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, Tech-Fall.com)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The low-level attacks of guys like Burroughs and Leen have been replaced by a whole lotta nada, because the new flash takedown rule penalizes offensive mistakes by rewarding cheap defensive maneuvers.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.
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.
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.
COMMENT OF THE WEEK
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.