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ICYMI: USOPC letter to NCAA Div. I Council: Delay vote on NCAA Proposal 2019-50 which threatens RTCs and could set back women’s wrestling

Graphic and official release courtesy of U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee. 

UNITED STATES OLYMPIC AND PARALYMPIC COMMITTEE
1 Olympic Plaza
Colorado Springs, CO 8090

March 25, 2022

Mr. Shane Lyons
Chair, NCAA Division I Council
700 W. Washington Street
P.O. Box 6222
Indianapolis, Indiana 46206-6222

Dear Mr. Lyons,

On behalf of the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Committee Collegiate Advisory Council and USA Wrestling leaders, we are asking the NCAA Division I Council to delay action on NCAA Proposal 2019-50 during the April 13-14, 2022 meeting. This letter outlines the Regional Training Center history and why more vetting is needed given the landscape changes that have occurred since the proposal was conceived. Our shared stakeholders are concerned that this proposal will negatively impact elite prospective/student-athletes opportunities and may stifle women’s wrestling growth. As proposed, this legislation will not resolve the broader recruiting abuses; rather, it will diminish national team development opportunities for our country’s elite student-athletes.

RTC HISTORY: From 1982-2008, 55 NCAA DI wrestling programs had dropped and there were growing fears that college wrestling would soon be eliminated, similar to college boxing. On the heels of the 2008 financial crisis, DI programs were suffering as 12 more teams were dropped between 2008-12, but during this same window there was also a unique Olympic development opportunity under construction. In 2009, USA Wrestling and the collegiate community began to construct the RTC model, which was intended to aid in elite development by allowing athletes (PSA, college, elite) to train together in “freestyle” and “Greco-Roman” Olympic techniques, versus the “folkstyle” used in college. RTCs started with two school training programs in 2009, grew to 20 schools in 2012, and the network now stands at 44 schools in 2021. As the RTC concept became more entrenched in the college landscape, DI wrestling programs have held steady at ~78 teams (2012- 2021), with momentum to add women’s wrestling. Annually, there are over 1000 elite prospective, college and national team athletes benefiting from the RTC model. Many college stakeholders are proud of the Olympic development opportunities afforded to men and women through the RTC program and believe collaboration is needed to address the non-elite recruiting concerns that brought about Proposal 2019-50.

VETTING: We are advocating for more time to provide various NCAA committees and stakeholders with important insight on the latest RTC work and improvement options before voting on Proposal 2019-50.
– 2019 RTC guideline changes: The positions taken by the Olympic Sports Liaison Committee, Student-Athlete Experience Committee, Legislation Committee and Student-Athlete Advisory Committee on 2019- 50 were made without viewing the latest RTC reforms and/or assessing the impact:
o USA Wrestling revised their guidelines in September 2019, thanks to feedback from the Blue Ribbon Task Force and college leadership/coaching feedback. The RTC guidelines were amended to: (1) narrow RTC access criteria for PSAs (decreasing the PSA footprint by ~25%), (2) require coaching certification/compliance with NCAA Bylaw 6.4.2, and (3) create an RTC infractions process to monitor and improve program management. [USA Wrestling RTC guidelines].
o The NCAA staff and National Association of Athletics Compliance created an RTC educational compliance package in November 2019 to provide management clarity on outside competition expenses, countable athletic related activity tracking, and recruiting best practices.
– 2020 Women’s wrestling growth: Given the recent addition of women’s wresting as an NCAA emerging sport, the NCAA Committee on Women’s Athletics should be consulted to assess the impact on sport growth. Currently 30, elite-caliber women’s wrestlers (including 13 active senior women’s national team members) are training at seven NCAA Division I RTCs. As written, proposal 2019-50 would negatively impact opportunities for these women wrestlers by restricting training partners and the preferred development environment. Women’s wrestling advocates are concerned about the impact to sport growth.
“The RTC model has opened the pathway for women’s wrestling to gain access to elite athletic and academic training while reducing barriers to entry that previously existed. The removal of RTC’s, in the 50th Anniversary year of Title IX, would derail the progress the women’s wrestling movement has generated under the larger umbrella of supporting women’s sports. We need to continue to allow elite women to train at RTCs with men’s varsity athletes as the women’s collegiate programs develop.” – Sally Roberts, Wrestle Like A Girl Founder/CEO
– Pandemic: Due to the COVID-19 pandemic in winter 2020, the RTC guideline changes and NAAC compliance tools were not fully implemented and the changes have yet to be fully evaluated.
– Horizon: Further, given the USOPC College Sports Sustainability Think Tank report, which was supported by the NCAA DI Council in November 2021, there are growing efforts between the USOPC and NCAA to increase collaboration on sport-specific strategies and to consider the impact on elite development (NOTE: NCAA DI membership adoption of Proposal 2019-107). There are also changes on the horizon from the NCAA Transformation committee, which may also impact recruiting policies.

ELITE IMPACT: Should NCAA Proposal 2019-50 be adopted, schools will aim to utilize the local sports clubs exception to allow additional training; however, this legislation will negatively impact elite training opportunities by limiting access to coaches and training partners in a distinct style/weight/skill. Local sports clubs legislation substantially restricts (1) interaction between PSAs/non-varsity women’s wrestlers and men’s varsity wrestling student-athletes and (2) cannot accommodate athletes outside a 50-mile radius. The following analysis was conducted on a sample of 15 NCAA elite men’s wrestlers (across 11 schools) during their PSA/college stages of development and 30 elite women’s wrestlers whom are currently training at seven Division I RTC programs. The 15 men are ranked in the top three nationally and recognized as NCAA elite student-athletes per NCAA Bylaw 17.02.1.1. The 30 women compete at the national/international levels.
– Training: RTCs were used by 85% of NCAA elite male student-athletes (13 of 15) during their high school and collegiate development stages. The 30 women chose RTC training to aid in their college development.
 Location: Nearly 70% of NCAA elite male student-athletes participated at RTCs outside the 50-mile radius while in high school (9 of 13 athletes). Most females are not pursuing RTCs while in high school.
– Motivation: The primary decision for the prospects to attend their RTC was to related to proximity, acquiring new skills, polishing techniques and/or working with specific coaches/training partners. The choice was not predicated on a recruiting benefit, as 77% of athletes (10 of 13) competed at different RTCs in high school than the RTC used in college. The 30 women (including 13 national team athletes) chose RTC programs with strong academic and Olympic development offerings (training partners/technical expertise).
– Choice: The American development pathway should be open and accessible to all, and athletes should be able to choose the best infrastructure to support their needs. Many families can’t afford to relocate or maintain multiple residences to live within 50 miles of a sport club. Further, other athletes noted concerns with restricted access to training partners and coaching experts.

NEXT STEPS: We recognize there is important academic legislation being considered for wrestling and welcome policies to help our athletes be well-positioned to achieve both academic and athletic success. Should the NCAA DI Council choose to table 2019-50, the USOPC CAC and USA Wrestling stand ready to work with the coaches’ association, athletes, NCAA and NAAC experts to evaluate RTC guidelines changes and consider further adjustments to ensure the elite development pathway remains open while reducing unnecessary pressures on the college recruiting structure. Together, we can shape sport-specific policies/practices that protect elite development while calibrating controls over the evolving recruiting environment.

Sincerely,

Kevin White
USOPC Board Member
USOPC CAC Chair
Duke University

Sandy Barbour
Pennsylvania State University
VP for Intercollegiate Athletics

Sarah Hirshland
USOPC Think Tank Co-Chair
USOPC CEO

Rich Bender
USA Wrestling CEO

Sally Roberts
Wrestle Like a Girl Founder, CEO

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