Foley's Friday Mailbag: July 25, 2014

Wrestling in under fresh attack.

Over the past two years there has been increasing pressure in the NCAA to provide more rights and benefits to their student athletes. Between the Ed O'Bannon case which argues that an athlete has a right to profit from his likeness, and Connecticut basketball player Shabazz Napier's insistence that he goes to bed hungry at night the case is being made by former and current players that scholarship isn't enough.

The moral and legal scales seem to be tipping in their favor.

Big 12 Commissioner Bob Bowlsby this week came out and said that the mood of the country and outlook of the courts are changing and that he predicts a significant impact on college sports -- primarily non-revenue sports.

Bowlsby, who has been the athletic director at both Stanford and Iowa (he was responsible for hiring Tom Brands from Virginia Tech), has a straightforward argument: If all things remain equal, then we have to find payment from other places, namely non-revenue sports.

The logic of his argument seems straightforward, but in truth is anything but clear. College athletics (higher education in general) has been operating in a protective vacuum for years. The more they spend, the more they are supported by alumni and institutions -- the love of football and basketball driving independent donors to create massive endowments and large stadium projects. The money goes to the guys in suits rather than the kids in uniform.

Don't be fooled. There are is plenty of money for which to pay college athletes, however, it is likely to come from administrators' salaries, funds for outrageous facilities and existing endowments.

Regardless of the perceived validity of the newest threat to college athletics it is the job of the wrestling community to prepare as if the entire structure is about to buckle and nothing -- not a nickel of funding, or scholarship allotment -- is guaranteed.

We've fought two reactive wars over the past forty years. The first was against the expansive implementation of Title IX and the second was for Olympic security. The first was a massive, public failure, while the second one was the most important moment in the sport's history.

Despite the recent success, wrestling will lose if we do nothing to prepare for the coming budget cuts and threats.

We've learned lessons on how to save the sport and fight for reinstatement, but are we capable of preparing for a battle that hasn't started? Are we able to move as one unit to prevent future eliminations?


Wrestling can achieve powerful steps to improve our position in the sports landscape, but to do so we will need the leadership to build community friendly avenues of support. We need fundraisers and fan involvement at every major university program, and to create something resembling an attempt for gender equity. We need to think big and act bold.

So be ready for change. The sands are shifting, but if we're prepared the damage to our programs can be minimized. Wrestlers like a fight, which is good, because this is shaping up to be a decades long grind match.

To your questions ...

Q: What's the history of the #GoldenGrandPrix? Who has the most GGP titles? What is the most historic matchup or final?
-- @NHoughSnee

Foley: The original Golden Grand Prix in Baku was held for Greco-Roman wrestling in 1987, followed by similar one-off events in 1990 and 1992. In 2006 the modern version of the Grand Prix started to take shape with all three styles being held in Baku. There was no tournament in 2007, but there has been one every year since 2008.

The Golden Grand Prix in Baku earned recognition as a "Final" in 2010 when each style was given two feeder Grand Prix tournaments by which to qualify wrestlers. The idea was that if you earned a medal in one of the qualifying tournaments your country had to send a wrestler to the finale in Baku. The idea, I think, was to create a tournament outside of the World Championships that everyone was compelled to attend. Countries would qualify at a smaller Grand Prix and then want to attend Baku because the prize money is so generous ($10k for first, $5k for second).

As for repeat champions, Khetag Gazyumov (Azerbaijan) leads the way for men's freestyle with titles in 2010, 2011 and 2013. Sofia Mattsson (Sweden) won two titles in female wrestling (2010, 2013) as has Maria Stadnyk (Azerbaijan) in 2008 and 2011. In Greco-Roman only has been one repeat champion, then-120 kilo wrestler Riza Kayaalp (Turkey) in 2010 and 2011.

Still working on finding a definitive finals matchup worthy of discussion. I'll ask around this weekend and see if anyone remembers one that was especially worthwhile!

Q: The UFC just announced Jon Jones vs. Daniel Cormier is back on after Alexander Gustafsson got hurt in training. Jones is regarded as the best fighter in the world. What type of chance does Daniel Cormier really have against him? Will his wrestling be neutralized by Jones?
-- Robert M.

Foley: Though the UFC considered Alexander Gustafsson the top contender, it's Daniel Cormier who most challenges the Jon Jones legacy -- an undefeated fighter with an Olympic wrestling pedigree and fast, powerful hands.

The champ showed his nerves yesterday on Instagram when he posted a video en route to what he claimed was an extra, unscheduled workout.

Jones' concern about Cormier is justified. Broadly defined the challenger has superior takedown offense, heavy hands and suitable cardio. Specifically what will bother Jones is Cormier's clinch and his ability to dictate the direction and level of a fight.

On fight night Jones will try to keep Cormier at distance (as he did with Rashad Evans) by peppering him with low-leg kicks and keeping his body narrow to extend the reach of his jab. When threatened by the fence Jones will look for close range elbows to the ear and temple to disorient Cormier and help him buy distance.

Cormier will want to close the distance and come inside Jones' reach to find a clinch. From underneath Jones he can look for a variety of trips, throws and straight doubles. Coming in and out of the pocket, Cormier, who stands half-a-foot shorter than the champion, will look to land uppercuts and short hooks. Cormier will take damage inside, but the top of the head can take a lot more damage than the chin.

On the ground there is very little to lend to the idea of Jones winning by submission, or even reversing position. Cormier is rotund and squirrely, a combination that makes him difficult to catch out of position. As a world-class wrestler with a brown belt in Guerrilla Jiu-Jitsu, it won't be like watching Chael Sonnen drown on the ground. Cormier will look to keep half guard and inflict damage with his elbows to the head and the body. He's in very little danger.

I might be blind by my wrestler's adoration for Cormier, but I think his only weakness comes in the championships rounds. He'll need to push past his comfort level, which I think is easier for him to achieve in a room that includes the world heavyweight champion Cain Velasquez and former Pride and UFC champion Josh Barnett.

In the end I'll predict that Cormier earns a split-decision win, though he'll have won 4 of the 5 rounds on the home scorecard. The fight will come down to wrestling and positioning against the cage -- not striking. Jones has never been forced to grapple for 25 minutes with an Olympic wrestler and control-based fight, and that newness isn't something a spinning back elbow can remedy.


Congrats to Papa and Mama Burroughs!

Jordan Burroughs takes his baby Boy Beacon to Whole Foods

Link: Ronda Rousey: Mean Girl -- Brilliant New Yorker profile

Link: Greco-Roman team leader Kiki Kelley's interview with BBS Persia

Bill Scherr's World title in 1985

Q: You couldn't have been more wrong about your assessment of Fargo. Furthermore succeeded in trying to lessen my already modest achievements in my wrestling career.

It is my belief, through my own personal discoveries and countless conversations with present and former wrestlers, that we do it because of a personal desire and the call to answer a challenge. Whether I won or lost I stepped up to the task and gave it all that was in my being. Not for glory, not for praise and certainly not for popularity, we know how desolate a wrestlers world is. I did it for me, and the majority of kids who have put it on the line all year are doing it for themselves and deserve a little more consideration and respect from you. I am disappointed to say the least.
-- Wadabuka (Mailbag comments)

Foley: Let me first apologize for giving you the impression that I was belittling or devaluing your accomplishments in Fargo. The Cadet and Junior Nationals are unquestionably difficult tournaments -- if you trained to succeed and come away satiated by the results, then I'm your supporter.

Last week's intro took focus on Fargo because it was timely and over the past two or three years much more is being made of the tournament. It's my belief that too many""must-attend" national tournaments and a full-mat press for a year-round commitment starting at age six are corrupting the general atmosphere of youth wrestling. I stand by the idea that even if he's built like a pocket Hercules and saunters through the hallways at a school, the 14-year-old Fargo champion is just a boy. He needs more than a wrestling mat to make him whole.

Overall these kids spend far too many days on the road, cut WAY too much weight and are doing so for very little discernible long-term benefit different from that which they would receive a more rational level of commitment and engagement.

Every kid should be allowed the leverage to participate as much or as little as they choose, and I admit that there are plenty of kids who love wrestling and the culture of the sport. These kids would choose a three-hour grind match over relaxation six out of seven days. However, where you look at the growth of the sport and the attendance at the major tournaments it just not possible that ALL these kids suddenly began fetishized wrestling success without a prompt from the adults in their life. There are external factors that cause these minors to increase their output, and as my argument extends, they do so without real insight into the long-term consequences of those decisions.

I'm only one example, but I started wrestling at 14 years old, only wrestled in season and only attended 1-2 weeks of camp per summer. Though I'm not an NCAA champion or member of an Olympic team I'm still in love with the sport and have found employment through that passion. Others have as well, but in my experience it has been the families and the individuals who live a balanced sporting life that see the largest returns.

I also can say that I did get commitment-crazy in college and though I won a few more matches, it came at a tangible cost. As my on-the-mat performance improved I suffered unexpected personal setbacks and lackluster grades in school. It wasn't until I pulled back again on wrestling and found a more balanced life that I became more fulfilled -- a feeling that led to more success on the mat.

Again, I'm just one guy and we all have a different path. But wrestling is hard -- really hard. Remember that the next time we try to push our pre-pubescent mashers to attend their fourth offseason tournament this fall. Rest, love and balance will help them as much as a six-minute go against the No. 14 ranked junior high wrestler from Idaho.

Q: Going to do some shopping today. What are some companies that support wrestling that you can point me to?
-- Aaron Burr

Foley: Home Depot has for a long time sponsored Olympic athletes, but outside of Adidas, Asics, Cradle Gear and Flips Wrestling, it's tough to know which brands have a definitive commitment to the wrestling community. I'll keep an eye out and let you know.

Q: I'd like to see an expansion of the Golden Grand Prix. Also, I was thinking, something along the lines of the FIVB World League.
-- @WrestlingSHP

Foley: I also like the idea of an expanded Grand Prix series, but maybe even more, I'd like to see a ranking system built from a number of meaningful tournaments.

Though complaints are always being lodged about international rankings, there is no mandate to attend any event. That scarcity of crossover and common opponents lends itself to more subjectivity in the rankings. Predetermined point-scoring tournaments would eliminate that subjectivity and drive the top wrestlers to many of the same events throughout the year.

The other appeal of highly incentivizing tournament attendance is to create competitive, sellable events. To create a want to attend there needs to be either a financial incentive, like the GGP Finale, or a points system that is later used for seeding. If wrestlers earn enough points they are seeded at the World Championships, which therefore prompts them to attend tournaments with large point totals. Seeding matters to these guys and working on that desire will help the sport continue its growth.

A ranking system could benefit the Americans who many think are under-valued on the international stage. From the perspective of an international wrestling writer the USA men attend very few tournaments outside of the states. (The women seem to appear more often.) The NYAC and Schultz are decent offseason tournaments, but in terms of overall competitiveness they don't compete with the Ivan Yarygin and other tournaments around Europe. The American team did attend the Yasar Dogu in 2014, but that and the GGP Finale does not make a season.

Some of the American's inability to meet up with more talented wrestlers has to do with the strength and viability of the European Championships as compared with the Pan-Americans. That is one less week every year to compete against the very best in the world.

The system will change, but that will take time and timing with the IOC and the need to not change the qualification system until after the 2016 Games in Rio.

Here's to hoping it all works out.


Login or Register to post a comment

MLJ (1) about 3 and a half years ago
Whatever Jordan is carrying Beacon in > Baby Bjorn. What's it called? Stable, close to the parent's heart beat, and snug.
Jared Hall (1) about 3 and a half years ago
That's a Moby wrap
MLJ (1) about 3 and a half years ago
Oh, and a wrestling comment:

If all college wrestling programs (in all divisions) leave the NCAA and become members of the NCWA. What would happen?
TLS62PA (1) about 3 and a half years ago
Loss of funding from their institutions. The schools won't see it necessary to fund the programs and infrastructure if the returns didn't make the school stand out in their institutional goals. Strong programs are recruiting tools even for non-athlete students. It's the schools who are members of the NCAA, not individual sports programs
Jaroslav Hasek (2) about 3 and a half years ago
international wrestling needs a better pro circuit. i think FILA should be taking lessons from tennis' ATP and Sumo.

biggest question i have is why every tournament is run 'olympic' style. why can't some be round robins at least have full wrestle backs? i understand making concessions for the olympics. i don't understand making them for every other competition.
SetonHallPirate (1) about 3 and a half years ago
Couldn't agree more with your comment regarding a true FILA World Ranking. I've been arguing that since, oh, about Fat Tuesday 2013!
djs280 (1) about 3 and a half years ago
The Hershey Company has long supported wrestling. They provide annual donations to the NWCA and are usually sponsors at the NCAA tournament. Not sure who else. Great to hear about Home Depot.
SetonHallPirate (1) about 3 and a half years ago
Here's my thinking regarding the world league:

Europe/America North: Belarus, Bulgaria, Ukraine, United States
Europe/Africa South: Azerbaijan, Egypt, Georgia, Turkey
Asia/Europe West: India, Iran, Kyrgyzstan, Russia
Asia/Oceania East: Japan, Kazakhstan, Mongolia, Palau

Each team would wrestle home-and-away series' of two dual meets each (total of 12) within their division, with each team required to use an entirely different lineup in both dual meets. Top team in each division would advance to the Final Four, where they would wrestle duals at a predetermined location (under the same rules as in the regional phase).

1pattonr (1) about 3 and a half years ago
switch Iran and Kazakhstan and I think you've got something. I'd hate to see Russians and Iranians have to qualify against each other. They'd be better squaring off at a championship tourney.
SetonHallPirate (1) about 3 and a half years ago
I'm probably better off going with Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Mongolia, and Russia in a North Division, and India, Iran, Japan, and Palau in a South Division. I tried to do things solely on the basis of geography.

I also should note that that was just for men's freestyle. A different lineup would be necessary for women's freestyle and Greco, obviously.
donski2323 (1) about 3 and a half years ago
With all do respect, It is hard for me to not see your shot at Fargo having to do with Flo. Your allegiance to ESPN is admirable but if ESPN56 picked up Fargo next year you'd be the first one holding a mic flag in Fargo, let's be honest. Leave Flo alone for a bit.
trfoley (1) about 3 and a half years ago
Thanks for writing.

My comments are focused on the timing of Fargo, and yes, also the hype. Wrestling has other avenues for individual competitors to find great training and competition. As I've stated many times before, my stance has less to do with the particular tournament or USA Wrestling's management of the event, but it does have everything to do with the "more is better" mentality prevalent today in youth wrestling.

There is NO selfless reason to burn out these young wrestlers on a half-dozen must-attend national tournaments a year. They are suffocating under the demands. Teach them gymnastics, let them go have fun with their friends, let them get a job. Hell, let them rest. Remember that despite their mini-men physiques and affected bad-boy attitudes, many are just high school kids -- some as young as 14 years old -- that need good parenting and a loving home. They don't need to be worn out online by a bunch of typists with little else to do but judge effort and condemn their failures as a personality defect.

I have no idea how Flo came into your argument. However, to answer I don't fault them for making money on the event. Kudos to Martin and the gang. As for my ascendency into the booth at Fargo for ESPN Nuevo it seems unlikely I'd get the call. As you might have noticed, I don't follow high school wrestling and thus wouldn't make a very good analyst. College? Yes. International? 100-percent. The 14-year-old from Missouri taking n the 8th-grader from Washington state? Not a clue.

Let 'em grow up and learn lessons before we start judging them on technique, physical conditioning and heart.
wrestler12292 (1) about 3 and a half years ago
"Don't be fooled. There are is plenty of money for which to pay college athletes, however, it is likely to come from administrators' salaries, funds for outrageous facilities and existing endowments."

As a current college wrestler, I can tell you that most student-athletes I know don't even want to be paid. It's a small percentage of current student-athletes, and people who have never played college sports that are making the uproar. We just want more benefits in our existing structure. Better health care, expanded scholarships, and yes, better facilities. Non-revenue sport athletes are terrified of these demands for salaries; we know it spells nothing good for our sport.
trfoley (1) about 3 and a half years ago
I can understand that position. You need to protect what is most important to you and those in your circle. Salaries seem to be an added cost to schools who often complain of having little funding.

From what I've read there will be plenty of solutions to the rise in monetary demands before the elimination of programs, however, that's not the main thrust of the argument.

Troubled times are coming and wrestling needs to be prepared for those struggles. When the threats come from above and elimination of programs is discussed, it's my hope that wrestling will be in front of the crisis. We should be gender equitable, well-funded and with friends throughout the university.

Do that and I think we have a chance of weathering the change. Stick to the status quo and we'll lose another 50-percent of our programs.

Thanks again for writing. I like hearing from current college wrestlers.
SetonHallPirate (1) about 3 and a half years ago
Here's what a world league look like for Greco, same system as freestyle:

Asia: Iran, Korea, Kyrgyzstan, Turkey
Europe North: Belarus, Hungary, Russia, Ukraine
Europe South: Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bulgaria, Georgia
Europe West: Cuba, Germany, Sweden, Tunisia
SetonHallPirate (1) about 3 and a half years ago
And last, but not least, women's freestyle:

Americas: Canada, Colombia, Tunisia, United States
Asia: China, Japan, Kazakhstan, Mongolia
Europe North: Belarus, Latvia, Russia, Sweden
Europe South: Azerbaijan, Bulgaria, Hungary, Ukraine
dms52 (1) about 3 and a half years ago
Would it be possible to have a World Championships where each country can have more than one representative? FILA would set "regional" tournaments that qualify for Worlds (think Wimbledon with many reps from each country). Wrestlers would only be constrained by their own performance...not by their country. This concept would truly show who is the worlds best!
dms52 (1) about 3 and a half years ago
By increasing WC opportunities this could potentially keep a few guys from leaving wrestling for MMA. Furthermore, this concept would place increased relevance on tournaments other the world championships.
AppleBottomJeans (1) about 3 and a half years ago
Fargo in itself can be fun, exciting, and a great trip where you can make lifelong friends. I don't don't know if the critcism should lie on these big tournaments...As much as it should lie on parents and coaches who demand their child/athlete go and give 100% of there summer or else.

I had a blast the one year I went to Fargo and wrestling seemed a lot more fun/non chalant in the summers. Go to a local freestlye tourney, goof off, try some throws...have fun! However, I do remember the 'national team coaches' constantly critisizing me and telling me I didn't take it 'serious' enough. I think there in lies the bigger problem. In my experience coaches and parents (not my parents) need to do a better job of putting things in perspective for kids and giving them a 'break.' The points you discuss are valid as far as perspective and what these kids should be deem important...but like most things...that can best be done in the home by the parents...or by the coaches given the privilege to build boys into men. Sadly, a lot of the time their priorities are the ones messed up that get passed on to the athletes.

For me, Fargo was a blast and an opportunity to get tech-mauled by Zach Esposito and Trent Paulson...the bus ride, the friends, and becoming a better wrestler was well worth it.