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Brands: Why Were Iowa, ISU Targeted In Gambling Sting? | Hawkeye Insider

Brands: Why Were Iowa, ISU Targeted In Gambling Sting? | Hawkeye Insider

Iowa wrestling coach Tom Brands reacts to the NCAA's ruling on sports wagering guidelines and how the Hawkeyes are filling the 174- and 184-pound classes.

Nov 15, 2023 by John Bohnenkamp

The question, Iowa men’s wrestling coach Tom Brands said on Wednesday, isn’t the one being asked.

Brands, asked about his four wrestlers suspended by the NCAA as a result of a gambling investigation into the athletic programs at Iowa and Iowa State, said the biggest question that needed to be asked was why the Hawkeyes and Cyclones were targeted.

“The leadership of the NCAA is on record saying there is a nationwide campus epidemic of sports wagering,” Brands said during his media availability previewing Sunday’s home dual against Oregon State. “No one is asking the question why the Department of Justice and the state of Iowa were targeting Iowa State University and the University of Iowa. No one is asking that question.”

Four wrestlers — 184-pounder Abe Assad, 174-pounder Nelson Brands, 285-pounder Tony Cassioppi and 157-pounder Cobe Siebrecht — reportedly have been suspended by the NCAA for participating in sports wagering under the new guidelines for punishment set last week by the organization. Tom Brands said two appeals have still not received rulings, but did not say who was appealing.

“The questions that should be asked (aren’t) these superficial questions,” Brands said, his voice rising. “Why the University of Iowa? Why Iowa State University? Why? OK, so let’s start there.”

The NCAA announced last week that student-athletes who wager on teams at their own school — excluding their own team — would result in a one-year suspension and a one-year loss of eligibility. The NCAA had considered no suspensions, but settled on the one-year ban.

Brands said “gridlocked politics” within the NCAA can be blamed for the ruling.

“The NCAA leadership, they’re on record, there are epidemics on their campuses, in athletic departments, on sports wagering,” Brands said. “It is a problem, so we have to modernize the penalty. So what happens is because the NCAA leadership has spoken, and the membership doesn’t get along with the leadership, they just go the opposite way. ‘Oh, we listened, and we modernized. We went from a permanent ban to a one-year ban.’

“These guys didn’t lie, they didn’t cheat, they didn’t do anything illegal. A 21-year-old can gamble. A 21-year-old is a junior in college. A one-year ban is a death sentence most of the time.”

Brands challenged media members at Wednesday’s availability.

“You know what? It’s time to bring attention to that it was Iowa State University and the University of Iowa, and that it was targeted unfairly, and maybe illegally. Maybe. Maybe,” Brands said. “And you are to blame, also. The people in this room are to blame. Because we want to talk about, ‘Oh, do you think Cobe Siebrecht wants to wrestle in the Luther Open?’ Yeah, he wants to wrestle in the Luther Open, when we’re getting ready for the Oregon State dual. It’s not a consolation prize. It’s not what it’s about. It’s an injustice.”

Brands said he was not defending his wrestlers.

“These guys knew what they were doing was wrong,” he said. “‘Well, why did you do it then?’ Because it’s everywhere. Didn’t even think about it. I’m not absolving them of responsibility and accountability. I’m not doing that. But what I am saying is, you are asking the wrong questions to the wrong guy about sports wagering. Because Iowa State University and the University of Iowa were unfairly targeted.”

Swafford’s Opportunity

Brennan Swafford’s long college wrestling journey has led to what will be his first match inside Carver-Hawkeye Arena.

Swafford, who grew up in nearby Mediapolis, Iowa and won two NAIA national championships at Graceland, has been with the Hawkeyes since transferring in 2021, but didn’t get into the starting lineup until this season at 184 pounds.

Swafford, 6-0 this season along with a championship in last week’s Luther Open after replacing Assad at 184, will face third-ranked Trey Munoz in Sunday’s dual.

“Staying consistent has been the biggest thing,” said Swafford, who is 20-7 at Iowa but hasn’t been in the dual lineup until this season.

Swafford said his decision to transfer to Iowa was because he wanted to take his wrestling to a higher level.

“Obviously Iowa, these Big Ten schools, were some of the pinnacle of wrestling,” Swafford said. “It was nothing against the NAIA or anything like that. It was kind of a no-brainer to me — it was close to home, I’ve always been an Iowa fan. I’ve always loved the style they’ve had here. The success we’ve had in the past kind of proves this is the place you want to be if you’ve always had those goals.”

Swafford said his experience at Graceland helped him grow as a wrestler.

“The NAIA, it’s nothing to scoff at,” he said. “When I was at Graceland, I had to learn to be a more responsible adult when I first got there.”

“He’s a journeyman,” Brands said. “He’s in the twilight of his academic career. He doesn’t have to be here. But he’s here. … He is here because he’s from a wrestling family. He probably undersold himself going to a smaller school. That’s not to say his career and his accolades aren’t distinguished, because they are. But he’s giving it his all.”

Arnold’s Chance

True freshman Gabe Arnold could get the call at 174 pounds after winning his weight class at the Luther Open.

Arnold was listed along with redshirt freshman Aiden Riggins at the weight class.

Arnold’s resumé includes a championship at the 2023 U.S. Open and a World Team Trials runner-up finish in freestyle in 2023.

“He makes me smile when I think of him,” Brands said. “He’s from a wrestling royalty family, but don’t tell him that. He knows he has to earn it.”

Brands said Arnold will benefit from the new NCAA rule that allows a true freshman to compete in five varsity events while retaining the ability to redshirt.

“This freshman rule really helps us,” Brands said. “I think I’m on record a year ago saying I didn’t like it when it came out. I think it’s great. We can really, really see what we’ve got with the true freshman with these rules. And we love Aiden Riggins, too.”