photo courtesy of Richard Immel
Over the weekend at the NWCA Coaches Convention in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, one of the most significant topics discussed were Regional Training Centers (RTC’s). RTC’s have been a polarizing topic for college coaches, as well as fans. Overall, the impact felt from RTC’s has been positive for our sport and the vast majority of coaches would like to continue their usage. Most feedback indicates that they would like some form of regulation to nullify some of the various loopholes that have been exploited. TOM has tried to take a neutral approach to RTC’s and has presented a list of pro’s and con’s associated with RTC’s.
Pro: It has helped USA Wrestling To Heights Not Seen in 20+ Years
The biggest positive impact that has been seen as a result of the advent of Regional Training Centers has been the rise of our Senior men’s freestyle team. The 2017 squad defeated the Russians and brought home their first team championship since 1996. Since the World Championships that we hosted in 2015 six men’s freestyle wrestlers have combined to win nine world/Olympic titles. The RTC system has allowed these wrestlers to find a training camp of their own and establish that as their home base where they can train year-round. Before this system was started, wrestlers needed to go to the Olympic Training Center to find coaches that could focus solely on their needs as they trained in freestyle. The success has trickled down to the lower age groups as well, with six different wrestlers combining to win seven Junior World Championships since 2015.
Women’s wrestling is starting to feel the impact of RTC’s, also. The Tar Heel Wrestling Club and the Hawkeye Wrestling Club are two that have recruited multiple women to train under their roof after their collegiate careers have concluded. Since only one DI program currently fields a women’s wrestling team, the girls coming out of high school don’t have the same opportunities to get recruited out of high school with an added bonus of an RTC. That is starting to change also, as some high school graduates have chosen to attend school and train at an RTC rather than competing at a women’s collegiate program. It’s still pretty early in the game to actually gauge the actual impact of RTC’s on the women’s side, but I can only imagine it will be great.
Con: It Widens the Gaps between College Wrestling’s “Have’s” and “Have Not’s”
Even though this point is difficult for people actually to quantify, it just feels like it has to be true. The teams that dominate college wrestling continue to get even stronger. With the amount of money being raised by some of college wrestling’s elite programs, they can hire countless athletes to train out of their RTC’s. Not only are these wrestlers seeking to obtain those lofty goals like world and Olympic medals, but they are also convenient, extra bodies to train with the college student-athletes. As new-Rider assistant coach Jarrod Garnett mentioned on “Takedown Radio,” “it’s difficult for smaller programs to retain athletes after graduation like they used to. Now bigger programs can come in and scoop them up.” Garnett didn’t mention him by name, but he has seen how one of his proteges at North Dakota State, Josh Rodriguez, moved to Penn State to train with the Nittany Lion Wrestling Club. Having a guy like Rodriguez around as a volunteer assistant would have been the logical step during the “old days” for a program like NDSU.
Now the easy answer is to say, “You can do it too” at coaches from lower-profile programs. Of course, these coaches are trying to fundraise, but as Garnett stated, “Schools with an enrollment of 40,000 have a different alumni pool than those with 5,000”.
So, not only does a coach from a small school have to contend with another coaching staff during the recruiting process, but they also have to account for the post-grads that are still training at the school under their RTC. Again, it also helps with an athlete’s development once in the program having, even more, highly credentialed training partners at their disposal.
Pro: More Post-Collegiate Opportunities for Athletes
For decades, once a college wrestlers career was over they were forced to either take graduate assistant or volunteer assistant positions, work a 9-5 job, or live off of a minuscule national team stipend while pursuing their dreams of world medals. In the mid-2000s, once the UFC and mixed martial arts became an option, many wrestlers chose that path, also. Whichever option they chose, our world-level athletes weren’t able to focus solely on training, without having to worry about how they’re going to make ends meet. That’s a concern that has been alleviated for most of our national team members presently. Now, as we move down the line, wrestlers that realistically have a minute shot at even making a national team can earn a steady wage from RTC’s.
As new-Harvard assistant coach Johnni DiJulius alluded to on Twitter today, “RTC’s gave wrestlers who never won the NCAAs a chance to make $ without having to get a 9 to 5, and prove they are good enough to coach d1 one day”. We’ve addressed the first part of his tweet already, but the second point is just as interesting and an angle that gets overlooked. With less than 80 DI programs in 2019, competition for assistant coaches is intense. A wrestler like DiJulius may get overlooked by someone with a bigger list of credentials. Under the RTC system, he can train and get his foot in the door coaching, as well. I wonder how many coaches have and will get DI jobs based on the connections they have established while working out at an RTC.
Con: Leads to Possible Recruiting Infractions
Here’s the big understatement of the day, having a RTC that operates out of your school’s wrestling room, that has coaches who also double as college coaches, along with high profile alums who are “RTC coaches” training high school aged wrestlers that meet a very low set of criteria and live within a 250 mile radius of your campus, could lead to recruiting infractions.
I heard the true story of a recruit, let’s call him Johnny Wrestler. Johnny committed as a high school junior to wrestle from an out-of-state school (School A). Johnny needed good competition, so he started wrestling at an RTC that was close to home (School B). Johnny told the coach from School A about this and said coach calls School B to say, “That’s fine, but he’s my kid, stay away from him.” Lo and behold a couple of months later Johnny lets the coach from School A know he’s decommitted and plans to sign with School B. Now since no NLI’s were signed, I don’t know if we have an actual recruiting violation, but we certainly have a faux pas, a violation of unwritten rules between coaches. I’m sure this particular case I’m referencing isn’t the only time this has happened.
Some of the more egregious possible violations have been rumored back payments of student loans by alumni involved with the RTC’s or jobs that have been promised upon signing with a particular school.
Other cases have seen recruits with parents or high school coaches that get jobs within a particular RTC. Pittsburgh head coach Kevin Gavin was also on Takedown Radio and told the crew that the loophole in this situation is that these parents/coaches are not actually employed by the universities, but by the RTC.
Con: Who Regulates All of This?
That’s the big question that college coaches have been asking, who regulates the RTC’s? The NCAA certainly doesn’t. They want no part of it. Both Garnett and Gavin referred to RTC’s as “The Wild, Wild West.” In fact, an anonymous DI head coach told me that “the NCAA knows about RTC’s and actually tips their hat to us because we found the perfect loophole for them. They just have bigger issues to deal with.” Technically USA Wrestling is supposed to, but as Gavin stated, “how cant they, they don’t have a compliance department or anything like a university does.” According to Gavin, coaches are trying to report possible violations, but who are they supposed to tell, and who investigates them. “Everybody wants regulation, big schools, small schools, we don’t want to be labeled a dirty sport.” The scary part for the coaching profession is that as we continue to exploit loopholes and step dangerously close to “the line” there will be a program that breaks the rules and hurts the entire sport at the collegiate level.
Pro: The Ripple-Effects into a Collegiate Program
Although it was not the initial intended purpose, RTC’s have helped to strengthen collegiate programs. The benefit of having three or four (or more) extra bodies in the room, usually highly decorated at the collegiate level and with some international experience is invaluable for a program. From middle school on up, if you have no one in your room that can push your best kids, you’re vulnerable to losing them to someone who does. When there are two or three guys that can test your All-Americans daily, good things are bound to happen in their development.
RTC’s can also help to boost a previously unheralded program. The University of Pennsylvania has not been a consistent title contender in the EIWA for almost a decade, but with the advent of the Pennsylvania RTC and a coach like Brandon Slay in the mix, the program has received a shot in the arm. Penn has now brought in back-to-back top 20 recruiting classes seems like a program that is certainly on the rise.
Pro: Your Money Goes Directly to Wrestling
In the pre-RTC days, if you wanted to donate to a college wrestling team, you couldn’t be sure that your team would actually receive the money. If you wrote a check to your university and put “wrestling” in the memo, did they really get the full amount that you pledged? Did the football team get to skim a couple bucks off the top? Does a program in the athletic department that has trouble fundraising get a boost? How much goes to the administration? Call me cynical, but I have a hard time believing that some of those things didn’t happen.
Now with RTC’s, donors/alums/fans can cut a check directly to their favorite wrestling club/RTC and know the money will be spent on some part of the program that ultimately will benefit our team. While it can be a wide range of things, getting some extra money to a volunteer assistant, paying RTC wrestlers, funding the trip to the US Open, or bringing in additional practice partners, it all helps your team in the long run.