Back and Forth: An Editorial on the “Proposal”
Willie Saylor, Editor
It’s been over a month.
On August 4th, a proposal was made to change the way we determine our NCAA Team Champion; instead of the National Champions being crowned as the result of the Individual tournament, the champs would be the winners of what we now know as National Duals.
And something this big required at least that amount of time to digest it. By writers, by fans, and by, most importantly, the coaches.
In recent days, you’ve heard the back and forth between proponents (namely NWCA President Rob Koll and Brian Smith) and opponents (Cael Sanderson and Tom Brands).
Advocates for the new system preach the importance of duals as a way of protecting small programs and the increased revenue from a second marquee event on television. Detractors counter that a change could weaken college wrestling’s bell cow (the individual tournament).
I myself have been back and forth on the issue. In fact, I’m still wavering. There's a tremendous opportunity on the table. The fact that ESPN is considering a second wrestling event is encouraging. And I believe we have to be proactive and progressive in the fast-paced, competitive climate we live in. If we don't take advantage of a weekend slot on ESPN, another sport will. The opportunity is right in front of us.
That being said, of the proposal the way it was presented...I love the concept and hate the set-up. I believe that progress and innovation is crucial for the development and prolifertation of the sport, but that the current proposal has serious issues.
What’s important though, and what hasn’t happened to date, is to lay all the facts out on the table. Frankly, the process and information dissemination has been a disaster. When you call prominent wrestling coaches to ask them what they think of the change and you are repeatedly told, “I don’t have all the details yet,” there’s a big problem.
Let’s try to make sense of this. Let's cut through the rhetoric and thin veils and look at the reality of the wrestling culture to see what's feasible, and what isn't.
On The Surface
The National Wrestling Coaches Association’s official position is simple on the surface. If you’ve been following their rhetoric over the years, you know that one of their chief agendas is to find a way to increase the importance of regular season dual meets.
And it’s a valid and intelligent position. Getting the host school more gate revenue and creating more buzz on campus would increase the security of the nation’s dwindling number of Division I programs.
With the opportunity to qualify for the National Duals via winning a conference title, even programs from smaller conferences would get to be represented on a national stage.
It’s not a bad thing, but it’s all about money.
With the success of the individual tournament in recent years, ESPN is interested in another televised wrestling event. But the NWCA is hamstrung by the NCAA, who refuses to sanction championships at two different wrestling tournaments. And they can’t just televise the National Duals as we know it because 1) it’s never well attended, 2) it never really means much, and 3) premier teams don’t always participate.
What to do, what to do?
I got it: let’s make the lesser event the ‘National Championships.’
The individual tournament is safe; it’s the better fan product. There will always be butts in the seats whether it’s an NCAA sanctioned event or not. You could call it the “Krusty the Klown Classic” and people will come in droves. The NWCA/NCAA knows this.
By sanctioning the duals, the NWCA (and the NCAA Championship Cabinet) is hoping to place more importance and validity on them in the hopes that all the programs, the fans, and ESPN buy in.
Essentially, they’re just repackaging what we already have to get two for the price of one.
ESPN will televise two events. More national coverage will promote the sport. (And, oh by the way…there is no revenue sharing under this deal. All the ESPN money will go to the NCAA. Not the NWCA, and not the 77 Division I institutions.)
The intentions are good, but I’m not so sure it would play out successfully. It’s not guaranteed any sort of longevity. What happens when the duals are poorly attended (and they will be, read below)? Will ESPN pull the plug on the coverage? Will we revert back to naming the team champs in the way we currently do, or will we continue to have the sanctioned event at a competition that’s not on television and where no one is there to watch?
Getting Your Wires Crossed
Flowrestling broke the news of the proposal shortly after the meeting concluded. The response from the wrestling community was passionate, yet misplaced.
They debated: “Is it good for the sport?” “Will it boost attendance?” “Are duals a more accurate portrayal of team supremacy?” “Why can’t titles be sanctioned for both events?”
Here’s the thing, folks: nothing will change. Nothing.
You can dress it up any way you’d like, but wrestling fans know what they care about. The individual tournament will take precedence in the conscience of wrestling aficionados for two reasons: 1) because that’s what they care about, and 2) because that’s when they can travel.
Do you think it’s a coincidence that the NCAA tournament is the most well-attended collegiate event as well as the only one that occurs when all the high school state seasons are finished?
Regular in-season dual attendance will not rise because of this measure. Not now. Not ever. Not with high school and college seasons going simultaneously.
Here’s the situation: Virginia and Maryland dual tonight to see who wins the ACC and gets to go to the National Duals. I’d love to go, but Timmy has his district tournament.
See where we’re at here?
Dual meet attendance isn’t rising. Ain’t happenin’.
The Scary Part
Will it affect the individual tournament? Why mess with a good thing?
Will it crush the smaller, less funded programs? Putting the emphasis on teams rather than individuals could make smaller programs less relevant. Let’s face it, teams that have 4 scholarships can’t recruit a line-up that will compete with the big dogs. You’ll have the same 16 teams in some permutation make up the final 8 every single year. The design is promoted as protecting smaller programs, but how can that happen when the same mega-powers will be the only ones able to get to the party that you’re trying to convince us is more important?
Also, the time-of-year for the duals is suspect. National Duals are generally held in January, and, until last year, on one weekend. Under the NWCA’s proposal, they would be held just prior to the conference tournament creating a grueling 5-week stretch of schedule that borders on child abuse.
How fair would it be that the athletes of dual-qualifying programs had to wrestle through them and others didn’t?
And what about the non-qualifying programs? They have to sit on their hands for three weeks while the others wrestle? Do they have to scramble to arrange competitions when they learn they didn’t qualify?
How about the fans? You expect them to travel five weeks in a row? On a moments notice?
Of course you do. You’re convinced it will be well-attended.
Again, ain’t happenin’.
The One Way It Could Work
In a recent article on Intermat, T.R. Foley cited a proposal by a select group of coaches that included a schedule in which the Individual Championships occurred first, and where National Duals culminated the season.
This is NOT the NWCA’s plan. But it should be.
If NCAA-sanctioned duals are going to work, if you expect people to show up and if you want to make it fair for both fans and athletes, put them at the end of the season.
Teams can qualify via conference duals months prior, giving family and fans time to make travel arrangements and plans.
Athletes can try to help their team win a dual title without sacrificing their personal goals beforehand. And give them a 2lb allowance.
Do that, and I’m on board. Actually, it’s probably the best thing the sport could do short of creating a split season. And it was a product of coaches communicating and vetting things out. The way this all should have been done in the first place.