Plenty of wrestling aficionados well tell you “wrestling is wrestling.” A sport that dates to antiquity still involves a move or hold perhaps used by Achilles or Ajax.
American collegiate-style wrestling – known as folkstyle – laid some of its foundation in Revolutionary times. The country’s first president, George Washington, is believed to have participated in a wrestling bout or two. Abraham Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt also displayed an interest in the sport, which has seen any number of rules changes during the last century.
The 2011-12 collegiate season will include a few more tweaks.
The first quarter of the 20th century saw a sport that focused on mat wrestling. Slowly but surely wrestlers moved to their feet with the takedown becoming the dominant form of scoring points during the past 50 years.
Molding the old with the new has been the focus of rules committees since World War II. But some of the sport’s problem has been the inability to find common ground on the interpretation of some of those rules.
Stalling may be at the heart of those interpretations.
A dual between two Big Ten schools might be called differently than a consolation-round bout between two grapplers in California. The challenge has been to get wrestling officials from Virginia to Oregon to call stalling consistently throughout a season. It’s similar to an umpire’s strike zone in baseball. If a pitch’s location is a strike in the first inning, it should be a strike in the ninth inning too.
Consistency – and interpretation – is the key.
In May, the NCAA Playing Rules Oversight Panel approved a handful of changes for the upcoming season. Stalling no doubt will once again be a topic of conversation as the season takes shape.
Much of the rhetoric is the same but a couple of things stick out:
• An opponent stepping out of bounds not due to sprawling away from an opponent’s attack or while interlocked will be called for stalling.
• A move known as a “mule-kick” will incur the new rules which dictate a stalling warning for a wrestler who uses it to avoid a leg hold and end up out of bounds, which could also be interpreted as fleeing the mat, something that has been called by some officials but not others.
Dr. Mike McCormick, a native of Virginia, has been officiating wrestling matches since 1989. In June, he was honored by the National Wrestling Hall of Fame and Museum with its Lifetime Achievement for Wrestling Officials award. McCormick has worked Big Ten, Big 12, NCAA Championships and high school competitions throughout his career. His goal, like other officials, is to call each match by the same standards.
But with any change there are always questions.
“[The officials] have always done a good job of keeping up with any changes,” McCormick said. “We have a good system in place but you know there will be some questions once the season starts.
“There is going to be a lot of dialogue about the kickout [mule-kick] rule. Coaches are going to see it one way and an official is going to see it in another light. And you know there is going to be some time early in the season where it will determine the outcome of a match. It may be called differently by the time we get to March, but the goal is to be consistent across the board. What these changes do is put a little more heat on officials to make a split-second decision; it puts the outcome of a match in our hands which is what we want to avoid.”
Oklahoma State’s Jordan Oliver won the NCAA title at 133 pounds in March. He, like many elite-level wrestlers, know it is best to avoid putting heat on officials.
“You can’t wrestle that way, give the official any chance to determine a match,” Oliver said during his undefeated run last season. “I’m about putting points on the board, putting pressure on the other guy, making the official hit him for stalling.
“There are a lot of [wrestlers] who try and slow things down, take your offense away by [stalling]. I don’t think that is what wrestling is about. The fans want to see action, points being scored.”
Here is your scenario: A single-leg attack is initiated near the edge of the mat. The opponent tries to get his hips back but is unable to. The instigator gets to his feet and has his opponent hopping on one leg – still near the edge of the mat. After some hand fighting and bouncing on one pin, the receiver of the leg attack turns and mule-kicks out of the hold. But during the action of the mule-kick, he goes off the mat.
Is it stalling or fleeing the mat? Yes.
The exact same technique (mule-kick or kickout) can be used in the middle of the mat without repercussions.
Fleeing the mat has been part of the wrestling vernacular for years. The new rules state it will (should) be called with much more frequency in the coming season.
Scoring in regards to stalling will also change.
The old system included a warning followed by a point for a second and third warning; two points for a fourth warning; and then match termination. Beginning with the 2011-12 campaign, single points will awarded throughout the duration of a match after the initial warning. For example, if an athlete is hit for stalling five times in a match his opponent would earn four points. If hit 10 times during seven minutes, the opponent would earn nine points to his total.
It will be interesting to see if officials are more liberal with the calling of stalling due to no match termination.
At the end of the day most officials will tell you they do not want to be a part of the story. But in the initial stages of the upcoming season, you can be sure they will be a topic of conversation.