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.
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The U.S. World Team Trials start this morning, and as a favor to our traveling editor and in recognition of the fact many of you will be watching on Flo, and following InterMat's coverage, I'll keep this mailbag shorter and less bitter than normal.
Last week in the mailbag I dismissed Stillwater as a less-than-desirable location for the World Team Trials. There was agreement and disagreement from the wrestling community, but after some lengthy emails with those in the position to present fact-filled, intriguing arguments, I've come to a change of opinion.
Stillwater might be among the best places in the country to hold the World Team Trials.
Coming off the rejection of the IOC and a stellar NCAA season, wrestling has become hyper-sensitive about our standing within the athletic community. That awareness has led us to demand that our events all be featured in high-profile arenas with massive media coverage. That's a good thing to desire, we should always want more, but there are several reasons that the World Team Trials isn't the place to make that stand. Though an important and significant moment for many of America's wrestlers, the World Team Trials have not traditionally been a significant media event, the summertime is crowded with competing athletic events, college campuses are empty due to summer break, and a shift in the modern media landscape has significantly impacted how organizations choose host locations.
If you accept that Stillwater is one of the founding locations for American wrestling then you have to then assume the local organizing committee will be able to sell all the tickets despite it being the summer months. The math is simple. Oklahoma loves wrestling and will attend the World Team Trials. A larger marketplace like Chicago might have more aggregate "fans," but fewer who would be guaranteed to attend the somewhat under-publicized World Team Trials. Stillwater and Oklahoma State will sell tickets, which means a better online product, and a better setting for any outside media that does attend.
The way wrestling fans consume the sport has also changed how USA Wrestling and others decide where to host their championships. The popularity and accessibility of streaming video means wrestling fans (who are spread across the country and concentrated in their interests) are able to sit at our kitchen table and take in the year's best matches with only a small financial investment. That access means that the high cost and inconvenience of tournament travel is eliminated for the individual, while simultaneously increasing the value of deals struck with production companies to provide coverage. Why would an organization who could earn positive cash flow from their product waster that on a larger, more expensive and possibly not as well attended tournament venue?
And yet at the core of the argument is that we aren't talking about coverage of the Olympics or NCAA tournament -- we are discussing the World Team Trials. There are few sports with televised World Team Trials in non-Olympic years (I can't name any), and wrestling isn't so different that we should expect ours to appear on NBC Sports.
I'm no Pollyanna, but the wrestling community should be cognizant of our gains over the past several years. Is the process or product perfect? No. Are those in power aware of the wrestling community's want for better venues? Yes. The World Team Trials have found a nice home in Stillwater, and right now it's our job to encourage attendance and if that isn't possible, to at least engage in the product, either through streaming or blogging.
In the meantime, please need to keep the fresh ideas coming to the mailbag because it's engaged wrestling fans with a voice that can help us make improvements to our beloved sport.
To your questions ...
Q: What do you think of Brown University's hiring of Todd Beckerman? Considering the fate of the program in recent years, is this a commitment by the university to move the program in the right direction?
-- Jim D.
Foley: Brown had several well-qualified candidates for their open head coaching position -- many who would've created a winning program in Providence. However, looking at what he offers to the program in terms of leadership capabilities, record of success on the mat and desire/ability to create a program that leans forward, Todd Beckerman was the best choice for Brown University and the sport of wrestling.
The program won't be competing for the EIWA title in 2014 or even 2018, but Beckerman should bring back donors with more team wins, and some All-American talent at the NCAA tournament. That's not the type of turnaround we've come to expect from the world of professional sports, but the stability of a collegiate wrestling program doesn't rest in the W-L record as much as it does the mood and commitment of the valued individuals and decision-makers that compose the program. If Beckerman is able to utilize his professionalism, kindness and creativity as I believe he's capable of doing, then his wrestlers, alumni and administration will feel positive about making their commitments to the Brown program.
Having read Coach Beckerman in action on Twitter and watched him coach from the corner while an assistant at Maryland, I'm one-hundred percent certain that he will be successful and help stabilize one of college wrestling's most at-risk, yet vital, programs. Good luck, Coach.
Q: If you could pick an athlete from any other sport and train them to wrestle who would you train and why?
-- Gregg Y.
Foley: The USA Rugby 7's team. That sport, which far exceeds football in almost every metric of health and entertainment, is decided by player's ability to make and break tackles. A tackle, as you well know, is nothing but a takedown during forward motion. Wrestling teaches a unique type of balance. Ballerinas might be able to stand on one toe, or flip about on a beam, but wrestler's balance is focused on ONE PRINCIPLE: DON'T GET TAKEN DOWN.
Wrestlers are currently in use by many of the large rugby nations to help improve their team's ability to keep opposing players on their feet. In holding players vertical, wrestling rugby players help jeopardize their opponent's possession. As successful (and controversial) as that technique has become, it's learning wrestling to BREAK tackles that I think is the key.
Wrestling helps you break tackles and keeps ball runners on their feet for longer. Keeping your feet longer means scoring more points. Scoring more points means winning more games.
Q: What (if any) was the most beneficial call you ever received from an official during your competitive years?
-- Jason R.
Foley: Wrestlebacks at NCAAs my senior season. I was wrestling a guy I'd beaten twice before, including in the conference finals. He's been penalized several times in our first few matches for illegal moves, and was nearly ejected during a dual meet for breaking my finger.
I'd given up the first takedown (as I tended to do) and was coming out of a shoulder roll when my opponent gripped my wrist and yanked my arm the wrong way around the axis of the shoulder. The shoulder separated violently and referee immediately blew the action dead as I writhed in pain. I was beat up, and though the move was called illegal and a point given, the referee could've forced me to wrestle. An NCAA mat doctor came on the mat, ran some tests and made the decision that my shoulder was too weak to continue.
Though advancing via injury default left me open to criticism (wrestlers aren't creative name-callers) and left me carrying a weird guilt for years, I've come to accept that I'd done nothing wrong. I'd been training my whole life for NCAA tournament and in no way should my dreams have been ended because of an opponent's anger management issues and tendency to commit flagrant penalties. Maybe it wasn't "beneficial" in the sense I got away with something, only that I avoided what could have been the worst call of my career.
Fortunately the referee and doctor made the correct call. Had they not and somehow decided I was to continue wrestling, I'm sure my life would've ended up ... different. Instead of telling tales about the sport's origins and its ability to creep into everyday life (#WrestlingisEverywhere), I likely would've walked out the arena and headed north from St. Louis and been left to work among the Inuit as a fur trader in Greenland.
Q: Why do the men-in-charge in the amateur wrestling world continue to slight women's wrestling? Sure, the video that you tout so highly in your column is filled with some great action of men's wrestling. But, how much women's wrestling is shown in the 1minute 30 second clip?? Do you think an IOC voting member who watches this video will be impressed as to how USA Wrestling and FILA are becoming more attuned to gender equality.
We have to do better than this to 'Save Olympic Wrestling' -- which I thought was our main priority these days. Every public action that USA Wrestling and FILA takes going forward needs to include in the thought-process: "Are we giving equal opportunity to women in international wrestling?"
-- Jamie M.
Gulmaral Yerkebayeva of Kazakhstan throws Ryo Makishima of Japan during first-round action at at the Asian Junior Wrestling Championships in Phuket, Thailand.Foley: This really should have been the Rant of the Week, except I wanted to add my "Harumph" to your statement. Good grief, the wrestling community NEEDS to embrace women's wrestling with the same passion we show for our men. Hell, even if it's out of the self-interest of knowing women's wrestling could help save men's programs we need to think as a large single cell organism and SUPPORT WOMEN'S WRESTLING.
File this in the FWIW section of your diary, but it's my understanding that the Scherr bros., who are working with CPOW and FILA to make significant and needed improvements to the sport, have made the visibility and acceptance of women's wrestling a top priority. That's a great endorsement, since those guys do a lot of stuff for the sport and rarely seem to mess around.
For now just keep putting pressure on decision makers and supporting the programs that exist and you WILL make a difference.
Rant of the Week
I was on InterMat today and saw the article by Hipps about the World Team Trials is pay only! If were trying to spread the word & share our love of wrestling with the world ... Why are we making it hard for people to see and read about? I'm pissed. I don't have to pay money to read about what the top athletes in other sports are doing, so why wrestling? I thought the idea was to broaden the audience and expose more people. I demand that all wrestling related websites lose the pay walls and open up their content for all the world to see! Free of charge! At least until wrestling is back in the Olympics. End of rant.
-- Donny C.