Foley's Friday Mailbag: April 18, 2014

The NCAA Wrestling Rules Committee this week suggested experimental rules recommendations for the 2014-2015 season. The initial reaction of many fans was to welcome the changes even as few details were given about the interpretations of the rules.

According to the NCAA's release, these are the rules they'll be asking for coaches to discuss at their annual meeting this summer:

1. "... wrestlers who step out of bounds with both feet while in a neutral position. In this scenario, the referee will call stalling on that wrestler."

2. "... from a kneeling starting position on the mat, the wrestler in the top position drops to a lower extremity or uses a side headlock. In either of these situations, the referee will make a visual five-second count using his arm. If the wrestler who started in the top position doesn't make an attempt to engage in action before the referee reaches the count of five, the referee will call stalling."

3. "... a wrestler earning a position of control, such as a takedown or a reversal to earn the top position, and the action comes to a natural stoppage. An example of a natural stoppage would be when the wrestlers go out of bounds. In the proposed experimental rule, instead of beginning in a kneeling position on the re-start, the wrestler who earned the top position can indicate to the referee that he elects for the next action to begin in the neutral position. (No point would be awarded for the escape)"

Nahshon Garrett and Jesse Delgado battle in the NCAA finals (Photo/Simon Jimenez,
There are plenty of scenarios to suss out, and many, many ways for craftier wrestlers to exploit the rule changes. It's not too difficult to see there will be some belly-aching should a wrestler make an attempt at a takedown on the edge, but end up being pushed out for a stall call. What happens if both feet go out during a scramble? Will restarts where the top wrestler pushes out the bottom wrestler be called stalling?

A discussion of what might happen is sure to progress through the comments section, but what about the bigger questions? Why are we not addressing what it is we want the wrestlers to accomplish on the mat? We're missing the bigger picture on what we want from the sport of American wrestling. Do we want takedowns and points? Or do we want falls? Do we want action? Or do we want the illusion of "fairness?"

It's obvious (to me) that in order to please more coaches and fans, the committee has intentionally blurred boundary lines -- both physical and temporal -- to compensate for a lack of desire to make concrete decisions. The 32-foot circle use to be the steadfast out-of-bounds demarcation, as in literally out-of-bounds, but recently the committee sought to create action by making that line irrelevant and extending wrestling to virtually all wrestle-able surfaces. There is still an out-of-bounds, but now it's sort of an amorphous conglomeration of judgmental boundaries that includes hardwood floors, other mat space, scorer's table and simple referee discretion.

Compare this to the international set of rules which treats the out-of-bounds line like a ring of fire. That hardened approach to the boundary has created massive action in the center of the mat. Scoring is up by almost 200 percent across all styles and though pushouts occur regularly, they do so mostly as a penalty to defensive wrestlers and draws them into creating scoring actions.

The NCAA's rules want to address this problem, but instead of getting to the heart of any matter, they simply come up with a patchwork of solutions -- each as susceptible to gamesmanship as the rules that preceded their implementation.

The NCAA has also grayed the lines with the idea of what a match has become in terms of time. International rules don't have overtime, and that's because at some point wrestling -- when decided by points, not pin -- must come down to some criteria or else simply run into perpetuity. The calculation of the international community was to make athletes compete in the time given and level out the time of the match so that everyone knows what to expect. No gamesmanships is available to a wrestler who doesn't have the one shot miracle takedown in overtime. Remember the ball draw? The elimination of overtime also eliminates playing for coin flips in OT or riding out a leg. Six minutes, get it done or don't.

The NCAA is trying to address their own failures in creating definitive ends to boundaries and matches by eliminating the side headlock and dropping to the leg. These are without question the two most popular moves in rideout scenario, and yet instead of addressing the problem that rideouts exist at all, the committee chose to quasi-eliminate the overuse of popular moves.

At the center of the rules interpretation is something much more disturbing. The NCAA Wrestling Committee is now the head for all wrestling rules in the United States and yet they have no oversight and accept very little influence sans annual reports from the convention.

Scholastic style is the traditional wrestling style of the American people and whether or not we like it, the NCAA has hijacked our ability to determine what type of matches we want to see. The NCAA takes a beating for a lack of transparency (as they should) but instead of just restricting food intake, they are now leading a traditional sport in whichever direction they choose without clearly stating their guiding principles or intentions.

What is their operating motivation? TV Ratings? Scoring? Pinning? What do they wish to accomplish in changing the rules each year?

The NCAA doesn't govern the universal rules of football, basketball, baseball or soccer. Their rules are mostly static. Why should we let wrestling's largest stakeholders and those deciding the future of the sport be appointed and approved through a largely opaque process with no accountability? Why can't there be an independent body able to look at these matters with clear eyes and a bent towards the history of the sport?

Say for example these rules fail, or more accurately that the last set of rule changes proved to be a detriment to the sport. What is the fallout for those who manipulate the rules? Are they kicked from the board? Are they asked to resign their post?

Also, just how diverse is this committee? Are there any student-athletes on the committee? Any press? Anybody who lives outside the oligarchy of Oz? What does the NCAA Rules committee handle, and what does the Championship committee cover? Who is the overseer of both?

Nothing about the organization is clear, and the more power they assume the less that the coaches and those invested in the sport can provide influence. Our fans have great ideas on what wrestling can become and though we live in a democratic society the rulers of our sport are appointed.


Look around the world and you'll find traditional wrestling styles that have been unchanged for hundreds and even thousands of years. The outfits, rules and dance that surround their style have importance within the culture. The choices they made, the people they've become, the people they want to be. Wrestling is a mirror on their cultures.

I hope that's not true in America. The America I enjoy is one that elects decision-makers, that opens the floor to debate and that sets out clearly-defined goals. Right now the America that I see reflected in our wrestling style is soulless, profit-focused, reactionary and exploitative bureaucracy accountable to nothing and nobody.

The rules will change. People will either enjoy them, or hate them, but at the end of the day the process is run by the same dozen people, none of whom are elected and none of whom are accountable.

To your questions ...

Q: Can anyone stop Logan Stieber from becoming a four-time NCAA champ? If so, who?
-- Gregg Y.

Foley: No.

The other answer is "Logan Stieber" but he doesn't strike me as self-destructive. The only things keeping Stieber from winning four straight titles is an injury. That's about it.

Q: Do you think Jason Tsirtsis has the skills to be a four-time NCAA champ?
-- Gregg Y.

Greg Jones (Photo/Danielle Hobeika)
Foley: Having the skills to win it as a freshman guarantees that you have the skills to win it three more times. However, the odds of him winning three more titles are pretty slim.

Look at Greg Jones, arguably the most dominant freshman wrestler to win a title in the past 20 years. Jones looked like he'd cruise to four titles after an impressive freshman campaign, but he failed to place as a sophomore, losing to Ralph Everett (Hofstra) and Rashad Evans (Michigan State). His junior and senior seasons were laughable. He was hardly challenged en route to rattling off back-to-back titles.

In addition to the odds working against Tsirtsis, the middleweights see a lot of talent get trafficked through and for Tsirtsis that means guys like Hunter Stieber who come off redshirt seasons hungry to win a title.

Q: What are your feelings on the job Bob Patnesky is doing at Davidson? He's had four NCAA qualifiers in the past four years compared to two the previous 40, and three SoCon champs compared to zero since the late 60's. As an alum, I'm thrilled with the progress the team has made under his leadership. What, in your opinion, will it take to get Davidson from the bottom tier of the SoCon to consistently getting NCAA qualifiers?
-- Jason D.

Bob Patnesky
Foley: I think it's likely that Davidson will stay near the bottom for a few years to come. Finding recruits is difficult at every school, and though Davidson is having more success, the separation between the haves and have nots is only widening. As you noted, Coach Patnesky is doing a great job with what he has, but for now that'll be the pace of growth until he gets a big star to help draw in more interest, fans and alumni support.

There is hope. Take a look at Franklin & Marshall and what they've been able to accomplish over the past couple of years. With the addition of Richard Durso's All-American plaque the program is likely to see more support both financially and in support from high school coaches sending their athletes to college.

Prove you can win and the talent will follow.


Highlight film from the European Championships

Citadel Highlight Film (Go, Turtog!)

Q: What are you hearing on the coaching search at West Virginia? Who would be a good fit?
-- Jim A.

Foley: There have been whispers of it staying in-house, but since it's a national search I'd expect to see at least a few big names to apply and think that Virginia Tech's Tony Robie would be a regional selection with some pop. Sammie Henson is the best coach in the country and though he seems cozy in Mizzou could be compelled to make the move for the type of head coaching position he deserves. Also keep any eye out on some of these Big Ten assistants who might be looking to start their own program.

Q: I'm looking at the new weight classes for this year's Worlds, and my basic takeaway is that there is really just one new weight class, which is 70 kilos (154 pounds). So what do you know about who will be competing at the different weights this freestyle season? Anyone you think was a tweener before, but might break out at a new weight class this year?
-- Brandon J.

Foley: The big name for the American side is Nick Marable at 70 kilos. He's shown that he can beat anyone in the world at 74 kilos, so having him at 70 kilos, I think, makes him a favorite to place at the World Championships. How to populate that weight class is still being figured out by coaches around the world, but early gold medal contenders include Turkey's GOP and Ruslan Dibirgadzhiyev of Azerbaijan.

Q: I have been licking my chops at the potential showdown between J'den Cox and the human cyborg known as Kyle Snyder. This rivalry is Dake vs. Taylor in its potential for epic-ness, and as fans we could get to see play out three times! Do you think J'den will make the jump to heavyweight next year? If this ends up happening I feel that the wrestling community should ban together, not unlike they did with the Save Olympic Wrestling campaign, and petition to make sure we see this Goliath vs. Goliath matchup at least once over the next three years.
-- Craig F.

J'den Cox defeated Nick Heflin in the NCAA finals (Photo/Simon Jimenez,
Foley: I hope you're right. To see those two battle all season long would be something for fans to follow all season. They're tremendous talents and pushing each other will not only make them better wrestlers. Remember, it's Cox who owns the last victory over Snyder. Though Snyder is certainly training to win an NCAA title, it's his freestyle that has been the most impressive part of his young development.

I actually favor Cox in the matchup. He's the right mixture of talent and poise and having already been in the college ranks he gets the idea of how to escape and ride when necessary. Still, this could be a three-year battle for supremacy and if the wrestling stays exciting, it would be a treat for the fans.


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kennyrichards (2) about 4 years ago
Tim, thanks for the shout out to my Citadel Bulldogs. It certainly seems to be a program on the rise (relatively speaking), no doubt because of the commitment made by Coaches Hjerling, Ragan and staff. Coach H has stayed a lot of years at a program that was a revolving door for coaches before. As an alum, I appreciate him staying and devoting the energy to make the program more sucessful than it's ever been. Go Dawgs!
mpowell (1) about 4 years ago
It's seems to me, democracy or not, that the rules committee is trying. I very much like 2 of the 3 proposals.
Why all the references to history? Our sport looks very little like it years years ago. Would you like to go back to the old uniforms? Submissions? The international style examples you give are references to a very new set of rules, not much predicated on history.
Finally, I love your passion for the sport. I appreciate your efforts and enjoy reading your contributions most of the time. But, and this really hit me reading your OTT criticisms of Nick V and Flo and continues through this week, it seems you have lost whatever semblance of humility you once had. It's great that you are well educated and fill a serious need for higher order thinking to wrestling. But hubris and arrogance are unbecoming. At the end of the day, like it or not, wrestling is a working man's sport.
You are now a Chicago guy. How about a little less Ivy arrogance and a little more Studs Terkel?
DannyClarke (1) about 4 years ago
Why all the references to history.. like last weeks mailbag? You say he speaks with hubris and arrogance but cite no examples from the article of actual arrogance. Criticizing Foley for his "ivy arrogance" and then you drop a Studs Terkel reference in the comment section -HA! classic.

Is Foley critical of many powers at be? Yes. But guess what.. Our sport needs someone who is passionate, well intentioned, and has a voice in the media to challenge those powers.

Without a challenging voice you end up with a non olympic sport that has "ball grabs" and NCAA championships riddled with inconsistent called stallfests.
Duhawk45 (1) about 4 years ago
Watch Coffee Talk "Bro Culture" on Flo and you will see that Foley's past assessment of Flo does carry some weight. That's not a "Working Man's" response to criticism, it's a frat boys reassurance to themselves that they are still "cool".
trfoley (1) about 4 years ago
Thanks for your comment.

Wrestling is a working man's sport. It exists in the countryside and has since the beginning of time. But wrestling's place in the countryside shouldn't preclude it from big ideas. Anti-intellectualism is as defeating to the sport of wrestling as it is to the progress of nations. I'm confident in my ideas because I give them consideration before sharing them with the world, and am always willing to hear new and compelling arguments. I've changed course when presented new information and would again. I'm sorry you perceive my outlook as hubris -- I disagree with that assessment.

The rules are fine. They will work to patch the holes in the ships decaying hull, but they won't repair the larger issue of an unmanned, un cared-for vessel adrift in the ocean. What is driving our sport forward? What is our motivation? What do the thought leaders, or the NCAA, or whomever, want to see on the mat? Nobody seems equipped to answer, and no single body is in charge, save the NCAA Rules and Competition committees. That they are "trying" is just a function of being given a bureaucratic job and showing an attempt at creating results. Our readers came up with much better solutions than those offered in the latest release.

International rules are actually a combination of traditional rules from around the world -- an agreement on what can be good for the sport. The new rule in Greco-Roman where feet must remain on the ground during lifts? That can be seen in styles around the world, including Vietnamese traditional vat. Those styles have undergone rule changes for several reasons, but at least there is an international body to hold accountable. Th NCAA has people nominated, elected and serving for three years but without the knowledge or accountability of the larger community.

You've been a Chicago guy, would you like it if every mayor and alderman were elected behind close doors? We're already corrupt enough and our elections happen in the open.
mpowell (1) about 4 years ago
I do not know the processes of the NCAA rules committee, and by all means would like an informed and elected group. But I do like the proposals and I think it means they are listening to someone. Nick V was torn to shreds for being to critical of a group that was working on behalf of our sport. Like the process or not, it seems they are trying.

I very much respect your work ethic, your passion and contributions to wrestling. And have read nearly everything you have published. I am a big fan.

At no time do I endorse anti-intellectualism. Being part of a blue collar sport does not mean you have to dumb yourself down. But maybe you can work with the thought that your opinion is not the only well informed, intelligent one out there. Your approach has often become off-putting.
Duhawk45 (1) about 4 years ago
Love these new proposed rules. Not only does make stalling calls more objective, but it shows that the ruling bodies of wrestling are listening to fans. This is definitely the right direction for college wrestling, and I am very excited. Let's keep this going!!!
dbabbitts (1) about 4 years ago
I don't like the 70, 74 and then big jump to 86 kg. I would like to see 74 raised to 76 (approx. 167 lbs) and go back to 84kg and 96kg.
AFurnas (1) about 4 years ago
The "odd" (non-sensical?) gaps in weight classes derives from the re-alignment when moving to only 6 men's classes. They set up the 6 classes (57, 65, 74, 86, 97, 125), and then just jammed two more in there (61, 70) for non-Olympic years. There was no effort to re-arrange the classes so that the gaps were more uniform.

Take a look at the women's side ... there are several classes that encompass only 2-3 kg!!
conquistadors (1) about 4 years ago
gaertner (1) about 4 years ago
My question is: why is this rules committee trying to make things more complicated than they have to be? A rule should not be required to have an ultra lengthy explanation as this "pushout" stalling rule will need. Call it a 1-pt pushout. A paragraph explanation would be needed rather than a lengthy essay.

Additional 1 pt. for aggression? Why not just make takedowns worth three points and lose the possibility for some messed up referee subjectivity. I think the goal of wrestling rules should be to take the referee OUT of the match as much as possible and leave it to the wrestlers to decide the match.
lesman67 (1) about 4 years ago
I hate to see any wrestler get injured, happened to me enough back then and I have two terrible knees now, 40 years later. Hopefully, Logan will be injury free his senior year. Great kid and a great work ethic, love to see him get #4.