Are duals changing landscape?
As format gains merit, championship debate continues
Iowa and Oklahoma State have shown that a national team champion in wrestling can be won with five individuals on a team of 10.
At the 1986 NCAA Championships, the Hawkeyes’ five champions outscored second-place Oklahoma State. The same thing happened in 2005 when Oklahoma State’s five first-place finishers outdistanced runner-up Michigan.
This past March at the 2012 NCAA Championships, Penn State finished with fewer All-Americans than second-place Minnesota, yet scored 26 more points than the Gophers. The 2013 landscape is possibly morphing into a similar scenario, especially in the wake of Iowa's victory against the reigning champion Nittany Lions last weekend.
Is it possible that 125-pounder Nico Megaludis (17-2), 165-pounder David Taylor (19-1), 184-pounder Ed Ruth (22-0) and 197-pounder Quentin Wright (20-0), plus either Andrew or Dylan Alton, who are a combined 38-4 at 149 and 157 pounds, respectively, will produce enough points for Penn State head coach Cael Sanderson in Des Moines, Iowa? Could 133, 141, 174, or 285 pounds be moot for PSU? Not that 40 percent of the Penn State squad will not contribute, but is it the best way to determine who the best team is?
Or is the dual meet a true measure of the best team?
Early in the 2011-12 season Minnesota beat Penn State in a dual meet. Two months later the Gophers beat Iowa and Oklahoma State in the finals of the NWCA Cliff Keen National Duals. It was the first year of a new two-week, multiple-location format, changing from the previous one-day, one-site event. There was an energetic debate detailing the pros and cons of the NWCA’s tweaking. Not having the Nittany Lions in the National Duals field only added fuel to that fire.
At the heart of the latest debate is the possibility of awarding the NCAA Championship trophy to the winner of a dual tournament while keeping the NCAA tournament, the individual bracket format since 1928, as an individual-only event without team scoring.
The common phrase, among many coaches and the NWCA, is the importance of growing the fan base through dual meets. Everybody’s utopia has the 15,000-plus of Iowa's Carver-Hawkeye Arena showing up at venues nationwide. That is, however, far from the norm.
Annually, the NCAA Championships are sold out; St. Louis drew more than 100,000 for three days this past March. Would a National Duals, sanctioned by the NCAA, receive as much support? The 2012 National Duals finals in Stillwater, Okla., drew less than 7,000. The site of the finals was not determined until the Sunday of the previous week; one of the tweaks this year includes the finals site, Minneapolis, being named well in advance.
This past September, a proposal was given to head coaches concerning changes. Coaches of the 77 Division I programs were virtually split down the middle. Among those supporting the changes were Missouri’s Brian Smith and Cornell’s Rob Koll. Sanderson was part of the group against the proposal.
“I don’t think the [National] Coaches Association is fractured, we just don’t agree on this,” Kent State head coach Jim Andrassy said at the time of the proposal. “Part of our personality is to battle, to fight things out. As a person I was literally in the middle, going back and forth pretty much the whole time. At times you think this is a bad thing … you’d read the Penn State coach and think he is right on, then you’d read the Cornell coach and you’d say he was right on and let’s go for it.
“It is a difference of opinion between a lot of people. I don’t think one is right or one is wrong, the question is which one is going to help our sport? The biggest problem is not knowing what is going to happen to our national tournament which might be the greatest thing we have in the sport of wrestling.”
Smith reminds wrestling fans that adding another major championship can only help the sport, giving ESPN programming five days of wrestling as opposed to the three currently aired each March.
“This is a golden opportunity for our sport, to have two major events,” Smith said. “Change is difficult. We have one great event, why not have two?”
Smith points out that there is no official team scoring at the Olympic Games, but keeping a medal count has become commonplace. “There is still going to be a team trophy at the individual championships, only it will be given out by the NWCA instead of the NCAA,” Smith said.
Finding the right time on the schedule and the participants is also part of the conversation. The 2013 Duals format gave four teams -- Minnesota, Iowa, Illinois and Ohio State -- automatic berths to the finals in Minneapolis (Feb. 23-24). Part of that process included looking at what teams had who coming back. Oklahoma State, ranked No 1 in the latest USA Today/NWCA Coaches' Poll, travels to Kent, Ohio, for one of four regionals Feb. 17. Missouri, Cornell and Oregon State are the other hosts.
Despite Oklahoma State’s questions concerning the brackets in 2013, Cowboys head coach John Smith is still among those in support of the changes. He, along with Brian Smith and Koll, sent letters to Division I coaches prior to the start of this season.
In his letter, John Smith expressed his support for the creation of a national dual meet championship and that it was a great way to expand the future of wrestling. “Having two major events will help wrestling gain exposure and generate increased income,” Smith said. A big proponent of the dual meet, Smith also wrote of increasing the relevancy of dual meets on campuses.
Brian Smith’s letter was highlighted by “college athletics is a business. Having two revenue-making tournaments run by the NCAA helps us in the eyes of decision-makers.”
The other side of the fence includes coaches who feel adding a dual championship is only going to cater to the “haves” and mean little to smaller schools. One unnamed coach said, “You really think anybody outside the top 10 is going to have a chance to win a dual meet championship? Look at the champions of the National Duals, do you see any surprises?” The coach also expressed difficulty with “messing with something as great as the NCAA Championships.” He added, “The one great thing we have in our sport and you want to change it? Duals will never be as important as the national tournament for most of the wrestling community.”
Depending on who you ask, the new format is either a long way from reality or is a done deal. One thing is certain, the debate will continue regardless of what decision is made.
In the meantime, next weekend at four regional locations, the 2013 version of Mat Mayhem will hit the mats. Check out NCAA.com on Feb. 14 for a complete preview.
• Notebook: Iowa comes up big