Foley's Friday Mailbag: April 25, 2014

Wrestlers love to comment on the state of our sport. This mailbag, message boards and our insane interconnectivity on social media are all proof that when it comes to having an opinion we are well-equipped.

Having an opinion can by default mean that you believe the anti of something. The mind searches to correct a failure in a system and in doing so our brains fixate and analyze it until it's corrected, or we are frustrated enough to move past.

The current fixation among American wrestling fans is the battle over criteria and overtime. The sport itself -- the actual product -- is healthier than ever. Fans are enjoying the action and the wrestlers appreciate being asked to actually wrestle. Petty gamesmanship and referee interferences are gone, being replaced instead by the action of the wrestlers.

But among the American wrestling crowd it's not enough. Despite the scoring, the excitement, the success -- American fans want overtime, nay, they NEED overtime.

I've stated the merits of criteria on several occasions, but none sticks out more than asking the wrestlers to compete for six full minutes. Don't hold back, don't cruise, don't play the clock. Wrestle. We know that overtime corrupts the motivation to act in regulation by pulling the wrestlers into a risk evaluation of when to act. We've seen that the confusion occurring in criteria matches is mostly due to a lack of information between event organizers, media and fans.

Which is easier to fix? I claim the latter.

To your questions ...

Q: I was looking at the scores at the U.S. Open and noticed that there were a lot of technical falls, a lot of 10-0 technical falls. (I did not watch any of the matches.) While one would think that more points means more exciting matches, a bunch of 10-0 matches does not seem like very competitive or exciting matches.

What is the reason for so many lopsided matches? Is there a big disparity among the competitors? I noticed a lot of names of wrestlers who were successful in their collegiate careers. Does the format favor wrestlers of one style over another or if you get down early do you have to start taking risks which opens you up to counter moves.

Is this a problem?
-- Kenn B.

Foley: No. The seven-point tech was a little quick, but at 10 points the wrestlers have ample opportunity to overcome their deficit and put points on the board. A match that ends in a technical fall has usually run its course for awesomeness and competitiveness. More isn't always better.

There isn't always a huge gap in skills, though that can sometimes account for the action. I've seen a lot of freestyle over the past year and when it comes to senior level wrestlers a good portion of the technical falls occur once a wrestler has decided that they've lost the match and gives up some successive roll or gut wrench. Rare is the five-takedown technical fall.

I think the technical fall gives fans a feel of domination that they can appreciate, like a knockout blow, or maybe the increasingly infrequent fall.

Q: I'm a fan of the few states that have one-division individual state tournaments. I understand the school size factor, but would you be a fan of states using classifications for dual states but having one division for individuals?
-- J. Wyatt

Foley: That is the type of solution that needs to be forwarded to administrators around the country. As you may know, Virginia recently split their state into a preposterous six state tournaments! It was an accommodation to the sport of football, but it ended up costing the state a level of seriousness in competition that it will need in order to attract top-level division one coaches.

The dual meet states will attract crowds while the individual tournament gives wrestlers a chance to compete against everyone in their region. What does it mean to be a state champions if there are five others walking about?

Q: Is there a way to find out what programs are fully funded with 9.9 scholarships? I was shocked to hear that Edinboro isn't, which makes fifth place even more impressive.
-- Tim J.

Foley: Plenty of coaches are open to discussing their scholarship details, but a surprising portion are cagey about what they're given. Often the discrepancy is in how, or technically "where," the coaches can use their scholarship allotment.

Edinboro might have a certain amount of money for scholarships, that when subdivided by out-of-state tuition might not amount 9.9, but when cast in state might be the full 9.9. That's just an example, and likely not true figures, but there are several other colleges working with similar distributions -- they can't snag 9.9 out-of-state scholarships, though they can field a team with 9.9 scholarships.

I'd have picked up the phone to ask each one, but I'm not sure I'd make it very far!

Side note: How awesome is Tim Flynn and the job he's done at Edinboro?


Match of the Year?

U.S. Open Highlights (Wow!)

Best Article of the Year? Chinese Somersault Kiss

Q: I was wondering if you can talk a bit about the struggles of Jordan Rogers (Oklahoma State) in college as a freshman? There are many freshmen finished way ahead of him even though he was the No. 4 recruit in the country 2013. Will he recover? I see a lot of Dallas Bailey.
-- Ryan K.

Foley: College wrestlers are also college students. There are plenty of factors that go into the success and failure of different athletes, and no coach can predict them all. If Jordan wants to win and is dedicated to the sport then he will find the support he needs in Stillwater to become and All-American and NCAA champion. I think Jordan can be both of those things.

Q: Maybe it's just me, but I've noticed an increase in the number of freshman not only making the NCAA finals, but winning the NCAAs. Andrew Long, Matt McDonough, Kyle Dake, David Taylor, Logan Stieber, Jason Tsirtsis, J'den Cox, Dylan Ness, to name a few, I'm sure there are more. Granted, I'm young, and I've only been religiously following collegiate wrestling for sevenish years, but where does this correlation derive from?
-- Ethan S.

In 2010, freshmen Andrew Long and Matt McDonough battled in the NCAA finals (Photo/John Sachs,
Foley: My take is that the athletes you see now are sport-specific training from a young age and increased exposure to high-level technique during development. Essentially they don't learn bad techniques and have the ability, with money and coaching, to access the best competition.

The trend will stabilize over the next few years. We'll always see more upperclassmen on the medal stands, but I think it's possible that we'll continue to get 12-15 freshmen All-Americans every year, with at least one in the NCAA finals.

Funny to say this, but by the time they make it to their freshman year many of these guys will have been training for that tournament their whole life.

Q: I'm sure you're aware of the use of advanced statistics in sports. (MIT hosted the Sloan conference a few weeks ago.) Is there a place for advanced stats in wrestling? I'm thinking about this whole stalling issue and wondering if we can go deeper into the story of a stalling wrestler with things like shots per period, match time moving forward vs. backwards, points per shot attempt etc. It seems to me like numbers could help us tell a more complete story about college wrestling.
-- Brandon J.

Foley: I don't think so. We can clip videos and count the tendencies of individual wrestlers, and maybe teams, but there is so much fluidity and creativity on the mat that grouping techniques together can often be misleading. For example, time spent going back for one wrestler might be the last 45 seconds of a match they are winning, while for another it might be a baiting technique.

There is room overall, but we aren't going to discover a new Moneyball in a sport that often depends as much on emotion as it does technique.


By Marcus R.

Am I being too critical when I think amateur wrestling fans come off as petty? I mean some fans complain about exposure and marketability of the sport but won't put money behind watching the actual sport? This is in response to many of the comments in regards to Flowrestling charging to watch wrestling. Now it's one thing to complain about a service that's not well done and to be honest sometimes their service isn't the best quality I imagine because they haven't generated enough revenue to upgrade to a high definition cameras but wrestling fans will complain when a university doesn't see the value in a wrestling program, because we haven't put our money behind going to actually watch the program! We complain about the sports exposure to the mainstream and yet won't put money behind one of the premier international events in the country via the Internet and or watching the event. Which is really a great value if you can't make it out because you can see A LOT of matches for 20 bucks! If you think about when you're there live sometimes you miss great matched because so much wrestling is going on at once.

I also think you were spot on in your critique of Flo's shot at ESPN. I mean again I thought the ESPN team did an excellent job and when I watched the finals with all the expert commentary by Dan Gable, Kyle Dake, Jordan Burroughs, you and all those other guys I thought BRILLIANT! Well-done emotion doesn't equal excellence in my opinion. That's not to say Flo doesn't do a good job a capturing the emotion of the sport but I in my personal opinion I've found that some of the best emotional broadcasts happen at the last-second "miracles" than throughout the whole match, that's what makes it brilliant! In the Burroughs-Taylor match the Flo guys were well warranted of their excitement.

By Cary A.

We are looking for ways to make the sport better for the audience. Here is a change to our sport that I think is necessary and make it more appealing to the viewer. Now this might rattle some old school folks' feathers (much like the death of the singlet), but the whistle use has to be reduced to a minimum. I'm not talking about match stoppages as they are necessary, I mean the actual whistle. The sound is annoying (especially during tournaments), distracting to adjacent matches, and gives no explanation to the new viewer as to why action is stopped. Hearing the referees (UFC or events like the NCAA finals) gives the viewer the feeling that they are sitting mat/octagon/ring side.

Breakdown of whistle use and possible alternatives:

Start on the feet: A simple "WRESTLE" would suffice and, if said with enough chutzpah, would instill excitement (much like "get it on" in the UFC).

Out of bounds on the feet: Instead use "BREAK" or "OUT."

Out of bounds on the Mat: Instead use "BREAK" or "OUT" coupled with a tap of both wrestlers.

Start on the mat: The only time when the use of the whistle that may be necessary, though I still think "WRESTLE" would work.

Stalemate: Just step in tap both wrestlers and say "STALEMATE."

Miscellaneous stops (injury time/clock issues/challenges): Referees should just step in and stop the action.

End of period: "TIME" coupled with a tap of the wrestlers in scrambles and on the mat.

End of match including technical falls: Could use "TIME" or to be real awesome "SUPERIOR VICTORY."

Fall: The whistle is only to add drama. A simple slap of the mat would work, but to add drama the slap could be coupled with something sweet like "KABOOM" "BAM" "GAME OVER" "TERMINATED." Much like umpires after a strikeout in baseball wrestling referees can develop their own signature pin call.

Referees in the UFC operate without whistles. They step in and make their presence known and wear gloves in case they have to make contact. It is time for college referees glove up and get more vocally involved in the match and step in when they need to (i.e. end of periods or stalemates). Don't get me wrong, there are many referees that do an excellent job of this, but I think the whistle can be replaced and spare the wrestling world of whistle echoes in gyms across the U.S.

Arguments against:

Wrestlers can't hear as well. Anyone who ever wrestled knows that if they can hear their opponent breathing, I am sure they will hear if a ref leans in and barks out an instruction. Mind you I have never wrestled in an NCAA final or Carver-Hawkeye Arena, but I imagine if they can hear Tom Brands telling at them to build their lead I'm sure they can hear a referee right next to them.

Language barrier: I would image 99.9% of wrestlers speak English in the U.S. So for that .1% they can watch the hand motions (make them universal) and they will eventually learn the terminology.

Also, I hate the term "stalling." It makes it seem like you're doing an action. Passivity is embarrassing and is the antithesis of what we all want to watch, aggression. We should change stalling to passivity in folkstyle.


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ellascott (1) about 4 years ago
In reference to Tim J.'s question: Why is "fully funded" 9.9 scholarships and not a whole 10?

Also how do programs typically use there scholarships? Full-rides to just 10 wrestlers, partial-rides to 15-20 wrestlers, or does it vary by program?
Yankeefan33 (1) about 4 years ago
The NCAA only allows 9.9 scholarships for wrestling
Bucksman (1) about 4 years ago
Wrestling is an equivalency sport, and not a headcount sport (i.e. football, basketball). It was explained to me that there were previously 11 scholarships for wrestling, then they did an across the board 10% cut, so 9.9 was the new allotment.

In terms of distribution, it varies by program
cptafw163 (1) about 4 years ago
The NCAA just said "9.9 scholarships." Only in FBS football and DI basketball the scholarship must be a full one. FCS and all other sports are given a number and they break them up. Most wrestlers get 7% tuition and books, or just books. There may be 1 or 2 people on the team that get full scholarships. However, they can also get academic scholarships, but they must first maintain a 3.0GPA their freshman year and THEN the scholarship can be academic and not count towards the scholarship allotment.
Corby184 (1) about 4 years ago
I think we have bigger fish to fry than getting rid of whistles.
How about we take refs' whistles away every time they let Chris Perry squeeze a side headlock/choke for 2 minutes without doing anything?
Jaroslav Hasek (2) about 4 years ago
Edinboro and Cornell (and others) already are "Moneyball" teams. Moneyball just implies an organization taking advantage of inefficiencies in the competitive landscape to thrive amid better resourced rivals.

Wrestling may not see the sabermetric revolution that MLB experienced but you can bet that someone or some teams will harness technological advances to create competitive advantages. And it will probably involve stats and advanced metrics in some capacity.
trfoley (1) about 4 years ago
I really like this take. Thanks!
drock4432 (1) about 4 years ago
in regards to the question about jordan rogers..time and time again we see "dominate high school wrestlers" and it takes a long time to adjust to college or they never do..their wrestling style has a lot to do with was a way better athlete and was just brutally stronger than most of his college everyone is a good athlete and strong..they almost have to learn "how to wrestle" in college