The Games have been marred by a variety of controversies surrounding the doping of Russian athletes, but also producing quality reinforcement for what sport can do to create better dialogue among nations.
Last month Korea and North Korea (DPRK) agreed to field the first-ever joint national team at the Winter Games. The deal, struck in part by members of the IOC, brings the two nations together in the most significant way since the Sunshine policy was halted in 2010.
There is plenty (PLENTY) of reason to stay skeptical of international sports, and even reasons to stay skeptical of the work put into establishing a joint team. But it's not always documentary-worthy deception plots. Like any organization there are bad actors, but the vast majority of the people involved in the Olympic movement believe in the righteous mission of the Games and its ability to deliver change.
Large scale actions like the unification of the Koreas for a sporting event will be bookmarked in history; other generations will learn about this moment and study its short and long-term effect on world peace. A negotiation between two in-conflict nations for the reasons of goodwill through sport inspires all types of influential forces on both North and South Korea.
The goodwill of the Olympic movement dries up in eras of scandal, but it's important to understand that it has a role in so much more than helping to host and brand a pair of quadrennial games.
I traveled to Port Harcourt, Nigeria, this week to help deliver media content from the 2018 African Championships. My staff arrived several days before the event and we set up interviews, shooting locations and just managed to get our sorts before the madness of this week's events. Additionally, there were at least another half dozen staff there to run the tournament, manage the IT, weigh-in athletes, etc. Running any continental championship is difficult, but doing it in Africa provides a spectacular array of additional issues (not the least of which was safety).
My team, the rest of the crew and some 45 referees were on hand. More than 30 nations participated, and many brought female competitors and female coaches. A number of wrestlers are staying after the camp to learn from some of the top former athletes and coaches in the world, including world champion Alexi Rodriguez of Cuba, and later Azerbaijan.
All of that travel cost, overhead, instructional know how and conceptualization of the event came from the monetary funding and root inspiration of the Olympic movement.
Like any large institution, the Olympic movement requires oversight and healthy skepticism, but it's important to never lose sight of what it delivers daily to people around the world. We are a better world with the Olympic Games as a means for dialogue and the recent actions in Korea prove that sport can overcome any political obstacle.
On a related but separate note, the Olympic gathering also saw the confirmation of United World Wrestling president Nenad Lalovic to the Executive Board of the IOC. Already the first IOC member, Lalovic is the first wrestling president to hold the position. The EB is the determining group for a large majority of Olympic decisions and though Lalovic is on the IOC to serve all of sport (and the EB to attend to the interests of the summer sports) his presence provides a political voice for the sport of wrestling at the most important table in all of sport.
As noted above, I've been in Nigeria this week and writing this in the course of traveling back over 28 hours! As such, I only grabbed a few questions and added a missive on the thinking behind Penn State's decision to stay at Rec Hall for last week's Penn State vs. Ohio State match.
To your questions ..
Q: Any thoughts on the Kanen Storr saga?
-- Mike C.
Foley: My loyalties would tempt me to shy away from the drama between the Paulsons and Iowa State, but one point jumped out to me: How in the sh*t was Kanen legally able to rent a former coach's place?! They once suspended basketball coach Rick Majerus for buying one of his athletes a bagel.
The other thought on it … of course kids are going to contact former assistant coaches. They are role models and just because they take new jobs shouldn't mean they are dead to each other.
That said, I have no other details.
Q: Penn State vs. Ohio State highlighted a huge flaw in the rules/safety system which can be fixed. Twice, Ohio State wrestlers were situated against the scorers table (and one of them broke it) but still "in bounds." The rules state that the mat must extend five feet from the boundaries, right?
Given that it takes one toe to stay in bounds, and wrestlers are probably 5 feet 8 inches tall on average (just a guess), don't we need ten feet of extra mat space? I regularly see guys end up on the hardwood in Iowa, Oklahoma State, and probably others as well.
It's more for safety and seems like an easy fix. I would hate for the action to end up hurting a kid because we didn't make mats slightly bigger.
-- Anil C.
Foley: One-hundred percent. And though I love to say you can fix things with a firm out of bounds, I think that even Greco-Roman and freestyle see some throws that extend boundaries a bit. However, with a firmer out of bounds we would never see that type of extended contact past the boundary circle.
Good query. The wrestling on the hardwood has always bothered me.
6,699 fans packed Rec Hall to witness Penn State defeat Ohio State (Photo/Richard Immel)
HALFTIME MISSIVE: Penn State vs. Ohio State
Most of the college wrestling world was abuzz last weekend after Penn State upended Ohio State in State College, 19-18. The matchup of two top-ranked programs could have drawn near 16,000 fans, but the Nittany Lion administration eschewed convention and chose instead to feature the bout in Rec Hall, which was bursting at the seams with the attending 6,699 fans.
The Nittany Lions made a smart calculation. By keeping their ordinary dual meet location, Penn State saw increased prices as generated by higher demand. Because Penn State could guarantee a sellout while also controlling distribution, Penn State was further able to box out Ohio State fans from attending -- the ultimate in at-home mat advantages.
The match was entertaining for fans watching online, and it seemed, those in person. While the wrestling action was highlighted by the upset of top-ranked Kollin Moore (Ohio State) at 197 pounds, the choice of seating, and the discussion of the economic motivation also generated heated debate.
College wrestling exists in a sports economy modeled after the success of football and basketball. Those revenue generating sports create income for their institutions by selling 20,000 person capacity arenas 20 times a season, and 70,000-plus capacity football stadiums 6 times a season. Those massive ticket sale numbers (and donor incentives) have recently inspired programs like Rutgers, Ohio State and Iowa to create buzz around one-off mega-showcases with attendance bonanzas.
What Penn State did was turn that model on its head and ask if they could get as much revenue and attention from a more intimate showcase. The gamble was that the limited tickets sales would drive up price (while not ticking off Nittany Lion diehards), create intimacy with fans, and generate an appealing image for fans watching at home.
The smaller-is-better crowd model is often used at the international level. Bundesliga, the German professional wrestling league, caps their crowds at roughly 2,000 people -- though often times less since the size of the gymnasiums in small German towns sets obvious parameters. Beer is sold, crowds are within feet of the action and regional rivalries flourish with returns going right back into the club's coffers.
The Indian Professional Wrestling League (PWL), which completed its third season last month, overfills small venues in hopes of adding to the same sense of Bedlam accomplished in State College last week. For Sony and the online carriers of the league the bargain is to make the other 1.2 billion Indians not in attendance feel like they are part of the production. Remember that India's media giants revitalized cricket by both shortening matches and adding a slew of fan shots to their coverage. Watching a three-hour cricket contest now means observing the real life iteration of the fun you see people having in a beer commercial (though some of them are actors, which is next-level product placement).
In terms of visibility and positive reinforcement of the wrestling product, a packed stadium of 3,000 to 6,000 people creates a sense of atmosphere that brands want to support. There isn't much sense in booking a venue for 12,000 or more when wrestling can only draw 5,000 passionate, engaged fans. Smaller stadiums, invested sponsors and creative production should be our sport's new norm.
Reducing the size of the arena is not the only way to increase revenue, or provide a positive back drop for an event, but with shrinking budgets and a focus on creating income and a brand-friendly venue, it's one that should be considered more often by administrators and coaches around the county, and the world.
Q: A few things I noticed about the Penn State-Ohio State dual:
1. Penn State's conditioning was the deciding factor (especially in the upper weights).
2. Ohio State looked flat and overwhelmed in several matches.
3. The hands to the face and stalling calls were inconsistent.
4. Why would you not have a second official in such a huge match?
-- Steve H.
1. I agree.
2. Meh. I think the tide turned a bit in the middle, but the overwhelmed part was only noticeable/concerning at 184 pounds.
3. I agree.
4. I HAVE NO IDEA. Except that it's possible they don't have a protocol for adding more referees for conference dual meets.
Q: If you're the Penn State staff, do you ride with the hot hand Anthony Cassar? Or how do you settle it? Sounds like Shakur Rasheed won the wrestle-off, but suffered a minor injury.
-- Mike C.
Foley: Whoever Cael chooses you can be certain that State College will disagree with the choice come March if the individual and team don't win the team title.
At this point I think another wrestle-off might be the only fair option.
THOUGHT OF THE WEEK
By Jared W.
Competition vs Participation? I live in a state, that in recent years, expanded to 5 divisions from 3. I have noticed that kids are qualifying for states with extremely mediocre records and in some cases losing records. I've seen qualifying tournaments with byes, incomplete weights, and kids with 5-21 records in state qualifying tournaments. What I have noticed is the state is pumping out two-time, three-time, and four-time state champs at a much more frequent pace, yet failing to have kids who challenge the best kids across the nation. When we were a 2-division state, we had Dapper Dan participants, Fargo champs and All-Americans, Senior Nationals champs, and collegiate Division I conference champs and All-Americans. When it was a one-division state we had Division I champs and finalists. We haven't had any of those since the state expanded.
The argument I hear for the 5 divisions is that it allows more kids to compete. While I don't dispute that, I do contend that it doesn't promote the best wrestling possible. I'm all for 3-4 classifications if your state holds a dual state tournament, but I will always be a fan of a 1-division individual state tournament. At the very most, I don't think that states aside from maybe Texas and California need more than 2 classifications for individuals.