Another NCAA is in the books, and by all accounts wrestling fans, including the record-setting crowd at the Scottrade Center in St. Louis, were witness to a good show.
But the stories that dominate the headlines are just the beginning of the story. Beyond Penn State earning its second straight NCAA title, and Minnesota leading the pack in terms of All-Americans, past the individual performances and surprising outcomes, there’s much more to digest.
Here is our take on the details; the fine points and nuances, that we were able to take away from three days of wrestling in the STL.
If this were ESPN’s “Around the Horn,” the disembodied voice would say, ‘the first word is,’ and we would say ‘officiating’.
Regardless of sport, when the calls are the first topic discussed after a championship, it’s never a good thing. But we’re not talking just about ‘bad calls’. Sure, there was plenty of them. The Bedelyon Debacle, the Nakashima Jobbing, the Oliver-Stieber debate.
No, we’re more concerned not in poor vision, but with more holistic interpretations of rules, how they were (or were not) applied, and how it effects not only the wrestling on the mat, but how wrestlers and coaches adapt to it. Ultimately, we look at from the angles of 1) the quality of wrestling as a result of rules interpretations and 2) wrestling as a product for the fans.
In Neutral – backing up, backing up, and backing up. Far too often wrestlers were allowed to avoid action. This occurred largely when sitting on a lead. Wrestlers systematically worked this by earning a single takedown and skirting the edge of engagement the rest of the bout.
What’s more disturbing (and borders on insulting) is when the referees finally raise their fist with :05 to go. I mean, c’mon! What’s the point? To any knowledgeable fan, it doesn’t let you of the hook. Furthermore think about a new fan who is watching on ESPN. They are probably wondering why, now all of a sudden, wrestler A has been backing up the entire time. Why not call stalling when it first occurs? At least that is how we would see it.
From Fleeing – What happened to this call? A rule change was made from fleeing being an automatic point, to it resulting in a stalling warning. The impetus behind this change was to take some of the onus off of the referee; it’s much easier to call a flee when it’s a stall as opposed to an automatic, and often crucial, point.
But fleeing calls were non-existent in St. Louis, and once again reflects the reluctance of refs to make the tough calls. But the sport needs the tough calls, and it needs to reward the offensive wrestler as much as it can.
From Top – There’s a real problem with riding time. There has been for a long, long time. But combining this with the above trends, it makes for a snoozefest.
Riding to ride is stalling.
The wrestler on top is considered to be in the ‘offensive position.’ Make ‘em work up there! The man in the top position should be looking to turn or be hit for stalling.
We like riding time in theory and as it is designed. But in its current application, riding time does nothing but promote inactivity. Referees liberally and universally allow the man on top to accrue riding time by doing nothing. The philosophy of the referee should not take into account that ‘the wrestler is working towards riding time.’ It should take into account only if the top man is looking to turn or not.
Furthermore, riding time continues to accrue in long, drawn out scrambles. We don’t know what the remedy for this might be, but one thing is for sure, when the two wrestlers are in that scramble, the guy on top is not showing any sort of ‘superiority,’ which is what the rule is designed to indicate.
In Overtime Ride outs – drop to a knee, take a stall call, lock over the head on the restart, repeat until :30 is out. How boring is that?
Wrestlers in the ride-out have learned to play the game.
In general, officials at the NCAA tournament were neutered. They lacked the grit to make any tough calls. And when you have wrestling at the highest level, with everything on the line, tough calls need to be made. When athletes are at this level, the difference is going to come in high-pressure, fine-line sequences that officials not only have to be on their toes for, but that they have to have the guts to get it right. The laissez faire attitude that was pervasive across the officials that worked this year’s NCAA tournament was downright disappointing, and suggests some sort of concerted effort or predetermined arrangement to remove themselves from subjective calls. More directly; it looked an awful lot like there was an officials meeting whereby they were dissuaded from making subjective calls. How else can you explain the wholesale differences in the application of stalling and fleeing calls from recent years?
It’s unfortunate that wrestlers live the sport, fine tune their bodies and their craft in pursuit of top honors, only to be let down by officials who aren’t willing to make the right calls.
Furthermore, there is a growth component to this. Demographically, geographically, and commercially, wrestling is growing. It is precisely at this time that we should ensure that the brand of wrestling we want to be representative of the sport we love gets actualized. Up the tempo. Up the action. Reward the offensive guy. Make sure wrestling at its finest is on display.
The 3rd Period Lunger
I got a call from a college coach mid-season who was furious. He said we should write an article about it.
The issue at hand: his wrestler was trailing early but came storming back and was pushing the pace trailing by just a point heading to the 3rd period. His opponent was breathing heavily.
As they’re about to get set, the opposing coach directs his wrestler to take an injury time out. The wrestler himself doesn’t know what his coach means. After a more vigorous declaration from the coach, the wrestler does take the injury time out.
The problem is a loop hole in the rule book: the first time you take an injury time out, your opponent gets his choice of position. But if the other guy has choice in the third period, you will receive no penalty for calling injury time then.
At the time of the phone call I thought 1) it was an isolated incident, but 2) everyone will figure this out soon.
Sure enough, by the time we hit St. Louis, wrestlers who didn’t have choice in the third period systematically called IT at that time.
In high school, if such an occurrence manifests, it results in the guy with choice in the third to be given choice again the next time there is a reversal or escape. This needs to be applied at the NCAA level.
This isn’t groundbreaking, just more pervasive, and bears repeating.
Scrambling has become a big part of the sport. “Funk” has been adopted into the orthodoxy of the American Folkstyle repertoire. There’s a science to it, and we can thank (or blame) two people: John Smith and Ben Askren, though to be fair, probably neither knew it would morph into what it has.
With the introduction of the low-single series that John Smith perfected, much of the nation caught on. It spread like wildfire and germinated in every youth wrestling room across the country. Low level attacks could be, were, and are, one of the most effective scores in wrestling.
Except when they’re not done right.
Enter Ben Askren, who knew this.
Askren systematically picked apart his opponents who took poor shots or finished them too slowly. He developed a method to his madness. It was a science for him, and no one has ever mastered it quite like him.
But they’re trying. In seemingly every bout, especially as the tournament moved on and the cream came to the top, you could see that funk was not just something that happened, but ‘the way’ to do things. It’s being taught. It’s being coached. It’s being refined. Wrestlers immediately went to certain and precise technique and practices to thwart opponents from scoring and to score on counters themselves.
It makes for fun and entertaining wrestling. But here’s the problem as we see it.
From a purist’s perspective, it’s bad wrestling.
If you find wrestlers in a scramble situation, rewind the tape. What you’ll inevitably find as its precursor is one of a couple things: poor technique on the shot attempt, slow finishes, and/or poor leg defense.
The scramble and funk that ensues bails our kids out of trouble. Forget traditional defense, which old schoolers will tell you are head, hands, elbows, and hips, and go right to the funk.
We’re losing fundamental technique. There’s less ‘good defense’ this side of Kellen Russell. And crisp shots and finishes are nearly non-existent. You can probably count the number of shots that scored without a scramble the last two rounds on one hand.
It’s a perilous trend in regards to our international aspirations. Funk doesn’t fly in FS/GR. You get tossed or at least exposed. And if you can’t score on leg attacks with seamless transitions, you might as well hang it up.
Who is our best Freestyle wrestler right now and what does he do?
Jordan Burroughs. And with shots that display no transitions or allow for time to defend and counter.
Wrestling technique at its finest doesn’t involve scrambles. You take proper shots and there’s only one guy who can score. We need to get back to that.
High Seeds that Did Not Place
(2) Jamal Parks, OKST, 149
(2) Shane Onufer, WYO, 165
(3) Alan Waters, Mizz, 125
(3) Cole Von Ohlen, AF, 149
(3) Andrew Sorenson, ISU, 165
(4) Christian Boley, MD, 197
(5) Joe Colon, UNI, 133
(5) Ian Miller, Kent, 149
(5) Mike Evans, IOWA, 165
(6) Brent Haynes, MIZZ, 197
(6) Cam Wade, PSU, HWT
(7) Jarrod Patterson, OU, 125
(7) AJ Schopp, EDIN, 133
(7) Nick Nelson, UVA, 141
(7) Mario Gonzalez, ILL, 197
(8) Eric Grajales, MICH, 149
(8) Frank Hickman, Bloom, 157
(8) Robert Kokesh, NEB, 165
(8) Lee Munster, NW, 174
(8) Ryan Loder, UNI, 184
(8) Matt Powless, IU, 197
(8) Spencer Myers, MD, HWT
Low Seeds that Did
(US) Mike Nevinger, COR, 8th, 141
(US) Justin Accordino, HOF, 6th, 149
(US) Scott Sakaguchi, OrSt, 7th, 149
(US) Nick Lester, OU, 8th, 149
(US) Kyle Blevins, APP, 4th, 165
(US) Ben Jordan, WISC, 165
(US) Nick Gwiazdowski, BING, 8th, HWT
(12) Steve Bonnano, HOF, 8th, 125
(12) Joe Kennedy, LEH, 8th, 197
(11) Steven Keith, HAR, 8th, 133
(11) James Green, NEB, 7th, 157
(11) Brandon Hatchett, LEH, 2nd
(11) Micah Burak, PENN, 7th, 197
(10) Nico Megaludis, PSU, 2nd, 125
(10) Chris Dardanes, MINN, 4th, 133
(10) Cam Tessari, tOSU, 4th, 149
(10) Sonny Yohn, MINN, 5th, 197
(10) Mike McMullan, NW, 3rd, HWT
(9) Conrad Polz, ILL, 8th, 165
(9) Nick Heflin, tOSU, 5th, 174
(9) Austin Trotman, APP, 3rd, 184
(9) Alfonson Hernandez, WYO, 6th, 197
Seniors Who Earned Their First Medal
Frank Perrelli, COR, 4th, 125
Zac Stevens, MICH, 7th, 133
Darius Little, NCST, 8th, 141
Bekzod Abdurakhmonov, CU, 3rd, 165
Kyle Blevins, APP, 4th, 165
Ryan DesRoches, CP, 8th, 174
Austin Trotman, APP, 3rd, 184
Cayle Byers, OKST, 3rd, 197
Joe Kennedy, LEH, 8th, 197
Clayton Jack, OrSt, 4th, HWT
Smaller Schools with Pairs of AA’s
Steven Keith, 133
Walter Peppelman, 157
Kyle Blevins, 165
Austin Trotman, 184
James Fleming, 157
Bekzod Abdurakhmonov, 165
Ganbayar Sanjaa, 157
Ryan Flores, HWT
Heavyweight Belongs to The Gophers
With another National Champion crowned at HWT, Minnesota’s Gophers are truly ‘Golden’ as far as big men go. Tony Nelson became the 3rd Gopher heavyweight to win a title since 2000. And since 1993, Minnesota has had an All American at HWT 14 times.
The Venue Debate
We all had fun in St. Louis. But before the medals were even handed out, we all started thinking about future tournaments. Next year we’ll head to Des Moines. In 2014, to Oklahoma City.
Beyond that is to be decided. The powers that be, known as the NCAA Wrestling Committee will review bids and subsequently vote at a later date.
But there has been some murmurs that a couple of non-traditional wrestling cities will make a run at securing the NCAA tournament in future years, namely Atlanta and Dallas.
This begs the question: is it more important to service the fans in more established wrestling markets who have been supporting the sport for years? Or should we dip our toes into new markets which have the potential to expand our footprint?
We think the latter couldn’t hurt. Feel free to give your take on our message boards.