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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There are three weeks left in the fight to Save Olympic Wrestling, and in review of the year the wrestling community has come together like never before. We've created fundraising organizations, T-shirt campaigns, and letter writing initiatives. The international governing body fired their boss, hired a battalion of bright people and launched a six-month campaign to revise and improve governance. That's a lot of action, almost enough to bring a tear to your eye.
Though not always permanent or popular, significant changes have been made. Most, like rules of governance and the hiring of extra staff have had minimal airtime, while other changes, such as the rules and 6-6-6, have received plenty of examination. All were made in the interest of winning over public opinion and the IOC, something that shouldn't fade on Sept. 9.
Wrestling has nothing to lose. Nothing. Almost nobody expects a thing from wrestling except a bunch of knuckleheads who love cutting weight, wearing singlets and complaining about the Olympic Games. We are respected, but not beloved; known, but not watched.
From a media perspective, it's been my experience that low expectations are perfect for creating attention and traction in popular culture. Let's address a few of the most ingrained assumptions about our sport and then quickly, without a complete autopsy, look at what could be done, in theory to change that thinking.
1. Title IX cuts men's opportunities, especially in men's wrestling.
Of all the sports to be consistently singled out by administrations seeking Title IX compliance, only wrestling never enjoyed a companion sport. Now that there are dozens of women's programs, wrestling can emerge as a leader in equal rights for women.
Solution: The wrestling community joins together to start a Division I program and fully fund it alongside a long dormant or eliminated program? That would be a PR coup for the school worth millions in advertising, and a net gain for the sport of wrestling.
2. Singlets are the traditional outfit and aren't going anywhere.
Singlets are an easy issue with which to be beaten over the head by outside interest. It's equally simple to change. Don't be fooled, people have wrestled for millennia in a range of outifts, and outside of naked oil wrestling, singlets are the least popular option ever employed.
Solution: USA Wrestling bans the singlet for all sub-Junior wrestlers. Clothing companies and sports organizations come together to create a rash guard and shorts combination, and the less-bulgy outfit attracts news participants, which swells the numbers in USA Wrestling, and adds more funding to the Olympic program. The clothing companies make millions more and begin selling to consumers who increase the fan base by wearing products at the gym, etc. Coverage of the sport doubles as the outfits make some otherwise awkward photographs more sellable.
3. Wrestling will never be as popular as other mainstream sports.
Wrestling is just another of the non-profit sports that nobody understands or cares about, outside of a few cities and states.
Solution: Create a league of SIMPLE rules wrestling that focuses more on regional disagreements and the joy of being geographically in support of a squad, and less about the minutia of rules. The new takedown-only style will create an easier access point for sports fans and allow them to discuss, and bet, with ease. This new league and attention then prompts more interest in the sport, which will eventually feed into freestyle and Greco-Roman.
These are three quick ideas. The prompt is to start looking at every common assumption as an opportunity for improvement and change -- it's the area where inventions occur and dreams are made reality. If the wrestling community is happy with the status quo they can moan online and complain about rules and the future of the sport, or they can go out into the world and create products that are different and that might influence the future of the sport.
Wrestling's future isn't up to the president of FILA or the president of USA Wrestling, it's up to a few individuals who'll stand up and not just nag about the stalemates that occur in wrestling, but find ways to change them. In short, be the change they want to see in the world ... of wrestling
Q: So where does Thomas Haines end up?
Foley: Great question. Lock Haven? With Scott Moore at the helm of the program they could be on to great things in the near future. And for Haines, who is likely still upset about the situation with Penn State, it'll give him a chance to seek revenge.
Ben Whitford won a FILA Junior National title this year (Photo/Tony Rotundo, WrestlersAreWarriors.com)Q: I hear Ben Whitford is not heading to Michigan. Is this true? If so, where will he end up?
-- Raed K.
Foley: The unfolding Ben Whitford drama has been the most popular mailbag question of the week, and yet looking around there is little solid and confirmable information. From my conversations I can tell you that it looks very unlikely that Ben will be at a Division I school in 2013, but beyond not enrolling I don't have much information on his plans for the following school year. I was ready to make Ben one of my favorite Division I wrestlers (MATT BROWN!), but it looks like I might have to wait a year, or two.
Q: I'm an ex-wrestler from the day and currently a black belt in BJJ. I am currently involved in helping coach high school wrestling. How do you think we begin to make the move away from singlets toward rash guard/shorts?
-- Jeff H.
Foley: I'd start by asking if they would like to work with you to make a change, but if those earnest attempts fail, just object to wearing them in competition. Create a media storm. Call them obscene, profane, and outside the best interest of the student-athletes. The local organization will capitulate to your demands so long as you have the guts to stick with your side of the argument. Remember that they are wrong and you are right. Singlets are not traditional, and they were not created in the best interest of the wrestlers or the fans.
As a fellow BJJ aficionado, I'm trusting you on this one. Go get 'em.
Jordan Burroughs Commercial
Pieces that challenge common assumptions and are now extremely popular in today's media:
Q: How do you think the USA will do at the Junior World Championships in men's freestyle?
-- Josh B.
Foley: Decent. I love our team and think it represents our current talent level. However, I've also been fortunate to see some of their competition and have been equally impressed with the young wrestlers from around the world. I've been looking forward to this event for a few months, but will not be able to attend due to a family wedding. My guess is that we get two gold medals and a bronze medal, which will be good enough for second or third place as a team, and a great overall team performance.
Q: Is this the year that the Buckeyes can topple Iowa at Big Tens (as Iowa's schedule doesn't feature OSU)? It seems like the Hawkeyes have a revolving door of faceless All-Americans, but the Bucks are experienced, talented, and loaded for bear. It may be a stretch for anyone to knock off Penn State, so I'd like to shoot for Iowa first.
-- Curt H.
Foley: No. The Buckeyes are losing too many of their top guys, including 2012 All-American Cam Tessari and two-time NCAA qualifier Andrew Campolattano. In addition, two-time All-American Hunter Stieber is expected to redshrirt. Ohio State should be much stronger in 2014-15.
Q: When the hell we gonna find out about the 2015 NCAA's? C'mon, Philly!
-- Frank C.
Foley: Well, we know that Louisville has thrown in their hat, and the NCAA should be releasing a list of cities for the final round of consideration. However, it'll be December before we hear back on the host city and the number of years they've been awarded. I'm all about a new host city for four years, but am not hopeful. The NCAA has plenty to consider, and I don't know that it is anything more than a simple mathematical calculation in terms of dollars spent versus dollars earned.
RANT OF THE WEEK!
By Tim H.
Another contributing factor that no one talks about but also began in the early 70s was youth wrestling. Pee wee programs have resulted in a large number of underclassmen making the varsity squad. Other (team) sports do not tend to have the numbers problem wrestling has because, for the most part, classmates are grouped together: junior high kids play modified, freshman & sophomores play JV, and juniors & seniors play varsity. In many states, wrestling teams kill their modified programs by moving their best kids up to JV and varsity. (PA doesn't do this … that's probably why they're so good.) And in pretty much all states, their JV programs are killed by moving their best freshmen and sophomores up to varsity.
When you move the good kids up, and their friends are stuck down on modified and JV, what do you think happens? They quit. When you move a freshman up to fill a varsity weight and he goes 5-30 against mostly older kids, what do you think happens? He quits. Not everybody is going to have a 40-3 record as an eighth-grader. Not everyone was a youth wrestler. We need the kids with losing records to stick it out and get better. What first-year wrestler would join a team that none of his friends are on and put on an embarrassing skin-tight singlet just to get pummeled by kids three or four years his elder? Not many; might as well join the bowling team.
We need to replace the tournament classifications (Class AA, Class A, etc.) with age divisions. Instead of classes, wrestling tournaments should be separated by age divisions: 7th & 8th, 9th & 10th, and 11th & 12th. By doing this, you'll see more kids go out for the team because their friends are on the team, and some of them might even turn out to be fine athletes themselves. You'll start to see more freshmen, with zero experience, coming out for teams again as they did in the 1950s and 60s. Also, you can then have a separate set of weight classes for 9/10th grades vs. 11/12th grades, more concentrated in the lightweights for the younger division. (For example, 106 pounds might no longer be a weight class for 11/12th graders but it would be for 9/10th.)
Don't get me wrong, I realize teams need to fill holes in their dual meet lineups. The suggestion is to use age divisions only for tournaments. For dual meets, where both JV & varsity typically attend together anyways, still allow underclassmen to fill holes as necessary. In the end, I think that by both (1) eliminating singlets and (2) introducing age divisions, over time, you'll see bigger teams overall and less and less of those holes that need to be filled.