The 2013 NCAA Division I wrestling tournament was wrestled with aggression and technical proficiency. There were fewer stall calls than 2012 and the weekend felt action-packed with high-quality matchups and marketable storylines.
On their feet, this year's wrestlers were focused on head-inside singles. Hi-crotches were seen much less even five years ago, largely because the popular crackdown series has been well-defended by hip-scoots and cradle threats. That defense, along with the crotch lock, was also seen when bottom wrestlers gave up escape position in a scramble and opted instead to look for two.
One problem area was finishing outside singles, especially on the edge of the mat. Many wrestlers were still opting to dive for the backside ankle instead of controlling the leg they attacked, placing it on a shelf and looking for a low-slung backside double. In a rush to score many offensive wrestlers reached for the opposite side hip too soon causing a whizzer and eventually stalemate.
Mat wrestling was fantastic this past weekend. Tilts, like the one used by Jesse Delgado in his semifinal comeback against Nathan Kraisser, are once again becoming popular among lightweights. Nahshon Garrett and Jon Morrison also used tilts to settle matches late and build their leads. From bottom there was much more activity than in past years, with fear of being turned prompting more explosive standups.
Quality of Officiating
It's un-American to speak well of referees, but considering their task and the oversight of the review process, the referees were on their game this past weekend. Certain bad calls and non-calls come to mind, but if the referees managed to call 600 of the 640 matches perfectly, that would be a 93 percent -- good enough for a B+.
As close to a total failure as a review process can get without being stopped mid-use. Fans didn't know the rules. Coaches didn't know the rules. Media didn't know the rules. Even the NCAA Rules Committee didn't know the rules. All this not-knowing led to a massive slog of confused faces when it came time to discuss which calls were and were not challengeable. There were countless examples of coaches charging the table or the referees asking, "Am I allowed to challenge this?" … "Is this challengeable?" … "Why?" … "Why not?" In a non-review situation each of these approaches would be penalized, but with the review process and the inefficiencies, it became common practice -- a rip in the rules that was exploited by coaches.
The review process helped clarify one or two matches, but there were many more matches where the flow of the action was disrupted and the hard work and conditioning of one athlete was negated by the continuous table approaches of the opposing coaches. Breathers are hard to come by in wrestling and the review process gave another avenue for the tired to find a rest.
The Tony Ramos/Logan Stieber situation was a great example of the other problem with the review process -- creating false and misleading controversies. For as long as I've been wrestling, back points aren't called until the moment after the takedown or reversal has been signaled. How then could Ramos have been given back points if he only managed to get control from the scramble one second before Stieber cleared from his back? In slow motion or with a photograph it looks like Stieber was manhandled, when in live motion it's obvious that the position wasn't. However, it was challenged because it would have been imprudent of the Hawkeye coaching staff to not take a chance on gathering two more points. They're not to blame, but that call in particular, if reversed, would have prompted a deeper look at how we use the review system. As is, the right call was upheld.
The final dork-up of the review process was that the fans didn't have access to what was being reviewed. Informing your audience of why the action was being stopped is essential. When you go to hockey game they show you the instant replay of the goal in question. Same with football. Same with basketball. This weekend we sat around and did little more than guess about what they may or may not be judging.
It's a nice backstop to have a review process in place, but it'll take a major overhaul, and educating coaches about the process to make it a viable addition to the 2014 tournament.
The Worldwide Leader covered all six sessions and the production value was top-notch. There was smoke, boom cameras, and announcers who could adequately describe the action. There is room for improvement both because not all the matches were being filmed, and not all were being announced. Still, this weekend saw a lot of free wrestling and the power and professionalism that comes from a company like ESPN.
Wells Fargo Arena and Des Moines
The student-athlete warm-up area was a real step-up from previous years. The arena had cordoned off several private mats for the wrestlers and provided televisions for them to see the mat. The wrestlers were well-managed and well-attended to.
Not that you care, but media row was a jungle gym. The rows were too narrow to walk down so instead of getting up and heading to the bathroom with ease, every journalist was forced to skip, scoot, squeeze and squirrel their way past no fewer than 100 filled seats. It's only a problem for you because the journos stuck in the middle weren't able to make mad dashes to the tunnels to capture quotes because they were too busy choosing between "butt or crotch?" Wouldn't you have loved to hear what Kraisser thought after his quarterfinal loss?
But ultimately Wells Fargo Arena failed as an arena because under no circumstances can you let the lights go out in your building. You simply can't. We had a Super Bowl to figure that out. Maybe it's the fault of the city more than the arena, but the responsibility still falls on the people operating the championship.
The city itself was a great place for foodies. There were excellent restaurants serving big city cuisine and a diversity of options. However, it was the bar scene where the event began to unravel.
Many fans were arrested this past weekend. Des Moines police seemed to target the wrestling crowd. Police officers were aggressive with bar patrons, handing out drunk in-public citations as soon as people exited bars, ostensibly in an attempt to add money to the police coffers, or boost numbers for internal review. Resisting arrest, assaulting a police officer, interrupting an official police act were all the tip of nibbling and expensive charges levied against the crowd. These weren't arrests for fighting or vandalism, they were arrests made by police officers intentionally hostile to the public. Without question Des Moines was least hospitable of any city that has hosted an NCAA wrestling championship to date.
The hotel situation was also dreary. The Quality Inn was like the Bates Motel and many fans were staying at the airport. The taxi situation was preposterous with 45-60 minute waits on cabs that consistently didn't show up. Shuttle busses were hit and miss. You couldn't send texts or make phone calls from the arena. The Internet was spotty.
Iowa fans are some of the best in the country, making the treatment of the Des Moines police and the lack of infrastructure all the more disappointing.