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Why college wrestling should go bowling (as in football bowls)

Oklahoma State wrestlers prepare to compete at the Grapple on the Gridiron (Photo/Mark Lundy, Lutte-Lens.com)

From cheeseburgers to clothing to shampoo, any brand executive will tell you that to get more people to try your product, you have to get that product in front of more new people.

The same goes for college wrestling.

If college wresting wants to thrive and grow instead of stagnate and die it needs to increase its fan base. That's a fact. To do that the sport needs to get fresh eyeballs. The current model is woefully inadequate for that.

Right now fans have dual matches streamed live online and sometimes on the Big Ten Network. Fans have the big tournaments streamed live online. If they're lucky the finals will air on a network, such as the Big Ten does with the Midlands. And fans have the NCAA Championships streamed and aired on an ESPN channel. That might get someone who is channel surfing to check it out, but it's not going to bring new folks to the sport in the numbers needed.

The one event that brought 42-thousand plus fans, many of them not the college wrestling-faithful, was the Grapple on the Gridiron in Iowa City in November of 2015. Iowa and Oklahoma State held a dual meet in Kinnick Stadium that brought in a record number of fans. It was done in conjunction with the Iowa versus Minnesota football game that night. The teams treated tailgaters, who were there anyway and might not ever watch college wrestling, to an exciting match in a unique environment.

So to build on that model and take the concept to the next level, let's have a college wrestling dual as part of college bowl game festivities in a warm weather city or even a domed stadium.

Tom Brands coaching at the Grapple on the Gridiron (Photo/Mark Lundy, Lutte-Lens.com)

Iowa head wrestling coach Tom Brands is the architect of the Grapple on the Gridiron. He likes the idea of college wrestling at bowl games, but with a few caveats.

Brands said we need to put an exciting product on the mat and "right now our product is not good enough to do that."

He suggests we need rules that reward a scoring mentality and that won't happen until those rules are driven by coaches and referees. Right now there is not one voting referee on the rules committee, they are all ad hoc, non-voting members, according to Brands.

His other must-have ingredient for success is a motivated and local event administration. "One that is connected to the community, that is well-placed and well-organized. Not one made up of volunteers who are half in," said Brands.

Then there's the cost. Brands didn't put an exact number on the Grapple, but said it was in the tens of thousands, but they had a sponsor who offset much of the cost.

Putting the state of the rules aside (I disagree with Brands a little here and think certain teams will put on an exciting event even with the current rules, but that might just be my wrestling fan-colored glasses), would a bowl committee even be interested in the idea?

A source intimately involved with bowl activity and preparation, who didn't want to be named because he was not speaking in an official capacity, said yes. But he said it would have to be the right Bowl Committee.

According to the source, "There's too much going on in larger bowls. They don't need another sport. But for some of the smaller bowls it could be an additional part of the entertainment so fans get more bang for their buck."

He also mentioned cost as a potential drawback, but agreed that "underwriting happens all the time" and that it could be seen as a sponsorship opportunity. With 40 bowl games to choose from this is something to make a particular bowl game unique.

Here's an example of how it might work. This year the Zaxby's Heart of Dallas Bowl featured Army and North Texas. Army won 38-31 in overtime. It was held in the Cotton Bowl at Fair Park in Dallas. It was played on Dec. 27, aired on ESPN and drew a crowd of just over 39,000 people. Game time was at noon ET. On the afternoon before the game the No. 1 and No. 2-ranked dual teams in the nation could battle it out in the stadium. According to InterMat's latest dual team rankings that would be Oklahoma State and Iowa. Ironically, a rematch of the Grapple. Logistically it would take a crack grounds crew to reset the field, but my source says they can turn around a stadium in six or seven hours.

Think about it, between the Dallas locals, the Army fans and the North Texas fans that might be thousands of new eyeballs for the sport and that's thousands more than college wrestling is getting now.

Comments

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dbestsport (2) about 1 and a half years ago
I maintain that, if wrestling is to grow, it cannot just be a Midwestern sport. We need to increase interest on both coasts. There is a huge fan base in New Jersey and New York that needs more access to high level wrestling. The same is true in California.
I do agree with coach Brands that there has to be changes to mat wrestling. Wrestlers cannot just lay across an opponents back, trying to hold a wrist for 30 or 40 seconds. Officials should be telling wrestlers to improve and move on to something else. Then stop the action and have them start over. In addition, there should be a 5 count when a bottom wrestler gets to his feet. The top man cannot be allowed to throw a leg in then, and take 10-15 seconds to bring his opponent back to the mat/ Thanks for your time.
Caryn Ward (1) about 1 and a half years ago
Thanks for your comment dbest. I agree with you. Now let's hope someone in a position to do something about it does too!
Coltguy (2) about 1 and a half years ago
Great idea for a large draw but that is not how you create fans. I am a basketball player from Iowa. Many of my friends, growing up, were wrestlers and I would often go to their dual meets and tournaments. I have since moved to MN. I have attended many of the Gopher matches over the last 20 years as well as the world team trials when they were in St.Paul. I follow all the state HS wrestling tournaments as well as all the international events. I look forward to my WIN magazine every month and I admit I am somewhat of a junky. But the events I am able to attend appear to have the same "wrestling" fans and I am still the only guy 6'6" in the crowd. What HAS to change in the sport to create a larger fan base is the elimination of riding time. It is the kiss of death for the sport. There is nothing entertaining about watching someone be ridden for 1, let alone 3-4, minutes in a 7 minute match. This is a topic often discussed in the wrestling fraternity and no changes are made. Who was it that said the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result?
Caryn Ward (1) about 1 and a half years ago
Thanks, Coltguy. I think that is one of the rules changes that Coach Brands was talking about. Getting rid of riding time and adding the push out rule are two of the most talked about rules changes, but you're right nothing seems to happen.
Tigerpaw33 (1) about 1 and a half years ago
Dbestsport

If I'm not mistaken NY has University of Buffalo wrestling Cornell NCCC which is junior college. So NY does have some high level wrestling.
dbestsport (1) about 1 and a half years ago
@tigerspaw33... You misunderstand. It's not the quality of the college wrestling, it's the availability of significant wrestling events, etc. Philly and NY were great wrestling venues. Rutgers wrestling set season attendance records last year, that trend needs to continue. The wrestling community has to focus on bringing in fans from areas other than the Midwest. Maybe someone can share what major wrestling events are scheduled for the east coast or west coast this coming season.
Munson (1) about 1 and a half years ago
I agree with all points made. Another need: get more kids to wrestle. I have a 13 yr old wrestler, and it took 3 years to overcome his disinterst which was solely based on the uniform...which i thought was ridiculous until the coach told me thats his #1 barrier to getting kids to wrestle. Kyle Dake is actually campaigning to get the uniforms changed, as he's seen the same thing.
Without new kids coming in, a sport dies.
Teatpullers (1) about 1 and a half years ago
Your analogy will not work. If army is in the bowl then their team has to be one of the teams wrestling. At least one and preferably both teams should be in the game. People who's team are not involved are not going to give up tailgating site seeing etc to watch a wrestling meat that does not involve their school.