Foley's Friday Mailbag: August 15, 2014

Former UCLA basketball star Ed O'Bannon's recent court victory against the NCAA was only the start of the NCAA's weakening grip on "amateur" athletics. Last week the Indianapolis-based organization announced a plan to give autonomy to the five major conferences, especially in how they regulate athlete pay in the major sports.

The fallout is unknown, and that uncertainty has fueled speculation on the fallout for at-risk sports like wrestling. The questions all run in a similar vein. Will wrestling suffer due to limited funding? Will Title IX be applied to player pay rates and therefore double the expected impact and further jeopardize Olympic sports on campus? Will our sport die?

Who knows? But also ... Who cares?

The wrestling community spends far too much time worrying about outcomes or trying to change instituted laws. We don't hold any cards, and we can't influence the courts. The only way to prove our worthiness is to become, in the public eye, the sport we claim to be -- action-packed and egalitarian.

Division I wrestling programs need to become more media savvy in packaging their content. Wrestling is a perfect fit for the online generation. Just last week an Iranian flipped over his head to score a defensive takedown at the Junior World Championships in Zagreb. The 25-second clip was put on YouTube and in a matter of 48 hours had been seen by a quarter-million people online and aired on ESPN and FOX Sports.

Every wrestling dual meet has a moment that impresses. Film it, post it, promote it and keep the administration interested in the product. Yes, there are another 100 items on the checklist, but without incredible self-promotion there is no team to protect. Coaches need to make multimedia content (not just social media) a cornerstone of their program.

But to protect our programs is also to grow new ones and show the world the meritocracy of wrestling.

There is a famous T-shirt that says "AnyBODY can wrestle!" And we've seen the success of bodies ranging from Anthony Robles to Stephen Neal succeed on the mat. Well, if anybody can wrestle then why haven't we started Division I programs for more women? Where is the independent leadership from the sport's greats when it comes to gender equality? If you want to defend wrestling, if you truly love the sport of wrestling, then where are the women?

Wrestling cannot waste a moment worrying about the NCAA and it's changing amateur structure. A moment spent moaning is a moment that could have been spent building. We won't stop the change, or even misdirect it at a macro-level, but we can promote our sport and its values. That is all we can do, and with our passion and work ethic we should be able to do that with more efficacy and impact than other sports.

We can survive, but to do so will take leadership and hard work from now until ... well, forever.

To your questions ...

Q: Who showed up for camp in Colorado Springs? Those who didn't? Would like to know why. Men's freestyle is area of interest.
-- @Eagle_Fan

Foley: The entire starting men's freestyle team showed up to team camp in Colorado Springs.

When he took over the program in 2009 Zeke Jones established a no-questions-asked, must-attend team camp policy that applied to every wrestler equally. This was a departure from Kevin Jackson's leadership model, which had allowed for exceptions of athletes and personal situations. Jackson's model was his prerogative, but the feedback had been that it led to occasional spats of angst among teammates. Creating the expectation of camp attendance seems to have eliminated that sniping.

Bruce Burnett is extending Jones' method and ideology. Burnett knows exactly what he is doing. This training camp thing is old hat for the legendary coach, and all members of the team showed up in shaped and are headed next week to the acclimation camp in Italy. Their individual workout partners and coaches will also make the trip.

Q: What's the deal with takedowns/exposure on the edge of the mat? Didn't see a lot of consistency from refs on that. Some gave points. Others just gave one for a pushout. And when is it OK to call out of bounds and not award a point, or should it be a point very time?
-- Don C.

Foley: The judgment of the referee dictates many of the scoring calls on the edge of the mat. There are times when the athlete first "flees" the mat and steps out (one point) only to then give up the takedown (two points) or takedown with exposure (four points). This is similar to NCAA rules in terms of continuation of the move. The fleeing isn't wiped out just because the end result was a scoring action.

However, some referees, or head officials, don't see the need for the fleeing call if there is a large scoring action. That's complicated because it's a judgment on whether or not the defensive wrestler was engaging at the time they stepped out, or was avoiding action, but that's just the nature of refereeing and being granted some leeway for interpretation.

But you know that the REAL lesson is WRESTLE ON THE EDGE!!

Q: Am I crazy to think Aaron Pico's losses this summer might have been just what he needed? It seemed like the hype train was out of control. Pico seems like a really great kid who is mature beyond his years. He takes defeat like a true champion. Athletes young and old could learn a lot from him how about how to handle setbacks. These losses not only take some pressure off him, but also should motivate him even more. Thoughts?
-- Mike C.

Foley: You do learn more from a loss than you do from a win and that applies to fans as much as it does Aaron Pico.

One of the recent realizations of the "Pico Generation" of wrestling fans is that the American side is not always the best in the world, and that countries have wrestlers who can inspire and cause reason for cheer. Respect for international competitors is a huge lesson for the young American wrestling fan who can quickly fall back of national alliances in celebrating the sport, whereas fans in Iran, Japan and other wrestling-fueled nations respect athletic performance regardless of the flag on the singlet.

Pico, as an individual, does lose with graciousness and that makes me immensely proud. (He still loses with passion. Don't get it flipped. He HATES losing.) The Ugly American is a tough image to shake, but seeing Pico (and most of our athletes) lose with honor is something that I (and other fans around the world) note.

Jordan Burroughs is as much loved for his double leg and dominance as he is for his respect for fans and opposing wrestlers. There was a small moment after defeating the Iranian at the World Cup in Los Angeles when Burroughs bowed and covered his heart in looking at the Persian fans. Intentional or not (I think it was), his actions were a subtle sign of respect that melted the hearts of the Persian fans in attendance. Kinda reminiscent of Dave Schultz and his legacy of international popularity.

In pure wrestling terms, of course Pico will get better from these losses. There are some incredible talents around the world and Pico will have seen them dozens of times before he takes the mat at his first Senior World Championships or Olympics.


Programs around the country can mimic these types of videos and create sharable content with little work.

The beauty is a beast. This week Marwa Amri became the first female wrestler from Africa to earn the worldwide No. 1 ranking. She was raised Muslim and has become a hero in her local Tunisia. She deserves your attention, and as long as she's not wrestling the USA, your support.

Marwa Amri (Photo/T.R. Foley)

Q: Can we please keep the Angry Birds as the official wrestling "challenge flag?" It made me giggle.
-- Tom B.

The Angry Bird is being used for challenges
Foley: Outside of the action those stuffed birds are my absolute favorite thing about international wrestling. Hysterical to see an angry Romanian coach wing a stuffed bird at the referee. How serious can you be when you're tossing a fuzzy animal at a man in a yellow tie and suit jacket?

The Angry Birds were first used at the European Championships in Helsinki, as a shout-out to Rovio, the creator of the video game whose headquarters are in the region.

The Commonwealth Games used red, blue and white flannel-covered rectangles in homage to the kilted designs of the countrymen. Cute, but not nearly as comical as Angry Birds getting tossed and tumbled across the mats. Love it.

Q: Kyle Snyder now has two Junior World medals before he even wrestles his first college wrestling match. What's your early prediction on where Snyder finishes this season at NCAAs?
-- Mike C.

Foley: Right now I'm predicting Snyder is a national semifinalist. From that position he can make it to the national finals where he's 50/50 to win the title. At worst he busts out and places sixth as a freshman. Remember that there are seven returning All-Americans at 197 pounds and another who reached the round of 12.

We will know much more about Snyder's success on the college scene after two months. He will be adjusting to mat wrestling, successive weight cuts and the added grind of schoolwork.

He may even get a shot at J'den Cox, who does own a win over the Ohio State wrestler and is the defending NCAA champion.

Q: I know that Jon Jones is out of the fight with Cormier until January, but did the whole press tour seem staged to you? I don't recall any rumbles at UFC staredowns in the past, especially over a month out from the scheduled fight, but then the thing on ESPN's hot mike seemed a bit far-fetched to me. Your thoughts?
-- Curt H.

Foley: I don't think the duo's tete-a-tete was a "work." More likely, there is some bad blood that exists, much of which is driven by Jones's personal insecurity, but also some that comes from Cormier's (understandable) provocation.

Cormier is a good man. He's honest, hard working and has an enormous heart. I would never suspect him to do anything that misled his family and friends, especially something as questionably crass as threatening to spit in someone's face. That emotion, raw and disgusting as it seemed, came from a place of true anger and resentment.

I had a journalism professor once tell me that readers can always tell the truth. You can try to hide facts with fancy language, or mislead with tone, but in the end the reader can detect the hidden message. Don't underestimate the reader's ability to sniff bullshit and read between the lines.

The Jones and Cormier spat extends that idea for me. Jon Jones is not well-liked and that truly bothers him, but he's not liked because he's largely just an unlikable guy. In honest off-camera moments or in social media rages he comes across selfish, dishonest, and two-faced. The fašade -- his attempts to mask his unlikable side -- has always fallen flat with fans, who have an innate ability to sense earnest behavior.

Cormier told Jones to drop the "church voice" act and that touched a nerve in Jones, as the truth told by our adversary often bothers us more than lies told by our friends.


Login or Register to post a comment

Corey (1) about 3 and a half years ago
T.R. Watched Joey McKenna's final at the JR worlds and I think it demonstrates why the push out isn't a good option for collegiate/hs wrestling. McKenna had 4 legitimate shots in the first 2 minutes and trailed 2-0 on two push outs. All the Iranian wrestler did was lock up an over/under get his chest lower and push McKenna from the center of the mat out of bounds. Understanding that McKenna may need to be more sophisticated in dealing with the Iranians strategy, explain to me why the push out is a good rule.
donski2323 (1) about 3 and a half years ago
"much of which is driven by Jones's personal insecurity",< objective journalism at its best.