Foley's Friday Mailbag: February 14, 2014

An InterMat PSA: Today is Valentine's Day.

This week the wrestling community has been circulating a column by Des Moines Register's Andy Hamilton in which he explains the poisonous nature of college wrestling's recent dearth of scoring. He makes several fantastic points, but none are more true than his assertion that dropping to a knee, or going into a deep squat, has hampered action.

But that's not the only reason.

Though almost no weight class is now without this type of wrestler, it was four-time NCAA champion Kyle Dake that made the drop-butt style most popular. Haunches low, hands down in front and disengaged from his opponent, Dake used the tactic to limit his opponent's opportunity for offensive maneuvers. Once he established this primary tactical advantage he could move into a position that better suited his wants, primarily one or both underhooks.

Now we see a new generation of wrestler who have worked hard to adapt this style, including guys like Oklahoma State's Tyler Caldwell who used it effectively to slow down UVa's Nick Sulzer's offense in the semifinals of the Southern Scuffle.

Jordan Leen (Photo/John Sachs,
The idea of stopping your opponent's action by not engaging and by taking a knee or deep squat is meant to stall the action, but the reason we've seen it more in 2013-14 is because for the first time in NCAA wrestling the advantage is now to the defensive wrestler.

Take for example Jordan Leen (Cornell), who won an NCAA title by doing exactly what Dake did, except he often looked for low-leg attacks and doubles. He was aggressive with his attacks. Jordan Burroughs hits his blast double while transitioning from single leg attacks that organically bring him closer to the mat. He doesn't lie in wait for minutes of even multiple seconds. He either attacks or comes back to his feet.

The low-level attacks of guys like Burroughs and Leen have been replaced by a whole lotta nada, because the new flash takedown rule penalizes offensive mistakes by rewarding cheap defensive maneuvers. As much as we thought the new rules hurt scramblers, it's actually just gumming up the gears of offensive wrestlers who don't want to work hard to get through a drop-butt stance only to give up a cheap takedown.

And then?

Then one guy gets on top and we can go ahead and call it a match. There was once a very big problem with riding parallel on top. I know, because I tried my best in college to earn riding time, and that often meant a few seconds of saddling my opponent, rather than finding a way to score.

The current methodology of top wrestling is to game the rules by having the referee perceive your action as aggressive, while simultaneously playing it safe. Technically this is seen with outside leg rides, claw rides and body scissors with a shallow half. Penn State's Zain Retherford is probably the primary example of this technique, but he's certainly not alone.

Andy's right. Wrestling has gotten stale at the NCAA level, even as it has become arguably the most exciting it's ever been at the international level.

I recently covered both of FILA's Golden Grand Prix's and came back with a renewed respect for the excitement of freestyle wrestling. The Yariguin in Krasnoyarsk was just silly with action and excitement, but much of that could be chalked up to Russians being Russian. The second was the Golden Grand Prix of Paris, where there were no Russians, and yet the action on the mat was absolutely spectacular. Scoring was promoted by making the edge a dangerous place to be and through assessing one point in the first period against the less-aggressive wrestler.

For the first time ever FILA's rules seem to work better than the NCAA's at creating scoring and excitement.

Tougher out of bounds rules and passivity points aren't the technical solution for NCAA wrestling, but they should serve as inspiration. The international rules are somehow now more exciting than the NCAA's and to improve the collegiate version of the sport the decision-makers in Indianapolis need to understand that defensive tactics and risk-averse riding are slowly killing the sport.

To your questions ...

Q: I'm sure many other are wondering this as well. Why has Andrew Howe been wrestling up at 184 for the past few dual meets? Why did he not wrestle Chris Perry at Bedlam II? Prediction: He wants to take on Ruth?!? Serious prediction: Mark Cody wanted to take advantage of getting bonus or extra team points by having him wrestle up a weight class for a few important dual meets where the outcome of the meet could be changed by Howe up at 184.
-- Curtis H.

Wouldn't that be a wonderful side note for the end of the year: Howe vs. Ruth! If that happens, I'm pitching major news outlets and creating an Infographic of their comparable stats.

The real situation is a little more commonplace in NCAA wrestling. Daniel Chaid, the normal Sooner 184-pounder has been out of the lineup with an injury. He's also expected to be out for the National Duals, which start this weekend. Oklahoma has an excellent tournament squad, but they are a little thin to make it far in the dual team format.

Wait a few seasons and they'll be a perennial top three program. Mark Cody and his staff are excellent recruiters and in my opinion the best mat coaches in Division I wrestling.

Q: Like the picture below, how about some barnstorming for USA Wrestling? Without TV, sports stars used to barnstorm all the time to play games all over the country that didn't have a team of their own. Basically, USA Wrestling doesn't have TV (no major deal in place of any kind). Events in Times Square and Los Angeles are great for media, but let's get some events in the flyover states to get our athletes in front of crowds.

I like the idea whether it's USA vs. other nations, or our clubs against each other. The new rules make this idea even better presenting a better product with freestyle ... and even Greco. (I'm taking your word on that one.)
-- Tom B.

Foley: In the late 19th century wrestlers from across the Northeast would meet at county fairs to challenge reigning champions and give locals a show. It was a big deal. Until the mid-20's wrestling was the most popular sport in the country, largely because it was a regionalized sport. In the 20's soldiers who returned safely from World War I picked up baseball, found that sport compelling through the depression and the rest was baseball's appeal to ideals of Americana.

In modern terms, barnstorming events are already taking place around the country in a variety of forms. USA Wrestling's mega-watt events are two examples, but there are others in the works that will be equal to or greater than that event.

Love 'em or hate 'em, Agon is actually doing the best job of hosting regional events in the vein of traditional barnstorming. We've discussed the organization's shortcomings in the past, but one thing they've done really well is keep their events focused on regional stars. Local wrestlers help sell tickets, build press and keep costs down. Agon understands the local appeal and their first events have done well by staying honest to the tenets of regionalism.

You do make an excellent point about clubs. Their recent growth could end up being a boon to the popularity of freestyle in America.

Titan Mercury vs. NYAC? Or Ohio RTC vs. Sunkist?


I'd love to see the wrestlers compete, but I also want to give the backers -- who pour millions into the sport -- a have a chance to compete head-to-head. Barth vs. Novo is a great back-story and gives them some measuring stick to how far their teams have progressed. It also creates a free agency atmosphere for wrestlers coming out of college. Variations of the club system work in Iran, India, Russia, Mongolia and many other countries. Competition creates better wrestlers and teams, and club dual meets are an excellent way to fire up our wrestlers and create interest in the sport.

Excellent idea.

Q: I have now read several of your readers who are hell bent on wrestling changing uniforms. Other than guys who are in the business of selling uniforms I see no benefit to change what is current being used. Teams such as Iowa, Penn State and other powers have consistently used the same style and color scheme for years. Others have spent tons of money trying to look different every couple of years and changing uniforms styles and design has done little to improve their wrestling skills. MMA shorts in very high-level scrambles could prove to be nuisance and maybe even embarrassing in some cases.
-- Ismael M.

Foley: The guys selling spandex today will be the same dudes selling NEW uniforms to every single one of America's 400k+ wrestlers. That is an enormous market, and the first company to make that product and market it successfully, will also have the inside track on the worldwide market, where millions more units could be sold.

The variety of looks you mentioned haven't done much to improve sales of spandex to 40-year-old men because no matter how glittery or slick your single piece of tight-fitting lycra looks, it will never stop looking like glittery, tight-fitting lycra.

I agree that better graphics won't help you win, but I disagree that wrestling with shorts on creates additional risks to the wrestlers, or causes an opportunity for embarrassment. Wrestlers roll in shorts and a tee shirt every day in practice and they are totally fine.

There's a storm coming, Ismael. Will you be ready?

Q: During the Nick Dardanes-Zack Beitz match at Minnesota, the referee awarded a point to Dardanes for the technical violation "fleeing the mat" on Beitz. It has since been determined to be an incorrect call. A warning should have been issued first, as this violation was moved for the 2011-2012 season to the equivalent of stalling. I understand it was missed, and we can't go back, but why doesn't the Big Ten offer a statement about the call, similar to football when an error is made? There are other examples of errors that aren't owned-up.
-- Allen S.

Foley: Simple. The Big Ten doesn't care about officiating in a wrestling match UNLESS one of the coaches comments about the refereeing. The way they see it ... Why risk the energy of your communications staff over something as trivial as a regular season dual result?

They should care, and especially when the call cost a wrestler the win and a team their chance at a perfect season.

Q: Any news on David Taylor? He looked extremely sluggish in his major decision over Danny Zilverberg the other day. Sick, dog die, relationship problems, injury? I mean he was still dominant, just not the Real Slim Taylor.
-- Justin H.

Foley: The Real Slim Taylor! Ha!

One thing that I learned as a coach is that college wrestlers are still just kids. Not kids in the sense that they throw temper tantrums in Whole Foods, but that they have days in which they can't muster consistency because of what adults would find to be trivial distractions. Wrestling is a high-intensity sport, but since they aren't being paid, they don't have to be professional, or avoid distraction. They are naturally predisposed to worry about exams, girlfriends, video games, and Twitter.

Did that catch up to Slim Taylor? Maybe. But it seems much more likely that he was stymied by his opponent's style.

There was some chatter that Danny Z. was stalling. I think there were moments where it was obvious he was slowing down the pace of the match, but he kept it away from too many distinctive stall calls.


Toghul Asgarov Highlights

World Cup Promo

What happens in the wrestling room stays in the wrestling room ...

University of Minnesota: Penn State Highlights

Q: This is not belly-aching, Minnesota out-hustled PSU in most bouts Sunday and deserved the win. But was it the correct call to hit Beitz with a tech violation for fleeing the mat? Why not stalling? (Which would have also resulting in a point since I believe he already had a warning.) Just want to make sure I understand the rule.
-- Brad B.

Foley: Discussed above. Wrong call that cost PSU the match.

Q: I have been an advocate of changing the high school/college takedown rule to benefit the aggressor. The wrestler who shoots should be awarded two points if he gets it and the wrestler who defends and gets the takedown gets one point. To me, you liven up the action if you are not penalized for attacking and getting defended. You have the potential to escape and even the score up. I see so many finals matches where guys wait until the end and milk one takedown to a win. The wrestler behind waits until about 20 seconds left before he takes a serious attempt because if he misses, he is down by three. I know it is a shift in thinking, but freestyle and Greco already have different points for different takedowns. What do you think?
-- John K

Foley: FILA recently changed the rule to make all takedowns two points. The reason was that referees were making stupid calls on who and what constituted offensive and defensive maneuvers. Also, a wrestler who was winning by two points with 20 seconds remaining could take a bad shot, hold a leg and then finally fall to his belly and give up a one-point takedown. The rule just didn't work, and since returning to the two-point takedown there has been an explosion of scoring in freestyle and the referees are not asked to make as many judgment calls.

By Jordan L.

College wrestlers are getting VERY good at wrestling. It is increasingly difficult to break a Division I wrestler's position and then score (whether they are ranked No. 1 or not ranked), particularly in the first period. This is part of the reason that this year's results have been so tumultuous. I believe this furthers my case for differentiating our athletes. Developing judo ties and throws is one way to differentiate yourself as a college wrestler. There was recently an interesting article in the Washington Post about a high school wrestler who differentiates his athletic abilities through the sport of diving.

A wrestling aficionado would be correct in assuming that the time the diver spends doing multiple flips off the diving board helps him keep a clear head after a scramble on the mat, not to mention the body awareness and athleticism the sport of diving must teach.

Ultimately, I believe that developing our young wrestlers into more diverse athletes will in turn make them more exciting to watch on the mat. I know that Jake Herbert is doing some work in that arena, and I think others should follow his lead by learning new coaching strategies taken from a whole host of sports, and preparing fun and new practice methods for our youth wrestlers. Getting coaches to learn new tricks is a whole other issue, though.


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bpmcnulty (3) about 4 years ago
There was still 25 seconds left in the Dardanes v Beitz match when the point was awarded. To claim that call cost PSU "the match and a perfect season" categorically incorrect.
jjmurrow45 (3) about 4 years ago
You are thinks that Ness's pin of Alton might have cost PSU the match and a perfect season.
toddnat (1) about 4 years ago
IMO, Brown versus Storley. Brown seemed to be trying some funky things that played right in to Storley's style.
dbabbitts (1) about 4 years ago
There is a lot of criticism of the Alton's. I said last year in the PSU/Iowa match that the Brown/Evans bout would decide the winner...Evans won 'cause Brown couldn't finish his TD. The same is true of the PSU/MN match...if Brown wins, PSU wins. He couldn't finish his takedowns against Storley either.
ColoradoHawkeye (1) about 4 years ago
I agree as a Hawkeye i have family who has wrestled for the Gophers so i might be biased but what always screws PSU is the alton boys. They are great talented wrestlers who for some reason just do not show up with their A game every other week. They are good enough to expect bonus points raising hopes, only to be dashed by so far unexplained inconsistency.
TooOld (1) about 4 years ago
Recovering from surgery, the Altons still aren't close to 100% physically. We saw that when Andrew gassed after building a lead on Grajales; I think Dylan walking into that funk-pin vs. Ness was just another example. Hopefully he'll be back to nearly normal when the tourney rolls around.
trfoley (1) about 4 years ago
Well done. Audible laugh.
meloserio (1) about 4 years ago
TR and Curtis H, I think another thing to consider is Howe's future going forward. He wrestled 160 in HS, then 165 and now 174. He has his eyes on world and olympic medals, and two ideas are going through his mind: 1) I don't know if I can beat Jordan Burroughs at 74kg, and 2) I am going to fill out as I age and my future seems to be at 86kg, where I can be as big and strong as I want to be.
jammen (2) about 4 years ago
"Wait a few seasons and they'll be a perennial top three program. Mark Cody and his staff are excellent recruiters and in my opinion the best mat coaches in Division I wrestling."

Assume you meant top 4. If not then who do they replace; Penn State, Iowa, or Minnesota?
leeperryan (2) about 4 years ago
I prefer to see high scoring, exciting matches like everyone else, but defense is and should be an important part of wrestling as well. I hope there are not any significant changes to the rules, rather the officials need to do a better job of calling stalling. A match shouldn't make it to overtime with no offensive scoring and the official not making any stalling calls. Often times calling both wrestlers for stalling is warranted, but is rarely done.
TooOld (1) about 4 years ago
I agree - resist the urge to tamper with rules, just enforce the current ones better. (E.g., if two heavyweights just do the Elephant Waltz for the entire first period, ding 'em both with a warning.)
dbabbitts (2) about 4 years ago
I like your comments about scoring and agree that parallel riding seems to be in vogue. I propose that the offensive wrestler (top man) only gets a riding time point if they are able to turn the bottom man for at least a two count (2 points). And that does not include a continuation move from either a takedown or a reversal. Your thoughts?
ColoradoHawkeye (2) about 4 years ago
Foley, you should take this genius idea to the NCAA riding time is only collected if you earned back points.Regulation only of course as RT is a tie breaker in OT. Its no different than the new Tfall rule and back points.
dbabbitts (1) about 4 years ago
In regards to OT, we should just turn the clock off and first score wins. Watching a wrestler hanging on an ankle to roll up riding time doesn't do it for me.
ColoradoHawkeye (1) about 4 years ago
Ya i do agree with you on OT, but i guess i was refering to when both men escape in the 2nd OT who ever has a time advantage at that time is given the point. Yes still flaws there though.
loosehead (1) about 4 years ago
Riding is an invaluable wrestling skill that deserves some reward. How many wrestlers have you seen lose matches because they can't ride out the last 30 seconds of a match. It is only one point, and it shows some level of dominance to control the opponent for that much more time. Or it shows that your opponent couldn't ride for any time at all. Tough riding can lead to back points, but it shouldn't be needed to get one match point for riding time. If anyone wasn't impressed by Retherford riding out Steiber, I doubt their wrestling judgement.
dbabbitts (1) about 4 years ago
They got rid of riding time in High School wrestling and High School wrestlers appear better prepared then ever before. The top man is supposed to work for a fall...we should reward him accordingly.
ColoradoHawkeye (1) about 4 years ago
I still do not think that going live in pratice is the same as going live in a match. Yes, we have practice in shorts and sweats for years, but even when we are going hard we stop when someone gets a a hand caught. I guarantee someone will get hurt. Even stopping quick i have seen dozens of fingers get dislocated practicing in shorts and tee shirts over the last 25 years. I cant wait for a shoe in in the finals to get knocked off due to a broken finger in the 2nd period.
ColoradoHawkeye (1) about 4 years ago
There are enough inherent dangers in wrestling do not add another one.
donkeylips (1) about 4 years ago
I couldn't agree more. It's almost as if TR has some kind of vested interest in changing the uniforms. There is absolutely no reason to move away from a singlet to shorts where people could get limbs, fingers, etc. caught and injured. Did someone promise you kickbacks if you help get the uniforms changed? You're like a low-level DC lobbyist.

On to my next point...what's up with your long-winded opening? Does anyone read it? It typically tends to be about something rather boring and you go on to give your opinion, which is, quite frankly, even more boring. Just get to the mail, answer a few questions, and go get a beer. Make life simple for everyone.
ohioslayer (2) about 4 years ago
Donkeylips - I happen to enjoy the openings as much as the questions and answers. Keep it up, Foley! Don't change a thing.
donkeylips (1) about 4 years ago
Sureeeeee you do.
conquistadors (1) about 4 years ago
1. I think it is safe to say that the singlet turns away junior high and high school boys. It is time to go in another direction.

2. I very much would like to see one additional point after a takedown if the takedown was secured by the wrestler that initiated the attack. Call it an Aggression Point. It would encourage attacking and allow for bigger come-backs. I see little disadvantage.

3. Riding. Simply make successful riding more difficult. Discourage parallel riding, ankle rides, spiral and claw rides. If top wrestler doesn't make progress after five seconds ref starts to count to five. At five, top wrestler is called for stalling. Also, no more scissors or figure fours ever--these things make it impossible for the bottom guy to do anything.
ched64 (1) about 4 years ago
I am all in favor of spicing up the action but how would new rules regarding posturing on the mat have incorporated Anthony Robles? All rule changes have unintended consequences whether they be well intentioned or not.
spencerszewczyk (1) about 4 years ago
As I've posted before, simply get rid of riding time. High school got rid of the riding time point years ago and the popularity of the sport exploded! It forced the top man to try to turn his opponents in order to earn points. As it stands right now, the official finds it hard to call "stalling" on the top man when he is riding and effectively earning a point for riding time accumulation. I personally think rewarding the top man for stalling is what makes collegiate wrestling boring when compared to high school.
lesman67 (1) about 4 years ago
Yeah, as an old time wrestler, I mean old as dirt, i never thought about rules changes but I kinda like the getting rid of the 1 pt riding time rule. Guys hanging on to the leg, standing up, walking the guy out of bounds and doing it all again, not so great. This would force guys to learn offensive moves. Take away that point and you've gotta do something else to get that pt back. I'm for it! Also, crank up the time for stalling underneath, if you're gonna make the top guy be aggressive, do the same for the bottom guy.