Lowe: Number of weight classes should be decreased

The weight class realignment that was approved and implemented by the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) for high school wrestling effective with the 2011-12 season is still being felt and discussed by some, even as the third season with the changes present has ended. Given that premise, let's take a look at some data from the 2010-11 and the 2013-14 seasons. For purposes of this article, data from lineups for sectional wrestling tournaments in Ohio, which is the first layer of the state series in that state, will be used.

The nature and number of wrestling weight classes has changed over the course of time. Up through 1970 there were 12 weight classes for high school competition. Starting with the 1970-71 season, a 13th weight class (a lower-weight) was added. The next major shift came in time for the 1987-88 season, which in essence did three things: (1) the lowest weight was eliminated (2) a lighter middle-weight class was added in its place (3) the middle-to-upper weight classes were realigned.

Starting with the 1994-95 season, a 14th weight class was added. The 215-pound weight class came into place between the 189 and heavyweight/275 weight classes. Certain states (i.e. Pennsylvania) did not adopt this right away, but the vast majority of states implemented 215 right away. The recent radical change occurred for the start of the 2011-12 season, where a lower-to-middle weight was subtracted for the addition of an upper-weight class.

The forgotten component to the discussion is that when the changes were made in the Spring of 2011, there were other proposals considered that would reduce the total number of weight classes from 14 to 12. Generally speaking proposals to reduce participation opportunities are a non-starter for some-to-many within the wrestling community. However, two questions should be examined before summarily ruling out reduced weight classes: (1) are the 14 spots in a team's lineup actually being filled (2) would a reduction in lineup spots increase the relative competitiveness of some teams, especially those from smaller enrollment schools.

For the 2011 sectional tournaments in Ohio, there were 595 schools that entered wrestling squads. Of those squads, only 123 had a full lineup (20.7%); while 515 (86.6%) had what the OHSAA defines as a team, eight or more wrestlers in the lineup. In addition, the average number of participants in a lineup was 10.87, while the median was 12.

As expected, the numbers varied depending on the size of school. For purposes of the state wrestling series, schools are split into three classifications based on their male enrollment. The small-school division (Division III) features schools with about 70 or less males per grade; the medium-school group (Division II) features schools with approximately between 70 and 125 males per grade; while the big-school division (Division I) features schools with about 125 or more males per grade, with 400 or so being the high end.

Now let's look at the data from this season, which was the third with the "new" weight classes in effect. The presented data shows there are slightly less full lineups, slightly less schools with eight or more wrestlers in the lineup, and the average/median for wrestlers in a lineup has slightly dropped as well.

Based on the data above, the vast majority of teams were struggling to fill lineups even before the "new" weight classes were implemented. That concern is slightly more common due to the change in weight classes. Therefore, it is my belief that a reduction in weight classes for varsity wrestling lineups is justified. Most teams are just not able to fill a lineup, which means opportunities are not being significantly reduced, and having one less spot would help many squads -- in particular those from smaller enrollment schools -- be more competitive in tournaments and dual meets.

The item of greater contention is how to distribute the weight classes evenly and fairly to address the size of the population of 15-18 year-old males in this country, as well as in the context of what current realities are in terms of wrestling program participation. The first of those questions is outside the scope of this article, and should be determined using CDC data. From what I have been told, the failure of the NFHS to properly use CDC data during the Spring 2011 rules change process is a major reason the existing situation stands as present.

This article can, and will, address the second of those realities. It will address the second of those realities by looking at varsity wrestling squad lineups at the sectional tournament, which is the first layer of the state tournament series. The data presented in the previous section related to the ability or inability for teams to fill a lineup is but one part. It shows -- in my opinion -- that the weight class change, which went into effect during 2011-12, is decreasing participation opportunities, and does not properly reflect the reality of wrestling programs' rosters.

The 2011 sectional tournament data shows that participation in the five weight classes between 125 and 145 was all between 0.3 and 0.9 standard deviations above the mean participation for a given weight class. On the other hand, in 2014 sectional tournament data, participation for two of the four weight classes between 126 and 145 (138 and 145) is more than one standard deviation above the mean. For both years, participation in the 152-pound weight class is more than one standard deviation above the mean, with participation in 2014 creeping more than 1.4 standard deviations above the mean.

In both 2011 and 2014 sectional tournament data, participation in the 285-pound weight class was more than one standard deviation below the mean (2011: 1.3 below, 2014: 1.19 below). 2011 sectional tournaments had weight classes at 171, 189, and 215; while in 2014, there were four weight classes capturing a similar range: 170, 182, 195, and 220. For 2011, those weight classes had the following z-scores (i.e. number of standard deviations above or below the mean): 0.89, 0.21, and -0.22; while for 2014, those four weights had the following z-scores: 0.20, -0.38, -0.64, and -0.47.

The other area of study that always raises debate is participation patterns in the lowest weight classes. In 2011, the lowest weight classes were 103, 112, and 119; while in 2014, it was 106, 113, and 120. The z-scores for those weights in 2011 were: -2.34, -1.33, and -0.22; while in 2014, they were -1.82, -0.90, and -0.47.

If the goal of weight class design is to create as normal of a distribution of participation as possible -- while acknowledging the reality that participation is always going to have somewhat of a "bell curve" -- we should try to avoid outcomes where participation is either disproportionately high or disproportionately low.


Based on analysis of the data, my recommendation is to decrease the number of weight classes from 14 to 13. The other part of that recommendation is to keep the current configuration from 106 to 160, while changing the upper-weight configuration to where it was previously (171, 189, 215, and 285).

It is my opinion that said lineup would most accurately reflect the realities of the population and the wrestling landscape, while increasing full lineups and overall competitiveness of teams. An additional benefit of dropping to 13 weight classes is that with an odd number of weight classes, virtually all ties would be decided very early in the criteria "ladder" (i.e. at the greatest number of match victories).


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MikeCarey (1) about 4 years ago
I like the idea of 13 weights, but I also like the idea of making it simpler on the average fan. Round #'s. 110, 115, 120, 125,130,135, 140,145,155, 165, 180, 200, 285.
PapaBearSLIM (1) about 4 years ago
So you think not only eliminating a weight class in the most populated quarter of weight classes (135-152) was a good idea but not replacing it with an upper weight was even better?

I think just about everyone that was arguing both sides of that debate when the weight classes were changed a few years ago would disagree with you.

Reduction of weight classes would certainly make smaller schools more competitive but is it worth the loss of opportunities and eventually participation? If there were only 7 weight classes more schools would be competitive but it doesn't make it a good idea.
wres (1) about 4 years ago
Adding back a weight class between 120-152 has to be done. By looking at the data from the sectional tournaments, it doesn't account for all the "JV" kids at those weights that couldn't crack the lineup and were at home or just quit the team. As a varsity coach, this year at our sectional tournament I had a first team section all-star have to bump up 3 weight classes because there was no room in our line up when he got beat out in wrestle offs, while we forfeited at an upper weight. Every year these new weight classes have screwed my team. We can't fill the heavy weights but always have had a great wrestler either not wrestle or wrestle at the wrong weight. 2 years ago I had a returning PA state runner-up have to wrestle 2 weights up cause 2 other studs on the team beat him in wrestle offs. Needless to say this was heartbreaking for the wrestler and the family(Dad still hates me), but I did what I had to do. My problem is I can't get the big guys out b/ they are brainwashed into thinking they have to "train" for football year round. Wrestling is a great sport for smaller guys b/ size doesn't matter which is why so many studs are between 120-152. This has to change.
Krupnyakov (1) about 4 years ago
I think we should have 14 weights but they need to put one back in the lower middle and eliminate 220. I would propose these... 105,112,119,125,130,135,140,145,152,163,174,185,
AFurnas (1) about 4 years ago
Wres has it exactly correct. Looking only at who IS there does not capture the whole story. Many many many many teams populate the upper weights with novices who are football players first, and/or subpar athletes. Meanwhile, more accomplished / better wrestlers are unable to crack the lineup in the 120 - 160 range. Those accomplished 2nd (and 3rd) string guys are lost in this type of analysis.

This is similar to the oversight in the analysis that pushed the lowest weight up ... they look at who IS participating, rather than everyone that COULD BE participating if there was a place for them. Think of it this way ... if you push the lowest class to 115, then there will be very few guys under 115. So you push it to 120, and then you find very few guys under 120 ... etc. etc.

Look instead at open and nat'l tournaments and see who shows up. There are routinely very thin (metaphorically speaking) classes in the upper weights, while weights all the way down to 106 and 113 are stacked (sometimes you have to add Cadet + Junior to see the "total HS" picture). I understand that this is because many of the larger kids are in other sports ... and that's part of the point. They are not wrestlers first. And those who are wrestlers first are being crammed into fewer weight classes.
mckbln (1) about 4 years ago
Agree 100%. I think the dumbest thing they did was eliminating a middle weight class to add an upper weight class. As I posted below I thin the 105, 112, 119, 125, 130, 135, 140, 145, 152, 160, 170, 185, 215 and 285 is about as close to perfect as you can get.
psulou64 (1) about 4 years ago
I think that 14 weights are too many. I also think that if they restructured the upper weights in would make sense. I like 106, 113, 119, 125, 130, 135, 141, 147, 155, 165, 179, 197 and HWT. That's just my opinion though. It gives enough classes in the middle but also make sense at the heavier classes where it thins out.
mckbln (1) about 4 years ago
I would keep 14 weight classes, period. I would rather see the weights 105, 112, 119 125, 130, 135, 140, 145, 152, 160, 170, 185, 215, 285.
kadavis (1) about 4 years ago
Excellent analysis. I find it interesting that so few in the wrestling community seem to want to discuss the fact that even the biggest high schools can not typically field a full team.