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Shannon Scovel | NCAA.com | March 20, 2019

How the NCAA college wrestling championship works

Let's get fired up for the wrestling season

Here is a comprehensive guide to the NCAA tournament and its history, for college wrestling fans of every level.

When is the NCAA wrestling tournament? 

This year's tournament will be held in Pittsburgh from March 21 to March 23, 2019.

How does the schedule work for the tournament? 

Every wrestler in the tournament will wrestle at least two matches in Pittsburgh. All 33 athletes in each weight class will be seeded this year, but pigtail matches will still occur. A pigtail match serves as a "wrestle-in" match where the winner advances to the first round, and the loser moves into the consolation bracket. In the consolation bracket, a wrestler who lost previously has one more chance to stay alive in the tournament. If he wins his consolation match, his tournament run will continue, and his chance to be an All-American stays alive. This pattern applies to all athletes who lose in the first round- they have a chance to wrestle back to All-American honors, but if they lose again, they will be out of the tournament. As long as an athlete continues to win in the consolation bracket, they can finish as high as third. 

Drew Hallowell/ NCAA Photos NCAA All-Americans The 2011 NCAA wrestling All-Americans stand for the National Anthem to kick off the last session of the tournament.

Athletes who win in the first round, second and third round automatically earn All-American honors, the distinction given to the top eight performers in the tournament. 

Below is the schedule for the entire 2019 NCAA tournament: 

THURSDAY, MARCH 21
Noon
  • Session 1- Eight Mat Configuration
  • Pigtails and First-Round Competition
7 p.m.
  • Session 2- Eight Mat Configuration
  • Preliminaries: Wrestle-Back Prelims (pigtail matches) as needed.
  • Wrestle-Back First Round. 
  • Followed by Championship Round, Second Round and Consolation Round.
FRIDAY, MARCH 22
11 a.m.
  • Session 3- Eight Mat Configuration
  • Quarterfinals on middle four mats; Wrestle-Back Second and Third Rounds on outside mats.
8 p.m.
  • Session 4- Six Mat "Dog Bone" Configuration
  • Semifinals on inside two mats (one weight at a time) and Wrestle-back Fourth Round on outside four mats.
Followed by Wrestle-Back fifth rounds on all six mats.
SATURDAY, MARCH 23
11 a.m.
  • Session 5- Three Mat Configuration
  • Wrestle-Back Semifinals on all three mats.
  • Followed by third, fifth and seventh place medal round matches.
7 p.m.
  • Session 6- One Championship Mat
  • Championship weight class finals.
  • Individual weight class awards.

How does a wrestler qualify for the NCAA tournament?

In the current model of the NCAA wrestling tournament, 33 athletes from each weight class earn the right to compete on the national stage. Each conference has an allocated number of spots per weight class that are awarded based on finishes at the conference tournaments. The remaining spots, 45 in 2019, are considered at-large bids and assigned to wrestlers in any weight class by the committee. The NCAA tournament allocations based on weight class are listed below: 

Conference 125 133 141 149 157 165 174 184 197 285 Total
Atlantic Coast Conference 2 4 4 4 4 4 3 5 4 3 37
Big 12 Conference 5 5 6 7 1 6 5 5 7 6 53
Big Ten Conference 9 8 9 6 9 9 8 8 5 7 78
Eastern Intercollegiate Wrestling Association 4 4 3 5 6 4 5 6 6 4 47
Eastern Wrestling League 1 2 1 1 1 3 1 1 1 2 14
Mid-American Conference 4 3 4 1 5 1 2 2 1 4 27
Pacific-12 Conference 3 2 1 2 2 1 1 1 2 2 17
Southern Conference 1 1 1 2 1 1 2 1 2 1 13
TOTAL QUALIFIERS 29 29 29 28 29 29 27 29 28 29 286

When are the conference tournaments? 

All of the conference tournaments will be held from March 8 - March 10, 2019. A complete schedule of the conference tournaments is below: 

QUALIFYING TOURNAMENT DATE HOST
Atlantic Coast Conference March 9 - 10, 2019 Virginia Tech
Big Ten Conference March 9 - 10, 2019 Minnesota
Big 12 Conference March 9 - 10, 2019 Tulsa, Oklahoma
Eastern Intercollegiate Wrestling Association March 8 - 9, 2019 Binghampton University
Eastern Wrestling League Saturday, March 9 George Mason University
Mid-American Conference March 8-9 Old Dominion
Pacific-12 Conference March 8 - 9, 2019 Arizona State
Southern Conference March 10, 2019 Appalachian State

When is the selection show? 

NCAA qualifiers and the complete brackets for each weight class will be announced on Wednesday, March 13.

Where and when will the national tournament be broadcast?

ROUND DAY DATE TIME NETWORK
Selection Show Wednesday March 13 TBA TBA
Session 1 - Championship First Round Thursday March 21 12:00 p.m. ESPNU
Session 2 - Championship Consolations Thursday March 21 7:00 p.m. ESPN
Session 3 - Championships Quarterfinals & Consolations Friday March 22 11:00 a.m. ESPNU
Session 4 - Championship Semifinals Friday March 22 8:00 p.m. ESPN
Session 5 - Championship Medal Round Saturday March 23 11:00 a.m. ESPNU
Session 6 - Championship Finals Saturday March 23 7:00 p.m. ESPN

Which wrestlers lead each weight class right now? 

WEIGHT CLASS WRESTLER accolades
125 Sebastian Rivera Beat 2018 NCAA Champ
Spencer Lee at Midlands
133 Stevan Micic

2018 NCAA Finalist
2018 Big Ten Champion

141  Yianni Diakomihalis 2018 National Champ
Undefeated this season
149 Anthony Ashnault Three-time All-American
Undefeated this season
157 Jason Nolf

2018 NCAA Champion
2018 Southern Scuffle Champ

165 Vincenzo Joseph 2018 NCAA Champion
2018 Southern Scuffle Champ
174 Mark Hall 2017 NCAA Champion
Beat 2018 Champ
Zahid Valencia this winter
184 Myles Martin 2016 NCAA Champion
2018 Cliff Keen Champ
197 Bo Nickal 2018 NCAA Champion
2018 Southern Scuffle Champ
285 Gable Steveson 2018 Cliff Keen Champion
Undefeated this season

When was the first NCAA wrestling tournament?

The first NCAA Division I wrestling tournament was in 1928. The tournament has been held every year since with the exception of the years between 1943-45.

MORE: Division I wrestling championship records | Wrestling teams ranked

Who won the first NCAA wrestling tournament?

Under Oklahoma State head wrestling coach E.C. Gallagher, the Cowboys claimed the first team title. Though an official team scoring method had not yet been introduced, Oklahoma State won four of the seven weight classes, thus winning the championship that year. Iowa State, the host of the event, tied with Michigan for the second-place spot. The Cowboys maintained dominance through 1931, winning every championship during that four-year stretch. Team scoring was officially introduced in 1934. 

Which team has won the most NCAA wrestling team and individual titles? 

School team Titles individual titles
Oklahoma State 34 142
Iowa 23 82
Iowa State 8 69
Penn State 8 41
Oklahoma 7 67
Minnesota  3 22
Arizona State 1 11
Cornell 1 20
Indiana 1 11
Michigan State 1 25
Ohio State 1 23
UNI 1 21

How have the weight classes changed? 

From 1928-1930, the lightest weight class in the NCAA tournament was 115 pounds, with Oklahoma State's Harold DeMarsh and Illinois' Jow Sapora winning those combined first three titles. The 118-pound division took over as the lightest weight class in 1931, 1933, 1934, 1935, 1937, 1938, and then again from 1970-1998. In 1948, Purdue's Arnold Plaza won the 114.5 weight division in the only year that such a light weight class existed. Other discontinued light weight classes included 121 and 123-pounds. The current light weight is 125 pounds. 

MORE: Looking back at the best college wrestling teams in history

Discontinued middle weight classes include 125.5, 126, 128, 130, 134, 135, 136, 136.5, 137, 142, 145, 147, 147.5, 150,152, 155, 158, 160, 160.5, 167, 175, 177, 190 and 191. 

Today's weight classes include ten divisions: 125, 133, 141, 149, 157, 165, 174, 184, 197 and 285. Any athlete who places in the top eight of his weight class earns All-American honors. 

How does the scoring work?

The scoring in the NCAA Division I wrestling tournament has changed over time. For the first five years of the tournament, a specific team scoring method did not exist. Oklahoma State won the first tournament in 1928 without team scoring because the team had the most individual champions, but the Cowboys then won the first tournament to include team scoring, in 1934, under the same coach that led them to the first title in 1928.

Individual scoring also went through a series of changes during the first years of the tournament, but in 1941, the NCAA wrestling committee created a system where point values equated to different moves for individual athletes. Takedowns and reversals resulted in two points while escapes earned an athlete one point. Those with time advantages could also earned points, but stalling penalties were given to those delaying action. Even more changes were made in 1955, as athletes finishing first, second, third and fourth, scored seven, five, three and one point respectively. 

Today, athletes complete in a seven-minute match and can win in one of three ways. First, an athlete can score more points than their opponent through takedowns (two points), reversals (two points), escapes (one point), riding time (one point) and near falls (two or four points). Two, an athlete can earn a technical fall against their opponent, meaning that they scored more than 15 points than the opposing wrestler at any point during a dual. A technical fall ends the bout regardless of how much time remains. The final way to win a wrestling match is by fall, meaning that one wrestler controls another wrestler and puts both of his shoulder blades on the mat for two seconds. Like a technical fall, a fall, or pin, ends the match. If one wrestler has more points than the other, but then is pinned, the wrestler who is pinned always loses. 

What is the shortest match in NCAA wrestling history? 

Clarence Richardson of LSU pinned Scott Mansur of Portland State in just nine seconds during his 177-pound matchup in the 1983 NCAA tournament. 

Which team has had the greatest number of individual champions in a given year? 

Iowa, Oklahoma State and Penn State tie for the three teams with the greatest number of individual champions in a given year with five champions. Iowa became the first team to have five winners when they put Marty Kistler, Brad Penrith, Kevin Dresser, Jim Heffernan, and Duane Goldman on the top of the podium. They continued this dominant streak through 1997. Eight years later Oklahoma State became the second team to accomplish such a feat, and Penn State added its name to this list in 2017 when Zain Rutherford, Jason Nolf, Vincenzo Joseph, Mark Hall, Bo Nickal all became title winners.

ALSO: Penn State wrestling looks almost unbeatable. Here are 3 teams that could unseat the champs.