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Shannon Scovel | NCAA.com | February 18, 2021

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 St. Louis from March 18 to March 20, 2021.

How does the schedule work for the tournament? 

Every wrestler in the tournament will wrestle at least two matches in St. Louis. 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. 

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 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 for 2020: 

Conference 125 133 141 149 157 165 174 184 197 285 PA AQ Total
ACC 2 3 2 2 3 2 2 2 2 3 23 10 33
Big 12 4 4 3 4 2 4 3 3 4 4 35 10 45
Big Ten 7 7 7 6 7 7 7 7 5 6 66 10 76
EIWA 2 2 4 3 4 4 4 5 4 3 35 10 45
MAC 3 4 3 3 3 1 2 2 2 2 25 10 35
Pac-12 1 0 1 1 1 1 1 0 2 1 9 10 19
Southern 0 0 0 1 0 0 0 1 0 1 3 10 13
Pre-Allocation 19 20 20 20 20 19 19 20 19 20 196    
Automatic Qualifier 7 7 7 7 7 7 7 7 7 7   70  
At-Large 7 6 6 6 6 7 7 6 7 6     64
Total 33 33 33 33 33 33 33 33 33 33     330

When are the conference tournaments? 

All of the conference tournaments in 2021 will be held from February 28 - March 8, 2020. A complete schedule of the conference tournaments is below: 

2021 Conference Tournament Schedule

February 26-27 Mid-American Conference Rider
February 28 Southern Conference  Appalachian State
February 28 Atlantic Coast Conference NC State
March 6-7 Big 12 Conference Tulsa, Oklahoma
March 6-7 Big Ten Conference Penn State
March 6-7 Eastern Intercollegiate Wrestling Association TBD
March 6 Pac-12 Conference Oregon State

When is the selection show? 

NCAA qualifiers and the complete brackets for each weight class will be announced Wednesday, March 10, 2021. 

Where and when will the national tournament be broadcast?

Selection Show Wednesday March 10 TBA TBA
Session 1 - Championship First Round Thursday March 18 TBA TBA
Session 2 - Championship Consolations Thursday March 18 TBA TBA
Session 3 - Championships Quarterfinals & Consolations Friday March 19 TBA TBA
Session 4 - Championship Semifinals Friday March 19 TBA TBA
Session 5 - Championship Medal Round Saturday March 20 TBA TBA
Session 6 - Championship Finals Saturday March 20 TBA TBA

Which wrestlers lead each weight class right now? 

125 Spencer Lee Iowa 2018 NCAA Champ
2019 NCAA Champ
Hodge Trophy Winner 2020
133 Daton Fix Oklahoma State

2019 NCAA Finalist 
2019 Senior World Team Member

141  Jaydin Eierman Iowa 2017, 2018, 2019 NCAA All-American 
2017, 2018, 2019 MAC Champion
149 Sammy Sasso  Ohio State 2019 UWW Junior Freestyle National Champion 
2020 Big Ten Finalist
157 Ryan Deakin Northwestern

2019, 2020 NCAA, NWCA All-American
2019 Cliff Keen Invitational Champion
2020 Big Ten Champion

165 Alex Marinelli Iowa 2019, 2020 Big Ten Champion
2018, 2019 NCAA All-American
2020 NWCA All-American
174 Michael Kemerer Iowa 2017, 2018, 2020 NCAA, NWCA All-American
2017, 2020 Big Ten Runner-Up 
184 Hunter Bolen Virginia Tech 2018 ACC Runner-Up
2019 Southern Scuffle Runner-Up
2020 ACC Champion
197 Eric Schultz Nebraska 2020 Big Ten Finalist
2020 NWCA All-American
285 Gable Steveson Minnesota

2019 NCAA Finalist
2019 Big Ten Runner-Up 
2020 Big Ten Champion

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 83
Iowa State 8 69
Penn State 9 44
Oklahoma 7 67
Minnesota  3 22
Arizona State 1 12
Cornell 1 21
Indiana 1 11
Michigan State 1 25
Ohio State 1 23
UNI 1 22
Rutgers 0 2
Virginia Tech  0 1

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.

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