Cael, Penn State taking unfair criticism for decision

Penn State won its first NCAA wrestling title since 1953 (Photo/Tony Rotundo,

The NWCA/Cliff Keen National Duals for Division I kick off this weekend. The event has been revamped and is being referred to as "Mat Mayhem." Twenty-four Division I programs will now participate in four regionals on Saturday and Sunday, with the winner of each regional advancing to the championship finals on Feb. 19. Noticeably absent from the event is defending NCAA champion Penn State.

Penn State coach Cael Sanderson and the Nittany Lions are being unfairly criticized for their decision not to participate in the National Duals.

Minnesota coach J Robinson called Cael's decision not to participate "short-sighted" following Minnesota's 19-17 dual meet loss at Iowa on Jan. 29. This past Sunday, Robinson said, "If we want wrestling to grow, we all need to be there."

Mark Manning is in his 12th season as Nebraska's coach (Photo/Mark Beshey, The Guillotine)
Another Big Ten wrestling coach, Nebraska's Mark Manning, whose Huskers will compete on Sunday in a regional with five other teams in Stillwater, Okla., recently voiced his displeasure for Penn State's decision not to participate in the National Duals.

"If you're defending national champions, you should be in the National Duals," said Manning. "You represent our sport. You're sending a message that it's important for wrestling. No one likes the grind of the Big Ten. I don't want to take my young team down to Stillwater. I would love to have a week off. But some people don't think that way and they're only thinking single-mindedly."

Robinson and Manning are not the only people who have spoken out about Penn State's absence from the National Duals.

Wrestling fans across the country have slammed Cael and Penn State for their decision not to participate in the National Duals, just like fans slammed Tom Brands and Iowa's wrestling program a year ago for their decision not to participate in the National Duals.

One anonymous person on a wrestling message board called Cael's decision "selfish." Another wrote, "PSU failed to support the entire sport of wrestling by not attending."

It's one thing to hold the opinion that this revamped National Duals is best for the growth of college wrestling. But to criticize Penn State, or any program, for doing what they believe is best for the growth of college wrestling, or their program, is wrong.

The NWCA's vision for growing college wrestling

Mike Moyer, who serves as the executive director of the National Wrestling Coaches Association (NWCA), believes that regular season dual meets need to take on a greater importance in order to grow the spectator base in college wrestling, and that this revamped National Duals format is a step in the right direction. Moyer and the NWCA see it as a way to add five signature college wrestling events to the schedule.

NWCA executive director Mike Moyer with Takedown's Scott Casber at the 2011 NWCA All-Star Classic in Tempe, Ariz. (Photo/Tony Rotundo,
"We need to grow the spectator base on each campus," said Moyer. "This whole National Duals is based on the premise that when you look at every mainstream spectator sport in America, they all have one thing in common, and that is the outcome of every regular season competition has a lot of importance because it determines advancement into a postseason competition, whereas in wrestling currently our whole infrastructure is designed to support an individual tournament at the end of the year. So it places very little importance on the outcome of regular season dual meets."

Moyer has studied past data and believes something needs to be done to grow college wrestling's spectator base.

"I have looked at our average spectator base over a 10-year period," said Moyer. "In 2001 we had three teams that had an average spectator base of 4,000 or more and we had 10 other teams that had a spectator base of 1,000 or more. You fast forward 10 years to last year. Nothing has changed. We still have three teams that have an average spectator base of 4,000 or more. We have 10 other teams that have an average spectator base of 1,000 or more. So my question is, what makes us think we can continue doing exactly the same things for the next 10 years and get a different result?"

Moyer may be right that certain changes to college wrestling could help grow its spectator base. But there is certainly no guarantee that this revamped National Duals format is the best way to grow the sport. It may or may not be a step in the right direction. This year's dry run may give some indications. Attendance numbers will serve as one barometer for the success of the event. According to Moyer, feedback from coaches will be very important.

Penn State's vision for growing college wrestling

It's absurd for anyone to claim that Penn State is not helping to grow college wrestling.

Cael and his staff arrived at Penn State in 2009, and in two seasons the average attendance for Penn State home dual meets doubled. Last season Penn State averaged nearly 5,500 fans per home dual meet, which was by far the program's best average attendance in two decades or more. This year Penn State is averaging almost 6,500 fans per home dual meet with one dual meet remaining. (Penn State's final home dual meet against Pitt on Feb. 19 is already sold out.)

Cael Sanderson (Photo/Bill Ennis)
Penn State is more than doing its part to grow college wrestling by maintaining an exciting dual meet schedule with a minimum of seven home events that attract sell-out crowds, competing against smaller Pennsylvania programs in order to foster in-state rivalries, wrestling at-risk programs, competing in non-traditional wrestling areas, and putting a winning product on the mat that is entertaining to watch.

"I doubt that any program is doing any more for our sport than Penn State is doing right now, and that's not me," said Cael. "It's just our program and everything that is going on."

Penn State, ranked No. 1 by InterMat, will travel across the country to wrestle Utah Valley University on Saturday.

Cael and older brother Cody Sanderson, Penn State's associate head coach, were born and raised in Utah and are part of one of the state's most celebrated sports families. The Sanderson brothers, Cody, Cole, Cael, and Cyler combined to win 14 state wrestling championships in Utah. Their father, Steve, wrestled at Brigham Young University (BYU) before becoming a legendary high school wrestling coach in Utah.

Cody Sanderson, a two-time NCAA finalist at Iowa State, started the wrestling program at Utah Valley from scratch in 2003, and served as the program's head coach for three seasons before joining Cael's staff at Iowa State.

Utah Valley is now its ninth season of existence and third season of being eligible to compete in the postseason. Last season Utah Valley's wrestling program had its first NCAA Division I All-American when Ben Kjar placed fourth at 125 pounds.

"If you think about it, any school on the West Coast has a very difficult time getting matches at home," said Cael. "There just aren't very many programs and it's very expensive. We felt that going out to Utah and helping them create a big event was the best thing we could do for the sport."

Greg Williams coached Ben Kjar to an All-American finish (Photo/Tony Rotundo,
Utah Valley coach Greg Williams, who is trying to put together as a tough a schedule as possible, says the event has been generating a lot of interest in Utah.

"We're expecting somewhere between 4,000 and 6,000 fans for this match, and that's a conservative figure," said Williams. "We could top that. There's a lot of interest in the event. I think it's great that they're coming back to Utah because Utah loves the Sanderson boys."

College wrestling may be experiencing growth at non-Division I levels, but at the Division I level college wrestling programs continue to be cut and opportunities continue to be lost. Thirty-five years ago there were approximately 180 Division I college wrestling programs. Today that number is 78. (It will be 77 next year with Millersville dropping down to Division II.) Eight Division I college wrestling programs have been dropped since 2009.

Cael believes there needs to be a shift in thinking among wrestling people to find ways to grow the sport instead of trying to save it.

Said Cael, "If somebody puts out a press release or they say, hey, save this program ... What's going to happen? No one wants to put money into a program when there's a good chance it's going to fail, except a few people that are very committed, and they're already supporting that program. What does that do? Recruits don't go to that school. You're like dooming a program. How smart is that? Even though you think you're trying to help, you're actually hurting it."

Cael feels that wrestling needs to build on its strengths.

"It's about being positive, just like I have to do as a coach," said Cael. "You've got to build on your strengths, not emphasize your weaknesses. That's just an old-school mentality, to point out your weaknesses. Well, it doesn't work in coaching. It doesn't work in business. It doesn't work in life. You build on your strengths. That's where your success comes from."

Numerous changes have been made to college wrestling in recent years. Those changes have come in the form of rule changes, NCAA tournament qualification, and a revamped National Duals. Cael refers to these types of changes to college wrestling as "quick fixes."

"The future of wrestling is not a quick fix," said Cael. "It's a long-term plan. What's our long-term plan? It's not, well, let's keep dinking around with the National Duals. It's well, let's build our foundation. That's a 20-year process. It's not, well, it didn't work last year, let's force something in while everybody is focused on coaching and this is the answer, and if you don't participate, well, shame on you."

Penn State and others programs' decision not to participate in the National Duals

For the record, Penn State was not only the program to turn down the National Duals invitation. The NWCA sent out an email last February inviting the top 24 teams in last season's final NWCA/USA Today Division I Team Coaches Poll. Of those 24 teams, 20 accepted invitations. (No. 25 Central Michigan and three unranked teams filled the remaining four spots.)

Northwestern and Lehigh both turned down invitations.

"When the National Duals was being organized, several uncertainties remained such as locations and travel allotments," said Northwestern coach Drew Pariano. "The time of the year was something that we considered and having the team peak at Big Tens and NCAAs is imperative. I think that it's going to be a great success and we look forward to being involved if we are invited in the upcoming years."

Last season Pat Santoro coached his first NCAA champion at Lehigh, Zack Rey, who won the title at heavyweight (Photo/Tony Rotundo,
Lehigh coach Pat Santoro said the timing of when it was being organized made it difficult.

"When we found out about the National Duals, I probably had 13 or 14 of our 16 dates already done," said Santoro. "My schedule was almost all done and then that came out, and I was like, 'Well, how am I going to change it? I already have teams scheduled in February and things like that.' For us, I just didn't like the timing of it."

Santoro, like Pariano, also had concerns that, by participating in the National Duals in February, it would be more difficult for wrestlers to peak in March.

"I didn't like the timing of the last two weeks of the season," said Santoro. "If you go to National Duals, you're going to try to win it. There's no question. To try to peak the second and third weekend in February, and then try to peak again the first and third weekend in March, five weeks is a long time to try to keep the peak."

Santoro likes the concept of the National Duals and wants to support the NWCA. He also sees the other side of it, which is why he is taking a wait-and-see approach.

"I think it's a great concept, a great idea," said Santoro. "I just want to see how it plays out for a couple years. I think next year is really going to be the first real run of it. I know this year is like a dry run. I want to know what happens next year. I want to see how it kind of runs through the system once you pick your top 24 teams at the end of January."

David Taylor hugs Cael Sanderson after his 7-1 victory over American's Steve Fittery in the 2011 NCAA semifinals (Photo/Tony Rotundo,
It's Penn State, though, that has been receiving the most attention and criticism for its decision not to attend because the Nittany Lions are the defending NCAA champions and Cael, a four-time undefeated NCAA champion and Olympic gold medalist, is an icon in the sport.

The simple, short answer for why Penn State chose not participate in the National Duals is that Cael and his staff don't believe it's in the best interest of college wrestling. Cael and his staff are doing what they feel is right.

"A lot of details need be ironed out before we jump into it, said Cael. "There's a lot of details. It's kind of hard to go into because I just think there are so many different areas and questions that were in our mind as a staff. We want to build wrestling as much as we can. Just because one person says this is how you do it, that doesn't mean it's necessarily the right answer."

Cael understands the need to raise money for the sport, but disagrees with the idea of taking away February home duals meets, which not only help generate revenue for programs, but also help generate fan interest and excitement leading up to the conference and NCAA tournaments.

"Right now the event is just a fundraiser, which is good," said Cael. "We want the NWCA to make money. But it's not like creating a new revenue stream. It's dipping in and basically taking the gate that we would be producing at a home dual and giving it to them.

"I think a coach needs to do what he feels is in the best interest of his program. I don't think anyone would say it's in the best interest of our team. How could it be? It's not. You're asking a lot out of your kids and you're asking a lot out of your administration to forgo a home dual and a gate in February. It doesn't make any sense."

Cael also does not believe the National Duals directly help at-risk programs.

"How will the National Duals help the programs that are at-risk?" remarked Cael. "How? How does it help them? It doesn't. That's what it was first sold to us as, and we're like, 'OK, wait a second, let's figure out how this is going to help them. No, it doesn't."

Cael and his staff support Mike Moyer and the NWCA and want the event to be successful, but just have a difference of opinion on how to grow the sport.

"The good thing is that we're all fighting for the same cause," said Cael. "We have some difference of opinion. But that's good for the sport, I believe."

What's not good for the sport is criticizing Penn State, or any program, for doing what they believe is best for the sport and their program.


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wadabuka (2) about 8 and a half years ago
You're last sentence is ridiculous. Of course you criticize someone for being selfish. That's how you get them to recognize how they're behavior effects others. Do you think any other team wants to go through the grinder that is the National Duals? No. They do it because there are not enough marquee events in wrestling and to generate more funds to help suffering programs. Get it? Cael doesn't need any help sop what does it matter to him? Unresponsible journalism. Your're just as bad as Penn State.
isaiahmiller1117 (1) about 8 and a half years ago
One of Cael's comments was that gate receipts were simply being taken from home schools and being given to the NWCA. How exactly does that generate any funds? If I take 20 bucks from my wallet and drop it in my pocket, I have not really generated anything.
DPeterson (1) about 8 and a half years ago
Criticizing anybody for any reason doesn't work. Every person, by nature, is self interested...and doesn't care about anyone else unless there is something in it for them. Every decision we ever make is made because somehow, some way, we get something out of it. If you criticize someone, they just become defensive, because their pride is at stake, and they usually will not back down. Do not doesn't work.
Read "How to Win Friends and Influence People".
wadabuka (1) about 8 and a half years ago
PowderRiver (1) about 8 and a half years ago
Andrew, good article. I was curious about PSU's decision/reasons not to participate in the Duals, and I think some valid points were made with respect to the timing of the duals...perhaps the should be moved closer to the NCAA finals date, and next years format seems like it will be more relevant as well. I applaud Cael's concern for the Western USA though, wrestling is dying on the vine out there and needs some energy! Programs like Wyoming are turning this around, but it would be great to see some other programs stepping up as well. Utah produces great wrestlers, so hopefully UVU can keep more of them at home.
hawks52 (2) about 8 and a half years ago
This article is a joke. Last year the criticism of Iowa was a 100 times worse and you and Intermat didn't defend them. Intermat actually critized Iowa last year. Keep sucking up to Cael and maybe he will give you another interview.
isaiahmiller1117 (1) about 8 and a half years ago
With a name of hawks 52, I find it hard to believe that there was any bias in this comment. Well struck comment.
wirehair (1) about 8 and a half years ago
The two of you that call this ridiculous and irresponsible my question to you is what have you done to grow this sport? Intermat has started a new preseason high school tournament in the midwest. It's grew by leaps and bounds in it's second year. If it sounds like I'm defending Andrew you're right. He has probably forgotten more about wrestling than you know. You can't rip on someone for writing an article on what someone thinks will help grow this sport. What are your ideas? Instead of criticizing how bout you throw out some ideas. Also you're a moron if you think he's irresponsible he is one of the most responsible and ethical people that i know
ptguard5 (1) about 8 and a half years ago
The correct language here is; "It's grown by leaps and bounds" not it's grew by leaps and bounds. Not sure who's the one here who needs the education. Then as to Cael's growing the sport by going to Utah...Iowa has been going there for years and as for the timing of the duels it is the same for everyone. If Penn State doesn't want to participate that is their decision but it's not necessary to defend them when this publication has been critical of others for doing the same thing. To you, on your verb usage and maybe don't be critical if you are saying others should not be.
CraigKelly (1) about 8 and a half years ago
What a crazy article! Bottom line Penn St needs to be there. This article is nothing but excuses and bitching. I remember Iowa not there last year and everyone complained. Guess what Cael sometimes life isn't fair but you have to compete. Sad that Hipps took this approach to this article.
vulture (3) about 8 and a half years ago
Typical Cael. What's best for Cael is all that matters. My thoughts, He's ducking OKST.
mrwoody (1) about 8 and a half years ago
I was a big PENN and Cael fan. This has turned me off of Cael and PENN. Selfish is the best word to describe his position. Westling needs exposure and National duals give big exposure. sure Cael doesn't care they are drawing 6000+ people at each match, away and home. You want to know what builds a wrestling team?? In high School it is a strong Biddy/ Youth program. Focus on the future (long term) of wrestling by investing in the youth, it's that simple. Also the NWCA needs to focus on training High School coaches and ADs how to promote wrestling at the High School level. Mosy HS coaches are teachers and have no idea how to run a business let alone how to do marketing. This is where help is needed EDUCATING HS COACHES.
rmiro (1) about 8 and a half years ago
Just as Cael stated "How does this help the at risk programs". I'm looking at this sheet I copied out a number of years ago and look at some of the programs that were dropped. Univ. of RI where I went to school had no business dropping the sport. (likewise with many others) We gear all of our wrestling structure aimed at the top 5%. I love the top 5% but the 95% who are not getting recruits and have to polish with what they have are as important as anyone in that top 5%. Mike Moyer even stated in his last letter to the NWCA State Reps that we need to look beyond the "Cream". We need to make wrestling a Blue Collar sport again. Costs are prohibitive in some of the National Events and the poor kid can't participate. National Duals sound great; Cael choosing not to go must be considered as something to look at other than some of the criticisms being aimed at the Penn State program.
vulture (1) about 8 and a half years ago
Who knows. Maybe they'd find the wrestling program to be as dirty as the football program.
ptguard5 (1) about 8 and a half years ago
If you really believe what you just wrote here then you are a hypocrite because you were certainly critical of Iowa not participating last year. You also have penalized Bobby Telford when his coaches decided he needed to continue o work and though a number of scheduled meets to be better prepared for the Duels, the Big Ten and the NCAA Tournaments. Based on his record and who he has beaten he should be ranked three spots higher, however, since he was held out of a few meets you have your justification to drop which is what you really want. You can't have it both ways...PS does what they feel is best for their program and that's Ok, the right thing for them to do. Iowa holds out Telford and you drop him 3 places from where it is obvious he should be ranked!
ptguard5 (1) about 8 and a half years ago
You justify Penn State not participating because it's what best for their program. OK, they have the right to do what's best for them. How about when Iowa did not wrestle last year, why so critical then? Why did your publication penalize Bobby Telford and drop him 3 spots from where he obviously should be ranked when his coaches held out of a few matches so he could train and work during that time. It was what was best for him and his team. You can't have it both ways. You seem to be just slightly hypocritical here.
District4PA (1) about 8 and a half years ago
All the coaches and wrestlers have valued points, when to peak, when not to, wrestle less, train more, all are important when it comes to the end of a wrestling season. I am sure Cael knows what he is doing when it comes to what is right and wrong for his program and wrestlers.

The thing we should be looking at to expand wrestling is TV and Internet. How many times do you want to watch a dual meet and the Big Ten network isn't covering b/c they have to cover every single baseketball game or talk off season football nonsence, and if there is a match on it's tuesday at 2pm and the student anouncers have no idea what they are talking about.

How about the NWCA throw alittle money at ESPN and have them nationally broadcast a dual meet. I am sure they have some time slots available on Sunday since billiards on ESPN2 takes up most of the afternoon. Look at how much Flowrestling has changed the sport. We need to make it easier for people to get information and fotage of the matches.

The NWCA needs to refocus their approach, instead of wrestling more matches use the regular season to get national publisity for matches.

But what would I know I am just a wrestling fan, coach, and former wrestler.
wirehair (1) about 8 and a half years ago
ptgaurd 5 I realized my mistake when I went back and read it so thanks. Also you need to work on your spelling and use your spell check on your computer. You'd think if you were going to insult someone you'd at least make sure you didn't mess anything up in your post. Haha. Also I was stating facts and asking questions not being critical. You are a moron if you think he's irresponsible. FACT. The other questions are meant to be answered and obviously you have none.

As far as all you Iowa fans whining about the unfair coverage get over it. The two scenarios are totally different. This is a whole new format they are trying this year. I for one am not a fan of it. The traveling doesn't make much sense to me. Take for instance MN, they are out at Rutgers. How many MN fans will make that trip. If Iowa or OK ST were out there I would ask the same. They might a the hard core fans to make that trip but you're not going to get the average fan. If they have the final four at UNI like always then why would the midwest fans of Iowa, OK ST, and MN choose to go out east one weekend when they could save some money and make a trip to Iowa instead?
chocell (1) about 8 and a half years ago
Andrew, very nice article. You definetely made some valid points. There's more than one way to skin a cat. I am disappointed that Penn State is not participating, but I can understand why. This is not a good time to do the national duals. I'd like to see them closer to the beginning of the season - a great way to kick it all off.
marty (1) about 8 and a half years ago
This isn't the only thing Caels not doing to help the sport. Penn State home matchs are held in the Rat Hole Rec Hall. They could be in the Bryce Jordan Center and nearly twice the people could attend and enjoy a comfortable venue with good parking and access. Sanderson wants the small confines of ancient Rec Hall for team advantage. Its unbeleivable that they would deny thousands of people the opportunity to attend a PennState vs Iowa match ! Get your act together Penn State and let wresling fans participate !!!!!!!!!!!!
martin5-01 (1) about 8 and a half years ago
How does the National Dual help struggling programs?
jaybird (1) about 8 and a half years ago
The real problem with college wrestling is it is for the most part not very exciting to watch. Change the rules to be more like freestyle and I would bet the attendance would go up across the board. There is nothing exciting about watching someone get rode for 2 or 3 minute and stalling is never call but is very prevalent in most matches. I absolutely love the sport. But folkstyle and college rules are killing it. If cael doesn't want his team to go , so what.
nittany74 (1) about 8 and a half years ago
Marty, have you ever been in Rec Hall? It's most certainly not a "rat hole." It is a lovely old, quaint building that is an awesome venue for wrestling. As for the choice not to use Bryce Jordan, I'm sure that's coming in the near future. Right now, PSU packs 6,500 fans into Rec Hall, and it's a thrilling place to watch wrestling. But if you put 6,500 or even 7,500 into Bryce Jordan (capacity 16,000), they would just rattle around in the place. I think you'll see wrestling in Bryce Jordan in another year or two--when enthusiasm builds to where a meet can draw at least 12,000. If you're down on Penn State, do you really think those greedy Nittany Lions wouldn't want the money that will come from 12-16K fans?
sandbergpete (1) about 8 and a half years ago
In my opinion, PSU ducked the national duals just so they could, very selfishly, do their peak for NCAAs without having to expose themselves any more than absolutely necessary to the top teams. Sure it might be best for the Sandersons and their team in the short run and sure their obligation is to their team. But, they lost the high ground on that one with the way they treated Iowa State and I lost all respect for Sanderson and brothers over that scenario.

The best planned their schedule for the duals and it's really the best peaking plan they could have. Minnesota looked their best because they took time to make this work, and the rest of the schedule will let them build even more, win or lose at the Final Four.

Hopefully J Robinson, John Smith, Tom Brands, Mark Manning, Brian Smith, Rob Koll and all the others will, in Coach Sanderson's words."...keep dinking around with the national duals" while PSU sits in a lonely gym with all their friends.

Again, this is my opinion and I'm not an anonymous person sitting in the basement. Pete Sandberg, Northfield MN.