Great matchups expected at Sprawl & Brawl

You know that feeling of disappointment when you've been anticipating a specific matchup between two individual wrestlers or teams at a dual meet tournament ... only to have it not happen because things didn't go as expected in the bracket.

That's not an issue at the third annual Journeymen/ASICS Sprawl & Brawl, to be held Sunday, November 22 at West Gym at Binghamton University in Vestal, New York.

As event organizer Frank Popolizio explained it, "Our format is a bit different. Instead of using traditional brackets like most tournaments, all matchups at the Sprawl & Brawl have been determined in advance."

For example, the University of Illinois, one of 14 college programs participating in the 2009 Sprawl & Brawl, knows that it will have three dual meets at the tournament, facing off against University of Pittsburgh in the opening round, then Davidson in the second round, and West Virginia in the third round.

In addition to these schools -- and host Binghamton -- other programs competing at the 2009 Sprawl & Brawl include Edinboro, Harvard, Michigan State, Northern Iowa, Penn State, Rider, Rutgers, Sacred Heart, and Wyoming.

An appetizing format for coaches

The unique format for Sprawl & Brawl was originally created for the Northeast Duals, an event also organized by Frank Popolizio, now in its ninth year, which will be held the following weekend in Albany, New York.

Frank Popolizio
"A couple years ago, Iowa State wanted to participate in an event in the East, but had already scheduled something the weekend of the Northeast Duals," according to Popolizio. "We created Sprawl & Brawl as an alternative event for schools that liked the idea behind the Northeast Duals."

Together, the two events straddle Thanksgiving Day, and offer coaches a choice. For programs seeking a pre-Turkey Day event, there's Sprawl & Brawl; Northeast Duals is held during the Thanksgiving holiday weekend. And, according to Popolizio, together the two events will feature fully one-third of the NCAA Division I wrestlers in a seven-day time span in upstate New York.

The Sprawl & Brawl format is designed to answer various concerns of college wrestling coaches. Top of the list: "Because we're early in the season, we give college coaches matches that their programs can handle," as Frank Popolizio explains it. "We try to stair-step the team matchups, starting with an easier matchup, then getting progressively more challenging as the day goes on."

Popolizio works hard to try to meet the wishes of participating coaches. "It's a real logistical challenge, trying to keep the gradient approach of more challenging matchups for each program, and have exciting matchups throughout the entire event," says Popolizio, who compared scheduling the matchups to solving a Rubik's Cube puzzle. This year's schedule was created manually; a computer program has been developed to help create matches for future events.

Another draw for college coaches: "Programs don't always have the travel budgets to go out West to compete," said Popolizio. "By bringing top programs from the Midwest and West, it makes it possible for Eastern schools to broaden their competitive base, which helps wrestlers in terms of their individual rankings, and in qualifying for the NCAAs."

Satisfies fan appetites for action, too

"(The format) really helps with fan interest," continued Popolizio. "They know exactly what matchups they will see in advance. They can expect to see exciting team matchups like West Virginia vs. Wyoming, Penn State vs. Edinboro, and Michigan State vs. Northern Iowa -- dual meets that would never be part of a regular team schedule."

In the second round of this year's Sprawl & Brawl, fans can anticipate a match between All-Americans J.P. O'Connor of Harvard (pictured) and Cyler Sanderson of Penn State (Photo/
Having matchups set up in advance also helps build interest in individual bouts. Popolizio cited one specific example: "In the second round, they can anticipate a barnburner of a match between Cyler Sanderson of Penn State, and J.P. O'Connor, a local guy, now at Harvard."

The 'local flavor' idea goes beyond individual wrestlers, to include some of the coaches who will be at the 2009 Sprawl & Brawl, such as Joe Privitere, assistant coach at Davidson, a 2003 graduate of Binghamton ... and Brad Penrith, long-time head coach at Northern Iowa, who grew up in Windsor, New York. "It'll be a homecoming of sorts for these guys," said Popolizio.

The "hometown heroes" aspect of guys like O'Connor, Privitere and Penrith making it big in amateur wrestling beyond upstate New York is one of the aspects of Sprawl & Brawl that is one of the prime reasons Popolizio puts so much effort into bringing this event to Binghamton.

"It's all about bringing greatness to this area," said the event organizer. "It's about promoting college wrestling in an area that is rich in (high school) wrestling tradition. It not only helps fire up fans in the area, but shows young athletes what's possible, that they can achieve greatness from wrestling."

Popolizio describes the venue for the 2009 Sprawl & Brawl -- West Gym at Binghamton University -- as "fan-friendly ... It seats just over 1,000 people. There are four mats, all in use for all five rounds, so there's always action."

Josh Patterson
"There's no such thing as a bad seat. Fans are really close to the action ... It's an incredible opportunity for fans to rub shoulders with great wrestlers and coaches they might not usually get this close to."

The 2009 Sprawl & Brawl takes place the same day as the 2009 NWCA All-Star Classic, held at Cal State Fullerton outside Los Angeles. When asked if this has created a scheduling conflict for any of the participants, Popolizio cited one specific example: Josh Patterson of Binghamton, the school's first Division I All-American (placing seventh at the 2009 NCAAs at 184 pounds). Patterson is the program's first wrestler to compete at the All-Stars in the 44-year history of the event that features the best individuals in college wrestling.

As Frank Popolizio put it, "My brother Pat (head coach at Binghamton) said, 'This is a true honor to be invited to compete at the All-Stars so he and his wrestler will be out in California, and miss our event."

The Sprawl & Brawl organizer added, "It's interesting to note that Franklin Gomez, defending champ at 133, will be with his team (Michigan State) and us."

"We're excited to be able to feature great wrestlers from a wide range of programs throughout the country," said Popolizio. "We're thrilled that this event has been so well-accepted by college coaches, wrestlers and fans in only its third year ... We're successful because of our volunteers. They truly make this event a success."

For more information on the 2009 Journeymen/ASICS Sprawl & Brawl event on Sunday, November 22, visit the Web site:


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