Foley's Friday Mailbag: February 9, 2018

The 2018 Winter Olympic Games start this week in Pyeongchang, Korea, with 91 countries from every continent on hand to compete.

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.

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.


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MLJ (2) about 10 months ago
"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."

I remember during an interview, Majerus stated that if he had a recruit over his house and fed him a seven course meal, the NCAA would have a problem with it. But, if he stopped by McDonalds on the way to bring the recruit back to the airport, and got him something from the dollar menu, he would be in trouble with the NCAA.
PSUhomerinVA (2) about 10 months ago
There was a home basketball game scheduled the same evening as the Penn State wrestling match and as most people know, basketball (along with football) is the cash-cow of college sports. No way were the venues going to be swapped, so why should anyone complain now and not when the schedule was made. OSU coach put out a complaining tweet just a couple weeks before the match - Tom where were you and your input months ago when the schedule was made?
As far as ticket prices for a big event, I tried to get tickets to the VATech @ UVA basketball game this weekend and the prices were multiple times higher than most other home games - it's the same with any sport.
"Home Field Advantage" is just that, an advantage for the home team. The Penn State football game at Ohio St was a sell-out and there was not a lot of blue in the stands except one small corner of the stadium. Bravo to OSU for so many die hard fans who cheered their team to a last minute win. Now it's our turn ;)
Bp4834 (2) about 10 months ago
Forget the basketball game being scheduled in the BJC. PSU doesn't even own the BJC which makes it even more difficult. Even if they agreed to flip the venue for wrestling that night and held the basketball game earlier, PSU would have to pay to use the venue. They elected Rec Hall because it is a way better atmosphere than the BJC. In Rec Hall the crowd is right on top of the action, intimidating, and very loud. The BJC just doesn't compare, it is more of an event venue opposed to sporting venue, that is the biggest knock on it for years. In regards to ticket prices, PSU didn't get any more money for that match than Buffalo in 2 weeks or any other Rec Hall dual for that matter. I am a season ticket holder and it costs $15 to get in for every match, $20 for the BJC dual probably because there are added costs to cover because of leasing the venue. The only people making more money on this match were scalpers, PSU didn't make any more than they usually do. The crowd in Rec Hall was a total advantage and why wouldn't any coach in any sport want a total home field advantage? If there is anything to complain about it is that this match should have been on a bigger network, that is how you are really going to grow the sport.
jnbroncos (1) about 10 months ago
Foley basically applauds PSU for filling a smaller venue for the match with tOSU, and even recommends others consider this model; and the first two comments from PSU fans read as though someone was criticizing them. I truly enjoy watching PSU wrestle and think Cael is as elite a coach as he was a competitor, but these fans drive me nuts. Stop assuming everyone is out for you and just enjoy the product being put out.
Bp4834 (3) about 10 months ago
To clarify, jnbroncos, my comments are more directed towards Ohio State coaches and fans and their comments. Tom Ryan basically said PSU and Cael did the sport a disservice by not wrestling in the BJC which simply is not true. The disservice is not putting that match on ESPN for a large audience to view. No hard feelings, just wanted to clarify a few items in my post. People think the university was making all kinds of money on ticket sales but they weren't. There are just a lot of misconceptions needing clarified. I bet most don't know the BJC isn't owned by PSU either and it must be leased. Again, no hard feelings and here is to what I can only hope will be a super exciting March Matness!
dbestsport (1) about 10 months ago
I don't typically subscribe to the name calling that people levy on Mr. Foley, but this week I have to say, enough is enough. There was a schedule conflict at Bryce Jordan, and Ohio State got 75 tickets which is the typical allotment for home duals at Rec Hall so there was no Russian conspiracy as Foley implies. In regards to the officiating, I agree that some of the calls were inconsistent, but certainly not to the benefit of either team. There were bad calls against both teams.
nerfstate (1) about 10 months ago
Yeah, every single seat in Rec Hall was sold by Penn State before the season even began, at face value ($15-$18 each). PSU made absolutely 0 premium on seats for this dual, which makes a good portion of this column fan fiction.
DannyClarke (3) about 10 months ago
I don’t think the best way to expand the sport and viewership is by limiting the amount of people that can attend highly anticipated dual meets...
Whitetailwhisperer (1) about 10 months ago
I thought the reason for only 1 ref was that the assistant was full time monitor of the video review. An attempt to speed up the review process.
CoreyCA (1) about 10 months ago
WTW - There was only 1 official because the B10 coaches voted prior to the season to eliminate the 2nd official in favor of having an independent video reviewer. The funny part about this is that the NCAA who passed the rule regarding use of an independent vid,eo reviewer, isn't going to use them at any of the NCAA championships. Duh! So in the B10 you pay the cost of the 2nd official to an independent video reviewer who, as in the case of PSU-OSU match, made 1 call. He almost didn't make that call because there were technical difficulties that, had they not been resolved, would have cost the opportunity to use video review. The time for the review was way too long because of these difficulties. The 2nd review was instituted by the official so the independent video reviewer did not participate.

I don't think the official was inconsistent at all, and I don't think there were "bad" calls for both teams. The match was well officiated and the official had no impact on the outcome.
Monsieur Tarzan (1) about 10 months ago
To Jared W:

High school sports is not about entertainment value or producing elite athletes. It's mainly about fun and building character. While there is a problem if a wrestler who is 5-21 is qualifying for a state tournament, I suspect that is an outlier, even in your state. Even if there are more participants and the overall quality of the wrestling in your state suffers, that doesn't mean that the top wrestlers will necessarily suffer. The top wrestlers are going to dominate the state tournament anyway.
Monsieur Tarzan (1) about 10 months ago
Man wrestling is a hard sport to follow in terms of viewership. For any wrestling news, you have to turn to wrestling-specific websites, with partial pay walls. Even if you get the Big Ten Network on your cable package, you're missing lots of prime wrestling. I had to find a bar in NYC that was willing to devote one of its screens to the PSU-OSU match. This was American wrestling's version of the Super Bowl.
vietvet (1) about 10 months ago
Penn State is good for the sport - people will come to watch great wrestling. Saw PSU wrestle Lehigh in front of 10,000 at the arena in Allentown, PA. Cleveland is sold out primarily because PSU is a super team that everyone wants to watch.
WeArePennState (1) about 10 months ago
Hey Anil C. & Foley - check your DVR of Ohio State at Rutgers. You will see that the scorer's table was flush against the edge of the mat. You will also notice that virtually all the way around the mat, there are fans pushed up against the edge of the mat; in fact some photographers actually had their feet stretched out on the mat at times. Hmmmm. I don't recall hearing you guys, or Tom Ryan complaining. Interesting. Btw, I personally think there should be no one near the edge of the mat...but I stand by that 100% of the time.