Foley's Friday Mailbag: October 25, 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.

Many wrestling fans spent last Saturday night watching UFC 166. Some forked over $55 for HD PPV and others trotted to a bar, but all were treated to a great display of fighting skills by NCAA All-American wrestlers Cain Velasquez (Arizona State) and Daniel Cormier (Oklahoma State). The event, which is now being hyped as the greatest in the promotion's history, saw Velasquez dispatch of former champion Junior dos Santos in the fifth round, while Cormier used a combination of wrestling and striking to earn the unanimous three-round decision over Roy Nelson. For the cauliflower ear masses the night was a great validation.

The results are more than just more money for the fighters. It's a reminder that wrestling, and the training to become an elite wrestler, is without physical comparison. As wrestling heads argue about the minutia of changing weight classes, rules and coaching styles the result of the pursuit remains unchanged: Wrestling creates winners.

While Gilbert Melendez and Diego Sanchez earned Fight of the Night honors for their face-melting pummeling of each other's domes, it was the athletic and tactical avoidance and the exacting skills of Cormier and Velasquez that impressed most. After the fight, a tired and dehydrated Cormier cornered his best friend. His face left unscarred from the night's performance. Cain took a few elbows to his nose, but in the end avoided serious lacerations, bruises and breaks. He looked like a guy who'd been in a fight, but who'd been in control from whistle to whistle.

Cain Velasquez and Daniel Cormier, both past NCAA Division I All-American wrestlers, are training partners and two of the top MMA fighters in the world
Training inside the sport of wrestling creates skills that translate to the world a myriad ways -- fighting is just the most visible. One of the most reassuring moments of UFC 166 was the further proof that wrestling can create personal bonds stronger than money or fame. Though they are the top two fighters in the UFC's heavyweight division Cain and Cormier have remained best friends and training partners.

Though a matchup of the two friends would be an enormous payday for the duo, Cormier has chosen to keep their bond of friendship intact by navigating a 50-pound cut to 205 pounds. Cormier is walking away from guaranteed millions to suffer through a massive weight cut and dredging up of old wounds in order to preserve a friendship forged through wrestling. Their friendship and Cormier's actions are impressive, inspiring and, I think, unique to wrestling -- the greatest sport in the history of man.

To your questions ...

Q: One of the best things I've read all year was your bold stance on the lack of success Boston University had prior to being cut while having a longtime coach. Our sport must protect our number of D1 programs, and one of the methods should be to demand success or change from long tenured coaches. I'm worried that what happened with Carl Adams & Boston could happen with Tom Minkel & Michigan State, and am looking for your thoughts.

Michigan State only has 1 ranked wrestler in the pre-season rankings. The Spartans have been a last place team in the Big Ten more often than not, and have lost a dozen or so consecutive duals to Central Michigan. In what world should a Big Ten team in any sport be dominated by an in-state MAC school in any sport? If this job opened up, it would be a dream (Big Ten program in a wrestling state) for many talented young coaches. Having Franklin Gomez & Nick Simmons should not excuse the lack of success. Tom Minkel needs to go or Michigan State might not have much to argue if they ever look to cut the program.
-- Tom B.

Foley: Michigan State is almost certainly locked into a contract that restricts it from eliminating their wrestling program. There is money in the Big Ten, the school isn't under Title IX investigation, and their athletic budget shouldn't be an issue. I think they're safe.

My instinct is to agree with you. There is certainly an element of retrospective shock that Minkel hasn't been released for the performance of previous seasons. However, Minkel took over a program that was in trouble and has since stayed out of trouble. That counts for something on college campuses and I'm willing to give Minkel and his staff this year to right the ship. You'll recall that only two seasons ago everyone was certain that Barry Davis was out at Wisconsin. This year his Badgers are ranked eighth in the country.

The larger point is that we (media) do need to do a better job of keeping the coaching ranks on notice. I often shy away because it's not always obvious what a coach is doing to keep his job. Maybe he's sacrificing so that there is a program? Maybe he is beloved? College athletics is about more than results, and though I agree that we need to keep records in mind, I'd like to avoid a situation where we are rotating coaches in and out too fast. Still, no excuses, we all need to do better.

College coaches, like their athletes, also need time to develop. On the other side, the men who've created program likely deserve better than to be booted without ceremony. We wrestling fans need to walk a fine line of respect and progress when discussing the future moves of an athletic department, because what we think we know, we normally don't.

Q: Where the heck did Alan Waters go!? Why is he not on any college ranking list I have read? He wasn't a senior last year and I thought he had a redshirt already. Am I wrong or just unaware of certain situations pertaining to him?
-- Pete D.

Foley: He's redshirting, but Mizzou's got some talented freshmen and a secret weapon ... Sammie "The Bull" Henson.

Q: The story from the D2 land is that National Duals may soon see D1 back in again. How long will D1 test Mat Mayhem before they scrap it and come back to National Duals? National Duals have been in Springfield, Ill., for the last two seasons and attendance has dropped drastically. Some say it is because of D1 not being there, but the fact was the closest school was four hours away. They have moved National Duals to Des Moines this season, and my guess is that attendance will be drastically different. Although the chants of UNO will no longer be heard in D2 wrestling, the "OOOSSS" is getting louder at Maryville University. Sure would be nice to see the 10,000+ Iowa Hawkeye fans roaring the stands.
-- Chris B.

Foley: Love a good rumor as much as the next guy, but can't say I can substantiate your story with any independent fact finding.

As for the reasons Mat Mayhem was created, the way I understand things the tournament was supposed to be the precursor to the NCAA's adoption of a dual team format for deciding the team championship. By showing an ability to draw crowds and viewership independent of other divisions, Mat Mayhem would essentially become a test event for the NCAA. Even if it the event produced paltry attendance, it was intended to help gauge the excitement over the format and edit out the problems before a big release.

However, your skepticism of the event's success is well founded and often discussed in hushed tones in the dark corners of the wrestling community. Last year's attendance was uninspiring, largely because the matches were on the same weekend as the Minnesota high school sectional tournaments and overall drew fewer fans than a well-attended Minnesota dual meet.

I hope the best for the Division II warriors at the National Duals and have no doubt that Des Moines is the right place to host an event of that size. Hopefully Mat Mayhem will see an uptick in attendance. I'm sure they'd welcome the attention.


All-Star Classic Preview

Link: Billy Watterson is the kind of kid you want on your wrestling team

I'm headed to South Sudan for a few weeks this December to use wrestling in helping to curb tribal violence in that young nation. Here is an article with several videos describing the first attempt at this event, including my partner in the endeavor, Peter Biar Ajak. Email me if you want to get involved!

Q: As a fan of international wrestling here's my unique question: Jimmy Kennedy just won a car for his victory at Intercontinental Cup in Russia. How did he bring it home? Very curious to see if you can answer this one.
-- Ralph C.

Foley: The only answer I have is what Jimmy is telling his Twitter followers -- that he'd like to sell it and come home with straight rubles, homey! There is likely to be some catches, but if he takes ownership and isn't liable for taxes at home, he should be able to sell it -- albeit for less than the list price.

I'm as interested as you to find out the answer, and will be sure to follow up the moment I know anything else.

Q: I'm wondering if you ever heard of Jason Morris? He was a two-time NYS high school champ and only started wrestling as a sophomore back in the mid-80s. After high school he wrestled for two years at Syracuse, before leaving the university. He went on to become a four-time judo Olympian, silver medalist once, and U.S. Olympic judo coach. Anyway, his success in wrestling was largely due to his early judo training. His throws were awesome to watch. It'd be fun to see more of that style in wrestling. I'm wondering if you've seen much of a judo influence in your wrestling related travels around the world.
-- Karl S.

Foley: Wrestling is the broad, overarching term that absorbs disciplines like judo, jui-jitsu and even regional flavors like Chinese shuaijiao, Mongolian bokh and Indian kushti. The dress, rules and competition surfaces are all different, but that it remains a non-striking sport of control is universal.

It's best to not get too caught up in the rules of each and how they are different, because in the end wrestling is the sport, and these disciplines are the games. Judo is a discipline that has the assistance (or detriment) of a gi. Points are scored in a different manner, but the idea of control remains constant.

Though I've never heard of Jason Morris, I don't doubt that his success on the collegiate mat was in part due to his time in the gi playing judo. Likewise, I can see how his time on the wrestling mat was assisted him in his judo career. Learning to adapt to both rules makes you a more versatile grappler. Jason was sure to see this benefit.

I think that young wrestlers should spend much more time in a gi and in a wrestling discipline with different rules. Learning to adapt on the sport helps them to create strategies on the go, and gaining distance from your own style helps you analyze the nuances of your own sport and find creative new solutions for scoring and defense. It also never hurts to test the balance of your body in a new way.

Q: Since 1928 only three teams not from the Big Ten or Big 12 have won the D1 NCCA team championship. While impressive for the teams that have won, I think a lack of deep competitive parity for the team championship hurts the sport. Do you think the Big Ten/Big 12 hold on the team championship can be broken in the next 10 years? What team(s) have the best shot of making it happen and why? What will it take to create more competitive parity?
-- Scott S.

Foley: The lack of parity in team champions is a big part of the reason the NCAA is thinking of moving over to a dual format that combines dual team championship and the performance at the individual tournament. Wrestling is dominated by a few regions, schools and conferences, but in recent years we've seen a push east that could result in a school not in the Big Ten or Big 12 finding its way to a national title.

My guess for the first to break the most recent streak? Cornell.

Facilities, coaching, alumni backing, and support from the school. Cornell is in the best position of any school in the country to make a title run. If you add in that they have top five finishes over the last several season there is even more reason to believe they can make the final push to the top of the sport.

Still, I'm hesitant to think that the recent geographical shift will conclude with a non-Big Ten school winning the NCAA title. Penn State has a monster recruiting class, and the rest of the Midwest is being fed top-notch talent from around the country. For Cornell, Lehigh, or any other non-Big Ten school to win, the NCAA might have to include the performances of the dual meet portion of the NCAA tournament.

A task that we've learned isn't likely to be simple, or civil.


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spencerszewczyk (1) about 4 and a half years ago
if they incorporate (or go entirely to) a dual meet format, you would have LESS teams that are capable of winning a team title, not more. schools like UNC, oregon state, central michigan, boise state, etc...can place highly at the NCAA tournament based off of the results of a few individual elite wrestlers, but will never be able to produce a team from top to bottom like iowa, penn state, minnesota, and oklahoma state can. if you have 2 or 3 studs on your team, and they perform well at the NCAA tournament, your team can finish in the top 10. in a dual meet format, the MOST 3 studs can get you is 18 points, and even that is unlikely. the dual format to decide the NCAA champion will only guarantee that schools like iowa, minnesota and penn state will win it every single year.
trfoley (1) about 4 and a half years ago
But remember that we also have cases where teams like Virginia Tech, Central Michigan and Missouri can beat those top teams in an advancement tournament. Becomes about match-ups and health of fighters.

Fans are rewarded when you add duals to the format because we can pull for the upset. That also draws attention. It's an imperfect system, but I think we'd see a little more parity, but even if not, we'd be more excited to follow the drama as it unfolds.
spencerszewczyk (1) about 4 and a half years ago
it is totally naive to believe that you will ever be able to turn wrestling into something that resembles basketball's "march madness." in basketball, 1 or 2 great players can make a team great and lead to an upset of a higher ranked team. that's why upsets happen all the time in the NCAA basketball tournament. however, this will NEVER be the case in wrestling. in wrestling, 1 or 2 great wrestlers will only ever be able to win 2 matches in a dual meet, so teams like penn state and iowa will never lose to a team like central michigan in a dual. the parity that exists in basketball will never happen in wrestling, and if you go to a national dual system to decide the team championship, the same 4 or 5 teams will win it every single year. the only difference will be now the lesser teams that used to place high at the NCAA individual tournament based on their couple of individual studs, will now get blasted out of the national duals in the first round (or not even qualify at all) and their AD will be even more likely to drop the program entirely because now they're not competitive at all.
jammen (1) about 4 and a half years ago
" but will never be able to produce a team from top to bottom like iowa, penn state, minnesota, and oklahoma state can."

Why do you believe that? Minny only had 7 top ten teams in 34 years before J Robinson was hired. A new head coach can change the entire state.
spencerszewczyk (1) about 4 and a half years ago
why do i believe that? because in the past 60 years of the NCAA wrestling tournament, only 7 different teams have won a title (penn state, iowa, iowa state, oklahoma, oklahoma state, michigan state, and arizona state) and the last 2 teams only won 1 each.
spencerszewczyk (1) about 4 and a half years ago
forgot minnesota. 8 different teams.
MLJ (1) about 4 and a half years ago
Regarding the Wrestlers/MMA comment at he beginning of this piece:

Hey kids, you want to be successful in MMA, try's free to those who go to schools with wrestling teams. Why spend a couple hundred bucks a month on other martial arts disciplines to garner a strong foundation for MMA? Wrestle now, pay for BJJ, TKD, kickboxing, etc...later.
matman133 (1) about 4 and a half years ago
TR & Ralph C..
I'm an old wrestler, and spend my adult life in the automobile business.Though Jimmy might like to bring the vehicle home it would not be advised. Because the vehicle does not meet US standards. He would be required to spend thousands of dollars to meet those standards. He would be advised to take the rubles and run.