College wrestling provides a simpler brand of enjoyment, one which never befuddles and always satisfies. The rules just seem to make sense. If you take a person from his feet to his back and hold him there in college wrestling, you get points for the back exposure and the takedown. There isn't this goofy thing where you get more points for securing a takedown then getting the turn.
Freestyle advocates may get tired of hearing it, but it's true: the absence of instant exposure points in college wrestling make for better mat wrestling. College wrestling obliges the bottom man to do more than remain stationary. He must move. He must seek to create points on his own. Conversely, the best riders have a vastly more varied arsenal of moves at their disposal.
A college match awards points in scrambles which usually make sense. If ten people watched a video replay of an ambiguous scoring situation in a college wrestling match, most of the time nine of the viewers would agree on the call. In freestyle you see multiple exposure situations which receive scores that defy consensus. Often times I don't understand why some situations get scored the way they do, and frankly, I am pretty certain that in many cases the small army of officials who rules on the scores do not know either.
Which brings me to another thing I look forward to about college wrestling: two refs per mat, one has final say, and that's it. Sure these refs will make bad calls, but for some reason, bad calls in college wrestling seem just a bit more sincere then they do on the international scene; they disappoint me, but they don't leave me with an incredibly foul taste in my mouth, as well as serious questions of the motivations of those making the bad calls.
Speaking of questionable calls, college refs do not do a great job administering the current system of stalling penalties, but seven days a week I'll take college wrestling's stalling to the mystifyingly pattern of seemingly arbitrary passivity calls in Greco and freestyle. At least college referees seem to understand that they don't need to inject themselves into a match simply because the scoreboard has yet to show a big number.
NCAA finals mat (Photo/Larry Slater)I'm looking forward to college wrestling because of the emotion of big rivalry dual meets, but also because of big tournaments which follow a reasonable schedule. Nothing beats a college wrestling tournament with a multi-day format with a morning session, and and an evening session. These allow wrestlers to rest properly, and it allows tournament spectators time to sojourn to a local establishment and treat themselves to a frosty ale or two.
Even better, college tournaments give us each weight at the same time, and each round in order; a situation not unlike unwrapping one set of Christmas presents after another. The first round is great, but what could top it, oh tonight is the quarters, nothing can beat that, oh wow, tomorrow brings us the semis, etc.
Best of all, college wrestling brings as the emperor of all wrestling tournaments, the perfectly cut luminous diamond in the crown of all college sport: The Division I Wrestling Championships. The best part of the tournament is no doubt the anticipation, anticipation fueled by the fact that I know exactly who will compete in the tournament long before the competition starts.
After a season of watching wrestlers compete across the nation, and after a slightly flawed but fairly sensible qualification proceeding, the field is set well in advance. We don't arrive the night before the wrestling starts to find that Minnesota's NCAA champion 197-pounder from two years ago, who has been out of action for a year, has been suddenly plugged into their lineup. We know this can't happen because before we hop in our cars and drive across seven states to make it to the arena, we already have a set of printed-off brackets in our hands.
And oh, what wonderful brackets they are. Ten beautiful (twenty if you count consis) pages of parallel and perpendicular lines, meeting at right angles, dividing by two from left to right until only one remains-the national champion. The best thing about the pages aren't the lines, nor are they the names; the best part of the brackets is the numbers. The NCAA tournament gives us sensible seeds with the intent to reserve the best matches for later in the tournament. Sure some people get seeded improperly, but for the most part the seeding works fairly as each wrestler has a season's long body of work to take into account.
I think my favorite part about the NCAA championship might be the regard it shows to the wrestlers who don't make the finals. Lose at NCAAs, and no matter who beats you, you get a chance to keep wrestling. NCAAs also praises you if you place as low as eigth. Do you know who placed fourth in the world this year at 66 kilos in freestyle wrestling? The answer is nobody. You cannot place fourth in the world in wrestling, because of the double bronze, a loss in the consolation semifinals leaves you tied for fifth. World championships don't really seem too interested in anyone other than the wrestlers in the finals. The NCAA tournament goes to the trouble of really figuring out the order of the best wrestlers in the nation -- first through eighth.
Those wrestlers in the consolation bracket don't just wrestle for individual accolades; oftentimes team national championships are won in the wrestlebacks. The NCAA tournament seems to take its team championship much more seriously than than any world championship. This year's team race should be hotly contested, and the means by which wrestlers win will make a big difference in the outcome.
I hope I make it to Oklahoma City this year to watch the NCAA tournament, maybe more so than I'd like to go to Tashkent for next year's World Championships. Things at the NCAA tournament just seem to mesh better with my humble American sensibilities. Luckily, even if I don't make to the arena in March, everything will still be alright; at NCAAs, all the finals get wrestled at once, live on ESPN, and I can just sit back and watch it in my living room.
Here's to simpler times. Here's to college wrestling.