Willie Saylor, Editor
The National Wrestling Coaches Association issued another release Monday evening. In what has been the most forthcoming public letter to date, NWCA President Rob Koll explicitly details the impetus and hopes behind the movement to switch the manner in which we determine the national team champions.
The measure would crown the winners of the National Duals as officially sanctioned NCAA Champions. Since the inception of the team title, that moniker has always gone to the team which scored the most post at the individual championships.
Heated debates have been sparked across the country. From our leaders and coaches, to press and fans, there's been no shortage of opinions and prognistications on what happens if the change indeed takes place.
The NWCA has long tried to improve the quality and exposure of the National Duals. And some say this move has been in the works for a few years. The possiblity of the Duals gaining traction ostensibly took a a dramatic turn towards reality when, on the success of the NCAA Individual tournament, ESPN came knocking interested in a second televised wrestling event.
The issue to switch championship sanctioned formats was first posited at the NWCA Coaches Convention in early August with a short discussion and impromptu and unofficial vote.
As late as last weekend, amidst a fallout in which several high profile coaches dissented, the NWCA nearly pulled the plug on the concept. They opted, however, for an 11th hour emergency vote in which a simply majority was needed to proceed. And they got it, with 39 affirmitive votes among the 77 Division I programs.
The next step is a discussion of the measure at the NCAA Championship Cabinet Meeting, which begins tomorrow. In his letter on the topic, Cornell Head Coach, Rob Koll, explains the NWCA's position, and the course the proposal still must take.
On behalf of the NWCA Board of Directors, we want to provide you with a status report on an NCAA DI National Duals proposal that is going before the NCAA Championship Cabinet for a vote on September 11. If it passes there, it must still make it through the Presidents Council in November. I’m guessing that many of you have heard bits and pieces of this because it has been quite controversial among our DI wrestling coaches and extended community.
- We need a way to make intercollegiate wrestling more relevant on every college campus. Here is our DI trend from 1982 to 2012 operating under the current individual NCAA Championship model: 147 teams/1982, 110 teams/1992, 87 teams/2002, 77 teams/2012. We believe growing our spectator base during the regular season around exciting dual meets (that lead to a post season championship) will substantially grow our spectator base and make wrestling more relevant on each college campuses.
- The DI wrestling spectator base has been stagnant for over a decade. Ten years ago, we had 3 teams with an average fan base of 4000 or more and 10 other teams with 1000 fans or more. Ten years later, it is relatively unchanged. A careful analysis of every mainstream spectator sport in America tells us that they have one thing in common. Essentially, the outcome of every regular season competition ultimately determines advancement to the post season. This dynamic is critical for creating fan and media excitement in intercollegiate wrestling.
- The new duals concept provides an opportunity for more student athletes to participate in a national championship who otherwise would not have the opportunity to compete in the individual championships.
- Our sport needs and deserves to have a second marquee event that is nationally televised (ESPN is interested in televising NCAA National Duals in addition to an NCAA individual championship).
- The NCAA has conducted a demographic study of the spectators who attend the NCAA DI Championships and has discovered that we have an aging fan base we need a strategy to attract a younger crowd and/or new fans to our sport. We believe the dual meet format will be much more attractive to school alumni and non-wrestling fans.
- Historically, university administrations have not hesitated to eliminate intercollegiate wrestling programs even though they have placed high in the NCAA individual championships. Some recent examples would be Fresno State, UC Davis, and University of Oregon all had recent Top 25 finishes and NCAA champions within a few years of being dropped. Examples of smaller schools are:
- Liberty University dropped wrestling after advancing 4 wrestlers to the NCAAs
- UNC Greensboro dropped wrestling after advancing 5 wrestlers to the NCAAs that year (most ever).
- Slippery Rock dropped wrestling after advancing 5 wrestlers to the NCAAs (most since 1973)
The one caveat that has clearly created the most controversy among our coaches is that the official team champion would be crowned at the dual meet championship and no longer the individual championship. While the NWCA hoped to have team scores at both championships, it became clear that the NCAA can’t bend on this, however the NWCA can keep team score at the Individual Championships and award team trophies.
On August 3, 2012, the DI representatives of the NWCA Board of Directors (Brian Smith/Missouri, Rob Koll/Cornell, Mark Cody/Oklahoma, Chris Ayers/Princeton, Mike Rogers/F&M, Jim Zalesky/Oregon State, Tom Ryan/Ohio State, Steve Garland/Virginia), discussed the caveat of the NCAA no longer keeping team score at the individual NCAA Championships. The discussion ended in unanimous support of the NCAA National Duals concept with the following strategies to overcome the team scoring concern at the individual championships (should this get passed):
- The NWCA can keep team score at the individual NCAA Championships much like the independent BCS group keeps a national ranking for football teams.
- The NWCA can sponsor secondary national dual meet championship (like the NIT for basketball) for all teams that do not advance to the NCAA DI National Duals.
- Bob Bowlsby, Big12 Commissioner and former athletic director at Stanford & Iowa.
- Col Billy Walker, Deputy Athletic Director at Air Force and former chair of the NCAA Wrestling Committee.
- Dave Martin, Associate Athletic Director at Oklahoma State University and current chair of the NCAA Wrestling Committee.
- Derek van der Merwe, Deputy Athletic Director at Central Michigan University and former chair of the NCAA Wrestling Committee.
- Jim Fallis, former Athletic Director at Northern Arizona University and former NCAA Championship Cabinet member.
- Dan Gable
We recognize that the new National Duals concept is NOT a “silver bullet” by itself as it relates to saving college wrestling teams. That is why the NWCA is contracting with Dr. Coyte Cooper at University of North Carolina to develop/implement a comprehensive marketing kit for FREE to all college programs. We must also dedicate considerable time to addressing our DI conference infrastructure challenges (football and basketball conference realignment have made numerous wrestling conferences vulnerable). Further, we must continue to improve intercollegiate wrestling’s overall ranking with the NCAA’s Academic Progress Rate (APR) so we have better eligibility and graduation rates.
Moreover, we have also invested heavily into coaching development so that our coaches are the absolute best stewards of their respective programs. Needless to say, we still have a lot of work ahead of us but we are making great progress on all fronts.
While there are some calculated risks in this move, we believe it pales in comparison to the risk of doing nothing.
We believe Albert Einstein said it best. “The definition of insanity is when you continue to do the same things and expect a different outcome.” We have lost over one half of the DI wrestling programs since 1975 under the current NCAA Championship model. We believe that if we don’t act, we could end up like men’s gymnastics with 16 college teams remaining. For us to think we can transform intercollegiate wrestling into a mainstream spectator sport under our current NCAA Championship infrastructure is to suggest we can accomplish something that no mainstream spectator sport in America has been able to do.
In summary, I believe legendary wrestler and wrestling coach Dan Gable said it best: “I am for moving forward whether it works or not, especially if there is little risk that it can set us backward. Going from there, I am not a status quo guy. If this works, we will have improved college wrestling 100% by going from one great event to two. There isn’t much in life we can improve by 100%.”
One thing is for certain. We have a passionate wrestling community that will NEVER let wrestling fail. If this concept doesn’t pass, we will find an alternative. We will be sure to keep you abreast on our progress of the National Duals proposal as well as other important initiatives. Please don’t hesitate to call if you have any questions.
Updated on May 19, 2013, 8:54pm