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Foley's Friday Mailbag: December 7, 2018

The College Football Playoff selection committee announced its top four teams for its playoffs this week, choosing undefeated Alabama, Clemson, Notre Dame and one-loss Oklahoma for their four-team playoff.

Teams that missed the selection but thought they warranted a ticket were: Ohio State (one loss), UCF (undefeated), and Georgia (who looked excellent against Alabama in the SEC championship game). Michigan wouldn't argue that they should be in the playoffs, but they more or less round out the top eight programs in the nation.

While you probably know all of this from watching a lot of college football, I only know these things through some type of sports osmosis. I never sought out that information, watched more than a minute of any game, or read an article on the College Football Playoff. Football is huge in America, but what drives the story are the names of the schools and their traditions. Alabama, Notre Dame, and Oklahoma all have attached to them something that fans can understand because of generations of support and coverage.

The same is true in wrestling, but for most non-wrestling fans the lingo remains Dan Gable, Cael Sanderson, Iowa wrestling and Penn State. There are more, but everyday sports guy "Hank" knows those people and that's where we need to start in order to have the broader discussion about how to improve wrestling's footprint in the college sports world.

Dual meets.

You get more attraction by having dual meet tournaments, dual meet events, and a dual meet national championship. While it's wonderful that someone may win a national championship at the individual tournament (and I don't advocate for eliminating it), I think wrestling can make a sizable cultural impact through a well thought out dual meet national championship.

Go back to football. They used to rely on a poll for crowning the national championship. Eventually people started to realize that polling was a lackluster, anticlimactic solution and the sport was leaving money and attention on the table. But it wasn't super easy to convince the old school football fans of a national championship game. To them there was only a new set of problems, like how to choose teams, where to host, what happens to the existing bowl games.

The Bowl Championships Series was formed, which found creative ways to solve the issues raised by the old school football people while also advocating for a championships game. Few more years and some heartbreak gave us a four-team system. Now, looking at the teams that are out and who is in, can anyone really deny that this system will expand to eight?

Of course not, because football schools know that this is their best chance to win a national title and create more income for themselves and their conferences. Cinderella stories like seen in March will start to be told in December and January.

Wrestling can do the same. We can create a dual meet championship (with much more ease than football's expansion) and create a groundswell of support from schools around the country. No, I don't think that old guard will like it, but eventually they'll give in and agree -- we just need to start the process before it's too late.

To your questions …

Isaiah Martinez shoots on Alex Dieringer at AWL I (Photo/Mark Lundy, Lutte-Lens.com)

Q: What did you think of the first AWL? There was a lot of talk during the event, but not much since. Do you think AWL will have a second show?
-- V.T.


Foley: I'm currently in India shooting a series of docu-shorts with some of the country's biggest stars. The AWL event was on the night before I left, so I only saw bits and pieces but did monitor the social media imprint.

Overall, I think that wrestling community was intrigued by some of the matchups, though maybe not so much that they were hammering the purchase key on Trackwrestling. At $14.99 it was a steep commitment for someone like me who had split attention for the evening, but it did seem that a good number of Twitter people were watching. Also, I was happy to see that there was some solid effort made to deliver a quality show. There are always things to improve and change, but for a first effort I think they hit most of the high notes.

The big issue faced by wrestling organizations looking to turn a profit on these shows or maintain any sort of sustainable footprint is a lack of carry-over from event-to-event and there hasn't been a sustained post-match buzz. The investment can't stand alone with one event, and it can't be limited to the mat. The wrestling fans need to attach themselves to the brand and the idea behind that brand.

The wrestling at any event may or may not end up being spectacular, but that's rarely in the control of the organizers. Getting to know the athletes, knowing they will compete again on X date, and maybe some at-home content would help drive these promotions out of their one-and-done model. That's something the promotion can control and help fans connect with.

Let see how the next few weeks ago. The wrestling community has a very short memory and I'd like to see AWL II announced soon so that they can keep their momentum.

Chris Ayres coaching at the NWCA All-Star Classic (Photo/Mark Lundy, Lutte-Lens.com)

Q: I have been super impressed with what Chris Ayres is doing with the program at Princeton. I think it's great to see Princeton doing so well. He seems like a nice fit there. Ayres' name will certainly come up with virtually every Division I head coaching opening in the coming years. Do you think he will stay at Princeton for many more years? Or could you see him hopping to the Big Ten or a more traditional wrestling power?
-- Mike C.


Foley: There is no question that Chris Ayres is doing everything right at Princeton. With a top-ranked wrestler and a win over Lehigh, the Tiger program feels like one of the hottest in the nation.

While Princeton has enjoyed individual success in the past, most notably Greg Parker's journey to the NCAA finals in 2002, they didn't maintain that success or build it up over consecutive years. Now, with Matthew Kolodzik the top-ranked 149-pound wrestler in the nation and the team coming in at No. 13 in InterMat's tournament rankings, there is a lot to celebrate if you're a Princeton alumnus.

Can things continue to build? Will Ayres get snatched away by another school? That's to be seen, but for now I think that fans of the Ivy League can appreciate that what's going on has taken a considerable amount of hard work to build and maintain. To keep him in town I'm sure that the Princeton alumni will need to show support, but there might be more at play for Coach Ayres to balance.

Sometimes the best fit isn't where others think you can win an NCAA championship, but where you and your family feel comfortable and where there are still professional challenges to tackle.

Q: Question for your bag. Besides your daughter's Iowa onesie, is there anything more fabulous in wrestling right now than Jacob Kasper's sapphire shoes?
-- @Tony_Rotundo


Foley: The shoes are a hoot.

Kasper seems to have a wonderful persona. Given his size and likability I'd wonder what's keeping the WWE or other professional wrestling organization from scooping him up. Could be a big get for one of those promotions!

Q: Amar Dhesi is returning to Oregon State and expected to make his season debut in January. It should make the heavyweight class even more exciting. He's the highest returning All-American at heavyweight. Do you see him as the favorite? Or do you favor Gable Steveson? Anthony Cassar?
-- Mike C.


Foley: Not sure why you didn't mention top-ranked Sam Stoll, but yes, I think Dhesi is a strong opponent who is long in the tooth when it comes to high-level competition. While Cassar and Steveson are making waves early in the season, I think Dhesi will have a notable impact on the weight class come March. But again, you forgot about Stoll!

Will he win? I don't know. Something tells me that a hyped-up Steveson and well-coached Cassar might be a lot for the weight class to overcome. Still, Dhesi's size and familiarity with competing at the NCAA tournament are sure to add some value to the likelihood that he'll make a run at the title.

Steveson, for what it's worth, could maybe benefit from a couple fewer People's Elbows to the back of opponent's head. The competition is fierce and I enjoy his intensity and celebration, which is why I'm concerned that left unchecked these types of actions could one day boil over into something more easily defined as illegal and cost him a significant match.

Comments

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Yes Man (1) about 8 months ago
What is up with this advertisement in the Comments?

One of the 4 football playoff schools has a wrestling team. College wrestling needs MORE TEAMS before we get worked up about a dual championship. The SEC has one member with a wrestling team. How many Big 12 schools have wrestling (exclude the drafted schools)? Kudos to the Big 12 for divergent thinking.

Penn State being tops in wrestling is really amazing because they've overcome the dark cloud hanging over the Penn State campus caused by their former assistant football coach Jerry Sundusky. Jerry even caused the toppling of Football Coach Joe Paterno's statue. Are there other hires that have been more profound the Coach Sanderson?
M Smart (1) about 8 months ago
Dark cloud? Sandusky? Don't think it's important to recruits wanting a good education and train in one of the best rooms in the country. Appears you're not a PSU fan.
Yes Man (1) about 8 months ago
Hey M,
Guilty as charged; I’m not a PSU fan. However, I do have a couple of individual favorites on the Penn State team.

I was responding to T.R. Foley’s Friday Mailbag opening monologue. Foley discussed top football teams/playoffs, and nationally recognized college wrestling icons. Just a testament to Coach Cael Sanderson’s success. Coach Sanderson erased any memory of Jerry Sandusky.

If I were a Penn State fan or the Penn State Athletic Director, I’d be worried about the Catholic Church hiring away Coach Sanderson because the church has some similar, past events they’d like to erase.
Pete the Streak (3) about 8 months ago
With the limited number of top flight programs (even fewer than football), a dual meet tourney will end up having nearly the same teams year in, year out. Hard to get people excited for that. At least in football, a darkhorse has the chance of running the table in a great year. Not going to happen in wrestling, which is as much an individual sport as team. Sure, Princeton beat Lehigh, but Lehigh had about half their starters out. That doesn't happen in football.
bdhof (1) about 8 months ago
I always thought the dual meet championship was the way to go as well. I was pumped when Ohio went to a sanctioned dual championship 5 years ago. And I was surprised to see only a few hundred in the stands compared to 15K or so for the individual championship finals. I think fans, at least in Ohio, haven't warmed up to the dual state championships.
Pete the Streak (1) about 8 months ago
It makes sense. You have the fans of a couple specific schools there to watch their team. At the individual tourney, you get have wrestlers from many schools, plus fans there to see specific studs that may wrestle for not great teams. Chance Marsteller, for example. Everyone wants to watch the individual Kings being crowned, not one specific team.
howiefartz (2) about 8 months ago
M Smart, don't be so touchy. What Yes Man stated is true. And in reality all it does is highlight how great a ob that Sanderson has done while there.
dbestsport (1) about 8 months ago
In all sports, fans go to see the best. Plain and simple. Wrestling offers that to the fans NOW. Why anyone would suggest changing that is a mystery to me. Where you advocate we continue to keep the individual tournament. I advocate wrestling include a dual tournament, but the existing format to determine the NCAA Champion is both exciting and popular. Any move to change it would be misguided and a mistake. Us "Old Guard" folks remember an old saying, "If it ain't broken, don't fix it".
Willie (1) about 8 months ago
The Bowl Championship is not the NCAA champion in football. That is currently North Dakota State University - as they actually won an NCAA playoff title game - not one driven by polls.
The top guys could easily adopt a real Championship playoff like the lower tier does. Would stop all the "we were left out" as happens nearly every year. Top teams get a first round bye. Higher ranked teams get a few more home games that actually mean something and the Title Game at a neutral site is a big deal.
For now, Alabama is a Poll winner, not an NCAA champion.
tjhart01 (1) about 8 months ago
When discussing Dessi you use the phrase, "long in the tooth," apparently as a compliment or --at least-- a comment on his experience: a good thing. However, "long in the tooth" is in fact a negative comment originally aimed at horses who could no longer pull their weight, past it, or just this side of dog-food. So, not sure if I misread the intent or you slipped on word choice...Just sayin'
ohioslayer (1) about 8 months ago
I think you're reading into it too much. I believe Foley is merely saying Dhesi, at age 23, is older and experienced at world-level events.
hardcor_33 (1) about 8 months ago
Maybe I am in the minority but I don't understand why so many of these columns tell me that dual meets and freestyle points scoring (though not in this specific article) are more exciting for college wrestling.
I love dual meets but find the excitement of the NCAA tournament to be unparalleled. I believe that a dual tournament to determine the national champion team would decimate the attendance and excitement of the individual tournament, without adding any "cultural impact".
As for freestyle point scoring I will never understand the attraction. Score some points for pushing a guy to the edge and out, maybe catch a shot clock and have a 4 point lead when you've done nothing yourself? That isn't interesting to me. Get a takedown and the wrestler on bottom just splays out to not get turned. Maybe I'm an old fashioned young guy, but I love watching a wrestler on top work for position to get the back exposure. That doesn't often happen in 10 seconds. While I love watching the international freestyle matches because I love wrestling, I'll take folkstyle any day of the week.
TobusRex (1) about 8 months ago
You are kidding yourself about Dan Gable, Foley. Non-wrestlers have no idea who he was. For that matter 99% of non-wrestlers have no idea who Cael Sanderson is, either.
TobusRex (1) about 8 months ago
Why did Mike C. leave out Sam Stoll?

Because Stoll has an much chance of winning the NCAA title this year as my 53 year old self.