Foley's Friday Mailbag: February 21, 2014

A special thanks to everyone who has purchased a copy of Full Circle! If you haven't purchased one yet, there are still copies available. Don't wait. It's a beautiful tribute to the #SaveOlympicWrestling movement that takes you through our community's historic efforts.

If you want to talk shop, I'll also have copies available at the ACC Championships, World Cup, NCAAs and the U.S. Open. Thanks for the support!

There was a lively Twitter discussion this weekend as to the merits, or lack thereof, to the criteria-decided matches at the international level. The topic was spurred by Nick Marable's upset over two-time World champion and 2012 Olympic champion Jordan Burroughs, who had famously won his first 69 matches.

The victory wasn't just shocking for Burroughs' loss, but also by the manner of decision, a 4-4 match that was decided by criteria. As many readers know, there is no overtime in international competition, but a ranking system of valuations given to various items like value of move, last to score, and passivity warnings. These are meant to help nudge along action and ensure points.

Back to Twitter. Unlike Facebook, which requires friendship, Twitter is an open ballroom filled with shouting bystanders and whispering bullies. Last weekend's chat was raucous, but brought together a tidy cross-section of former wrestlers, each with a unique opinion on the validity of overtime. On one side there was the well-coifed and dashingly handsome Adam Tirappelle arguing against criteria (and FILA, et. al) and on the other the likes of me who saw the merits of criteria-based overtime. Tommy Rowlands stood somewhere in the middle, either keeping score, or keeping the peace.

Because Twitter transmits in 140 characters and mailbags usually come in around 2500 words, I was at a competitive disadvantage, but as was predicted by Rowlands, the mailbag would be our discussion tie-breaker. Though I have the unlimited cyber canvas with which to Steven Seagal the overtime argument, I am opting instead to step away for a curveball.

The NCAA needs to alter its overtime rules, too. (Bait-aaaaand-switch)

The wise and avuncular NCAA isn't often challenged re: rules changes, but this year -- with a dearth of scoring (excitement) and takedown rules that have become petty and obnoxious -- their rules are coming under more scrutiny. However, because we love collegiate wrestling and the NCAA makes money, many fans take the tact that "Well, 'hey' they gotta be doing something right!" and tend to not skewer their weaknesses.

That bystander approach of coaches and fans is changing. Wrestling from neutral is too defensive, but it's mat wrestling that is proving to be the biggest bore to fans. The NCAA rules must be analyzed for better action, and freeing up the dependency on double OT decisions might be a way to better action.

Cael Sanderson and others saw the weakness of the NCAA's overtime rules this weekend. Specifically, why is second tiebreaker a series of rideouts? Does saddling up an opponent like a cowboy on a rodeo bull prove you're the better wrestler? Do a series of crotch lifts head and arm chokes make for compelling action?

Doubtful. To some fans the "will-he-or-won't-he ride 'em" might be appealing, but to the casual fan it's a terrible drag on the pace of the day's matches and a distraction from what matters in wrestling.

Criteria gives credit to the wrestlers who score more dominating and exciting scoring actions in the course of the established, regulated six minutes of action. Ties are rare, but when they occur there is always an understanding of who lost, and why.

Criteria is pretty simple. For example, Marable scored two takedowns, while Burroughs scored one takedown and two pushouts. Should Burroughs have been awarded overtime for two sumo-pushes rather than a takedown? Wasn't the end of the match exciting? The drama and finality of knowing that he needed to score provided action and the frenetic type of wrestling that many fans enjoy. (Note: The scoreboard is being improved to display the winning wrestler instantly and easily.)

One thing that international wrestling could do to eliminate the problem is award a final point to the winning wrestler for having an advantage on criteria. Marable beats Burroughs 5-4 isn't confusing and avoids the red herring of criteria scores being "tied." Give him the point and people understand that Marable was the winner, which in essence is all the score is supposed to transmit.

Doesn't seem fair? Take a look at the tiebreaker scores in college. Wrestlers who win the ridetime exchange are left with tied scores. Do we burn down the house? The winning wrestler didn't score an offensive point, but wins the match, like Kellen Russell dec. Montel Marion, 3-3, TB2 in the 2011 semifinals. That's not more competitive or better than what happens at the international level.

The final consideration when estimating which overtime system you prefer is the influence of television. The time it takes to compete each match matters to broadcasters. At the Olympic level a limitless overtime period for a takedown would be a disaster for ratings and all but burn the clock on sponsors.

Limitless isn't workable, and if you make the overtime period a single one-minute period then you have to go to rules where people are grabbing balls from a bag. Nobody wants that. Ball bags are bad.

Overtime is sexy to American audiences because we see it works well in football. The pigskin partition works because it's portioned for advertisers by a clock that stops every 35 seconds. Soccer, the world's most popular sport, isn't as easily divided into those profitable nibbles of advertising space and therefor has plenty of ties.

Wrestling's largest asset is that it's divided into six-minute matches. These morsels of excitement can be blocked and advertised around, whereas a 21-minute overtime between the Chinese and Slovakian heavyweights in the Greco-Roman quarterfinals is a special type of visual hell.

Criteria keeps all six minutes of wrestling entertaining to fans, because each and every score matters. There is gamesmanship and strategy, but there is also pure wrestling. Competitors aren't afforded the option to cruise when leading by two points with 10 seconds remaining because giving up the last takedown is part of the criteria. Score now or lose.

Wrestling fans want action, and I promise you that international freestyle has become more exciting than collegiate rules. Maybe there is just more energy in the wrestling since elimination and resurrection, or maybe there was good luck with new rules, decent refereeing, or the foresight of people on the governing body's commission? No one answer suffices, but their rules, including criteria, work.

The NCAA needs to take note and change their overtime to something that pushes action, because watching two heavyweights lay atop of one another for alternating 30-second periods is a solution for sleep deprivation.

To your questions ...

Q: Did you see that raucous crowd of nearly 200 people for the National Duals? Impressive! It's a good thing that you, along with other national pundits, continue to press for NCAA duals. Perhaps if the NCAA endorses the National Duals setup they can double the attendance (or even triple it)! Also, notice how the top-seeded teams all not only won, but completely dismantled the lower-seeded teams? Carrying over National Dual team points to the individual tournament will only further distance the elite teams like Penn State, Iowa, and Minnesota from the rest of pack. Meanwhile, you'll be deemphasizing the current NCAA individual championship tournament, which has more spectators using the restroom at one time than actually attend the National Duals.
-- Todd S.

Foley: I laughed at the last line, and then I got sad when I realized that this was not hyperbole, but truth.

It would be a mistake to conflate the current NWCA National Duals with what the NCAA Championship Duals would look like. Calendars would change, host cities would be selected and teams would be compelled to compete. Though the devil is in the details, there is also some savior in those same details. Making teams go, and making it matter, will generate interest.

As for it only furthering the lead of the top teams, I don't buy it. Individuals can still place at the NCAA tournament, which makes the AD's and alumni happy. Meanwhile there is an additional income stream coming in for the sport. That's a big deal since the economic viability of the current NCAA system is under heavy scrutiny.

I've never had the time at the NCAA tournament to care about the team race. My teams were never in the hunt, but I think that goes for 98 percent of the teams that show up. It's as good as a statistical impossibility that four wrestlers from Stanford can do well enough at the individual tournament to propel themselves into a discussion for the team title. That lack of parity is exactly why everyone loves the individual tournament. If I'm a supporter of UNC-Chapel Hill I could give a flying goat if Iowa or Penn State wins the team title. I like watching the Carolina blue singlets, and maybe those from my conference.

My concern is on the upsets and individual stories. The conversation in the over-stuffed bathrooms tend to reviled not around the 13.5-point lead Penn State has on Iowa, but on the efforts of a wrestler from The Citadel, or the domination of Ed Ruth (for example).

Give the NCAA National Duals a chance. We can't expect to grow as a sport by sustaining the status quo.

Q: I'm sure the Jordan Burroughs' loss is flooding your mailbag. I just want to say wrestling has now had what could have been the best (Lance Armstrong minus blood doping) run in sports ended by a 4-4 loss, and Karelin's (the greatest Olympian of all time) legacy lost by a brief unlock of his hands in a clinch. While both rules have some merit behind their ideas, it just is absolutely foolish to think we can add/keep new fans with these idiotic decisions. Can FILA purposely harm themselves any more?

Overtime should simply happen with no clock until someone scores. Imagine a gold-medal match being 5-3 until a last-second takedown is awarded to win 5-5. We have so many people in this country that have wrestled who don't watch freestyle. We have to stop giving them reasons not to watch.
-- Tom B.

Foley: Though I spent a great deal of cyberspace talking about overtime, this question stays because you mentioned Karelin-Gardner.

Nowhere in the history of rule-making was more stupidity infused into a signle decision than the breaking grip rules seen in 2000. That's an utterly dumb rule, and though you equate it to the lack of OT, in fact there WAS an overtime in the Karelin-Gardner match.

Under new rules that match plays out differently. That match is watchable, understandable, exciting, fulfilling and a shining example of what is right with the sport. As it is, Jacques Rogge left the arena that day asking what the hell just happened.

The other reason I kept your question is that you were the only one to ask about Burroughs and Marable, which I found very, very odd.


Choo-Choo, Men: The Pico hype train gets another shovel full of coal

1996 Olympic wrestling highlights

Support Sara McMann

Your choice, but I support Cormier

Link: Soccer players do NOT belong on the wrestling mat

Q: As you have discussed before, the top man stalling on top or making little to no attempt to turn in order to get the riding time point is becoming a bigger problem. There is even a strategy that justifies stalling on top for two minutes, even if you give up a stalling point. (Two minutes of RT likely equals one point and avoiding giving up the escape gains another "point advantage" if you can escape in less than a minute.) I don't think we should get rid of riding time, but I have two suggestions and would like your opinion. First, the rule designated stalemate calls where the first time the bottom man gets to his feet with the top man's legs in or when the top man is hanging on an ankle while the bottom man is mule kicking out should be automatic stalling calls. It is the top man's job to advance position and it didn't make sense to give him the advantage of a restart to gain more riding time when he isn't returning the man to the mat or moving up. Second, perhaps the riding time point should only be given if the dominant wrestler has exposed his opponent's back to the mat. Just exposure or perhaps a one count would require the top man to work for back points as opposed to just hanging on. Top wrestlers could still work for not giving up an escape but it would only reward wrestlers looking for a turn.

Is this possible? Your thoughts?
-- Dan B.

Foley: This is the best idea I've read in 2014. Make the wrestlers score backpoints to earn the ride-time point! That was the intention of the rule, but there was never the incentive. We've gotten away from the inspiration for the rules in wrestling, and this is a SIMPLE solution to a COMPLEX problem.

Heineken? Guinness? Stella? Bud Light? First Okie City brew is on me.

Adam Coon is currently ranked No. 2 at heavyweight (Photo/Tony Rotundo,
Q: Most impressive true freshman: J'den Cox, Adam Coon, or Zain Retherford
-- Dave A.

Foley: Coon! He's at heavyweight and has beaten a two-time NCAA champion with offensive points. I like Retherford, but heavyweight isn't kind terrain for 18-year-olds, and I want to see him make it through NCAAs without getting stalled out of a match.

J'den Cox is my No. 2.

By Mark B.

I know that a lot is happening in the Division I wrestling season right now but I would like to see a few more stories on some of the smaller programs. I don't know if you are aware but a first-year junior college team, Northeastern Oklahoma A&M, just cleaned house at the West Central Regional Championships. They had all ten wrestlers in the finals and ended up with nine champions. I may be a little biased because I was an NAIA wrestler and my younger brother now wrestles for NEO, but there are still some great stories outside of the Division I level. It would be great to see some of these stories on InterMat.

By Ronald M.

Here's an idea: from a neutral restart, the first wrestler to gain control of his opponent's leg scores one point, a wrestler achieving a takedown scores two points (whether or not he scores the one aforementioned point). For example:
A. Red gains control of green's leg and then achieves a takedown -- 3 points for red

B. Red gains control of green's leg, but green subsequently achieves a takedown -- 1 point for red, 2 points for green

C. Red gains control of green's leg, but no takedown is subsequently achieved (due to stalemate, action going out of bounds, green escaping his leg from red's control) -- 1 point for red

This has several practical advantages -- given a clear definition of "gain control of opponent's leg," it's not an arbitrary call for the referee (the problem with passivity calls), it's difficult to game the system (both wrestlers now have an incentive to shoot, and to prevent their opponent from capturing their leg), it still rewards scrambling (since you can score a two-point takedown after your opponent shoots and gains control of your leg).


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conquistadors (1) about 4 years ago
The riding time "problem" seems so simple to me: MAKE SUCCESSFUL RIDING MORE DIFFICULT. Parallel rides,go-nowhere spiral or claw or ankle rides should have a very limited time to work, or stalling is called. aLSO, When the bottom wrestler gets to his feet, top wrestler has limited time to return to the mat, or stalling is called (now, refs allow top guy 20+ seconds or allows top guy to push bottom guy out).

Successful riding should be made more difficult. If this were the case, top guys would need to employ more challenging rides and bottom guys would be escaping or reversing the top wrestler more easily.

I say, let's keep mat wrestling, keep riding time, make successful riding more difficult, and reward successful riding.
klinich615 (1) about 4 years ago
klinich615 (1) about 4 years ago
ColoradoHawkeye (1) about 4 years ago
how about riding time can not force a tie unless you have back points to support your riding time.
tucker o (1) about 4 years ago
Dan B., excellent idea to require exposure to earn the riding time bonus...I'm a little upset that I never thought of it!
AFurnas (1) about 4 years ago
I second the motion! Brilliant idea Dan B.!
spencerszewczyk (1) about 4 years ago
You said you chose Coon as the most impressive freshman because he beat a two time NCAA champion with offensive points. Forgive me but didn't Zain Retherford do the exact same thing to a two time NCAA champion by gaining a takedown in overtime? And I would say nobody on the planet thought Zain could beat Steiber!
dbabbitts (1) about 4 years ago
I agree. It appears Retherford will complete the regular season undefeated, including a win over a 2x returning champion. But even if you give Coon credit for being a heavy weight, how do you choose Cox over Retherford for #2??
dbabbitts (1) about 4 years ago
T.R....I suggested that the riding time point be attached to back points last week. You seem to like the idea. This week I suggest that any ideas you like are rewarded with free Intermat service. Your thoughts ;)
CoachC (1) about 4 years ago
The riding time problem is the refs. Kids will get away with whatever adults refuse to prohibit. If the refs working the big tournaments are the "best", we are in trouble. I know some say don't let the refs settle it, but if they do their job, the one who wrestles hard settles it. Stalling is not working on top for the pin. Period. Riding an ankle/claw/side headlock should be instantly stalemated and then hit for stalling. How about this; Ride all you want, but a stall call costs you 30 seconds of ride time. A little bit ago, Howe took three stall calls in a period to get 2 min of ride time. This suggestions leaves him with 30 seconds and three stall calls. I have commented a couple of times on riding time. It needs to go, or be heavily regulated. I am old school. Top is for working to pin, nothing else. Not trying to turn is stalling.
CholleyVandine (1) about 4 years ago
"Give the Edsel a chance. We can't expect to grow as an auto company by sustaining the status quo."

- Henry Ford II, November 1958
NJDan (1) about 4 years ago
I have another solution to the riding time problem: Whenever the top man rides for 30 seconds without turning the bottom man, blow the whistle and put the wrestlers back on their feet. This would not be deemed an escape: No point is awarded. If the, top man has a pinning move in place at the end of 30 seconds, he'd be allowed 5 seconds grace to finish it. You can still have a RT point, but it would have to be earned in spurts of 30 seconds or less.

In OT, if we must have rideouts, you can have the same rule, but end the ride after 15 seconds.
tonyrotundo (1) about 4 years ago
RE: Intl Overtime: What if we did this...If the score is tied at the end of regulation you display on the clock which wrestler will win based on criteria should there be no score in a 1 minute OT? Then you wrestle that 1 minute OT, first score wins, if time runs out one wrestler wins on criteria.
PSUhomerinVA (1) about 4 years ago
Wow... just saw the video on Pico. (then had to google some more info) This kid seems years beyond his age - on the mat as well as personally.
I could barely wipe my own nose at his age. He is going to be something to watch over the next decade.
rruddy2 (1) about 4 years ago
Why not just wrestle overtime until somebody scores. No breaks, no time just wrestle until somebody scores a takedown.
Corby184 (1) about 4 years ago
All this talk about RT being changed or making matches boring is getting a little carried away. If we start cracking down on how long someone can ride, have legs in, etc. it's going to do little more than incentivize the bottom man to stall. Most good riders (heavyweights excluded) are also good turners, and the only reason they aren't able to turn is because the bottom man isn't working up, but rather trying no to get turned. ie. stalling.