Foley's Friday Mailbag: Sept. 7, 2012

InterMat senior writer T.R. Foley answers reader questions about NCAA wrestling, international wrestling, recruiting, or anything loosely related to wrestling. You have until Thursday night every week to send questions to Foley's Twitter or email account.

Do you want to read a past mailbag? View archives.

What a week for wrestling fans. After announcing in early August that they'll be pursuing a dual meet team champion within the structure of the NCAA, the NWCA saw a full-scale rebellion the last few days. Leading the charge has been Penn State head wrestling coach Cael Sanderson, who has been nothing short of enraged since first learning of the idea while coaching Jake Varner to an Olympic gold in London.

The debacle has seemed to end with the NWCA pulling support for the change by sending the NCAA wrestling committee a memo asking them to withdraw the proposal, which they will likely do. However, the event has left some scarred and some motivated for change. Emails circulating among the coaches remain pretty positive about what transpired this past week. Like a bad fight between lovers, this coaches throw-down might be just the venting process they needed to kiss, makeup, and start growing the sport.

You asked more detailed questions about the process and I answered, but I'm holding off on a full rundown until after the committee meeting, which takes place early next week.

Mailbag time! Today's Forecast: Cloudy with a chance of wrestling.

Q: When you were wrestling, was there animosity on your team about scholarship guys not pulling their weight? Did anyone ever talk trash in the room "you're on scholarship and I am kicking your ass?" Does the scholarship scenario between individuals on teams cause dissension at all? Is it talked about? How were scholarships broken up when you were in college?
-- Wild Bill

Foley: I don't think it was ever screamed, but there was certainly some tension among peers regarding perceived worth as measured against output. The scholarship guys at U.Va. were rarely underperforming the team average, but on occasion teammates on substantial aid were unable to produce big results, while their lesser-paid backups were winning significant matches.

Foley in college
As a walk on I was put in this position against one of the program's big-time recruits. I earned the spot in my sophomore season, but as late as February I was held out of a major dual meet because the coach thought it was entirely possible my wins were flukish..

Frustration certainly builds for walk-ons, but take it from the coach's perspective. He's placed ten percent of his program in an 18-year-old kid's hands. When that investment is floundering he's warranted to be hesitant in shelving the scholarship kid in favor of a backup -- it's a risk of ruining his investment. It can be clear cut that the backup is better, but most of the time due to injury and the length of the season it takes a while for one wrestler to outdo the other, and if you have an investment in one corner and a walk-on in the other, it could be seen as better business to throw good time and energy at bad money.

When I wrestled at Virginia we were a partially-funded program. Then the university went through a manic six months where they tried to cut our program, but instead chose to fully fund us and everyone else. That cash helped level the money game on the team and coach was able to accommodate the producers on the team who were probably being under-compensated for their performances.

Q: If the dual match format becomes the official NCAA championship event, could you see college coaches lifting wrestlers redshirts to give themselves more flexibility in duals?
-- Eugene L.

Foley: The discussion of the new format generated plenty of what-ifs in regards to a coach's plan for redshirts. Like with much of the proposal there are way more questions than answers.

In football you can dress a redshirt and pay for him to show up on the sidelines. (They're the chubby kids wearing the No. 99 jersey and chewing on unmolded mouthpieces.) If the football player never gets his pants dirty, then he maintains his eligibility, if he's called in to do even one play then it's a goner. ("Coach, you have 105 guys on the roster and you need me to go in on punt return?") You might be able to do this in wrestling, especially for duals, but I know that you can't pay for redshirts to travel to tourneys, and because I coached in the Ivies and can't remember college, I can't tell you for certain. Maybe there's a preexisting prohibition? Assuming there is a rule against paying for redshirts to travel on duals, then I'd think the home team in the first round would have the advantage of pulling redshirts off the bench.

But which redshirts would hold their weight down, and keep cutting in the very slim chance they get pulled from the stands to save the team? You'd have to weigh in an hour before.

Like I said, plenty of what-if's. Probably too many.

Q: I personally don't think the dual meet champ and then tourney champ is a good idea. I think more could be done to promote the existing NCAA tournament ... and smartly promote the existing various conferences (Big Ten, etc.) in conjunction with that.

But if you have to do it, then do top three from each conference. That creates your tournament bracket.

I think the key is more focus on the NCAA tournament. Promote it better. Have MMA stars attend to watch the finals ... good hype. Have unique exhibition matches. Bring a Russian or two over. Have them wrestle folkstyle against graduated All Americans (not competitors for existing year) THAT would be something.
-- Mr. Juice


Q: I'm still having a hard time trying to comprehend what the NWCA is trying to fix! The individual tournament is a one-hundred percent success! Why is the NWCA trying to screw with it? Dual meet tourneys at the high school level are not well attended. Why would college be any different? The only college duals that are well attended are when there are great (and several) head-to-head matchups (same with high school). Fans of the eighth-seeded team will not travel to watch their boys get hammered by the No. 1 seed.

On another note, I was involved with college coaching for seven seasons (Division II) and the NWCA is not very popular with my friends that are still sitting in the corner chairs. It is felt that the NWCA forgot the fact that they are an association for coaches and now is a group of fellas in Manheim that is in bed with the NCAA and likes to dictate to the coaches. I feel it is time for Moyer to go!
-- Jeff B.

Foley: I let these two questions run together because they are essentially coming from the same angle of 'Why change a good thing?'

Wrestling needs money and we are dying a slow death. That realty should prompt change, but what change is still unclear. I suspect we'll see a revamped regional duals system brought forward next year with more data and more answers to difficult questions.

Brian Smith and Mike Moyer (Photo/NWCA)
Look, I blame the coaches for this foul-up, not Mike Moyer. He is just the representative and was doing what his membership and committees told him they wanted. Did all of them really want it? No, of course not, but they had a chance to be at the table and denied that chance. It reminds me of "The Other Guys" when the lowly cop keeps asking everyone to vote on the new hedge fund strategy for the police pension, and everyone ignores him only to later find out it's going into a Ponzi scheme. The NCAA isn't running a Ponzi scheme and the NWCA was only doing what they were charged to do, so it was a bit troubling to see that some coaches, Cael included, were so vehemently against the proposal at such a later date. He might have had great points, but they needed to be expressed much earlier.

Let's see where this goes in the future. I think the NWCA is about to find that they'll have a much more active membership base.

Q: I know the sun is just coming up, but what would it take for Penn State to be known as the greatest wrestling program of all time?
-- Rick

Foley: Penn State will need to win 10 straight NCAA title to outdo the Hawkeyes. They'll then need to win another 15 in streaks of five, six, or seven.

Do you think that's doable over the next 30 years?

Q: How big are clouds?
-- My 6-year-old nephew

Foley: The single greatest failure I have shown as a human is the inability to actualize the real size of cloud. To be specific I'm talking about large towering puffy clouds (you might just call them cumulus or cumulus congestus.

I just can't find the right way to scope out one of these clouds without one of my senses being severely distorted. From the ground most clouds look MASSIVE, they block my tanning neighbor's source of light for hours at a clip. When clouds lumber by and from a distance look like they might be the size of mall in Gaithersburg, Md., but that all changes once you are on a plane IN THE SKY. Once I'm jetting by at 450 mph enjoying an oversized single serving bottle of cabernet I always think the clouds look like nothing more than a few hundred feet of marshmallow fluff.

My wish is that one day a single cumulus (or cumulus nimbus) cloud will descend slowly from a distant mountain range and past the practice fields for the Steelers to measure in 100 yard increments. I could then understand -- I mean KNOW -- just how big they are. Outside of that, and the easy-does-it Google search, I'll never find true understanding. Never. Well, maybe.

And yes, I realize that had nothing to do with wrestling.

Q: I tuned in to the Georgia Tech vs. Virginia Tech football game just in time to hear one of the announcers make the assertion that he'd like to see the game played without pads. After a few inquiries to friends who actually follow the game, I learned that the announcer who made said comment was an NFL superstar before becoming an announcer. Is it possible that this guy gets it? What a compelling statement, especially given the recent hullabaloo over concussions in football. Is football finally getting the long, hard look from the outside that it has needed for so long?
-- Joe S.

Foley: I was reading a Facebook post at the Safari Coffee shop in Chicago when suddenly the fallacy of football became clear. The moment was sudden, like I knew a truth that few others had grasped. It was like the ray of divinity Jake and Elwood felt in Blues Brothers "THE BAND!" "DO YOU SEE THE LIGHT?!"

I can and will write about the bullshit of football every week. The game as it's played now is unsustainable and leads to marked effects of the health of youth players and adults. When it comes to forward passes, tackling (wrestling at a run) and strategy, I'm totally sold. When it comes to watching 350-pound men blindsiding defensive backs on punt returns, I think it's disgusting. It's a game of meaningless brutality and staid, nasty old men profiteering on the labor of a poorly represented working class. There are literally books worth of serious incriminations to be leveled against organized football and I can't cover them all.

Played without pads, football would return to some normalcy (and yes I know that players used to die in those massive 15-person scrums). The normal behavior I seek is one where there is self-preservation trumping the desires of coaches and fans to see a player rattle another's cage, or as my defensive back's coach in high school said, "Knock off his little man." Rugby has beautiful tackling. Sure, the guys get some concussions, but they are dealing solely with their own natural movements, and because technique matters the pace is slowed and becomes safe.

I'm not a fool. Americans are paying for the car crashes, the moments where the retired buffoons who sit in pinstriped suits on Sundays from the comfort of the studio can yelp and holler about big hits. We don't watch NASCAR in celebration of their accomplishing a ding-free 500 miles. It's the drama of the impact. Americans want simple brutality and football and the NFL packages it better than anyone, including the turncoats in the booth who know the dangers firsthand.

I'm going to stop writing about this to leave you with a must-read by J.R. Moehringer from last week's ESPN the Magazine. I was first introduced to Moehringer by a professor in J-School who rightly thought I'd love his memoir "The Tender Bar." I was taken with his writing five years ago, and the feeling remains after he expertly outlines football's problems in the future. Please, I beg you, don't get distracted. Don't go watch a cat video on YouTube. Give yourself 23 minutes and learn up on this debate surrounding football. Learn about where this discussion is headed. Learn about the deaths and the harm this game can cause to children.

J.R. Moehringer's "Football is dead. Long live football."

Q: With recent movie redux in the spy genre I pose this question for you. Who wins in a four-man round robin bracket consisting of James Bond (your choice of all Bonds, personally I'd still go with Connery), Ethan Hunt, Jason Bourne (I would allow a last-minute substitute with the new spy in that series Aaron Cross) and Carl Hauser (again, your choice with Arnold or Colin Farrell ... I'd pick Arnold). Taking into consideration all the competitors' talents using 007's spy gadgets, Hunt's gadgets and Cruise's already-established sprinting abilities, Jason Bourne's supreme training, and genetic enhancement and Arnold's roided-out brute strength (or Farrell's drunk Irish boxing skills if you go that route), I challenge you to determine the Olympic-styled gold, silver, and bronze medal winners.

In the words of Mills Lane: "Let's get it on!"
-- Michael S.

Foley: Can you believe I haven't seen "The Dark Knight Rises" or "The Bourne Legacy?" We will revisit this next week once I spend an afternoon catching up on these movies.

"No, honey, I'm not being lazy. "The Dark Knight Rises" has EVERYTHING to do with wrestling!"


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