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Is There a Change on the Horizon for the Division I Wrestling Schedule?

As the saying goes, there is strength in numbers.

How the wrestling community has rallied around the #SaveStanfordWrestling cause is proof that the “strength in numbers” concept is real. 

Another topic that has been gaining some traction in Division I wrestling is shrinking the season’s length. 

Much like what was done in 2021 due to coronavirus, the idea is to push the start date back to January and end with nationals in April. Doing so allows for the season to take place over a single academic semester instead of portions of two separate semesters as it currently does. 

Some heavy-hitters among the NCAA Division I coaching ranks have recently weighed in on the topic and expressed their support for the scheduling shift. 

Oklahoma State’s John Smith and Wyoming’s Mark Branch have referenced the benefits of sliding the schedule back to start in January and end in April rather than the customary November to March calendar the NCAA currently uses.  

Additionally, earlier this week on The Bader Show, Missouri’s Brian Smith advocated for taking some November competitions off the Mizzou schedule next season to help the team stay healthier by essentially implementing some load management tactics. 

Brian Smith went on to say that this line of thinking dates back to 2010 when the eventual NCAA 184-pound national champ, Max Askren, nearly didn’t wrestle that season as a senior due to a back injury. 

Smith promptly responded by cutting Askren’s regular-season workload in half. The Hartland, Wisconsin native wrestled in eight events during the regular season rather than all 16 on the Mizzou schedule to preserve him for the postseason. The rest likely aided his ailing back and helped Askren capture the third NCAA gold medal in program history. 

Branch expressed his desire to see the NCAA shift to a shorter, more condensed season, such as the one we saw in 2021 back in January as well. Among his reasoning, Branch pointed out the following benefits:

+ Cut down on injuries, fatigue, and general wear and tear that comes with the grind of the five-month college wrestling season. 

+ Help student-athletes perform better in the classroom by switching to a single-semester season. 

+ Allow wrestlers the opportunity to go home on holidays more often than they currently do. 

+ Create growth and exposure for the sport via the media when nationals don’t run simultaneously with March Madness. 

Implementing such a scheduling shift would come with some logistical adjustments. Many top-notch holiday tournaments like Midlands, Cliff Keen, and South Beach Duals would be in jeopardy. Similarly, for the few Division I institutions that operate their academic calendar under the quarter system (Northwestern, Stanford, and Drexel, and others), they wouldn’t see these projected benefits. In fact, schools on the quarter might now be at a competitive disadvantage. 

It will be interesting to see if this topic continues to gain more traction over the offseason or if it was essentially just noise brought on by the fact that the 2021 season played out under these exact scheduling timelines. 

It will also be interesting if enough coaches begin self-imposing an alternative schedule themselves by not scheduling events in November, as Brian Smith alluded to possibly doing earlier this week. If enough coaches would begin to do so, it might force the NCAA’s hand a bit more. But only time will tell. 

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