By Gary Mihoces, USA TODAY (Original here)
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. â€” The RPI, the mathematical ranking system used in college basketball and football, has arrived in college wrestling.
“I think it does modernize the sport a little bit. When you’re talking RPI in football and basketball â€¦ people relate to that. Whether they understand all the dynamics, that’s to be argued,” says coach Troy Sunderland of Penn State, host of this weekend’s Big Ten Wrestling tournament.
In football and basketball, the RPI (rating percentage index) is a measurement used to rank teams based on their winning percentages, the winning percentages of their opponents and the winning percentages of their opponents’ opponents.
Wrestling gives it a different twist, applying it to individual competitors, not teams.
The RPI won’t factor into which wrestlers specifically will be among the 330 in 10 weight classes who will compete in the NCAA Division I championships March 19-21 in St. Louis. Instead, it has been used this year as one of the tools in deciding how many wrestlers each of 11 qualifying tournaments gets to send to the finals.
In the past, conferences received their allotments before the season even started, based on the performances of their wrestlers at the previous five NCAA tournaments.
Imagine the furor if basketball and football tried that.
The new system is based on the performances of the wrestlers this season only. It factors in each wrestler’s winning percentage, RPI and their spot in a coaches ranking for each weight class.
This season, 279 wrestlers scored high enough to earn automatic berths in the NCAA tournament for their conferences. The occupants of those spots are being decided this weekend on the mats.
The other 52 at-large spots will be decided next week by the NCAA D-I wrestling committee.
One winner already is the Atlantic Coast Conference. Its six wrestling schools have 27 automatic berths this year, up from 14 last year.
The Big Ten, with 11 teams, has 61 automatic qualifiers compared to 72 last year.
The Big Ten is likely to get close to its total for last year when the at-large berths are announced.
But Big Ten coaches Tom Brands of Iowa and Tom Ryan of Ohio State already welcome the new system. Indeed, they formerly campaigned for just such a system when they coached at other schools.
“When I was at Virginia Tech, it’s something that we fought for because of the strength of those under-represented conferences,” says Brands. “Now, they’re rewarding by performance throughout the year, so that’s all positive.”
Ryan formerly coached at Hofstra, which competed in various conferences.
“Each conference that we were in (we were) fighting for the right to have people that worked very hard in the sport to be in the national championship. I think this seems to be the most fair way,” says Ryan.
Iowa on a roll
Top-ranked Iowa took some lumps in Saturday night’s semifinals of the Big Ten wrestling tournament, but the Hawkeyes maintained the lead in their bid for a 33rd team title.
“It was real simple this morning â€” keep winning. Well, we didn’t do that,” said Iowa coach Tom Brands.
In the morning session at Penn State, Iowa advanced nine of its 10 wrestlers into the semifinals. But the Hawkeyes lost five semifinal matches.
Advancing to Sunday’s finals with semifinals wins for Iowa were Brent Metcalf (149 pounds), Ryan Morningstar (165), Phil Keddy (184) and Dan Erekson (285).
Iowa goes into Sunday leading the team race with 110 points, followed by Illinois with 85 and Wisconsin with 83. Illinois has just one wrestler in the finals, but Wisconsin matches Iowa with four.
In Keddy’s semifinal at 184, he beat defending NCAA champion Mike Pucillo of Ohio State 5-2 in overtime. Keddy trailed 2-1 when he got a two-point takedown with two back exposure points that gave him the win.
“Keddy’s (win is) big, big,” said Brands.
Pucillo’s loss eliminated the potential for a final at 184 between the two most recent NCAA champs at the weight. Had he won, Pucillo would have met Northwestern’s Jake Herbert, who won an NCAA two years ago and then sat out last season in an effort to make the Olympic team.
Brands said the crowd (except for Iowa’s black and gold clad wrestlers and fans) wanted a Pucillo-Herbert final.
“Every energy in this arena except guys wearing black and gold was against Keddy, everybody. We made our break there. â€¦ We picked him up, put him down, it’s over,” said Brands.