Commentary: Iowa wrestler the victim of two judgment calls at NCAAs

BY J.T. BUGOS | MARCH 21, 2011 7:20 AM

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PHILADELPHIA — Iowa’s Montell Marion was the victim of two judgment calls at the NCAA wrestling championships.

On March 18, Marion seemed to be on his way to the finals with a takedown of Michigan’s Kellen Russell in sudden victory of his semifinal match. Marion had wrapped up Russell near the edge of the mat, and two fingers went into the air to signal a takedown and the end of the bout. But as quickly as those fingers pierced the air, Russell exploded off the mat and scrambled away from Marion. The referee waved off his initial judgment, and the match continued.

Marion ended up on the wrong side of an 11-minute saga of a match that was decided by riding time at the end of the second tiebreaker period.

On March 19, Marion seemingly had rebounded from his loss to Russell — the eventual 141-pound champion — with a win over Minnesota’s Mike Thorn in the third-place match. Nine seconds remained and Marion and Thorn were tied at 2. Marion was in position to win thanks to his riding-time advantage, which would give him a point at match’s end.

A restart brought both wrestlers to the center of the mat, and at the whistle, Thorn shot in and snatched Marion’s left leg. With two seconds left, Thorn brought the Hawkeye to the mat for the decisive takedown in his 4-3 win.

But it appeared Thorn had started before the whistle. Iowa head coach Tom Brands was certain the Gopher had jumped the gun, and so he leaped from his seat to protest the judgment, but it proved futile — Thorn’s hand was raised anyway.

The real questions are if these calls were right. Brands had an interesting quotation after the match, saying “the referee was right because he made the call.” Even if the referee is wrong, he’s still right because he has final say.

But besides that, the call in the Russell match was correct. Brands noted after the match that you have to plant a guy like Russell, who is known for his ability to scramble and thus earned some leeway with referees. Regardless of Russell’s reputation, Mariondidn’t plant the Wolverine to the mat, and Russell was able to burst away.

Could Marion have been awarded a takedown? I don’t think that would have been wrong, but in this case, the referee made a fair call, and Brands said as much after the matchas well.

In the next match, it seems Thorn was guilty of jumping the gun. It looked that way from where I stood on the floor to the side of the mat, and it clearly looked that way from the coach’s corner, where Brands protested.

It was Brands’opinion that Thorn started early, and that was mine as well.

“I know he did, but you know what that doesn’t matter,” the fifth-year head coach said. “That referee called it how he called it, and he believes it, he’s not going to change his call after that.”

The discouraging part of it all is that the referee wouldn’t discuss the non-call with Brands after the match. Brands said he was yelling to him but the referee stayed at the center of the mat, which is why Brands stepped on to the mat — a move that cost Iowa a team point down the road for loss of control (though Brands said he was fully aware that would happen and he was completely in control).

Right or wrong, fair or unfair, the referee should stand by his call and defend it if questioned.

But there really is no use blaming referees in either of these cases. Brands did no such thing, and I don’t believe Marion would have either (he was unavailable for comment). The onus falls on Marion to finish the shot against Russell or fight off the takedown from Thorn.

“Montell Marion knows better. You do not go to that line half-ready,” Brands said. “You go to that line and you are ready, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t believe the guy jumped the gun, and that’s why I fought for the guy. I know philosophically what we coach, and Montell understands that it’s on him ultimately.”

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