Foley's Friday Mailbag: April 11, 2014

The Friday Mailbag turns 2 years old today. Thank you to the readers, emailers and commenters who have helped make this weekly discussion of wrestling topics so popular. I would have expected writing a weekly column would be mind-numbing repetitiveness, but you have kept it fresh and provided adept insight into our sport's biggest issues. Thanks again for all your support and loyalty. -- Tim

Zeke Jones shook up the wrestling world this week when he left his post as head freestyle coach for USA Wrestling to take over the head coaching job at Arizona State. The move made sense for Jones, but for USA Wrestling it left an uncertain future.

Jones deserves a lot of praise for the job he did with the USA Wrestling men's freestyle program. A 1991 World champion and silver medalist at the Barcelona Olympics, Jones used his passion and insight into international freestyle to help revamp and retool a struggling USA program. His 2012 Olympic team was one of the country's most successful, earning two gold medals and a bronze. Jones oversaw the development of Jordan Burroughs and was brilliant in giving Mark Manning the space to coach his wrestler the way he saw appropriate. He leaves Colorado Springs with America as the No. 3 freestyle squad in the world.

ASU coach Zeke Jones and wife Renee have four children (Photo/Tony Rotundo,
I ran into Jones a few months ago at the Yariguin tournament in Krasnoyarsk and he was open about the challenges of running the national team. As you might expect, bi-weekly international travel is taxing physically and emotionally. The work takes you away from your family and the home life that we often take for granted. With four children, Jones wanted to spend more time at home, but he also wanted to win.

College coaching won't mean a ton of free time for Jones. But after pushing hard for several years, Jones was fortunate to be presented with a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to coach at his alma mater. Even the most die-hard USA Wrestling fans would find it tough to blame Jones for making the move.

But those same fans might also see the danger of making a switch mid-Olympic cycle.

Jones was a master organizer and did well to get his wrestlers into a system where they knew what to expect and what was expected of them. With a coaching change the attitude and direction of the team are sure to change. Some wrestlers will enjoy and progress, while others will resist and leave. The balance between the former and the latter will depend on the transition team and how well the rules are carried over. Since Jones did such a great job, it's likely that much of his system will remain.

So who's next?

That's tough to predict since the job COULD appeal to any coach in the country.

I would like to see Cael Sanderson take a shot at coaching the international team. He's proven that he can win several consecutive NCAA titles as a wrestler and coach, and can even lead an individual Olympic wrestler to gold. Could he also lead a team to the freestyle title?

John Smith, Tom Brands, Mark Manning, Sammie Henson, Lou Rosselli, and Sean Bormet are all great names from the college ranks. Then there are those already on staff like Bruce Burnett (who is heading the transition), Brandon Slay, and Bill Zadick.

Whoever USA Wrestling chooses they'll have an uphill climb in 2014. The world is getting more competitive with teams like India, Mongolia, Georgia and Azerbaijan reloading for the upcoming World Championships in Tashkent. Then there is an Iranian team that is arguably the best freestyle team to take the mat since the USSR teams of the 1970's. The Russians are deep enough to field four top-ten teams.

The new freestyle coach will have to play a head-spinning game of catch-up on scouting likely opponents and figuring out which of our wrestlers are best suited for competition. He'll have to play politics, travel 200k miles a year and work his butt off just to keep the team at the level it's enjoyed during Jones' tenure. I'm cautiously optimistic that everything will be ironed out by early summer, but if it's not, that's just our luck.

To your questions ...

Q: I would love to see a postseason all-star/charity event that brings in one or two top-ranked wrestlers at each weight class from Division I, Division II, Division III, and NAIA to compete against each other. I think it would be exciting to see them go at it.
-- Jared W.

Foley: Agreed, though I'm sure that after five months of knocking heads that some of these guys just want to relax and enjoy college life. As many fans remember, the NCAA tournament once invited the best from Division II and Division III. Probably made for an interesting event, but the NCAA hates fun and segregated the tournaments.

Q: Rank all the Big Ten programs (1-14) in terms of most desirable head coaching position.
-- Mike T.

Foley: There was only one way to make the list with any slant towards equality, and that was to create the scenario in which every position was open and you were asked to bid on becoming the coach. To do this you also have to assume their current statue within the league, the possibility of adding funding and support, and all other options I'm sure a coach weighs when choosing a job.

In essence, this is as much about how I think everyone else would rate the jobs, as it is my own read.

1. Penn State
2. Iowa
3. Michigan
4. Minnesota
5. Ohio State
6. Nebraska
7. Illinois
8. Wisconsin
9. Northwestern
10. Michigan State
11. Maryland
12. Indiana
13. Rutgers
14. Purdue

Q: How does the University of Texas not have a wrestling team? The Big 12 could really use another team and that athletic department has money to burn, plus I've read where high school wrestling is getting better in Texas.
-- Tim J.

Foley: High school wrestling in Texas is improving. The teams are performing better at the national level and the Division I talent produced seems to indicate there is more on the way.

The biggest battle for wrestling in a state like Texas (and the entire Deep South) is to overcome the popularity of football and the pervasiveness of the NFL-type protect-the-shield culture. Football will always be legal in the state of Texas. Long after Connecticut moves over to flag football leagues, Texas will still allow their 9-year-old sons to ram head-first into each other. This affects wrestling because the more the sport is attacked, the more a place like Texas is likely to double-down on their love for their sport and push away anything that seems like a threat.

Also, with the recent developments of student-athletes getting closer to earning a paycheck from their work, schools like Texas are going to be much more careful about how and where they spend their monies.

I think that when we talk about adding Division I college programs we have to look first at the schools with proud traditions whose teams were lost to Title IX in the 90's, or to budget cuts in the Aughties. For me it's easier to imagine the reinstatement of a program because the alumni base -- which is significant in raising funds and awareness -- is already in place and motivated to achieve. Places like Clemson, Syracuse, Fresno State, Notre Dame and even Yale are the lead candidates for navigating the difficult task of reviving a lost program.

Q: I read on InterMat (interview with Drew Pariano) that Jason Tsirtsis and Aaron Pico are going to wrestle at Beat the Streets on May 7. How do you see that match playing out?
-- Mike C.

Foley: Whoa. Love it.

This is (I think) going to be freestyle so I give the edge to Pico. If he does win that also means that fans will be yapping for months about how the California Kid would have been the world's greatest ever collegiate wrestler. Except I'm choosing him because he's really, really good and been training exclusively in freestyle for more than a year.

Pico's win over Russia's Emeev was impressive, especially after the latter's runner-up performance at Yariguin in January. His progression will be vital to showing the next generation of American high schoolers that they don't have to wrestle in college to win the Olympics.

Should be a fantastic match.

Q: In freestyle, with all the recent changes to the rules and scoring again and again ... and finally again, and with the U.S. Open just around the corner, is there a link you could share that shows the current freestyle wrestling rules as they apply today?
-- Randy B.

Foley: The freestyle rules are more-or-less unchanged since the end of last year. Here is the quick and dirty.

  • 2-point takedowns
  • 1-point reversals
  • 1-point pushout
  • 2-point shoulder exposure, 1-point hand-to-hand exposure
  • All exposures from feet are now counted as point (no 5-point or 3-point)
  • 10-point technical superiority
  • First criteria is highest scoring maneuver

    As most people came to see with the World Cup in Los Angeles, the new rules have created plenty of action. No more ball draws and clinches and very few matches decided by criteria.

    To set the record straight on the perceived awfulness of criteria, there is criteria in college wrestling. It's just that international wrestling doesn't add a point to the winning side at the end of the match, like what happens at the end of a double OT rideout. I know we all hate the idea of no overtime, but what is gained far outweighs whatever you think is lost. If wrestling wants to get tournaments on television it needs to control the times of the matches.

    Though a lack of overtime might feel unfair, there is no way to implement the addition of a period without de-motivating the wrestlers from action. When the score is tied late the action is incredible, but when there is overtime, wrestlers often cruise -- choosing instead to have a quick rest and sudden victory scenario.

    Q: Do you reckon David Taylor of Penn State is the best four-time finalist/two-time champion in NCAA history. He's a Cyborg. Who were some other four-time finalists/two-time champions or three-time finalists/two-time champions?
    -- Big Iron

    Foley: Reckon so. The domination of opponents and only tripping up against the two opponents for a total of three losses makes Taylor and Ben Askren the top two choices. For what it's worth, I think of Taylor as a Gumby not a Cyborg. He's loose and long, where as a Cyborg is someone who can cause internal damage with a single look. Like ...

    Roberto "Cyborg" Abreau. This man is a Cyborg.

    Roberto "Cyborg" Abreau

    Q: I just got finished watching Boris Novachov's match against Toghrul Asgarov and I was wondering if to solve this new type of top ride/stall and to increase our success on the Olympic level (I acknowledge that we are steadily improving) do you see the NCAA ever instituting the standup rule like in freestyle if the top man is not working for the turn? I know it might sound like an extreme change but maybe one to consider!
    -- Jim D.

    Foley: Big win by Boris. When you watch the match you can FEEL Asgarov getting more and more tired. Boris' stuff was working and his four-point double leg was one of the best techniques of the weekend.

    Asgarov was wrestling in his first tournament since winning the 2012 Olympics, where the rules were still a little funny. He was up to a new weight and rusty, but when all was done is was Boris's training that proved the difference.

    The NCAA does need to consider the standup rule. Here is the history lesson on why America has mat wrestling. Ready? Set. Go!

    The current form of American traditional wrestling came from Irish collar-and-elbow style that showed up first in the northeast but eventually trickled across the country. Early matches would happen during March meetings when farmers and associated businessman would meet in rural New England locations to talk logistics and pricing, but would be entertained by the meeting of each town's best wrestlers. There were no points. Pin to win and on the ground wrestlers could use a variety of catch wrestling holds to incapacitate opponents.

    Eventually the talent gap shrank and the sport split off into two avenues: Professional and amateur wrestling, with a third much smaller catch wrestling which combined elements of both, but allowed for submissions.

    Amateur wrestling still wanted to see the fall, but over the years began to shed some of the more painful ways to turn over an opponent. Just like guillotines are a recent exclusion due to the pain inflicted, there are several dozen maneuvers used in the barns and backyards of the early 20th century which are now illegal.

    Without those holds and with points mattering more wrestlers began to feel satisfied with points victories. Pins have always been sexy, desirable and incentivizes, but as time has ticked past the 6-2 match is more common than the 62-second fall.

    That seems to have reached a pinnacle in 2014 with riding time playing the slim margin in an increasing number of matches. By gaming the system using maneuvers that allowed top wrestlers to move perpendicular without really trying for a fall, there were 100s of hours of college wrestling that looked like a man vs. man rodeo. Riding time dulled the action, but was ever-important in deciding the victor of razor thin matches.

    (Side note: riding time is also technically a criterion since no points are being scored.)

    The NCAA needs to address the riding time issue and the dearth of scoring in general. Though I dislike the idea, I'm willing to trust that they will find a solution to create scoring. Wrestling is a difficult sport to manage because the very essence of the sport asks for gamesmanship. Rule alterations are necessary to keep up the action on the mat.

    The only question left will be "how" they decide to incentivize action. I'm with you in thinking that a few more standups might not be a bad idea.

    Q: Do you think Nick Sulzer will become Virginia's first national champion next season? The top three placewinners at 165 pounds are graduating, clearing the way nicely for Sulzer. However, I have heard that Dieringer is moving up to 165 pounds. Sulzer vs. Dieringer in the NCAA finals perhaps?

    Also, supposedly J'den Cox is moving up to heavyweight next year. How do you think he will fare against guys like Adam Coon, Nick Gwiazdowski, Bobby Telford, and Mike McMullen?
    -- Dave T.

    Nick Sulzer (Photo/Tony Rotundo,
    Foley: Sulzer has the talent to make the NCAA finals and with an offseason of improvements comparable to gains he made last summer, he should be in the hunt. He didn't finish the season well, and wrestled tentatively at NCAAs. As an alum it's my hope that he takes a killer's attitude into next year's tournament and doesn't stop until he wins the national title.

    I hadn't heard much about his move up to heavyweight. Will he be big enough? I think that Gwiazdowski would have world's more trouble with Cox than he would with a heavyweight like Telford. What I like overall is that the division is getting more athletic. NCAA wrestling is better when our heavyweights are moving around and scoring points.


    By Brian W.

    Regarding stalling at the college level, if it's going to be called more often (which I absolutely agree, as a high school and college official myself, needs to be done), one major thing needs to be done.

    A great deal of power needs to be taken away from coaches in terms of who officiates their matches.

    At all levels, coaches have way too much pull with assigners with regard to blackballing officials from their duals, or keeping them off their mats in tournaments. Should a coach have an assigner/commissioner as a recourse to vent frustrations and call attention to potential errors or issue? Of course, but to be able to say that a referee will not work your matches? It's cherry-picking your own guys on some level, and it also means that the referees who work the matches are very cognizant of not pissing off the wrong guy.

    Has to stop, or else it's not going to get better.

    By Clint W.

    You had a few defensive pin topics/arguments in your mailbag as of late ... I have a rule that I feel would solve that inequity.

    If you have control (i.e. are in the top position), a pin is one-second. All other positions, it is two seconds. This would eliminate the injustice when a superior wrestler gets touch falled on a roll-through or when scrambling, etc.

    If you take somebody down to their back, you are awarded a two-point takedown before backs are counted, so this would not change that as you would have control, so this would just apply to scrambles and pins from the bottom position, which you should need to demonstrate an extra level of control for.
  • Comments

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    spencerszewczyk (1) about 4 years ago
    The division II champ used to get an invite to the Div I NCAA tournament until Carlton Haselrig (UPJ) won 3 Div II titles and also won 3 Div I titles. I don't think the Div I teams liked their wrestlers losing to the Div II guys so soon after this, they stopped doing it.
    As for great three time finalists, two time champs, how about Kurt Angle and Wade Schalles as two of the best all-time?
    Finally, if you want to increase action in college wrestling, get ride of the ride time point. High school got rid of it years ago in order to force action by the top man.
    Duhawk45 (1) about 4 years ago
    Never heard of Roberto Abreau before, but God Damn, someone needs to get Dana White on the phone.
    wadabuka (1) about 4 years ago
    Easy on the Cael train. It's inevitable to win NCAA's when you have Ruth and Taylor.
    Dean20 (2) about 4 years ago
    wadabuka...stick to soccer. Surely, you can't be stupid in two sports.
    dbabbitts (1) about 4 years ago
    But the best coaches don't have to win NCAA titles...Robinson was awarded coach of the year and his team was 1-8 in the Big 10 semifinals and 0-2 in the NCAA Finals.
    However I would criticize Cael for not knowing the rules and challenging the officials ruling in their dual with Minnesota. Cost him an undefeated season.
    spencerszewczyk (1) about 4 years ago
    If you're referring to Cael challenging the fleeing the mat penalty point against Beitz, then you don't know the truth to that situation. Cael was right, the refs were wrong: there is no penalty point for fleeing the mat in NCAA wrestling. The refs cost Penn State an undefeated season, not Cael.
    dbabbitts (1) about 4 years ago
    As I recall Cael apologized to Beitz for not challenging the call during the match. My point was Cael was remiss in not doing so. It cost Beitz and Penn State a win.
    jammen (1) about 4 years ago
    And not to mention the double class.
    Colorado-Hawkeye (1) about 4 years ago
    We have heard all the pros and cons for changing on the mat rules to eliminate stalling and produce activity. So food for thought, why not adjust the team scoring. Starters incorporate a team tech pt for stalling in stead of a match point. Also decisions and majors with no nearfalls are 1 and 2 points respectively pins are worth 7. Not that this is perfect just a new direction to explore.
    Colorado-Hawkeye (1) about 4 years ago
    Although I have mentioned this I am a firm advocate of a handful of on the mat rule changes as well involving riding time and push outs ect.
    Colorado-Hawkeye (1) about 4 years ago
    I think push outs could set up some great throws. We have seen this on the senior circuit already red pushes to hard and blue sucks him in for a 4pt throw.
    DannyClarke (2) about 4 years ago
    I think John Smith would be the best technician for the job but good luck pulling him away from OSU before he wins another title there.

    Mark Manning is probably the best fit.
    He excels at getting the most out of his wrestlers. (Burroughs, Brester, Browne, Dwyer, Donahoe, Green, Kokesh - all had had better than expected careers)

    Great technique, tough conditioning, he has his wrestlers respect AND he has experience coaching on the world level for the national team.
    Jefe (1) about 4 years ago
    Another reason Texas could be a long way off: UT truly is title-or-bust in sports. They will not create a new program unless they can win national championships quickly. That's unrealistic with the current in-state talent pool.

    They especially will not tolerate being 2nd fiddle behind Oklahoma in anything -- let alone 3rd fiddle behind OU and OSU.
    hwtsrgr8 (1) about 4 years ago
    Brian W is right!

    Coaches have way too much influence on who gets to ref.

    I for one asked that a ref to enforce the "coaches attire" rule on a well known Big 12 coach and I was told by the ref that he wants to someday ref the Big 12s and the NCAAs so there is no way he would ever tell that coach that he was breaking the rules.

    This notion applies to stalling as well as calling coachmat sideatside behavior.

    Refs are not going to call big name coaches or teams for violations as long as coaches have influence on who refs what.
    Corby184 (1) about 4 years ago
    It's been said on here before, but I think the easiest way to fix the riding time problem is to only award the point if the wrestler has scored nearfall. This would get rid of the top stallers who don't try to turn people, and would reward people who actually wrestle from top. It's similar to having to get nearfall for a 5pt technical fall. It may incentivize the bottom wrestler to stall even more, though...
    Maybe the refs should just call stalling.
    dbabbitts (1) about 4 years ago
    The top man should get 30 seconds to get near fall points, then the official stops the action and returns the wrestlers to Referees position. Another 30, and the wrestlers - like freestyle - start neutral. I think in this scenario you create more action without creating more grief. If the top man can't turn, he losses control...if the bottom man can't get out, he forfeits his neutral point.
    Colorado-Hawkeye (1) about 4 years ago
    DannyClarke (1) about 4 years ago
    :30 seconds and return to neutral?!? Might as well get rid of top wrestling. Did you ever wrestler? You have to break em down, get out to the side, set up your series whether its getting a wrist, a leg in, etc. It often takes more than :30 to set up a turn.. that doesnt mean they arent working for a turn.

    Corby nailed it. They should have to get a nearfall to earn the riding point.
    DannyClarke (1) about 4 years ago
    Colorado-Hawkeye (1) about 4 years ago
    Danny the point is either you are riding or turning. 30 seconds is enough to initiate a turn. I don't think he means if you are 8degrees away from a tilt when the clock hits 30 the ref will stop it. Maybe it could have been worded better but 30sec is 25% of the period(1st excluded)plenty of time to make a decision and try something. Your effort will then open up the bottom guy for stalling. I still do not think his intentions include the demise on a good scramble in these cases. ?.? At least the more we discuss this the closer we will get to wrestling like our generation, aye fellas.
    dbabbitts (1) about 4 years ago
    I think the advent of the tilt allows wrestlers to ride in a more parallel position (in the old days you got out to the side more and worked halves and arm bars). I don't think the rules for controlling a wrestler on top evolved with the tilt. I suggested last year that the top man only get's a point if he scores back points and some people raised the concern of the bottom man just preventing points, and I agree you open that door.
    That's why I like a rule where both men have something to gain...and lose. The details can vary.
    dbabbitts (1) about 4 years ago
    I did and I think 30 seconds is plenty of time to earn near fall points. The idea is to create more action without compromising one position more than another. If you think that's too drastic, then make it :45 seconds...either way, the concept is the same.
    gaertner (1) about 4 years ago
    Need more time? Take him down again. The discussion is about creating action. You'd see more action if you have only 30 seconds to turn or 30 seconds to get an escape. Think about the incentive for the bottom man to get moving if he loses an opportunity for an escape point after 30 seconds.
    Colorado-Hawkeye (1) about 4 years ago
    well put
    leeperryan (1) about 4 years ago
    It seems to me that wrestlers stall just as much in neutral as they do in the top position. The officials need to call stalling to force the action, rather than change the rules.
    gaertner (1) about 4 years ago
    I just don't feel like it should be the referee's job to "force the action." If we don't have a product that encourages action without a third party, then is it a quality product? The rules themselves should be put in place to encourage action without being overbearing or difficult to understand. It has been pointed out on several occasions that FILA has seemed, as of now, to have developed a way to encourage action by way of the rules without relying too heavily upon the judgement of an individual who is not actually wrestling in the match.
    psulou64 (1) about 4 years ago
    I agree that no points should be award for riding unless back points have been awarded. I don't even like the term "riding time" because just in name alone in indicates rewarding for just staying on top.
    My biggest gripe is the rideout criteria for OT. To me that's a terrible tie break. Personally i hate watching them hang on for dear life for 30 seconds hoping to keep the botton man down. I think that offensive points should be the criteria or just keep going through the rotation until there is a clear winner.
    Colorado-Hawkeye (1) about 4 years ago
    Psu love what you said about riding time. However, with OT that could take a long time is some cases. Why not adapt a push out rule and only do OT from neutral?
    dbabbitts (1) about 4 years ago
    I agree...Cael has it right...put on their feet and let them wrestle till someone gets a takedown.
    BDB50 (1) about 4 years ago
    I would like to find out how the dual point system was determined ( 3 pts for a match win,5 for a tech w/nearfall pts and 6 for a pin. Personally I think every match point earned by each wrestler should cont toward determining the meet winning team. I think that would create more action not only from the winning wrestler but the loser as well since every point he scores matters.

    In the case of a major, tech or pin additional pts could be added to the match points to the ending by any form of match termination.

    I think this would more accurately show the better team as it does not cap what a dominate wrester could earn and would prevent a team from winning by slowing(stalling) it's way to 5 or 6 1-2 point wins.

    As far as OT..... I'm for a single 3 minute pd from neutral followed by criteria decide by refs. I think more often than not you would have a winner either late in reg or OT as not many want to have a ref decide the issue!
    Colorado-Hawkeye (1) about 4 years ago
    I still bet with a push out point OT would be short and sweet. It always ends up with one point or a throw in little time. When guys get to pushing and pulling things happen and it is more assertive to drive someone out then hang on for dear life as seen in the ride out version of OT.
    Soldier184 (1) about 4 years ago
    I agree with Foley. Let's hope Cael takes the USA Wrestling position! I love Penn State, but I love Team USA more!
    hwtsrgr8 (1) about 4 years ago
    As much as I respect Cael and what he has done at PSU and ISU, I think his success stems from his creation of a system/family/environment. I don't see that working as the National Coach because he would not be with the wrestlers long enough to instill his type of attitude.
    Pat Fetter (1) about 4 years ago
    3-time finalists, 2-time champs...Dan Gable? Anyone know who that guy is or if he would be a valid argument?
    Boost230 (1) about 4 years ago
    Have you given any thought to looking at the NCAA results and comparing how the seeding committee did vs how Intermat's last rankings? might make an interesting article given all the uproar going in.