College wrestling taken for a ride

BY CODY GOODWIN | MARCH 24, 2015 5:00 AM

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Wrestling season is over now, so let’s address one glaring issue that’s caused the sport to take a giant step backward and become more frustrating than I ever thought possible: riding time.

We need to start a movement to get rid of the dumbest rule that’s ever been implemented in any sport ever. And I don’t say that as an exaggeration. It’s a ridiculously silly rule. The idea of riding time has hurt wrestling more than any other rule in the book. Get rid of it. Now.

This is not some groundbreaking hot take that will shake up the sport. Far from it. This is a common sentiment shared by members of the media, coaches, and athletes in and around wrestling. It’s an integral part of a slew of other rules that are slowly making college wrestling unbearably boring and, to varying degrees, annoying.

At the Big Ten Championships earlier this month, 19 matches ended with the winner scoring 2 points or fewer. At the NCAA Championships this past weekend, 17 bouts ended the same way. Who wants to see a wrestling match end 1-0, 2-0, or 2-1? If you raised your hand, you’re lying.

When you wrestle, your goals are simple: Score a lot of points and pin your opponent. Riding time, by definition, does not encourage either of those goals. A wrestler is awarded a riding-time point when, at the end of three periods, he has more than a cumulative minute of “controlling” his opponent on the mat.

“Controlling” is not trying to score points. “Controlling” is not trying to pin the other guy.

“Controlling” means to restrict activity, to restrain something — basically, to not be aggressive.

The top wrestler, by definition, does not have to try to score to earn a point. The goals, then, have shifted. Rather than trying to turn the guy on bottom, he simply doesn’t want the guy to escape.

That’s not producing action. That’s not attempting to better his position. If you really think about it, wrestlers are stalling — that dangerous word that’s often used irrationally at tournaments by some fans who don’t truly know what it means to stall.

Not every wrestler does this, of course, and I’m certainly not blaming the wrestlers who do. They are only working within the framework of a really crappy rule, and the results have been incredibly obvious: Wrestling, on the whole, is no longer as exciting as it used to be.

I remember, specifically, watching Northwestern’s Jason Tsirtsis wrestle Iowa’s Brandon Sorensen in the finals of the Big Ten Tournament. Tsirtsis won, 2-1, with the help of riding time. He secured that riding-time point by not trying to turn Sorensen but by simply making sure Sorensen did not escape.

There was a moment in the third period of the match in which Tsirtsis broke Sorensen’s hips down and just laid there. He did not move. Sorensen could not build a base, so Tsirtsis just sat there for roughly 10 to 12 seconds. Tsirtsis’s brother, Alex, a former Iowa wrestler, cheered from the stands behind me as Tsirtsis’ riding-time advantage eclipsed a minute.

Is that really what we want for the sport of wrestling? For wrestlers to just sit there and clamp down on their opponents’ legs so they can’t move? No. It’s not. We want turns. We want pins. We want back points, takedowns, exciting throws, and fancy aerial moves. In a word, we want action.

“But getting rid of riding time won’t solve the problem,” some will say. “Wrestlers will still simply ride out for the 1-0 win in regulation.” Cool, so the next step, then, is to stand the wrestlers back up if the top guy isn’t progressing toward earning back points or a fall — which is exactly what they do in freestyle, one of the Olympic styles.

Come to think of it, just wrestling freestyle in college wouldn’t be a bad idea after all.

Follow @codygoodwin on Twitter for updates, news, and analysis about the Iowa wrestling team.

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