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Foley's Friday Mailbag: February 8, 2019

I'm in Gori, Georgia, this week documenting the lives and wrestling careers of 2016 Olympic champion Vladimer Khinchegashvili and two-time world champion Geno Petriashvili.

While the lightweight and heavyweight are both almost certain to be future Hall of Fame wrestlers, what interests me isn't their wrestling styles, so much as the way in which they were raised and the way they lead their teammates and motivate each other. Wrestling thrives in the creases of the map and it's men from these areas that I've consistently found to be the best wrestlers and most passionate about their craft. These small cities are teaching our young men something about teamwork, sacrifice, and creating a wrestler's life from their own combination of talent and hard work.

The other component to the Gori story is the head freestyle wrestling coach who started a club here in the 1970's. While other regions of the country (then the Soviet Union) received more lavish considerations, the Gori team grew from the visions of one coach. I won't ruin what will be told in the upcoming video features on United World Wrestling, but once you hear his voice and feel his command of the room, it's apparent that he is a man meant to lead and inspire his youth.

In that way the coach, Gori, Vlad and Geno feel familiar. All wrestlers have sacrificed, but the moves we learn and the traditions we decide to pass along come from the generations before us. The men and women who work the land, cook the food, teach in the schools and share a common history.

As I've traveled to different nations and unique cities like Gori there is no doubt that massive differences appear, but I'm often reassured by how much remains the same. That it takes a mat filled with passionate parents, coaches, teammates, and community members to ensure that our most talented make their way to the top of the podium … and stay there.

To your questions …

The referees gather to review a call during a match between Nick Suriano and Daton Fix (Photo/Juan Garcia)

Q: I understand the importance of instant replay being used to get calls correct, but after the fiasco which was Nick Suriano vs. Daton Fix, something needs to change next year. What are your thoughts on … if a failed challenge happens, either your kid is penalized 1 or 2 match points, or you have to give up 1 team point?

I think that coaches would be much more reluctant to challenge and disrupt the match. I also think that the two refs need to confer more on questionable calls. To their credit, I've recently seen the refs go over to replay without being prompted here recently. This is quite acceptable in my opinion.
-- Chris A.


Foley: Agreed. It's powerful for referees to self-regulate and second-guess their own decisions. The opportunity to review something that happened in a split second has made the sport fairer.

The long delays could be fixed with a more standardized video review system, limits on review time for each challenged call, and heftier penalties for coaches and wrestlers who lose a challenge. The NCAA might be hesitant to employ these improvements, as they would cost more money, throw into debate whether the right call was achieved, and potentially cost a wrestler a match on a procedural review.

Is the international style a fair model? Three-person reviews, fan-visible video, and points awarded to opposing wrestlers for failed challenges have allowed the sport to be more transparent, but it's still dogged by long timeouts, and on occasion matches that become overly litigated.

Q: I have thought for years that NCAA Division I wrestling is especially compelling and has the potential to be much more mainstream than it is at this point. Do you agree that NCAA Division I deserves more attention as a platform to develop wrestling? It also doesn't help that some of the biggest name coaches in Division I are the strong silent type and don't seem to want to make a concerted effort to be better on camera. Thoughts?
-- Craig M.


Foley: There is more wrestling content online and on TV now than ever before. While no hard numbers exist, the saturation of content available via livestream, traditional websites, TV, blogs, Instagram Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube is in multiples of the thousands.

As you noted, though, it's difficult to see the penetration of the sport in the conscience of the mainstream media because for them those multiples are exponential given they are covering such a wide range of sports.

While blame could fall on some coaches, I've found Tom Brands, Kevin Dresser, and several other major conference coaches to be good with the press, promoting matchups as best they can through the means available to them at the time, whether social media or a local news broadcast.

The larger issue does remain: how to make a larger positive impact on the general sports market? For me that comes down to the product on the mat and the way it is being delivered to larger audiences. While the John Wayne coaching style isn't helping much, the interviews in the backroom of the gymnasium are really only meant for diehard fans of the sport. To make a name for the sport on the major channels would take better production value, star appeal, and extensive backstories.

I hope that one day a slew of positive mainstream media attention will make its way to our sport, but in the meantime I'm content with the level of engagement and growth we are seeing among current and former wrestlers, their families, and their friends.

Q: Need a recipe for fixing wrestling? Look no further than two big guys like Anthony Cassar and Mason Parris getting after it! Wow! What a match!
-- Tim M.


Foley: Though I whiffed on my prediction, I'm one-hundred percent behind that type of offense-first wrestling match at any weight.

Q: We've seen a lot of post-match trash from wrestlers recently. Austin DeSanto, for example, in last year's quarterfinals and his recent post-match antics against Nebraska.

While I enjoy watching the sport, a kid of DeSantos' caliber tech falling an unranked wrestler definitely doesn't need this type of reaction. Granted, it was probably in response to Tyler Berger's earlier actions. But these are starting to cost teams points, and even respect. Is this good for college wrestling as a whole? Or have we resigned ourselves to post match shoves and taunting to being little more than a fan benefit? And for that matter, why are the refs letting this type of stuff slide as well?

An add-on to this: Berger, Steveson, Red, etc. It just seems DeSanto's celebrations and actions always get talked about.
-- Jared H.


Foley: As we all know now, DeSanto was suspended for one match primarily based on his behavior in the Nebraska dual. Though I'm not a 'Get Off My Lawn' traditionalist of the sport, I found his behavior unnecessary and somewhat callous. But I think his suspension was more likely a culmination of bad behavior and bad press rather than this singular incident causing this decision by the Hawkeyes.

DeSanto needs limitations and needs to know that breaking the rules has consequences. He may or may not absorb that message, but I think he loves his team and loves to compete, making sitting out this dual meet a painful blow to his pride and feelings of camaraderie.

Like all fans who think he has enormous talent, I hope he can rid himself of the extracurricular behavior and return to the mats well-balanced and seeking to win in a dominating (but stable) manner.

Q: Did you see the Illinois-Iowa dual? At 141 pounds, Mike Carr of Illinois came from behind and scored a last-second take down and nearfall to win the match. The wrestler from Iowa was visibly upset and Carr taunted him before shaking hands. Although I loved Carr's guts in pulling out a come-from-behind win, it was very disappointing to see him make fun of the other wrestler. Later on in the match, Illinois was penalized a team point. I was curious if it was due to this incident.
-- Scott G.


Foley: Hard to say if it was a makeup call by the referee, but to Jared H's point I think that most wrestling fans are growing weary of the showboating and taunting. While celebrating your victory is always welcomed, it never needs to come at the expense of someone else.

Q: I do think the ducking in dual meets is getting tiring. I'd be pissed if I were the wrestler. I get "March is what "matters" ... but I think in the rear view at least many of them will realize the fun that is competing just to compete and wish they'd taken all opportunities to do so. I can't imagine Brands as a wrestler being OK ducking someone back in the day to assure seeding. Can you? You really think the two guys in the poster would strategically sit? Some of my favorite matches from college in retrospect were losses. Always more satisfying to lose trying to win.
-- Jon G.


Foley: I … agree.

The sport is maturing. There is a sophistication in the gamesmanship of the coaches and their lineups that simply wasn't there 20-30 years ago. Also, because the seeding has certain predictable parameters more wrestlers are able to avoid matches that might cost them in the long run.

Do I think the Brands brothers as freshmen would have ducked an opponent if Gable thought it gave them a significantly better chance to secure a yellow medal in March?

Without question.

Comments

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Yes Man (3) about a month and a half ago
Regarding Intermat’s recent article titled, Iowa’s DeSanto suspended one match.

When will University of Iowa head wrestling coach Tom Brands serve a one-match suspension for holding wrestlers out of more competitive matches?
e.g. Lee/Rivera rematch or Stoll/Steveson

These actions are unsportsmanlike conduct.
D_W (1) about a month and a half ago
With Lee limping a little bit in his first match after the "duck", and wrestling tentatively for a while against someone who really didn't need to be wrestled tentatively against, I don't know that we can just so easily conclude that it was a "duck". It could very well be that Lee is partially dinged up, and Brands isn't looking to have him go wrestle hammers while he's recovering.

It's odd that people think that Brands is devious for having wrestlers duck matches, but they think at the same time he couldn't be running the shell game a little bit to hide injuries. Weird logic there.
D_W (4) about a month and a half ago
I'd imagine (my opinion) that something clinical is wrong with desanto. I don't like his behavior, but the assumption that he just needs to learn to control it might not be doable. If he's got a disability of sorts, I don't think it's right to assume that he just shouldn't wrestle. I think the coaching staff needs to make some accomodations, meaning if he can't control himself. Be ready at the edge of the mat to retrieve him as soon as the match is over. His behavior is far different than someone who has an outburst once in a while against tough rivals. It looks to me like there is something wrong, and it's deeper.

I have been around people in my life who have frontal lobe issues, and they are impulsive. When they're not in the heat of the moment, they're sorry for their impulsiveness, but it doesn't change that they're impulsive and they can't control it in the next situation.

This is far different than someone who showboats out of arrogance.
D_W (1) about a month and a half ago
One other side comment. The back and forth between these two comments is sort of ridiculous:
1) wrestling promotion is limited because coaches like Cael think only the NCAAs matter, and he doesn't take opportunity to create a little bit of controversy (insert appreciation of brands' excitement, etc, or whatever else is deemed preferable to behaving as a coach and being a quiet to firm leader).
2) we don't like the showboating that's going on out on the mat

Wrestling will fail or survive on its own merits. This stupidity of clickbaiting type promos being expected from coaches, or generate a little controversy, etc, has gone so far as some people suggesting that in armwrestling matches (another sport struggling to get exposure) that they hope that a fight or three will develop to generate publicity. This is coming from the participants.

This isn't pro wrestling, it's not destined to gather a giant market share, and the core fans are here to see the wrestling. They will be turned off by showboating, etc.

On top of that, you can't insist on coaches creating controversy and then criticizing bad behavior at the end of matches. It's unrealistic, and the guys that spend so much time around their coaches are going to model their behavior. Especially anything negative.

In my opinion as a fan of the wrestling and with the hope that all of the wrestlers turn out to be better men for their involvement, the bigger threat is the gigantic waits that occur due to review. Look at the cenzo match against massa - those matches are won based on who has the bigger gas tank, who is more intense. You insert in the third period a giant long wait for the wrestlers to stand around and the match flow is gutted and fans just sit there going WTF is going on? This isn't chess. Two things need to change on that front:
* penalize lost challenges
* limit the review time for challenges to 1 minute of tape and 15 seconds to announce the conclusion

The idea that it's better to have a locked hands call or something that takes 6 minutes to figure out than it is to suppose that maybe the lost flow of the match is a bigger issue than a penalty point missed is stupid.

What changes the match more, a missed 1 point penalty, or a huge interruption. The latter is the case - and could and will easily change the outcome of matches.

The PSU/ASU match this year was a good illustration. The coach for ASU was throwing challenge bricks to get his wrestlers rest, and acting like a fool at the edge of the mat. His wrestlers didn't come to the mat with the tools they needed, so he tried for other tools. That's wrong. I think it was Hogan who said if you didn't bring it to the course, you won't find it when you get there.
retired2005 (1) about a month and a half ago
I think I agree DeSanto really can't control himself but I'm no doctor. In Berger's case it appears he can and doesn't. I found his match with Nolf very disturbing.
Herkuleez5 (1) about a month and a half ago
Yes Man you are an idiot spewing the same BS that any non Iowa fan does.
violet (1) about a month and a half ago
To help minimize ducking, you could simple count any duck/no show as a loss for seeding-purposes only. It's not a real loss, of course, just for seeding.
dbestsport (1) about a month and a half ago
I don't think it's counted as a loss, but I do believe the seeding committee does consider missed matches in their seeding process.
I am not a fan of inserting more rules on the way coaches manage their teams and or events.
In the Iowa match, Lee lost an opportunity for the #-1 seed, so the only person he harmed was himself.
There has been a lot of criticism of Iowa, but I was looking forward to seeing Nolf go against Parriott. That didn't happen as Purdue sat Parriott.
I agree with all criticism related to increasing fan interest and the impact on our sport by denying fans the opportunity to see high profile matches. And that is clearly on the coach.
ResiliteMarine (1) about a month and a half ago
@violet
I like your idea. But how do you account for and verify injuries and cases like the flu? Would they be a scratch?
jstavenau (1) about a month and a half ago
To All, what I really think we are missing here is that these are "Kids", they have chosen a sport that demands a dedication that goes beyond just competition. They are still learning how to control their feelings. We need to guide them not condemn them for reacting emotionally, they are kids!!!
tonyrotundo (2) about a month and a half ago
To a degree, but this isn't a "kid" throwing a tantrum in a grocery story, man, they are way more mature than you realize. Granted, they mature at a different rate, but still, these aren't four year olds, they could be at war, raising families...it's time to function as an adult if you are competing in a sport at a D1 school.
UsedToBe103 (1) about a month and a half ago
I agree with Tony Rotundo. Except for the rare 17 year old college freshman, these aren't technically kids, so they should act like adults.
Rookster (1) about a month ago
As far as challenges go, a simple solution would be to call stalling in the case of an unsuccessful challenge. Seems appropriate since in many cases the challenge brick is thrown so the wrestler can catch his breath.
takedown95 (1) about a month ago
Like injury time, lost challenge results in the opposing wrestler getting choice of position.
WeArePennState (2) about a month ago
I haven't come to a conclusion yet on whether it is right or wrong for kids to "avoid" certain wrestlers during the season. I suspect some coaches/kids do that for various strategic reasons. That said, can we all agree that when a #1 is avoided...(think Lee at NW)...we can heretofore call it a "super-duck?" LOL