not think it does much to advance the sport. If I am wrong, it is something I would be happy to be wrong about. It is hard to fault people who want change, no matter how small, but I enjoy arguing with Alex.

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