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Foley's Friday Mailbag: January 18, 2019

Daton Fix and Nick Suriano's match this past Sunday lasted over 30 minutes (Photo/Juan Garcia)

Last weekend's mega match between Daton Fix and Nick Suriano lasted just about 31 minutes, produced no offensive points, and ended in overtime based on the assessment of a penalty point.

In the minutes that followed the match a majority of those weighing in placed blame on the "hands to the face" rule and its employment by the referee. There was also some anxiety about the referee's general lack of match management, which some saw as leading to the reviews and other on-the-mat fiascos.

For me the match was indicative of something much larger. As I watched (in fast-forward) the failure of the match seemed akin to the stomach-churning announcement on Feb. 12, 2013, that wrestling would no longer be included in the Olympic Games. The system responsible for the match (sport) had completely failed to meet the baseline standard for adequacy, much less success.

While one match from one dual meet doesn't carry the same weight of losing Olympic preference, there are powerful parallels to examine, primarily match pacing, incentives to score, and rules governing out of bounds.

As you'll recall, in 2013 international wrestling consisted of three, stand-alone two-minute periods, takedowns were one point, and matches were abysmal to watch. To say nothing of ball grabs and clinches when the matches went into overtime.

In response, the executive board in charge of the international governing body sought ideas on how to improve the competitiveness and presentation of the sport. A lot was offered, but fundamentally the consultants agreed that pace of scoring should be increased, mat space limited, and to do everything possible to ensure offensive wrestlers were rewarded for action.

Today, international wrestling is growing and is arguably the healthiest it's ever been, both inside our local communities and within the Olympic movement.

After watching the Fix vs. Suriano match I think it's evident that high school and college wrestling make immediate changes to the rules of the sport. There are no magic solutions, but there are a number of positive improvements that can make an immediate and positive impact on the pacing of the matches and style of wrestling put on by opposing athletes.

The most important improvement is to enforce a neutral "pushout" rule, with one point being rewarded to wrestlers when their opponent steps out of bounds. The hard edge limits the mat size and pushes the action to the center, which then increases unbroken wrestling times which typically results in an increase in offensive points. The impact on the nature of the collegiate style (control-based point system) is limited, while optimizing the most exciting aspect of collegiate wrestling, the takedown.

The second rule is to limit referee reviews to no more than two minutes per challenge. That's an easy fix that will focus the referees on making the right call without breaking up the action for longer than in necessary to achieve the correct call. The Suriano-Fix match saw far too much hemming and hawing from the referees.

The third is to eliminate riding time. The notion that riding someone is entertaining to fans is farcical. International wrestling has a rubbery 10-15 second rule once wrestlers enter par-terre and yet the number of falls at the NCAA and international level are pretty similar. Why? Because most falls come from transition, not from a double boots, parallel ride for 4:15. Buck 'em Bronco simply doesn't translate to entrainment for fans and causes far too many out of bound and stalemate situations. Think of all the stalling calls eliminated when a wrestler doesn't feel the need to hang on to an ankle to ensure their riding time ticks from :56 to 1:01!

Finally, there should be a stop-match warning given before a "hands to the face" call is made resulting in points. This was done at the international level for a number of calls so that the wrestlers, fans, coaches, and other referees knew that a point was possible. The outcome has been that wrestlers have improved behaviors and there is less outrage when these calls are made. (This is most often seen with fleeing the mat calls late in the match.)

These are four simple and easy-to-implement changes that will improve the pacing of the collegiate style. Without some of these changes the gamesmanship within the sport will continue to escalate and we'll be left with a scholastic style at-risk of major overhaul by outside bodies, or worse, elimination and replacement with freestyle -- an outcome most fans don't welcome.

To your questions …

Q: Expanding a bit on the question of whether Penn State's dominance is good for the sport, which I think you make some very strong points to conclude yes, I often wonder whether the fact that since only a small handful of teams even have a remote shot at an NCAA title (and many times it may only be a two-horse race) in some ways may make the dominance less legitimate? Certainly not trying to take anything away from Penn State currently, or Iowa/OSU in the past, but to draw a parallel when UConn's women's basketball team was winning titles every year and beating other major conference Division I teams by 50 points, it seemed the results spoke more to the sport and overall depth/quality of athletes than it did to UConn's program.

I just wonder whether there may be a cap to growth of interest in the sport when if you're an NDSU or Fresno State sports fan, and decide to attend your first wrestling match against a premier wrestling school and the results are that your favorite school was only able to win 1 or 2 individual matches, how often are you going to come back?
-- Jon H.


Foley: Fair question. I think we both can agree that nobody wants to watch their favorite program take a drumming at the hands of anyone, even if they are the best in the nation.

I'd first advise those programs from holding off on scheduling those types of dual meets until they get a few more years of established results before asking Cael and co. to come over and hand out a whipping. The discrepancy between the top five and the rest will almost always be fairly significant, but I do share your concern that the No. 1 team in this situation could potentially shut out 95 percent of the other collegiate programs.

Though it is a limited problem since dual meets aren't very valuable in the NCAA. The tournament structure and the incentives to attend and perform well at them somewhat masks the failures (and triumphs) of most schools. There is a balancing effect, and while I do agree with fans that tournament results can produce good press at home, I think that a well-matched dual meet can provide much, much more continuity and team pride. With some in-arena activities for families the event can also be something that the community gets behind, though as you said, not as much if they can't chalk up a win or two.

Your point is well taken. I'm definitely going to watch these margins and the reactions of the programs and the fans in the future to see if over-dominance is having a chilling effect on programs.

Q: Rank these college wrestlers in order (1-5) from the most likely four-time NCAA champion to the least likely four-time NCAA champion: Daton Fix (Oklahoma State), Gable Steveson (Minnesota), Spencer Lee (Iowa), Yianni Diakomihalis (Cornell), Vincenzo Joseph (Penn State).
-- Mike C.


Foley:
1.Vincenzo Joseph (Penn State)
2. Yianni Diakomihalis (Cornell)
3. Spencer Lee (Iowa)
4. Daton Fix (Oklahoma State)
5. Gable Steveson (Minnesota)

I'm not spotting either freshman an NCAA tournament title!

Q: Wrestler with the best chance in the Pac-12 other than Zahid Valencia to reach the top of the podium?
-- Jonesy4473


Foley: Ronnie Bresser of Oregon State at 125 pounds. Tough to think that he would beat both Spencer Lee and Sebastian Rivera, but should he get an upset at the NCAA tournament, it's not unimaginable. There are just not that many elite guys (this year) who can outpace the established class of NCAA champions.

Q: How would you respond to John Smith calling your (Fix-Suriano) take "silly" telling you to "shut up" and that "you don't know what you're talking about?"
-- @sockobuw


Foley: As I always do … with a smile and "Thanks, coach!" He's here to defend the wrestler he's coaching and is way too competitive to admit to me (or anyone else) that some win wasn't earned or well-deserved.

And to his point I can understand that since he knows the effort of his wrestlers, and just doesn't give a hoot about what fans think about how his wrestlers get the win, just that they do.

Q: Prediction on Nick Suriano vs. Austin DeSanto on Friday night?
-- Mike C.


Foley: Suriano by four points. I imagine that DeSanto will slow him down from the start and maybe even find a few takedowns. His wrestling has improved, and I think there are transitions from bottom that he makes that puts opponents in trouble, maybe even Suriano.

Still, Suriano is the better wrestler right now and should be finding a takedown in the second period and another in the third, all while stopping DeSanto's attacks. If he can frustrate DeSanto and/or get him upset then it'll be an easier close for Suriano since DeSanto makes more mistakes the more passionate he becomes.

Q: Biggest villain in college wrestling, Gable Steveson, Austin DeSanto or someone else?
-- Mike C.


Foley: Austin DeSanto took hate from just about every corner of the internet this week. His outlandish behavior on the mat is a little more obvious that Steveson's after-the-whistle extras. I've been critical of him in the past and hated the way he behaved this week, but I have a soft spot for the kid. I know that he's a nice kid. He's just having trouble adjusting to … something.

For now, DeSanto is the biggest heel in the sport, and I can't see that changing until we start a new season. However, should Steveson win the NCAA title in 2019, he'll be the new guy that wrestling fans will love to hate.

One thing a fan will never forgive is success.

MULTIMEDIA HALFTIME

Ivan Yarygin Grand Prix

Tom Brands is a riot … Pay-per-view match

Q: Best potential Yarygin matchups?
-- @DustinTillman


Foley: The Russians have been a little lax in uploading their wrestlers for the tournament, which makes predicting matchups difficult. The New Year in Russia lasts until Jan. 9 or so depending on how long the department you're trying to reach stays closed. So I do have sympathy for their late entry problem even as I send them email after email!

Anyway, that is just a long way of saying that I haven't seen their lineups and I suspect most of the top matchups USA fans want to see include an American versus a Russian.

On the women's side, some notable entries include Grace Bullen, who just won the U23 World Championships in November and Sarah Hildebrandt who Team USA has been happy to see progress well over the last 18 months.

Q: Did you see Bald Eagle Area just won its 700th match? Two forfeits for a storied program. WPIAL and Northwest PA are averaging three forfeits a dual per school. All this after the PIAA put an emphasis on dual meets. Wrestling is dying in PA which is a bad sign for the sport. Not sure what can be done but thinking dual meets is some magic dust isn't helping.
-- Steve M.


Foley: I hadn't seen that news, nor had I learned about the forfeits.

Is the lack of interest in this area a canary in the coal mine for the sport at-large? Maybe. As you rightly pointed out Bald Eagle Area is a storied program and lack of interest there might indicate something larger is amiss. However, I think that with registrations up at USA Wrestling and the sport showing growth in watch hours and attendance there probably isn't a huge fall off.

What I think might be happening is that the raw numbers are down in certain areas due to a number of societal factors. A freelance-based job market means that fewer have the free time to pick up and drop off younger athletes for programs. The proliferation of video games is keeping younger kids on the couch and out of sports. And finally a population of kids who are growing and who have poor diets aren't finding weight classes or nutritional programs that allow them the opportunity to succeed.

I'd like to the see the NWCA's numbers on forfeits. If forfeits are found to be systemic then maybe there is a solution in pruning weight classes and/or shifting the categories to accommodate for walking around actual weights of typical high school wrestlers.

And you're right, magic dust should never be used to solve any wrestling issue.

Q: Where is Kurt McHenry in the rankings? InterMat and FloWrestling do not have him in the rankings at 113 pounds or 120 pounds. Is he still wrestling at St. Pauls?
-- Tom L.


Foley: McHenry has been in and out of the Olympic Training Center and indications are that he intends to stay there for the remainder of the season.

Q: Gregor Gillespie fights on the main card of UFC's first ESPN+ event on Saturday night. He faces Yancy Medeiros. Gillespie is 12-0 but I have to believe this will be his toughest test to date. Any thoughts on the fight?
-- Mike C.


Foley: Gregor Gillespie by three-round decision.

Medeiros has range, striking power and pretty solid defensive wrestling, but I think Gregor is able to stay out of danger long enough. The key is whether Gregor has prepared for this fight to be his most disciplined to date. If he gets over anxious or stands in front of Medeiros too long he'll get TKO'ed in short order. If Gregor closes the distance, takes it to the mat and punishes Medeiros from half guard I see him taking two of three rounds.

Comments

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Claypool (2) about 3 months ago
On Fix-Suriano match...I would have rather watched two unranked wrestlers scrap to a 9-8 score. I agree there should be a 2 minute review clock to keep the match moving. Also agree with a warning of sorts before hands-to-the-face. I have witnessed several referees give verbal feedback that a penalty on the next hit was coming. But I'm sure that's not always the case. So for sake of consistency, let's have an official warning first. Now the disagreements. Dancing matches like the one we just suffered through is on the refs, coaches, and wrestlers, in no particular order. And no, we don't need a new rule to solve this. What ever happened to the double stall call? After 2 minutes of dancing without the hint of a serious shot, I'd have rung them both up. That gives the wrestlers an early message with tons of match time left to pick up the action. "Next one to put a knee on the mat without engagement get's hit again". This is a bit harsh, but dang I'd like to hear a ref say it.
CVW (1) about 3 months ago
My son and I were at a NC State wrestling match last weekend and he came up with a thought about riding time that I think is pretty good. How about in order to get the riding time point the wrestler also has to get at least one swipe in addition to the one minute. I think it is a pretty good compromise.
tortola15 (1) about 3 months ago
What was clear to me about Daton/Nick is that these two respect each other and the sport after the match. None of that BS macho stuff deriding the other guy. I think each will ensure the next match is full of action. They get it. As far as Coach Smith, you are right on with his comments and your comments are fair. Glad to see that Daton/Nick, Coach Smith and you all just want more action.
trescuit11 (1) about 3 months ago
the main blame goes to the wrestlers. neither fix or suriano took any real shots. they were both just really timid. like the other poster said, they should have been hit with a double stall. but matches like these are a rarity at lower weights. if they would have been wearing combat shorts, they would have scored more points.
RCaisse (1) about 3 months ago
Great comments and responses. Foley's suggestions regarding the pace (or lack there of) of college wrestling matches, are spot on. Either cap the referee's time for review or remove it all together. Eliminate riding time. Warn for hands to the face prior to dinging a wrestler. In addition, make takedowns worth 3-points. It seems asinine that we award 4 near fall points for turning an opponent and only 2 points for taking him down.
dbestsport (1) about 3 months ago
Sorry for such a long winded response,
I agree with you that changes need to be made to the “Over time” rules in college wrestling, but I think fans would agree that over time rules in a lot of sports leave something to be desired. Football has different rules in college and the pros, and people complain about both. Many soccer fans I know complain about “Penalty” kicks deciding a match. And so on.
I propose the following change: A 3 minute period, with both wrestlers starting in the neutral position. All riding time and penalty points (stalling) are erased, so both wrestlers start with a clean slate. The first penalty is a warning. This includes stalling, inadvertent hands to the face, etc. Points are only awarded after a “Second” infraction. This would result in the wrestlers deciding the match, not the official. The first wrestler to score wins. If there is no change in score after the first 3 minute addition, another period with the same rules is employed, and so on, until someone scores.
In regards to “Riding Time”. The current rules of tie breaker “Ride outs” is a joke. I completely agree that this “Buck ‘em Bronco” rule is both boring and does not in any way educate or train US wrestlers for International competition. However, your claims that top wrestling is boring is also a joke. Maybe you should watch film of Zain Retherford, Logan Steiber, or Spencer Lee. I have proposed for years that, a “Riding Time” point is only awarded if the top wrestler scores rides his opponent for a minute or more, AND scores back points.
Claypool (1) about 3 months ago
Not a fan of current OT rules either. I would be in favor of changes that result in fewer high profile matches being decided by TB2 ride outs though. I think that resides in encouraging action early in the match. What would a 3pt takedown, only applicable to the 1st period do? Not much, unless stalling is called early as well when it's warranted. Together, I think it has a chance. I'm actually fine with the current RT rules though. Don't feel the need to complicate but I understand the feeling of tying to nearfall. I just have the feeling most folkstyle fans wouldn't complain about RT if there was more action in neutral with these high profile matches. Can't fix the diehard freestyle mentality with regards to folkstyle rules. They are different and rules should reflect that.
Krtzota (2) about 3 months ago
There goes Fooley again making outlandish statements... not giving Joey McKenna the respect he has earned. I love McKenna over Yanni this year. Hey Fooley… don't forget this post genius.
As ridiculous as the time you said no way no how could Coon win a match against Snyder. Adam Coon was a monster, and gave Kyle all he ever wanted... including a loss.
Jdans (4) about 3 months ago
There are a disproportionate number of forfeits in the high school ranks, and, while I agree that there are societal issues associated with it, I think the sheer number of weight classes is a contributor. When I graduated, my class size was 181, and there were only 12 weight classes. Today, the same school graduates 117 and there are 14 weight classes.
dbestsport (1) about 3 months ago
Totally agree. Same is true for my school.
TooOld (1) about 3 months ago
I third the motion. The school where I teach has had some good teams over the years, but is now wrestling with about 8 or 9 varsity kids, as are many opposing schools. 14 weight classes is too many.
smattiko (2) about 3 months ago
Where is he getting the numbers that registration is up and viewing hours are up? I just saw numbers are down 10% and how on earth are can you compare watch hours? Wrestling was never on tv/internet much until recently and the question was high school related. Love how he is always pushing dual meets but then doesn’t even acknowledge it isn’t growing the sport when provided with evidence of more forfeits.
GoB1G (1) about 3 months ago
Tom Brands is great for our sport. Love that guy.
footestomper (1) about 3 months ago
First, thanks for another "wrestling" mailbag. Much appreciated. Second, I would like to address the comment: "but I do share your concern that the No. 1 team in this situation could potentially shut out 95 percent of the other collegiate programs." A bit of hyperbole here, somewhat softened by inserting the word "potentially." I felt this was a bit overblown at 95%, especially since the PSU 125 lb'er is not rated on Intermat, not rated on FLO, and currently rated as #118 at WrestleStat. This lowers the shutout potential quitte a bit! So, I used WrestleStat's dual meet projector for PSU vs each of the other 76 Div 1 teams. A shutout was predicted 19 times out of 76, for a cool 25%. I am so sick of people pulling numbers out of their butt to prove, or emphasize, a point. Especially "journalists."
Chrisdut (2) about 3 months ago
I agree that 95% is a farce, but if Teasdale redshirt is removed, it would probably rise to 80%...in the end, it really doesn’t matter... I will happily give you the field and I will take Penn State at the NCAA tournament...r u in?
jonesy4473 (1) about 3 months ago
Foley, first of all thanks for taking my question for the mailbag. First time submitting one. I agree with you on Ronnie Bresser but I have hard time believing that he will knock off Lee and Rivera but as a west coast fan I'm pulling for him. There definitely needs to be some rule changes in college to reward aggressiveness and risk taking to help make the sport better and more marketable to the nontraditional spectators. 1) riding time only if back points are scored, if there is no exposure or start of exposure after 30 seconds post takedown back to their feet with no escape point. Eliminate the choice of top or bottom and start on their feet for every period. 2) no overtime, base it on criteria, the only score cant be a penalty point, has to be takedown or nearfall. 3) step out rule. 4) hands to face warning before penalty point. 5) official review time limit 2 minutes.
Brigham (1) about 3 months ago
Riding time needs to stay. Limit it to 30 seconds for moving up to go for a pinning move. If you can't make progress on a pinning move in 30 seconds you are both back on your feet - NO escape point. Would help push pins again as the goal and make for more takedowns as well. Maybe even no riding time off he initial whistle when one chooses to be on top - only after a takedown? Don't know if that would work but might make for more interest.
FredHall (1) about 3 months ago
You have an excellent point about time limits on reviews. Football officials are finally learning, but watching volleyball and wrestling the officials don't seem to get the concept of a ruling stands unless there is conclusive evidence to over rule it. By the simple definition that means that after 2-3 minutes you are NOT seeing anything definitive. The longer it takes the more doubt is cast on the result of the review. 2 Minutes seems reasonable; if it takes longer there's nothing conclusive to see.
UsedToBe103 (3) about 3 months ago
In addition to putting a time limit on challenges, I'd like to see college wrestling award a point to the opposing wrestler in the event of a failed challenge, as freestyle/greco do. Abusing a challenge just to get a breather doesn't happen often, but when it does it infuriates me.
CoreyCA (1) about 3 months ago
While I agree with a time limit on video review, and I would be happy with one minute because if you can't make a decision immediately there probably isn't clear and compelling evidence to change a call, there were technical difficulties that contributed to the length delay during the one lengthy review in Fix v Suriano. The Rutgers person charged with providing the video for the officials to review couldn't find the correct sequence for the officials. Searching for the correct sequence took up the majority of the dead time during this review, something the officials, who were innocent in this instance, paid the price for. The reason for the delay was not communicated to those in attendance or to the commentators on the broadcast. Once the proper sequence was found the decision was made quickly as it should be. Since the video evidence was there it had to be viewed no matter how long it took to cue it up for the officials, unlike dismissing the challenge when there isn't video for review due to an equipment malfunction or a referee blocking the action.
CoreyCA (2) about 3 months ago
Once again Foley's prognostication skill are less than accurate as DeSanto beats Suriano with a 2nd half of the match flurry and late TD.

However, on a more disturbing note, once again there is a deduction of an Iowa team point after a DeSanto match. There is no doubt that DeSanto is the biggest villain in wrestling, and his actions may just be outweighing his immense contributions to the sport.
seeyajohn2 (2) about 3 months ago
A quick "amen" to adding the push-out rule to folkstyle. The change dramatically increased the continuous wrestling time and action in freestyle.
psulou64 (1) about 3 months ago
I agree with many of you and I would have to say that even though we vary on a some points we tend to agree that changes are needed. I think a lot of us feel the same way about riding time and the need to earn back points to earn riding time should be looked at. I also want to throw some other ideas out there.
1. Aggressor take down worth 2 points. What if we only gave 1 point to defense earned take downs? If it wasn't your shot then you only get 1 point.
2. An escape is worth 1 point. If you are cut from period start or whistled re start you get no points.
3. You can earn up to 30 seconds of riding time from your first take down. Additional take downs earn you no riding time. You can only earn additional riding time if you earn near fall points.
4. Add a push out rule, 1 point. This will keep guys in the center of the mat.
5. Call stalling! The vehicle exists already the refs and ncaa just have to go back to using it. Don't be afraid to double stall call. You can't say that if a 1st period goes by and neither guy takes a shot that both of them aren't stalling.
6. Fix the overtime rules. I hate the ride out and think it is awful. I'd rather see criteria used. I don't think it is the best thing but I do think it has done well in freestyle. If you don' t like criteria then start with a 3 minute neutral with a clean slate, no stall warnings carry over. and start using passivity with a shot clock like in freestyle.
I know that these are just my own rough ideas but I also know that I am not the only one who wants to see some changes. I think at least a dialogue and maybe some experimentation of the ncaa part will garner the results we are looking for.
jonesy4473 (2) about 3 months ago
Psulou. I like your ideas but I think we need to keep it simple to understand for current fans and to acquire new fans of the sport we love. A takedown should be worth 2 no matter what. I'm almost to the point of no riding time at all and only give 30 seconds after a takedown to get a turn then up to your feet again.
seeyajohn2 (1) about 3 months ago
A two minute time limit on challenges is fine, but if the call is overturned there become added issues relating to match and riding time clocks that must be addressed.
TobusRex (1) about 3 months ago
Foley's ideas for "improving" college and HS wrestling in this country sounds like nothing more than more FS pumping. FS sucks, is only HALF a sport, and making our beloved folk MORE like FS will drive most the fans away.