Teams that missed the selection but thought they warranted a ticket were: Ohio State (one loss), UCF (undefeated), and Georgia (who looked excellent against Alabama in the SEC championship game). Michigan wouldn’t argue that they should be in the playoffs, but they more or less round out the top eight programs in the nation.
While you probably know all of this from watching a lot of college football, I only know these things through some type of sports osmosis. I never sought out that information, watched more than a minute of any game, or read an article on the College Football Playoff. Football is huge in America, but what drives the story are the names of the schools and their traditions. Alabama, Notre Dame, and Oklahoma all have attached to them something that fans can understand because of generations of support and coverage.
The same is true in wrestling, but for most non-wrestling fans the lingo remains Dan Gable, Cael Sanderson, Iowa wrestling and Penn State. There are more, but everyday sports guy “Hank” knows those people and that’s where we need to start in order to have the broader discussion about how to improve wrestling’s footprint in the college sports world.
You get more attraction by having dual meet tournaments, dual meet events, and a dual meet national championship. While it’s wonderful that someone may win a national championship at the individual tournament (and I don’t advocate for eliminating it), I think wrestling can make a sizable cultural impact through a well thought out dual meet national championship.
Go back to football. They used to rely on a poll for crowning the national championship. Eventually people started to realize that polling was a lackluster, anticlimactic solution and the sport was leaving money and attention on the table. But it wasn’t super easy to convince the old school football fans of a national championship game. To them there was only a new set of problems, like how to choose teams, where to host, what happens to the existing bowl games.
The Bowl Championships Series was formed, which found creative ways to solve the issues raised by the old school football people while also advocating for a championships game. Few more years and some heartbreak gave us a four-team system. Now, looking at the teams that are out and who is in, can anyone really deny that this system will expand to eight?
Of course not, because football schools know that this is their best chance to win a national title and create more income for themselves and their conferences. Cinderella stories like seen in March will start to be told in December and January.
Wrestling can do the same. We can create a dual meet championship (with much more ease than football’s expansion) and create a groundswell of support from schools around the country. No, I don’t think that old guard will like it, but eventually they’ll give in and agree — we just need to start the process before it’s too late.
To your questions …
Q: What did you think of the first AWL? There was a lot of talk during the event, but not much since. Do you think AWL will have a second show?
Foley: I’m currently in India shooting a series of docu-shorts with some of the country’s biggest stars. The AWL event was on the night before I left, so I only saw bits and pieces but did monitor the social media imprint.
Overall, I think that wrestling community was intrigued by some of the matchups, though maybe not so much that they were hammering the purchase key on Trackwrestling. At $14.99 it was a steep commitment for someone like me who had split attention for the evening, but it did seem that a good number of Twitter people were watching. Also, I was happy to see that there was some solid effort made to deliver a quality show. There are always things to improve and change, but for a first effort I think they hit most of the high notes.
The big issue faced by wrestling organizations looking to turn a profit on these shows or maintain any sort of sustainable footprint is a lack of carry-over from event-to-event and there hasn’t been a sustained post-match buzz. The investment can’t stand alone with one event, and it can’t be limited to the mat. The wrestling fans need to attach themselves to the brand and the idea behind that brand.
The wrestling at any event may or may not end up being spectacular, but that’s rarely in the control of the organizers. Getting to know the athletes, knowing they will compete again on X date, and maybe some at-home content would help drive these promotions out of their one-and-done model. That’s something the promotion can control and help fans connect with.
Let see how the next few weeks ago. The wrestling community has a very short memory and I’d like to see AWL II announced soon so that they can keep their momentum.
Q: I have been super impressed with what Chris Ayres is doing with the program at Princeton. I think it’s great to see Princeton doing so well. He seems like a nice fit there. Ayres’ name will certainly come up with virtually every Division I head coaching opening in the coming years. Do you think he will stay at Princeton for many more years? Or could you see him hopping to the Big Ten or a more traditional wrestling power?
— Mike C.
Foley: There is no question that Chris Ayres is doing everything right at Princeton. With a top-ranked wrestler and a win over Lehigh, the Tiger program feels like one of the hottest in the nation.
While Princeton has enjoyed individual success in the past, most notably Greg Parker’s journey to the NCAA finals in 2002, they didn’t maintain that success or build it up over consecutive years. Now, with Matthew Kolodzik the top-ranked 149-pound wrestler in the nation and the team coming in at No. 13 in InterMat’s tournament rankings, there is a lot to celebrate if you’re a Princeton alumnus.
Can things continue to build? Will Ayres get snatched away by another school? That’s to be seen, but for now I think that fans of the Ivy League can appreciate that what’s going on has taken a considerable amount of hard work to build and maintain. To keep him in town I’m sure that the Princeton alumni will need to show support, but there might be more at play for Coach Ayres to balance.
Sometimes the best fit isn’t where others think you can win an NCAA championship, but where you and your family feel comfortable and where there are still professional challenges to tackle.
Q: Question for your bag. Besides your daughter’s Iowa onesie, is there anything more fabulous in wrestling right now than Jacob Kasper’s sapphire shoes?
Foley: The shoes are a hoot.
Kasper seems to have a wonderful persona. Given his size and likability I’d wonder what’s keeping the WWE or other professional wrestling organization from scooping him up. Could be a big get for one of those promotions!
Q: Amar Dhesi is returning to Oregon State and expected to make his season debut in January. It should make the heavyweight class even more exciting. He’s the highest returning All-American at heavyweight. Do you see him as the favorite? Or do you favor Gable Steveson? Anthony Cassar?
— Mike C.
Foley: Not sure why you didn’t mention top-ranked Sam Stoll, but yes, I think Dhesi is a strong opponent who is long in the tooth when it comes to high-level competition. While Cassar and Steveson are making waves early in the season, I think Dhesi will have a notable impact on the weight class come March. But again, you forgot about Stoll!
Will he win? I don’t know. Something tells me that a hyped-up Steveson and well-coached Cassar might be a lot for the weight class to overcome. Still, Dhesi’s size and familiarity with competing at the NCAA tournament are sure to add some value to the likelihood that he’ll make a run at the title.
Steveson, for what it’s worth, could maybe benefit from a couple fewer People’s Elbows to the back of opponent’s head. The competition is fierce and I enjoy his intensity and celebration, which is why I’m concerned that left unchecked these types of actions could one day boil over into something more easily defined as illegal and cost him a significant match.