Foley's Friday Mailbag: March 8, 2013

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? Access archives.

Despite the most competitive postseason in years, the IOC's decision to cut Olympic wrestling from the 2020 Games is still lingering the over the mood of Wrestler Nation. Never before has the future of so many bright wrestlers been less certain, and the careers of some many IOC diplomats been made to feel relevant. We're facing a tough fight to getting wrestling reinstated, but in the meantime it would be improper to turn our attention away from the 750+ wrestlers taking to the mat this weekend to earn a spot in the national tournament.

College wrestling is a brief and brutal affair. The wrestling room isn't just padded because of the physical brutality happening on a daily basis, but also because of the mental. It's a popular trope to write that these kids are "sacrificing" for the sport, but they're not. These special athletes have chosen to prioritize the difficult over the convenient, the hard-fought over the handout. They're college kids who chose a tortuous path because they take honor in overcoming weaknesses. Sacrifice is putting a lesser value in priority over a greater value, for these 750 cauliflower-eared madmen, wrestling is the highest priority. The only sacrifice they could make would be in choosing to not wrestle.

Our only job this weekend is to be fans. We aren't full-time analysts, or part-time bullies. Let's all be courteous and polite to the wrestlers we watch this weekend. Let's cheer them louder than years before, pat them on the back a little stiffer. For those eliminated and of age, buy 'em a beer.

Make this weekend a celebration, because as the IOC has shown us we might not have many left.

To your questions:

Q: Which state has the toughest high school state tournament and why?
-- Gregg Y.

Foley: Starting at the top, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania had a total of 61 wrestlers in the 2012 NCAA Division I tournament. Of those 61 wrestlers, 14 earned All-American honors. Using that as our baseline, here are the top six teams as ranked by numbers of qualifiers at the NCAA tournament, followed by number of All-Americans.

Pennsylvania: 61/14
Ohio: 28/8
New York: 27/6
Illinois: 20/5
New Jersey: 20/5
California: 17/8

Outside of Pennsylvania, whose position as top wrestling state is hardly questioned even by those who can't stand Steeler fans and Yuengling, the next five states are all pretty even. However, when you factor in that California and New Jersey only have one state tournament, the concentration of talent ends up favoring those two states, and hence they become the "toughest state tournaments" an assertion that is not to be confused with which state has the best high school wrestling overall. That argument wouldn't consider the number of state tournaments, just the aggregate number of wrestlers who succeed at the college level.

1. Pennsylvania
2. California
3. New Jersey
4. Ohio
5. New York
6. Illinois

As you'll read next, I used NCAA figures because I have an active distrust for high school polling data, and national results.

Q: If your high school athlete is ranked, what is the advantage to wrestling postseason? Why not just wrestle your high school schedule and remain ranked at your current position and not risk taking losses? Obviously the main reason postseason is to improve on your wrestling skills but I'm asking from a rankings standpoint.

The bottom 10 & unranked wrestlers have a lot to gain and the top 10 have a lot to lose. I hope this doesn't become normal occurrence but I personally know a couple of wrestlers who won't be wrestling at Fargo this year in order to protect their ranking status. I also know a couple of wrestlers who are ranked who never attend postseason events since being ranked and often wonder how they remain rank when they haven't competed at a national level in several years.
-- Wrestling Fan

Foley: You've definitely tapped into the growing frustration over high school rankings and their accompanying influence on competitions. I recently had a phone conversation with a high school coach who had a legitimate argument for the inclusion of his team in a nationwide team ranking. The day before some old acquaintances made the argument for a few ignored high school wrestlers. Both cited opposing wrestlers sitting out as the reason their accomplishments went unheralded. Add these conversations to your point about not wrestling to protect status and recruitability and you have some widespread angst about the subjective formula, but substantive results of rankings.

It's no secret that the majority of the business for big profit amateur wrestling sites comes from catering to high school wrestlers. The customer base is larger, which means more opportunities to scare up page views and premium subscriptions, and interest wanes as wrestlers get older ( ... drink beer and eat pizza). However, it's the psychology of catering to the egos of high school parents, big-time programs and profitable clubs that have turned a once harmlessly subjective practice into a pay-for-play pyramid that ends up with a nation of people with hurt feelings and wrestlers on the pine.

How exactly does that relate to your original question of high school kids sitting one out? Well, there is less incentive to wrestle when you think that your ranking can be moved arbitrarily with a loss or closely contested match. When the incentives for a ranking system were contained to regionalism, the outcome of rankings could be predicted. College coaches knew which rankings were slighted and could add or subtract weight based on their knowledge of who was making the poll. Now with numerous financial factors involved it's becoming more difficult for college coaches to know when and why a kid is being bounced around the top fifty. The wrestlers, who then want to limit their risk in order to preserve their appeal, feel this uncertainty. Behind it all is an attempt to validate a new subscription base, even as it jeopardizes the validity of the standings overall. (Side note: The amount of information about high school kids and who-beat-who is utterly mind-blowing, and to my knowledge NOT kept in one easy-to-find place. Compiling predictable and dependable high school rankings is fantastically difficult.)

Q: Why does the NCAA wrestling tournament consist of a 33-man bracket? Seems an odd number given that 32 is a full 5-round bracket, and 1 pigtail match (not including the one in wrestlebacks) doesn't appear to make any sense.
-- Allen S.

Foley: Allen, I am not stumped but I did contact quite a few smart people and got very little in the way of substantive answers. This question is now being crowd-sourced. If you know exactly why there are 33 and not 32 spots, then I welcome your comments below.

That written, my guess is that it was a holdover from the first time they awarded conference qualifier allocations. As Mark Palmer pointed out to me in a recent email, the NCAA tournament used to be something that you could just show up to and wrestle which would lead to some very large brackets, and other very small brackets. Once the system was developed the power of bureaucracy no doubt took hold!

Multimedia Halftime

What if instead of Greco-Roman there was ... belt wrestling? Just an idea.

Here are some videos of various styles from around the world. Keep in mind that this would be best of three, takedowns only. The crowd would know exactly what was happening without ever having to know a rule, and the throws would be exciting. Instead of freestyle being the gateway style to one day enjoy Greco, what if belt wrestling was the introduction to freestyle? Again, just some thoughts getting kicked around, please don't hang me in effigy, or in real life for that matter.

Korean Ssrieum

World Championship Highlights

Naga Belt Wrestling, Nagaland, India

Q: What happened to Ty Mitch from Ohio? I know he was at VT but then fell off the radar ...
-- Jenny R.

Foley: I've been told he's at Ohio University, and his Facebook seems to verify it. However, don't place any large bets on that piece of information and then hold me accountable.

Q: Which current wrestlers do you think would make a smooth transition from wrestling to MMA and who and how many more do you see making the transition?
-- Gregg Y.

Kent State's top-ranked Dustin Kilgore is made for MMA (Photo/Tony Rotundo,
Foley: I have good news and bad news, Gregg. Already working on making this a massive 1500-word piece filled with technical details, interviews and projections for the next five years. However, the piece will be running on during the NCAA tournament and will be a pay-to-read article. Kinda like this one on which guys are on the bubble.

All I can tell you is that Dustin Kilgore will be on the list despite the fact he may never go into MMA. For me, Kilgore is just too skilled and too marketable to miss out on a life of slapping men with 4 oz. gloves and buying beers for small-town ring girls. He is the "Killah Gorillah!"

Q: This Saturday I watched the Pac-12 Championships. I couldn't believe how great the broadcast was put together. Ken Chertow along with the other gentleman broadcasting did a tremendous job. Additionally, the video quality was in perfect HD and the manner in which the announcers articulated the action led me to be believe at some points that I was listening to a big-time NCAA basketball or football broadcast. Ken and the other announcer actually explained the matches in a play-by-play, move-by-move and position by position format and had great dialogue and knowledge of both the wrestlers and the sport. Immediately afterward, I watched a previously DVR'd Cornell vs. Oklahoma State dual meet from this year at Madison Square Garden. At the risk of sounding negative, but with the greater goal of articulating my point, I must comment on the commentating for this event. The announcers talked about a recent Knicks-Cavaliers game at the Garden, how tough wrestlers are, how great the two teams are, how nice everybody is, and basically everything, but the detailed chess matches that were taking place on the mats. In the past I've noticed that watching wrestling on TV has sometimes led me to fast forward through some matches and other times putting me at the edge of my seat. It was today I realized why (even as a former Cornell wrestler). While the Grapple at the Garden was a great event, and I hope to see the event held there every year, I noticed a stark difference in the style in commenting of the matches and for the first time ever, realized how important good quality announcers are to our sport. In light of the ludicrous IOC decision, I, like many in the wrestling community, am much more closely attuned to every aspect of how our sport can be improved. Now more keenly aware that entertainment value certainly plays a large role in the success of our sport, I think we should pay more attention to the manner in which we broadcast our events. While I wouldn't necessarily take no coverage in lieu of 1950s quality video coverage, I think it's more important than ever that wrestling take its broadcasting prowess to a new level. I believe the Pac-12 coverage set the bar to date. Ever watch an MMA event without Rogan and Goldberg? Add to that non-HD? Big difference.
-- CJB, Syracuse, NY

Foley: Harumph ... harumph ... harumph!

I've heard that Ken Chertow is a good announcer and it's good to hear that he did a nice job at PAC12s. Other good announcers include BTN's Tim Johnson for play-by-play and Jim Gibbons for color. I've never listened to the ESPN production of the finals, but I'm told that Robles is picking it up as a third man in the booth.

This weekend is actually my debut as a color commentator. I'll be working alongside Shawn Kenney for ESPN3 at the ACC tournament in College Park, Md. I can tell you from my experience covering the original BTN broadcasts for InterMat in 2010 and now working with ESPN, that these productions take lots of manpower and money, which is both humbling and a wake-up call. ESPN doesn't do anything unless it makes money, but to keep making money we have to put on a good performance.

Wrestling can be a well-watched event, and though the enjoyment doesn't totally rely on the backs of the announcers, having knowledgeable and professional guys in the booth will help retain the core audience. What makes Joe Rogan great at his job is that he's a technical genius on describing the ground game in perfect detail, and when he screams it's at moments when fans at home are screaming as well, and even then only for the briefest of seconds. We need more of that in all our wrestling coverage.

I'm hopeful for my performance, but realistic that it won't be perfect. Please be sure watch, listen and send in critiques. I'll need the feedback to help me improve for next season.

Oh, and GO WAHOOS!


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DrNuveen (2) about 5 years ago
The technical knowledgable wrestling audience who are present at the high level events (PA state championships, NCAA's, all Oklahoma State matches, etc.) are often very quiet throughout the matches, but for a brief surge or unexpected triumph over a higher ranked opponent. I have always found this interesting and enjoyable and yet another reason I love wrestling! This however, does not translate to titillating television. That said, nothing could be more frustrating that watching the artistic moves of a national caliber athlete accompanied by a ignorant commentator!
Wish you the best in your commentating. Remember, the people that are watching are more commonly experts and they want to hear the expert comments, not dribble or backstories of childhood hardships. We want the shit! How they kick ass! The set ups, the commitments and the scrambles. The real listeners are the one's who will pay the bills, buy more tickets and hire more experts.
gutfirst (1) about 5 years ago
every second a kid or coach spends thinking of rankings instead of thinking about how to get better at wrestling is just plain stupid and counterproductive.
trfoley (1) about 5 years ago
VERY good point.
wrstrun (1) about 5 years ago
In answer to the 33 man brackets, and I don't know for sure, but I do know that years ago the DIII National champ qualified to be in the DI championships. I think they had to wrestle into the tournament. That may be where the 33rd person in the bracket came from. When they ended the DIII champ qualifier they kept the spot.
PowderRiver (1) about 5 years ago
I was recently pondering how much more interesting it would be if the champions from the other divisions (NJCAA, NAIA, DIII, DII) all got automatic bids to the NCAA DI tourney. The question is how competitive would they be against the DI guys?
jjfitzsimons (1) about 5 years ago
Not competitive at all. Just look at recent years in the all-star dual or at midlands. Byron Tate was a 3-time D3 national champ and he got pinned in a minute by Chris Honeycutt from Edinboro and also majored. Also, at the most recent all-star dual, in an exhibition, Kevin Silvestri from Wartburg (a D3 national champ), got majored by Kevin Tao from American who was not a D1 all-american
LoneWolf (1) about 5 years ago
Not necessarily. Tervel Dlagnev was D2. Mo Lawal made a world team. Chris Chionuma of Okie State was NAIA. Eric Thompson was recruited by Cael Sanderson to Iowa State. He's at NAIA Grand View now and he beat (All-American) Bobby Telford last year. In 1989, 2 of the 10 D1 national champs wrestled at East Stroudsburg and Pittsburgh-Johnstown.
TooOld (1) about 5 years ago
I second CJB's motion about how crucial good commentators are. While I admire the colleges that let students broadcast their home matches, after about 2 minutes I just mute the sound (instead of hearing a stream of "That was a great try for a takedown, and the other guy made a great defense"). I watched the PAC-12's but honestly don't remember how the commentary was; on the other hand, it's always a pleasure to hear the Johnson/Gibbons team cover matches like pros.
WesF (1) about 5 years ago
I love hearing Mark Ironside call all the Hawkeye matches on All-Access. He's technical, emotional and honest. Having a knowlegable commentator makes a world of difference when you can't see the action.