Foley's Friday Mailbag: November 29, 2013

Below are ten things in wrestling I'm thankful for this Thanksgiving ...

1.Reinstatement of Olympic wrestling

The biggest moment in Olympic wrestling history came Feb. 12, 2013, when the executive board of the International Olympic Committee chose to eliminate wrestling from the core sports of the Olympic Games. That date could have been the death knell of the sport, but instead became a rallying cry from millions of wrestlers from around the world. Unlikely political alliances were formed, special events were cast and politicians from around the world supported the virtues of the sport. By Sept. 8 the decision to reinstate the sport seemed logical and just, and the IOC reinstated wrestling.

There are too many individuals to thank. Some gave their time, and others gave their money, but the entire community played a role in keeping the Olympic dream alive for the next generation of wrestlers.

2. NCAA wrestling parity

From Bryce Busler's upset of Kendric Maple to Stanford's improbable 6-1 start, the 2013-2014 NCAA wrestling season has already been filled with upsets and excitement stemming from a more-equal competition field.

The recent growth of wrestling has meant that more schools are starting to see success at the national level. For example, after a full endowment of the coaching staff positions and improvements to the workout facility, Columbia's Steve Santos earned that school's highest-ever individual NCAA finish in 2013. On the other side of the country, Oregon State manages a top ten season, while Stanford opens 2013-2014 by rattling off wins against opponents like Maryland, Michigan, and Central Michigan.

The capability of wrestling talent has improved nationwide and with increased financial support, better coaching education and a larger talent pool from which to choose, more schools have the opportunity to succeed at the NCAA tournament. That equates to a stronger sport, more fans and hopefully, long-term viability.

3. Aaron Pico and Kyle Snyder

World champions Aaron Pico and Kyle Snyder
The 2013 Cadet and Junior World champions are showing that the future of USA Wrestling is stronger than it has been in more than 20 years. Pico, who recently beat a senior level Russian wrestler, has become the face of America's newest gold-level talent, while Snyder is wrestling with the best junior talent in the world and winning.

Pico and Snyder are so talented that some are questioning whether they will even compete in college. Snyder already opted out of his senior season in high school to train at the Olympic Training Center. He'll arrive at Ohio State soon, though it's possible that he could redshirt and then take an Olympic redshirt within the next three years. He's aiming for the 2016 Games (as he should) and could be the future of America's upperweight representation on the international stage.

Pico is still in high school, but is aiming for Olympic glory. With more success, and having already taken the first semester off from school as a sophomore, there is a chance that Pico could become a mainstay on the international stage. No American freestyler has spent their formative years as a wrestler in the eye of the public more than Pico. What effect will that have on his development? Unclear, but we are certainly lucky to have such a talented and committed Cadet-level wrestler.

4. Tour ACW, Aon, Victory, Grapple at the Garden's Super Match

With four marquee events over the next year, wrestling has never had more opportunity to showcase its top talent. Whether the event is the UFC/WWE-inspired Agon Wrestling Championships or an add-on event like the Super Match at Grapple at the Garden, the sport is attracting new fans and keeping casual fans engaged with promotable events featuring top talent. Though it's unclear what will happen in the post-#SaveOlympicWrestling world, it's encouraging that there is some short-term interest in wrestling beyond the scholastic and international ranks. There will be a contraction in the number of events, but hopefully those that do survive will prosper and reestablish the marketability of the sport within pop culture.

5. Improving technology

Every meaningful wrestling event is now being streamed online ... high school, college and international. If there is even a marginal interest in the event, it seems that some entity will stream it online. Though television is the best form of legitimizing the sport, the availability of the action to fans has been a necessary first step to gaining more television access. If you pay attention to Twitter then you know the number of streaming events has grown exponentially over the last few months, because when matches, tournaments and meets aren't streamed, the backlash is massive and immediate.

6. Editor Andrew Hipps

I'm fortunate to work for a kind, intelligent and thoughtful boss. He will have to edit this piece, which will make him feel odd, but I don't mind, because in a world filled with malcontents and pessimists, I'm thankful to work for an optimistic, good-natured guy who is passionate about his work and the sport of wrestling. Andrew deserves my praise and the praise of others. He's one of the good guys.

7. Jordan Burroughs

Burroughs has won 65 straight matches, but the real appeal isn't just that he has an unstoppable double leg, but a mass-market appeal that will result in personal endorsements and the type of energy that keeps wrestling in the public eye. Beyond his marketability here in the states, Burroughs is also much loved by the international wrestling community for displaying courage and skill on the mat. Wrestling fans are fortunate to be watching his career develop but he's also the type of wrestler we want representing the Stars and Stripes overseas.

8. Wrestling community

The most passionate fan base in sports -- the wrestling community has used the last year to show the world the strength of our connection. No other sport is bound by a more formative experience, and that shared enjoyment and misery equates to a familiarity among competitors both old and young. We are special in the most important sense of the term. We're unique in our level of discipline and willingness to sacrifice for our goals. I'm grateful every week for the insightful, energetic and passionate queries of our community, and can't wait to see what 2014 will bring our sport.

9. Changes to come

From FILA to the NCAA the last year has been one of change. Matches are being marketed, tournaments are being promoted and the energy behind the sport is driving interest and innovation. There will be new technologies and developments over the next year that will bring a more understandable and accessible sport to the masses.

10. What about you?

What are you thankful for? Leave your comments at the bottom.

By Tim R.

I think that a school should be able to enter more than one wrestler at a weight for all individual tournaments, including postseason. It sounds weird at first, but the more I thought about it the more sense it made. If you think about it, wrestling is the only individual sport that doesn't allow more than one kid from a school to compete. Whether its track, cross country, swimming, gymnastics, they all let multiple kids from the same school compete. If the two best kids in the state are both at 138 pounds, who cares if they are from the same school. As far as team scoring, just only allow a school to pick which kid will score points for them. I think kids quit the sport when they are on a squad that has really good guys all around them and they can't break the starting lineup. Also, if you have two or three really good kids all around the same weight, we have to make the kid either lose a lot of weight to get to the lower weight class or make him wrestle up and give up weight. If we are in it for the kids, let's do what's best for them and allow them to compete at the best weight for them, regardless of who happens to be on their school's team. I know if this is adopted there will be some issues to deal with, but I think we can work through them.

There would need to be some limits set on bracket sizes, so maybe only allow a set number of wild card slots for a tournament, and the most qualified "backups" would get those spots. They could qualify based on varsity wins or the point system we already use for seeding tournaments. I coach a team that this has been a big issue with this year and last. I've got about four kids that either could or have qualified for states all around the same weight. I had a returning state runner-up as a sophomore get bumped up his junior year two weights higher than what he should have been because his teammates were better and beat him in a wrestle-off for postseason spots. This year I'll have a kid probably dropping more weight than he should so he can be in the lineup. I know people will say it's a good problem to have, but not for the kid that has to drop 10 pounds, or the kid that gets bumped two weight classes up.

InterMat senior writer T.R. Foley answers reader questions about NCAA wrestling, international wrestling, recruiting, or anything loosely related to wrestling. Questions can be sent to Foley's email account or Twitter.

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jbradleyr (1) about 4 years ago
Do we really want to start saying, "well, cross country does it, so we should too?" Isn't our sport more unique than that?

And what about learning that even if you're better than 99% of your competition, sometimes that isn't enough? It's a very unique life lesson that wrestling teaches, and Tim R. is proposing that our athletes may be too soft to learn it.
howiefartz (1) about 4 years ago
The question isn't whether we should do it because other sports do or don't, but if we think its "good" for wrestling. I certainly don't see a problem with entering two kids per weight. One kid gets team points, another doesn't, but both get valuable team experience.
I have seen this work in some Okla tourneys and I truly think its a great thing. Especially for the up and comers who are on a great team and have state finalists and champs all around them. How can it take away? If your son is the starter and the responsibility of of winning and accruing team points in on him, does it take away if the B team guy is in the bracket? It will also generate more money for the host schools, hopefully resulting in a better ran, higher quality tournament.

Should the kids that workout with Bo Nickal or Chance Marstellar be resigned to low levels of competition because theyre to soft? Or is that just a life lesson they need to learn and we should tell them to just "suck it up buttercup"?
jbradleyr (1) about 4 years ago
You're speaking in platitudes here, Fartz. "..but both get valuable team experience."- What on earth does "team experience" mean? Do you mean varsity experience? If so, then you and Tim R. would agree that wrestlers should be deprived on the life lesson whereby 'it doesn't always work out for you, even if you're really good.'

Many wrestlers will go on to work at companies where they will be well-deserving of a promotion, but there just happens to be someone just as good, or a little better, in their way. Should the wrestler petition the boss to create a new position, just so he can be promoted? Seems a bit utopian. Probably better off applying for a job at a different company and taking his talent elsewhere.
howiefartz (1) about 4 years ago
You are correct sir in my misconstruing of the "experience" they would receive. I humbly prostrate myself before you.

But we will disagree as to whether it is beneficial for a 2nd string guy to compete. As I stated above, he accumulates no team points in the scenario laid out, but does gain the experience. Would you truly consider this a "promotion" to use a word from your scenario? Does it truly injure him? This is NOT an "everyone gets a trophy" situation. The B teamer would only medal if they EARN it like everyone else. I have witnessed this play out and it certainly has few if any negative affects in real life. I also want to say this should not be something that is done in EVERY tourney throughout the season. Possibly 2-4 a year would be appropriate in my opinion.
howiefartz (1) about 4 years ago
And I think your hung up on the idea of "varsity" experience. Notice my use of the term 2nd string or B teamer. Whether they would achieve or earn a Varsity letter (do they still do that?) would be up to their school or coach. For the record, unless they are actually the starter at some point I would not be for this. However, that and getting some competitive experience are two dif things.
Bucksman (1) about 4 years ago
The meathead "we're wrestling, we're better than you" mentality is a turn-off to many people. If you're going to grow an activity, you can't turn off potential future customers.

The other individual sports do have participation constraints, but it's not ONE individual. High school track & field has a constraint on two individuals per event or one team relay (however, there are more events that are similar). I think the swimming constraint is pretty similar.

I do think that greater flexibility could be allowed in terms of team participation. For example, a proposal to allow 14 kids per team to participate in the state series, regardless if it's one per weight (as the team that fills EVERY weight class is not the majority).

Some in-season tournaments do allow for non-scoring extras, if they are not going to create excess to event capacities.

The more people actively participating in the sport, the better.
jbradleyr (1) about 4 years ago
"Actively participating" does not necessarily mean "wrestling varsity". You diminish the pride and value of winning a varsity spot when you increase the prevalence of such spots.

And "we're better than you" attitudes are not "meathead", as you so unsophisticatedly refer to them. Although, I do agree our ambassadors should not carry such viewpoints. However, a fan base that does not believe its sport is superior, and acts as such when discussing it, is one which may as well be watching girl's field hockey.
jammen (1) about 4 years ago
"...when matches, tournaments and meets aren't streamed, the backlash is massive and immediate."

Let's start that backlash to get IA-PSU, MN-PSU, and MN-IA streamed ppv. To only air these matches on tv does a disservice to fans who would pay to watch them streamed live.
howiefartz (1) about 4 years ago
Just getting the expanded tv coverage has been a great triumph for our sport. I pay for the sports package on direct just for the ability to watch my favorite sport regularly. Maybe live streaming Big 10 matches is something you should look into yourself? Although Flo is meeting a great deal of demand for that sort of thing these days.
Bucksman (1) about 4 years ago
TV is the best way to get things to an at-large audience (i.e. people not aware of a stream, i.e. people that may otherwise not care). You can't just "get" those B1G matches streamed b/c there is a contract in place with BTN for the content - BTN televises the matches, and then has the option to put it in the BTN2Go structure
jnbroncos (1) about 4 years ago
I am thankful for the level of professionalism that is used in responding to your readers. Last year I inquired about a high school wrestler and whether Intermat felt he should be ranked. You respectfully requested more information about this young man, and sure enough he popped-up in the next national rankings!

Although his skills, dedication, and commitment are ultimately responsible for his success in the sport of wrestling. It should not go unnoticed that upon receiving national recognition as a Freshman in a very obscure program he has since moved half-way across the country to compete for a nationally recognized program.

The little things your staff does can impact lives in such a positive manner, and in this case did. Not only was this a big move for his wrestling career, but he is also receiving on of the best high school education available. Thank you Intermat!
tonyrotundo (1) about 4 years ago
I'm thankful for Hipps, Pico, Snyder, Nikon, and wrestling singlets! ;^)
Krupnyakov (1) about 4 years ago
Montana allows Jv wrestlers to qualify for the state tournament. Any others?
markb (1) about 4 years ago
Wyoming also allows for two wrestlers per weight to qualify for the state tournament. My senior year we took 28 guys to the state tournament. It did nothing but make us tougher in the practice room with everyone working for a state title. I went on to wrestle NAIA where you could take a couple extras to nationals if they qualified.