Prior to the 2023-2024 college wrestling season, the NCAA Playing Rules Oversight Panel approved making takedowns in wrestling worth three points. Obviously there were, and still are, a variety of strong opinions on the change. For example, some fans find the change to be unnecessarily arbitrary, while others believe that takedowns should be worth more due to their relative difficulty and fundamental importance in all styles of wrestling.

Regardless of how anyone feels about the change, the NCAA clearly stated its purpose when the rule changes were announced:

“Members of the Wrestling Rules Committee, which proposed the change, agreed that increasing the scoring for takedowns by an additional point will enhance the sport by rewarding offensive actions and risk-taking.

The committee also agreed there was a need to create a more appropriate point differential between takedowns and escapes and incentivize offense when competitors are in the neutral position.”

Clearly, they were able to establish “a more appropriate point differential between takedowns and escapes” since three minus one is more than two minus one. However, in terms of incentivizing offense and risk, was the rule change successful?

The use of the word “incentivize” is interesting since incentives were a kind of pop-economic phenomenon in the mid 2000s thanks to the book Freakonomics. In the book, authors Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner define an incentive as “a bullet, a key: an often tiny object with astonishing power to change a situation.”

The book looks at multiple situations where people are incentivized to act in certain ways. For example, sumo stables in Japan are driven to collude and fix matches in order to help their members advance in rank, or teachers who have a financial interest in standardized test scores are motivated to cheat for their students.

After one season, the question remains, did the three-point takedown lead to more offense and risk-taking? At this point, it seems like the answer is likely: to be determined.

The following looks at the match statistics from the 2023 and 2024 NCAA tournaments. Obviously, there will be more data to compare going forward. However, it is striking how similar most of the data are despite the rule change.

**Match Points**

The one place that saw a significant increase overall was the number of match points. In the 2023 NCAA tournaments, there were 5,620 match points scored. This past year, scoring at the final tournament bounced up to 7,070. The point value for a takedown increased by 50% ((3 - 2) / 2) and this resulted in a 25% increase in the number of points being scored. There were 8.89 points scored per match in 2023 and 11.15 per match in 2024.

**Takedowns**

At the 2023 NCAA tournament, there were 1340 takedowns scored across all 10 weight classes. The number ticked up to 1407 after the rule change. The 67 more takedowns in 2024 represent a 5% increase in the number of takedowns overall. However, if you look at it on a per-match basis, the change is quite minimal. There were 2.12 takedowns per match scored in 2023 compared to only 2.22 in 2024. On average there were only 0.10 more takedowns per match in this past tournament.

Despite the increase in the rate of takedowns per match, the number of matches without a takedown ticked up ever so slightly. At the 2023 NCAA tournament, there were 49 matches without a single takedown, and that number rose to 53 the following year. The count of matches by the number of combined takedowns scored at each tournament.

One might have expected that the amount of matches with high numbers of takedowns would have decreased since it takes fewer to reach a technical fall these days. The number of matches with five or more combined takedowns actually increased by 18. The biggest change was the decline in the number of matches with two takedowns.

This of course could be the result of randomness, but it could also be a sign that the three-point incentive is working. It is possible that it is a sign of increased risk-taking, or wrestlers could simply be pushing for more major decisions as they are seen as more attainable.

The biggest increase in takedowns from the 2023 tournament to 2024 was the second period. The increase was mostly uniform across periods, but the 25 more second-period takedowns represented an 8.39% increase. While it is not a huge change, one could argue that perhaps riding was disincentivized by the three-point takedown but it is also possible that the change is negligible.

**Near Fall Points**

Outside of the three-point takedown, the other big addition for last season was the three-point near fall. Prior to the change, a two count in predicament was worth two points and a four count was worth four points. The change brought about a three-point near fall, which, you guessed it, comes after a three-count. Per the NCAA, “the rationale for the rule change includes giving wrestlers a chance to be more creative in attempting to earn points.”

There was actually a slight decrease in the number of near falls called. In 2023 there were 181 sets of near-fall points awarded and 164 in 2024. However, on a per-match basis, the number seems to be relatively consistent.

Interestingly enough, it looks like the biggest decline was in terms of four-point near falls. In 2023, there were 71 two-point near falls and 110 four-point near falls. After the addition of the three-point near fall, there were only 85 four-point near falls.

As previously stated, this is likely too small of a sample to make any definitive statements about the impact of the rule changes. Perhaps after another few seasons of NCAA tournament data, the wrestling community can revisit if the changes are having the intended effect.

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