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Palmer: Understanding NCAA rules limiting stalling

Mark Palmer

7/10/2014
Mark Palmer, InterMat Senior Writer
mark@intermatwrestle.com, Twitter: @MatWriter

Change can sometimes be challenging ... especially when it comes to wrestling, the oldest and greatest sport. There's a rich tradition to the sport, a strong sense of history, a concern about avoiding "change for the sake of change." Not to mention a powerful feeling of, "We've been doing it this way for decades, so why change it?"

Then, there's the issue of stalling. For large numbers of wrestlers, coaches, officials and fans, stalling seems to be one of those seemingly insurmountable problems. A fact borne out by evidence from old NCAA rule books, and newspaper and magazine articles that stalling -- and what to do about it -- was an issue 30 years ago, 50 years ago, and 75 years ago.

In late June, the NCAA Playing Rules Oversight Panel approved four new experimental rules designed to limit stalling tactics. Since the rules were announced, there's been plenty of discussion about the rules and their possible impact in online wrestling forums and social media. However, InterMat thought it made sense to find out what the NCAA was thinking when it wrote these new anti-stalling rules ... so we talked to Ron Beaschler, Secretary-Rules Editor for the NCAA Wrestling Rules Committee.

What are the new rules regarding stalling?

Although there are four new anti-stalling rules, realize that the NCAA has taken a unique two-stage approach to the issue. Two of the rules will go into effect at the start of the 2014-15 season and be in effect for the entire season, while two other rules will be given a limited tryout only at the 2014 National Wrestling Coaches Association All-Star Classic at the University of Pennsylvania November 1.

Let's start with the all-season rules.

Nahshon Garrett of Cornell gets called for stalling in the NCAA finals against Jesse Delgado of Illinois (Photo/Larry Slater)
The first experimental rule for the entire upcoming season focuses on a wrestler who is in the offensive position and locks or holds his opponent's leg (or legs), and fails to take any attempt at offensive action, such as breaking down his opponent, executing an offensive move, or working back up towards the upper body to attempt to score points. If no such action is taken within five seconds, the offensive wrestler will be called for stalling.

The second experimental rule applies when an offensive wrestler applies a side headlock on his opponent, and fails to break down the opponent or execute any other offensive move within five seconds. In this case, a stalling call will be placed on the offensive wrestler.

For both situations presented in these new rules, the on-the-mat official will count out the five seconds by providing both a verbal count ("one ... two ...") and a visual count (using hand gestures to count out the seconds with his/her fingers). This provides the wrestlers, coaches, fans and other officials with both auditory and visual evidence that the referee is warning a wrestler, "If you don't take action before I finish my five-count, you will be hit with a stalling call."

In addition to these first two rules that will be in use all season, the NCAA Playing Rules Oversight Panel has approved two additional experimental rules that will be put in place only at this fall's NWCA All-Star Classic, the beginning-of-the-season event that traditionally features the two top wrestlers in each weight class.

The first rule for the All Stars focuses on wrestlers who are in a neutral standing position and, to quote the NCAA press statement, "not actively engaged in an offensive attack, or a defensive counter to an offensive attack, while their feet are out of bounds." Under this new rule, the referee will call stalling.

In explaining this rule, the NCAA statement said it is designed to encourage wrestlers to remain active in the center of the mat, and stay away from the out-of-bounds line.

In addition, NCAA also made clear this new rule is "not intended to be a 'push out' rule," such as those which have been implemented in freestyle and Greco-Roman wrestling. Again, quoting from the statement, "A wrestler not engaged in an offensive attack or a defensive counter to an offensive attack who is only attempting to push or pull the opponent will be called for stalling."

The second experimental rule to be used only for this year's All-Star Classic is geared toward a wrestler who gains an offensive position and is awarded a takedown or a reversal. When the action comes to a natural stopping point -- for instance, when the wrestlers go out of bounds -- the controlling wrestler can chose the option of resuming the action in the neutral (standing) position (instead of the kneeling position), without an escape point being automatically awarded to the controlling wrestler's opponent, as is the case now.

Now, an explanation from the NCAA

Ron Beaschler, Secretary and Rules Editor for the NCAA Wrestling Rules Committee, described his role with the Committee as being "the devil's advocate" -- "looking at the big picture, anticipating what might happen if a rule is implemented."

Ron Beaschler
"The current Committee is in tune with making wrestling more aggressive, more action-oriented," Beaschler added. "We keep the fan in mind, to make the sport more appealing, not just to long-time fans, but also to attract new fans."

"Right now, we're in the middle of a two-year rule cycle for all NCAA sports, not just wrestling," Beaschler continued. (Take a look at the cover of the Wrestling rulebook, and it says, "2013-14 and 2014-15 Rules and Interpretations.")

"The thought is to let rules 'settle in' for a time, so everyone becomes accustomed to them."

"The two-year cycle also allows us to do 'experimental' rules, to encourage experimentation," said Beaschler, who, in addition to his work for the NCAA, is head wrestling coach at Ohio Northern University, an NCAA Division III school in western Ohio, between Dayton and Toledo.

Ask Beaschler about the new "experimental" rules regarding stalling, and he immediately makes clear there are two distinct categories -- the two rules that will be in place throughout the 2014-15 season, from the start ... and the two rules that will be in place only for the 2014 NWCA All-Star Classic.

"(The Committee) saw problems with guys using the side headlock -- and hanging on below the waistline -- and essentially not doing anything," said Beaschler. "To make things absolutely clear, we took what we originally saw as one stalling problem, and made it into two, distinct rules."

"The five-second count -- both visual and verbal -- is to serve as a warning to wrestlers, so they have time to take action, become more aggressive and active, rather than hit them instantly with a stall call."

"We're pretty sure that we'll get the effect we're seeking with these two new rules," Beaschler added. "That's why we've put them into effect for the entire season."

"That said, we invite feedback from coaches, officials, and fans."

Two new experimental rules for the All-Stars

The National Wrestling Coaches Association opened the door to using its All-Star Classic, an annual exhibition of the best college wrestlers that goes back to 1967, as a test bed for the NCAA.

"This year, the NWCA informed the Rules Committee we could use their All-Star event for testing out some rules, especially rules that are a bit more 'outside the box,'" as Beaschler put it.

Beaschler first addressed the rule regarding wrestlers going out of bounds, and what led to this new rule.

"The Rules Committee sees guys (wrestlers) who play the line, shoot only when they are on the edge of the wrestling area," said Beaschler. "Using the out-of-bounds area as a safety zone."

"A couple years ago, we put in a kickout rule -- if a guy turns and kicks out of bounds, stalling is called. All with the idea of trying to move the action towards the center of the mat."

During the interview with InterMat, Beaschler also reinforced the NCAA's statement within its late June press release, that this new rule is definitely NOT a push-out rule. He also said, "Current rules say that if a wrestler backs out of bounds, that's stalling."

"The idea is to encourage aggressive action in the middle of the mat."

"There was much discussion as to when to use this (out-of-bounds) rule," Beaschler continued. "We talked about trying it only at open tournaments in November, or at all matches in November. Then, we decided to try it at the All-Stars."

Beaschler then addressed the second experimental rule making its debut at the All-Star Classic, which comes into play when the offensive wrestler scores a takedown or reversal, then the action stops when the wrestlers go out of bounds. Under current rules, the defensive wrestler is put in the down position, and can score a point when he escapes. With the new rules, the offensive wrestler can choose a neutral position -- both wrestlers on their feet -- so the defensive wrestler won't automatically get one point.

"When you earn the top position from a takedown or reversal, and score two points, why should your opponent automatically get a point a bit later," Beaschler asked rhetorically. "The new rule could possibly change the mindset of the defensive wrestler, to encourage him to be more aggressive."

"This rule has a bit more of an unknown outcome," Beaschler disclosed. "That's why we're putting it only in the All-Stars."

"The All-Stars will be very important for seeing these new rules in effect."

Why the All-Star Classic?

When asked why the 2014 NWCA All-Star Classic was selected to "test-drive" these last two anti-stalling rules, Beaschler said, "Matches don't count on wrestler records. There was a concern that trying out these rules at November tournaments might end up costing an athlete in the future, in seeding for the NCAAs. Avoiding a problem for the selection committee, where they see a wrestler beat an opponent in November under one set of rules, then lost in December under another (rule) to the same guy."

"An overriding concern is avoiding unintended consequences."

"A lot of eyes are on the All-Stars," Beaschler continued. "We will be encouraging fan reactions on Twitter and Facebook. We'll also do a survey of coaches, officials and athletes."

Beaschler explained the steps the NCAA is taking to make sure the new All-Star-only rules are made clear to the participants ... and how the NCAA will be gathering and recording information on the rules beyond fan comments on social media.

"Once the All-Star athletes are selected, they and their coaches will see the film I put together for the Rules Committee so they can see the thinking behind the new rules," said Beaschler, referring to his filmed presentation for the Committee that showed actual match situations where the new rules might alleviate problems with stalling.

"Wrestlers are going to wrestle to the new rules, and coaches are going to coach to the new rules."

Another reason for limiting these rules to the All-Star Classic: It makes it much easier for the NCAA Rules Committee to gather data.

"Tim Shiels, an active official who serves a two-year term as a non-voting member of the Rules Committee, will be the on-the-mat official at the All-Stars," said Beaschler. "He will provide the Committee with his perspective on how things worked."

"The Rules Committee is very data-driven. We want to see results."

Purpose-driven

We can't be afraid to make changes," Beaschler said.

However, rule changes implemented by the NCAA Rules Committee have a greater purpose beyond change for the sake of change. There must be an ultimate purpose.

"We want to see more aggressive wrestling," said Beaschler. "More guys taking shots. A more attacking style.A more aggressive defense. More defensive counters."

Throughout our conversation, Beaschler repeatedly emphasized the importance of having rules that encourage action ... action that makes wrestling more appealing to current fans, and draws in more potential fans. "Fans are the lifeblood of the sport," he said, adding, "We're not going to bring in new fans with lots of 1-0 matches."

He also realizes the challenge of dealing with the issue of stalling, saying, "I've looked at the old rule books from decades ago, going back to the 1940s, and you can see that stalling was a major concern back then, too."

Insight beyond the stall call

InterMat's interview with Ron Beaschler wasn't limited to a discussion of the four new NCAA rules regarding stalling. He provided some interesting insights into the functioning of the committee he serves.

For starters, Beaschler made clear: "There's one rulebook, for all three NCAA divisions. We're not just dealing with rules for Division I."

Beaschler also disclosed an organizational change within the NCAA.

"Until last year, there was one committee to deal with the rules and the championships. Now there's a Rules Committee, and a separate Championships Committee, responsible for all aspects of the NCAA Wrestling Championships."

"In the past, when we'd get together, the main focus of our three days of meetings seemed to be on the Championships," Beaschler disclosed. "That didn't leave as much time as we would like to have had on the rules."

"This was a great move. The two committees work together, yet are better able to focus on each item of importance to them."

Beaschler also said that stalling isn't the only subject of interest for the NCAA Rules Committee.

"There are other things we've been looking at," said Beaschler. "Coaches coming out onto the mat during matches -- what can we do about that problem? And another issue -- why is tournament scoring different than dual-meet scoring?"

"We'll have these things and others on the coaches' questionnaire, to get their input."

Beaschler made clear that there's a process to changing rules.

"When we consider making a change, we apply the rules to past events to see how a change might have affected outcomes."

"Thanks to services like Trackwrestling.com, we have all this great data -- how many takedowns, escapes, reversals, and so on. We can make changes based on actual results, not hunches or prevailing opinions," Beashler continued.

Beaschler also expressed his appreciation for having an opportunity to explain the thinking behind the latest rule changes ... and how the NCAA Rules Committee works. Furthermore, he emphasized the importance of getting outside feedback.

"We welcome the opinions of others -- the athletes, their coaches, the officials, and, of course, the fans. These opinions can help shape the sport and make it better for everyone."

Comments

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psulou64 (1) about 3 months ago
This comment has nothing to do with the article but I find the picture and subtitle ironic only because Jesse Delgado should have been hit for stalling about 4 times in that match but they chose to use the picture of Garrett getting hit for stalling. What I also find funny is that it's not an example of either of the new stalling rules either. That being said i don't mind the new rules but they don't go far enough. Too many wrestler's, like Delgado, have no true offense (he didn't even take a shot in the Big Ten Championship) and yet never get hit for stalling in the neutral position.
cornsnaggler (1) about 3 months ago
I have watched Tim Shiels throughout his wrestling and now coaching career ,and, I am of the opinion that he has demonstrated his unwillingness to make stalling calls in most situations where his judgement was needed...Considering that , how can an official with a predisposed opinion contribute in a manner that will aid to minimize stalling?
conquistadors (1) about 3 months ago
psulou, I guess Delgado won all those matches by technical fall because the opponents rolled to their backs by themselves.

Give the Delgado-does-nothing BS a rest. It wasn't the subject of this article. If you want to pursue that tiresome thread, go to the cesspool.com, where it will fit in nicely.
Corey (1) about 3 months ago
Cornsnaggler everyone is entitled to his opinion. However, as someone who has worked with Tim Shiels for 20 plus years at the national championships at all levels I couldn't disagree with you more. Tim is in the top 4-5 officials in the country annually and I always found him willing to make the tough call when needed. Stalling is definitely called differently from the stands than on the mat in the finals of the national tournament. Its Tim's years of experience the committee wants so that they can have an officials view point when the consider rule changes. Lets just say we will agree to disagree on this one.
rruddy (1) about 3 months ago
I don't really like the rule which allows the top wrestler to choose neutral without giving up a point. I think it will result in a lot of wrestlers pushing their opponents out of bounds to avoid giving up the point.
lesman67 (1) about 3 months ago
Maybe I'm missing something here, and it's a genuine possibility that I am. The 1st rule I like, although it's tough to get up on a guy when you're on his leg and he's pulling away and do it in 5 seconds. You get an ankle pick and you're down low on the ankle and the defensive wrestler is trying to get away, it's tough to go right into a double chicken wing. It's the second rule I don't understand, if i get you in a side headlock, I'll usually looking for some back pts. Help me!