When the NCAA Division I Wrestling Committee conducted their annual meeting April 11th and 12th, the headlines were grabbed by rule change proposals. However, when the report from that meeting was released this week, there was another interesting item in regards to alternates at the NCAA tournament. It appears that the committee is acknowledging the absurdity of the Nick Suriano (Penn State) situation and has a simple solution.
From the time Suriano got hurt in the NWCA Dual Championship match on February 19th, speculation as to whether he would be healthy in time for the NCAA tournament ran rampant. It only intensified after he injury defaulted out of the Big 10 tournament and as the deadline for replacements neared, his status remained uncertain. The Sunday before the tournament began, the last day a wrestler can withdraw and be replaced by an alternate, came and went without any news, locking the third seeded Suriano into the bracket. However, on the day before wrestling was to begin in St. Louis, news broke that he would not be able to compete.
When fans realized that not only would Suriano not be replaced, but that the bracket would not be redrawn, leaving 125 with a gaping hole where the three seed should be, there was outrage. If this sort of problem were to happen again in 2018 and the committee’s recommendations are accepted, there will be a wrestler ready and willing to step up. The committee has proposed that one alternate in each weight class, of the two named in the selection process, be allowed to travel to the championship site at the expense of that wrestler’s school. This would allow the replacement deadline to be moved closer to the start of the tournament. Though the report does not say when the new deadline would be, it could be right up to weigh-ins if the alternate was standing by, ready to compete. If the alternate does compete, the NCAA would then reimburse the school for their expenses as they do with other competitors.
This is a common sense change that costs the NCAA nothing and ensures the greatest chance that the NCAA Division I Championships begin with full brackets at every weight. It also eliminates the arbitrary deadline that was previously imposed, giving coaches and wrestlers more time to evaluate the health of a potential competitor. Certainly, this won’t come into play all that often. This year, there were two wrestlers who got into the championships as alternates and there could have been a third with this rule in place. Cash Wilcke (Iowa) was only added to the field after Jake Smith (West Virginia) was forced out due to injury, but he worked his way to the round of 12, coming up just short of All-American honors.
In the end, this is a good change that will fix a hole in the rules that was exposed for all to see in March. With alternates on hand at each weight, two wrestlers would have to go down very late in the process to cause a hole in the bracket which is exceedingly rare. There is no reason to think the NCAA will not implement this proposal so that the next time we have an injured wrestler trying to make it back in time, a swap can be made much closer to the tournament beginning.