The 2018-2019 college wrestling season kicked off earlier this month and already there are major and sustained complaints about the application of rules and interpretations added in the off-season.
The rule drawing the most criticism is the penalization of a wrestler’s use of hands to his/her opponent’s face. The penalty may or may not be preceded by a warning, but has caused quite the uproar as coaches are seeing the rule applied in tightly contested bouts across the country.
Several club-level coaches (NCAA coaches often refrain from commenting on rules and referees) have been displeased with the rule, equating it to the NFL’s stringent rules about quarterback protection and vagaries about the wimpification of America. However, outside of just the simple logic that it’s unnecessarily combative, there is a standard to follow.
The rule has been in the United World Wrestling handbook for several years.
While I see the appeal of bemoaning the direction of the nation based on a rule clarification, it should be said that hands to the face is not a technique, hold, maneuver, or any type of point-acquiring tactic in any type of wrestling — freestyle, folkstyle, kushti, or otherwise. Dinging someone on the head is not a point, nor is it remotely related to the fundamentals of the sport.
Eliminating hands to the face is not equivalent to getting rid of a high crotch, headlock or two-on-one. The rule is an attempt to focus the energy of the competing athletes on wrestling techniques rather than low-grade barbarism meant to distract or annoy an opponent into a subpar position.
Hands to the face has been utilized in recent years as a way to open up wrestlers who are either in full crouch position, wrestling from one knee, or who are otherwise blocking off action on their feet. While I’ve often taken issue with low, defensive stances, the referees and the rule commission are one-hundred percent correct in deterring wrestlers from contact with the forehead and eyes.
The logical next step is for the various rules commissions to look at the problem of defensive postures that limit access to leg attacks, not to adjust or decrease penalties for hands to the face.
To your questions …
Q: Did you watch the AWL draft? What are your thoughts on the league? Are you intrigued by any of the matchups for the first event?
— Mike C.
Foley: I did not watch the draft, though it drives me insane that they continue to steal photographs and videos from content creators around the sport. Tony Rotundo and I tweeted at them to stop or at least credit the people who spend time, money, and effort curating these images.
The AWL has solid funding and has aimed for a decent location in Cedar Rapids. When the league was announced I reached out to see how I could help, but nothing much came of the interactions. The livestream is being carried by Trackwrestling and from I’ve been told will have an outside producer create the event. We’ll see what that entails once the whistle blows.
As for the structure, I think that like many fans I’m not sure the next steps, nor am I even clear on the rule set they will be using for the events. My guess is that they will attempt to amend the freestyle rules to “create more action” or to “add overtime” but in my estimation it’s misplaced work. The freestyle rules are great, fans and athletes understand them, and it adds additional legitimacy to the event. Again, we’ll see if any changes are made.
The structure going forward may be to allow for new teams to develop, or for the organization to choose more locations for additional events. Also, the rosters each include two wrestlers, but it’s unclear when the decision will be made by each team as to who is competing.
Speaking broadly about leagues, I’m always interested if the idea is to drive interest and appeal to the community, or to the common folk. Real Pro Wrestling attempted to use wrestling’s stars to appeal to the masses via an adapted rule set, while events like AGON seemed focused on the wrestling community itself. With AWL I’m not sure where the focus will be after Nov. 30.
Q: What were your thoughts of the NWCA All-Star Classic’s lack of premier matchups for Division I college wrestling? Did it have something to do with Denver as the location? The event seemed to peak in 2013. While there have been some great matchups since then, this year’s showcase appeared to take a significant step back.
— Mitchell M.
Foley: A few months ago, I answered the question about why the NWCA chose Denver. The organizers of the event it (Wrestlers in Business Network) directly supports and plans the event and had reason to believe placing it in Denver would engage a new community of supporters.
I agree with the idea of expanding opportunities and I believe that the wrestling community would prefer for our network to grow nationwide. Where I think there should be some check on location is in determining if the location will detract from the overall product on the mat either through lack of attendance or lack of participation.
As I’ve learned over the past five years working events internationally, the location and timing of a tournament is key to understanding its potential for success. I remember going to Finland for the 2014 European Championships and being sure of small crowds and general disinterest. Instead it was a huge hit, leaning on a number of smaller factors: community which was home to former wrestling stars; easily accessible from Helsinki by train; an arena well-suited for 5,000 spectators; and hockey season hadn’t quite started so people were ready to be entertained.
Choosing timing and location for any event has to ensure that there are several factors serving towards its future success and in reviewing the NWCA All-Star Classic I think it’s a fair criticism to say that the best time and location to ensure a marketable, well-attended, much-discussed tournament was not achieved.
There is a lot in play each year, but I hope that the event can bounce back once again and be the type of must-see attraction that it was with Kyle Dake and David Taylor in 2013!
Q: What are your thought on filming camera’s directly overhead? I hate this view and hope they go back to a traditional mat side view whenever it occurs.
— Robert G.
Foley: The overhead shot, as has been used by the TV crew for United World Wrestling at the 2017 and 2018 World Championships, is one of several angles given to viewers during a match. The motivation comes from producers and show directors wanting to keep our easily distracted minds on the action. By having an additional camera, it adds a new cut, which by default will keep our minds more engaged on the action.
I’d agree that any long held overhead shot serves to be annoying, or distracting. There is little value outside of some distraction, and what I consider to be a beautiful image. For wrestling fans looking to examine holds and forward motion, the angle provides very little in the way of information and I would agree should be limited.
We will continue to see the angle, but I don’t expect we’ll ever see it used for long stretches, outside of a pinning situation, or something else where we can see the competitors faces better from that angle.
Q: Any takeaways from the early part of the college wrestling season?
— Mike C.
Foley: Step out rule is needed. The athletes, fans and coaches have all seen a superior product with freestyle wrestling and they can’t be asked to forget how much some of the rules utilized there (namely step out) have improved action.
My other takeaway is that the number of various back points options is confusing for fans and ultimately doesn’t achieve the desired outcome of more action. Yes, it creates more POINTS, but there is a false connection being made between POINTS and ACTION. Holding someone down for three and a half minutes after getting a two-point or three-point tilt is not dynamic for audiences.
Fans want to see wrestling, not buck ’em bronco.
Q: Your alma mater beat a Big Ten team (Indiana) to start the season. How do you see Virginia doing at the Northeast Duals this weekend against Nebraska and Wyoming? Take the homerism out of it. 😉
— Mike C.
Foley: Indiana is going through a leadership transition, which I think can account for a subpar opening season performance. Virginia wrestled well, but will need to come ready to scrap for Nebraska and Wyoming, teams that are well-conditioned, well-coached, and who compete hard for the W.