The match is a sellout. Concessions will be sold, T-shirts will be printed, and donations to the Cowboy program will be logged. The match will be watched by 10K people in person and another 15-20K online. Money generated at the event will be enough to help fund scholarships, road trips, or maybe even some nice threads for the Cowboy wrestlers.
Forget Pittsburgh, this is the type of event that does the heavy lifting to keep wrestling relevant.
Attention paid to this dual meet has been amplified by the matchups between the programs’ standout 125 and 133-pound wrestlers: Nick Piccininni versus Spencer Lee and Daton Fix versus Austin DeSanto. There has been a lot of promotion of the event, in large part because we know who is wrestling, when, and the media can build that backstory.
And that’s what dual meets give us: control. The known knowns of who will compete, and known unknowns of who will win. We know that two of the best teams in the country are going to face off. We know their lineups and can bet (money or not) on the outcome of the matches with friends. We know what time we can watch and where. We can plan. We can enjoy.
Dual meets are the future. Look at Rutgers’ monster year selling 40K-plus tickets That is the type of success that will finally allow programs to support themselves through monies generated on-campus through ticket and concession sales, rather than relying on donors to come to the NCAA Championships and write large checks on the back of a single wrestler’s success (which would still be an option).
Dual meets may or may not become vitally important next year, or the year after, but let’s keep beating this drum. Change is necessary to help us preserve our sport through building organic interest and giving fans matchups they can anticipate and celebrate.
To your questions …
Q: Who has the best fan base in college wrestling?
Foley: I’ll put aside the obvious powerhouse fan bases at Iowa and Penn State to focus on what I think is the most impressive large collection of fans in college wrestling: Cornell.
The collegiate fan base is really a reflection of three things: on-the-mat success, alumni engagement, and local enthusiasm. The first is important in keeping the following two interested; the second is necessary for money and sustained interest/history; the third is imperative for sustainability and influence among decision makers in the community.
I’ve always been impressed with what Cornell has been able to create in Ithaca. The fans come to the NCAAs dressed in the same outfit, cheer with vigor, and always seem to have large gatherings at the NCAA tournament. But outside their performance at the NCAA Championships, the alumni and fans also support their program with large financial gifts and they have created a positive atmosphere for home dual meets, built a successful multi-tiered wrestling club, and integrated with the athletic department.
The program is built off their leadership and huge kudos are given to Rob Koll for innovating and leading from the front. He takes on big projects, completes them within established timeframes, and does it more than once.
Q: I know you don’t like to predict winners anymore, but do you think the Daton Fix-Austin DeSanto match will be a low-scoring match or high-scoring match?
— Mike C.
Foley: High. Daton and Austin aren’t here to protect anything and while Austin pushes the pace, I think Daton will score from his counter offense and inside trips when Austin backs out of an attack with his head up.
Should Austin find his own scoring opportunities, I think it could be a tete-a-tete for the ages. If Daton gets up big it’ll be the type of slow, defensive lead-holding match that frustrates Austin. I just hope that his anger doesn’t get the best of him.
Q: What madman at the Big Ten made the 2018-2019 schedule? Why would the Big Ten have Iowa not wrestle the top three teams in the league? This would never have happened in any other sport in the Big Ten or in any other conference. Just imagine if this happened (this year) with basketball, in the ACC, with Duke not playing Virginia/North Carolina/NC State until the tournament?
— Steven H.
Foley: More dual meet interest!
I got ya’ … but when they are sub-divided into leagues there is only so much that can be done in order to get these teams to wrestle. If they want to compete then both coaches have to agree, or we need to move to national championships format that forces the top teams to compete during the season.
As you see with Iowa and Oklahoma State, Big Ten coaches would prefer to make their way out of the conference to both get a variety of looks and build their national seeds prior to locking into the Big Ten Championships.
Q: What happened to Arizona State? I thought I recalled them getting some big-time recruits over the last several years and I keep waiting for them to be relevant, but they have gotten destroyed this year. Is that program going to turn a corner?
— Matt W.
Foley: Unclear. The Arizona State program has been stumbling this season (5-10 dual meet record), though it’s not clear what is at the center of the letdown. It should be noted that All-American Tanner Hall and two-time Pac-12 champion Anthony Valencia are redshirting. There are still big names on the roster and more coming through, but where they’ve seemed to struggle is in developing wrestlers at weights without large expectations.
Compare the way the Arizona State program feels right now to that of Iowa State. While the Cyclones are still on the slow climb up the team rankings, watching them compete validates that they are making important team-wide changes to the mentality and physicality with which they approach competition. Not all their wrestlers will make the NCAA tournament and some will still disappoint, but by-and-large they wrestle exceedingly well for their given skill levels.
At the moment, I don’t know if we can say that Arizona State is displaying that level of wrestling consistency. Maybe it’s a hiccup, maybe it’s a trend. We need another year before we know which way the team will break for Coach Jones and the Sun Devil fans.
Q: In Ohio we’ve been having an interesting conversation (on a wrestling forum) about state and national power St. Edward and its streak of 28 years with an NCAA Division I All-American. What makes this streak even more impressive is that we have only been able to find three college teams that can boast of that streak: Minnesota (started in 1986), Iowa (started in 1972) and Nebraska (started in 1989). Do you know of any that we missed? Oklahoma State was sanctioned back in 1993 and couldn’t compete in the conference tournament or NCAAs that year, otherwise, they would have the longest streak dating back to 1946.
Foley: Readers? Any other colleges or high schools with similar streaks? Have to think Blair has a nice run somewhere in the high teens, right?
I tend to think that Oklahoma State should just carry an asterisk rather than not be present on the list. While they were banned for good reason, you can still say that they placed someone in every year that they COMPETED at the NCAA tournament.
Q: Better chance to make the 2019 U.S. World Team, Spencer Lee or Yianni Diakomihalis?
— Mike C.
Foley: Spencer Lee!
Q: Did you see Cain Velasquez get knocked out in 26 seconds last Sunday night? Do you think his MMA career is over?
— Mike C.
Foley: No. There was a podcast with his trainer Javier Mendez where he mentioned that the knee was bothering him more than the knockout. He went on to say that Cain was struck by an illegal punch to the back of the head by Francis Ngannou.
Aside from a full ACL repair, I think we will see at least another fight from Cain. Sounds like he wants to give it at least one last go to see where he fits in the history of heavyweights.
Q: Chael Sonnen and Henry Cejudo were on a podcast together recently. Chael told Henry that he heard a rumor that Gable Steveson is going end his college wrestling career after winning an NCAA title in March. He will focus on winning Olympic gold in 2020 and then move on to MMA. Do you think this rumor has any legs? Would you like to see it? Gable will likely be an undefeated NCAA champ as a true freshman, so I get it if he doesn’t want to do it anymore.
— Mike C.
Foley: Steveson should absolutely take an Olympic redshirt season. He 100 percent should not forgo a college education to fight in a cage. That can wait. Get the free education and enjoy being the big man on campus. Like us, he will have the rest of his life to fight for money, fame, and acclaim.
Q: I agree with your take on youth wrestling. It’s a broken system with too much emphasis on winning and not on development.
I coach youth wrestling and some of it makes me sick to watch. You see 4-5 year old’s who have no idea why they are there cornered by seemingly novice wrestling coaches and/or parents screaming at them and the ref. It is not a good look.
I’ve thought about this model for kids under 10:
Something needs to change. What do you think?
Foley: If we want to retain some type of tournament competition, I think that your plan is a great starting point!
The idea I was floating (though hadn’t fleshed out) was that the competition would remain but would be driven towards rewarding the outcome of wrestling-based games and drills. Scholastic wrestling is so often about brutishness that working to de-emphasize that behavior and emphasize technique, while also maintaining competitiveness, would be an ideal antidote.
Not totally sold on raising both hands. While I also don’t get behind all the college coaches using their pedestal to complain about participation trophies, I think it’s OK to have kids learn from some failure here or there.
On a side note, it’s always struck me as odd that the generation responsible for RAISING the “participation trophy generation” so often are the ones complaining. They somehow don’t see that it’s their fault, not the kids. Also, by whining about your athletes on camera you are doing the exact thing you JUST complained about (blaming other people), Mr. Tough Guy Football Coach!
Thoughts on youth wrestling
By Matt W.
I thought the youth wrestling stuff was interesting and important to discuss. I agree that we have issues with the youth wrestling culture, but I don’t think abolishing all youth competition up until a certain age is the solution. I really think that would also harm youth numbers. Most of us really love to compete and I think that starts at a young age. The important thing is to find a way to foster that in a healthy way for all of those involved. Abolishing things is often a lazy solution and may very well shift the bad behavior to older ages. Now, do I concede that certain youth events have gotten way out of hand, such as traveling all over the country so a 5-year-old can compete at Tulsa or Vegas, or anything of the sort? Resoundingly yes. However, I do want to tell you about another experience I had with youth wrestling that has convinced me that we can’t abolish youth tournaments, and that there are workable solutions to erratic parents/coaches.
Before I came to the University of Iowa for law school I was living and working in Chicago and helped coach a youth club affiliated with Beat the Streets in Chicago’s Englewood neighborhood. If you aren’t familiar, Englewood is on Chicago’s southside and is one of most dangerous areas of the city. We had about 40 kids K-8. These kids, as you might have imagined, had very little relative to many in the rest of our country. Certainly no parents were going to drive them to Tulsa for a massive tournament. We took them to about eight tournaments in the season and hosted our own on MLK Day. We were really focused on the development of the kids and teaching them everything wrestling had given to all of us, and there was minimal if any focus on winning and losing. With that being said, the Saturdays that these kids went to compete were the highlight of their week, and maybe even month at times. This ranged from the kid pinning his way through the tournament to the kid who got stuck in every match. They were excited to experience something new and unique such as riding the bus together to a suburb and to compete and spend the day with their friends and teammates. We were able to get money to get everyone the same T-shirt and shorts for tournaments as well, and every single kid wore their warm-ups with the utmost pride at each of those tournaments. Seeing the positive impact those tournaments had on those kids really got me excited for youth wrestling again, when it was something I had thought of as rather noxious for quite some time.
So, here we are with the terrible stories of parents getting in fights and other instances of youth tournaments being massively positive experiences for some kids. Due to my experiences I really think we cannot possibly abolish youth tournaments until a kid is 10, 12 or any other age. I do like the idea of skills-based competitions where there is little to no spectacle and the focus is on developing young people. Some things I saw in the Chicago suburbs that was far more effective than the small-town Iowa style of running youth tournaments was the requirement of USA Wrestling certified coaches, roping off the mats from anyone that is not a registered wrestler or certified coach, and the degree of control that event organizers had as a whole. If those practices become more regular and perhaps more regulated by state AAU or state USAW bodies I think we will see a massive decline in inappropriate behavior. A couple commenters on the mailbag also discussed the coach’s obligation to educate parents. I think that is extremely important as well and can remedy a lot of aspects of issues we see here.
All-in-all, great piece as always. I just think that a call to abolish is knee-jerk, punishing the wrong group, and a lazier solution than we can really come up with. Just wanted to share the experience I had with the last group of kids I coached and how valuable that experience was for them. Really makes me want to search for more solutions that get them and keep them excited for wrestling. The best part about when you write these things is that it gets the conversation started, and I think that is what you’re ultimately calling for in the article.