Iowa's Drake Ayala competing unattached at the 2022 Southern Scuffle (photo courtesy of Sam Janicki; SJanickiPhoto.com)
Almost four months ago to the day (June 16th), the NCAA released a new set of wrestling bylaws which will take effect during the 2022-23 season. These bylaws contained plenty of relevant information; however, two of the most notable pieces that came from these changes were that athletes could use five competition dates and still maintain redshirt status. Also, true freshmen were not allowed to compete unattached during the first semester. Those are two areas that we will focus on today.
With the regular season rapidly approaching and these rules set to take effect immediately, it seemed like a perfect time to get some clarity on just how they will impact the product we see on the mat and wrestling programs in general.
For that type of insight, we turned to four prominent coaches from four different conferences. Helping us out were American University Head Coach Jason Borrelli, North Carolina Associate Head Coach Tony Ramos, Ohio State Associate Head Coach J Jaggers, and an assistant coach from the Pac-12.
Each was given the below list of questions pertaining to the topic of redshirting athletes and the new rules. Here are their responses, which hopefully provide some window into the thinking of coaching staff's as they prepare to compete in a slightly different manner.
How will this impact your team's training? Does the possibility of competing in duals help the intensity of your redshirts?
Tony Ramos: "It just makes it real now for everyone. A lot of times when someone knows they are redshirting, they don't use the year to really develop, they use it as a year to enjoy college and it hurts them. Now it is real and you can compete tomorrow in a match that can mean something."
J Jaggers: "Ideally everyone on your team is staying focused and working to the best of their ability at all times, because you never know when your number could get called even if you had planned to redshirt. But realistically, yes, I could see a heightened sense of urgency in a redshirt's approach knowing very well that they will see some varsity time in potential marquee duals."
Jason Borrelli: "I don't think the new rule will have much of an effect on the team's training. However, it could have a psychological impact on the freshmen, as there is now a possibility that they could compete in duals at any time. Previously, they would have dealt with less anxiety during training, as they knew they were not competing."
Pac-12 coach: "I don't think it really impacts the training that much, because I believe if you want to be the best in college and in the world you should be training like you are the guy, no matter what. Our intensity is always up and our guys are hungry whether you are a redshirt or the guy ranked top-10 in the country."
Is there a way that you expect others to game the system?
TR: "No, I just see it to develop your athletes more. You are starting to see, in football, student athletes who are thinking of transferring, sit out once they hit their competition limit to keep the season of eligibility."
JB: "The rules are the same for everyone, therefore, I don't really see an opportunity to game the system."
P12: "I am sure someone will game the system. Every year there is something where someone games the system then the rules committee adapts to it and gets changed.
Do you have certain duals set aside where you know you'll give your potential redshirts a shot ?
TR: "Don't have exact dates, but know we will be using it a lot."
JJ: "Not really. I think this is going to be navigated on a case-by-case basis. The thing here that you also have to keep in mind is, how you handle your actual starter in a particular weight class. It's fun to speculate about this redshirt or that redshirt potentially stepping in and competing in a big moment, but there's usually a reason your starter is your starter and making sure you are doing right by that athlete, while they are your guy is of utmost importance.
Where I see the benefit of this rule is in regards to some injuries. Say, your starter is banged up and could benefit from a weekend off and you have a very capable freshman redshirting behind him now you can put them in there without burning their redshirt. That's great and fun for the fans."
JB: "No, not currently. However, as the season progresses and we learn more about our opponents, we might prefer specific match-ups in certain duals and use freshmen instead of our normal starter. For instance, maybe we need a pin in a dual meet to win and a freshman is a better pinner than our main guy, so we go with him instead."
P12: "Not necessarily as of now."
Will you send redshirts to open tournaments and count that as one of their "five dates."
TR: "Yes, since they can't compete in the first semester, unless they do so attached."
JJ: "Yes. We are doing that with our first team event of the year, the Michigan State Open."
JB:" Yes, we will likely send our first-year wrestlers to three open tournaments in the first semester and keep the rest of their dates for dual meets in January and February."
P12: "That is a possibility, for sure. I keep wondering if more open tournaments will start happening in the second part of the year, because now that we have to wait for freshmen to have a 2.0 GPA at our institution, it kind of sets back having opens the first part of the year."
Could this help increase "ducking" ? Another option to use in a dual, but can be rationalized by saying you "wanted to see how the new guy does against a highly ranked opponent."
TR: "I thinkâ€¦more so you will see it with injuries and having better competition since you don't burn a freshman's year."
JJ: "Potentially. I try not to really worry about that, though. We got 33 athletes on our roster and that is my concern."
JB: "I don't think it will increase "ducking." That said, I am not of the belief that much "ducking" actually occurs in division one wrestling. In general, I think "ducking" is super rare and any missed match-ups between top wrestlers during the dual season is a result of other factorsâ€¦ not necessarily "ducking."
P12: "I believe that can happen, but honestly, at the end of the day, if you are trying to get your "starter" ready to compete at the end of the year (conference/NCAA), you should want that guy to compete and be ready to be wrestling on the third day of NCAA's."
On FRL, they had fun speculating about sending true freshman you generally intend on redshirting to a single-entry tournament like the Cliff Keen Las Vegas Invitational. To me, it sounded counterintuitive. If you want the best competition (and matches/RPI) for your actual starter, Vegas is a good opportunity for those. Thoughts?
JJ: "CKLV is a critical event for our starters we intend to wrestle in the postseason. Opportunity to wrestle some out of conference foes, pick up ranked wins, experience a multi-day tournament, etc. I don't anticipate bringing any redshirts unless we are forced to, due to injury, and they are up next on the depth chart."
JB: "For the most part, at events that only allow for one entrant per weight (CKLV), I believe teams will enter their starters. There are plenty of other big events/opens where you can send the freshman and not have to sacrifice leaving the starter home, therefore, I think you will see all the starters at CKLV. The obvious exception would be if teams have injuries or guys are dinged up, CKLV then becomes a great opportunity to send a freshman."
P12: Yeah, I had heard that too, but I feel like with the rules to get guys to qualify "spots" for the NCAA tournament, you want to make sure they have all of those requirements and get top-tier competition. I'm sure that will happen for some places. I think we all have different beliefs or whatever it may be, so I 'm sure you will see that with the new rule.
In an instance where you're not 100% sure about a starter, could this drag out the decision longer than in past years?
TR: "I think it just gives you more time to decide if you are going to use the freshman or not and let him have one more season."
JJ: "What it essentially does is gives you a mulligan on a first year athlete. You could basically believe a true freshman is your best option, at say, 165 pounds, wrestle them in the first 5 varsity events then realize "Oh, he's not ready," and still maintain their redshirt."
JB: "It probably depends program-to-program, as many teams/coaches determine their starters in different ways (e.g. wrestle offs, season results, etc.)."
P12: "Yeah, I think if you are in that situation, you probably gotta have each of them wrestle a few matches to see who you want in the postseason."
How will it impact your ability to evaluate true freshmen (if they are competing frequently at open tournaments)?
TR: Makes it easier now. You can test them in duals also, where it might decide a big-time match.
JB: I think most coaches will send their freshmen to about three open tournaments in November and December. Primarily to evaluate them and build their match count. If they don't and something happens to a starter in mid-January (and he is out for the year), your freshman would struggle to get to the minimum match count for RPI. As a result, that might impact his postseason status.
Will you feel the need to scramble and get second semester matches if a freshman is inserted late after a season-ending injury (Since they won't have the chance for 1st semester opens)?
TR: "No, since they can compete in the first semester, attached."
JB: "Once again, I think you will see freshmen at roughly 3 open tournaments in November/ December, therefore, I don't think there will be much scrambling needed."
P12: "I think so because you gotta get to that 15 matches, right?"