The 2019 NCAAs were held in Pittsburgh and attracted 109,405 fans (Photo/Tony Rotundo, WrestlersAreWarriors.com)
In more than a century of college wrestling, the competitive season has always taken place in the winter, usually starting in late fall, and concluding in mid- to late March ... going back to the first NCAA wrestling championships in 1928.
However, some within the collegiate wrestling community are seriously considering shifting the wrestling season later in the school year, to take place in the spring. The idea -- which springs from the current coronavirus pandemic which disrupted the 2020 NCAA Division I Wrestling Championships in Minneapolis this past March -- is already being discussed by the National Wrestling Coaches Association, according to Oklahoma State head wrestling coach John Smith.
In an exclusive interview with the Stillwater News Press -- the community newspaper for the town that's home to Oklahoma State -- John Smith said, "We're looking at right now, real closely, to moving (the start of) our season to January, for a lot of reasons. "The main one being that extension of time of maybe, making sure that we get situated early on as we return to school and following guidelines that we need to follow, but also giving us additional time in our sport to prepare in preparation of the virus in our sport. ...
"The NWCA, along with the coaches, are looking at maybe moving the season to January and beyond. That would be definitely something that would have to get approval from the NCAA, and we'll see how it goes."
There are existing scheduling factors which would make shifting the NCAAs a bit later in the season more challenging. For starters, the 2021 and 2022 NCAAs have already been scheduled on the national sports schedule, with the 2021 NCAAs already booked for St. Louis (March 18-20, 2021), and the 2022 NCAAs on the calendar to take place in Detroit March 17-19 in 2022) ... both scheduled for the second weekend of the traditional Spring Break holiday. What's more, those dates correspond with the opening weekend for the NCAA Men's Basketball "March Madness" Tournament.
Smith told the Stillwater paper that, while the current pandemic may be initially fueling the idea of possibly revising the college wrestling season later in the school year, the Oklahoma State coach said that there is hope among some wrestling coaches that the NCAA will push the season back within the school year, making it ultimately a spring sport.
"I think it's temporary now, but we've learned a lesson that we might choose to be a spring sport rather than a winter sport and start our season in early January and end somewhere in mid- to late-April," Smith said. "I'm not saying that's going to happen right away -- definitely not in the next three years it can't happen, because NCAA championships scheduled out."
While the focus right now centers of athlete and fan health in the midst of a pandemic, John Smith has a potentially more powerful reason for making wrestling a spring sport: academic purposes.
"We get so many wrestlers on campus who are first-generation college students, and for that reason, we need to focus on retaining them and maintaining our APR," Smith said. "So rather than competing over two semesters, competing over one semester might help those student-athletes have greater success academically."
This isn't the first time Smith has been a proponent of moving the wrestling season.
According to the Cowboy coach, who is quickly approaching his 30th year at the helm, he had pushed for a move to have college wrestling be a fall sport back in the '90s.
"This has been proposed several times," Smith said. "I brought up back in the mid-90s, proposing a one-semester sport. I really wanted to go first semester -- I wanted to tie our season into football.
"And for a lot of reasons, it didn't materialize."
A seasonal shift may still end up happening. Stay tuned.