Commentary: College wrestling has issues


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One of college wrestling’s biggest problems is the crowd in Carver-Hawkeye Arena booing an opponent who is turtled up because he doesn’t want Tony Ramos to pin him.

Another one of college wrestling’s issues is two coaches bickering on Twitter about whether an arbitrary event should have some sort of meaning forced upon it.

College wrestling is not perfect. It is not even close to perfect. College wrestling is good, and in the eyes of some rabid wrestling fans, including me, there are days when it is great.

But for the most part, it is just good.

There are a lot of issues with wrestling, much like how there are issues with every other college sport. College football had the Bowl Championship Series. College basketball has the one-and-done phenomenon. Everybody struggles with something.

The difference between those issues and college wrestling’s issues is that college wrestling’s issues, in more ways than one, halt the growth of the sport.

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A few weeks ago, Penn State’s Cael Sanderson and Ohio State’s Tom Ryan got into it on Twitter. The argument is about how certain members of the National Wrestling Coaches Association are trying to make the National Duals a relevant thing.

More specifically, Ryan, among others, wants the National Duals to be the event that crowns the team champion of college wrestling. To put it bluntly: he wants to inject meaning into an arbitrary event.

But doing so would ruin wrestling’s “Crown Jewel” — the NCAA championships, an event that sells out, quite literally, a year in advance.

There’s a reason that it does: It’s an individual tournament with team scoring. Wrestlers either win and advance or lose a chance at first. It’s an event that encourages high-risk wrestling because wrestlers will do whatever it takes to reach the title bout — which, in turn, rewards their respective team with points.

The National Duals, on the other hand, would not. Duals are important, don’t get me wrong — there’s a reason an Iowa-Penn State dual garners more fans than the National Duals (which featured the home team in the finals last year). Similarly, the Masters still draws an insane viewing audience every year, while most casual golf fans still don’t understand the importance of the FedEx Cup.

But duals naturally lend themselves to low-risk, defensive wrestling — which is why you see a lot of matches end 3-1, or 2-0, or 4-3. If you go high-risk and fail, the other team gets 6 points.

And that is why another one of wrestling’s problems is the crowd in Carver-Hawkeye booing an opponent who is turtled up because he doesn’t want Tony Ramos to pin him.

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College wrestling is not where it can be. It can be great. It can be exciting.

And to do so, it should get rid of riding time.

Riding time is an incredibly silly concept to me, primarily because it encourages non-offensive wrestling. The top guy doesn’t have to attempt any sort of tilt or turn, but as long as he keeps his opponent on the mat for a minute, he’ll get a point.

The Olympic styles of wrestling hardly give wrestlers any time on the mat. After about 10 seconds, the referees bring the wrestlers back to their feet. They want to see action. They want to see offense. And when they do, they reward the wrestlers for it.

College wrestling could learn a thing or two from FILA, wrestling’s international governing body, which recently got wrestling back into the Olympics for 2020. One of the reasons wrestling was put on its Olympic deathbed was because of the confusing rules and non-offensive wrestling that came from them.

FILA saw it as an opportunity and changed the rules. And the response has been overwhelming positive because the sport has become more aesthetically pleasing to the casual fan.

Because turning that casual fan into a die-hard fan is what will make wrestling better than what it is right now, which is just, well, good.

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