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?
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.
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.