Did The Game Just Change?
Willie Saylor, Editor

 

Mike Moyer, NWCA

After my last day at the NWCA Coaches’ Convention in Ft. Lauderdale, I had planned on writing about all the great sessions and panels. All the nuggets of information. How the elder statesmen shared knowledge to the emerging crop of coaches who eagerly soaked it all up.

Oklahoma Sooners’ Head Coach, Mark Cody giving a panel on recruiting.

Dr. Coyte Cooper’s efficacy at getting coaches to buy into to branding their programs

A stirring and poignant speech by former Lehigh University President, Dr. Peter Likins, on the development and responsibilities of coaches.

There was much more. And the experience was wholly informative and thought provoking to the extent that I thought it would make a compelling article. 

But in the last session of my final day, the doors of the Marriot’s Oceans Hall Rooms 1 through 4 blew straight off, out into the Atlantic.

In the last of Saturday’s conferences, and in front of the bulk of America’s best college coaches, NWCA President Mike Moyer led a panel of influential players in discussing the future structure of the college season, with a little detail that only included how the NCAA determines its National Team Champion.

In the end, both the NWCA Board of Directors and the college coaches agreed to endorse a plan that would make the NCAA National Team Champions crowned not by collective team points accrued at the individual championships, as has been the case annually since 1934, but by the competition we currently know now as the “National Duals.”

The initial response was one of heated debate. Top coaches from around the country voiced their concerns. But when Moyer drew a line in the sand, the group collectively understood. “This is where the rubber meets the road,” Moyer said. “If this doesn’t happen now, it never will.” 

Of course there was (and is) a great many details to be worked out. But in the end, the coaches, in an unofficial raising of the hands, rather unanimously opted to go in the direction National Duals determining the sports ultimate prize.

Here are the details:

-       After the meeting on Saturday, and with the endorsement of the college coaches at the convention, the NWCA will present this option at the NCAA Championships Cabinet Meeting on September 11th of this year. Should the NCAA approve this plan, your team champions will begin to be determined in a dual format starting in the 2013-2014 season.

-       The dual championships will be held in the 3rd week of February.

-       Sixteen teams will qualify for the team tournament based on results of regular season duals. Conference Champions receive automatic berths with the balance determined by at-large nods.

-       The first round will be contested at the home of the higher seed. The remaining eight schools will compete at the same site to decide the team champ.

-       The individual tournament, which will still crown Individual National Champions, and will still be scored, will be held about approximately when it has been in recent years: mid-March. The ‘winning’ team of the tournament will not be a sanctioned champion squad by the NCAA.

 

Why the (proposed) Change?

Ostensibly, there were two reasons inducing the decision to change. The first is the value and importance on the regular season, particularly dual meets. A move to a dual meet title, and the qualifying process that goes with it, emphasizes the importance of each school’s duals and regular season. The hope is that it attracts, sooner or later, larger crowds for in-season events.

And of course…

There’s a fiscal component.

The individual NCAA Wrestling Tournament has been incredibly successful in recent years. One of the few NCAA revenue-generating championships, ESPN has supposedly reached out to cover the dual format. In short, there’s a great deal of money to be made by making the switch.

Will It Happen?

Odds are: yes.

It seemed more than just wishful thinking on the part of the NWCA Administration. 

Both NCAA Associate Director of Championships, Jeff Jarnecke, and long-time Oklahoma State Associate Athletic Director, Dave Martin were on the administrative panel and lobbying for the coaches to go in this direction.

“Oklahoma State has won more NCAA titles than any other program,” Martin said. “And (Head Coach) John Smith is completely on board with this and what is in the best interest of the sport. We’ve won all our championships under the individual system. If we’re willing to make the change for the betterment of the sport, we all should be.”

You don’t bring that kind of firepower to a meeting on a wing and prayer. And quite honestly, what ESPN wants, ESPN usually gets.


Ancillary Issues

With the news of the decision to change still ringing in the ears of all who attended, the fallout from it (should it go through) might not be know until for a few cycles through the system. One thing’s for sure: it’s a historic change to the way we’ve always determined our team champion. To illustrate, perhaps to an extreme, how different tournament teams are in comparison to dual teams, consider that duals are very match-up based affairs. 

In 2010, Liberty beat Maryland in a dual. At NCAA’s, Maryland had three All Americans and 55 team points while Liberty didn’t win a bout. That same year, American, who had lost to Maryland in their dual, outplaced the Terps at NCAA’s 5th to 18th.

Here are a few other possible ramifications of the format change:

-       Will Coaches assemble their team differently?

Instead of recruiting the best individuals, will schools opt for a more balanced line-up that dual success depends on? 

-       Will Redshirting be less attractive?

Coaches might need all the best guys in the line-up at all time. While the difference between two 141lbers might be negligible in a tournament format, the slightest advantage in a dual might make all the difference.

-       Could the Individual Championships be less exciting?

Without a team title on the line, will going for bonus points in individual bouts be as important? Will kids throttle it down knowing that team standings (apparently) don’t matter as much as they once did?