Wrestling fans are passionate and their energy drives the sport.
They show up to big matches and they show up in numbers. The 2019 NCAA wrestling tournament drew more than 100,000 spectators who packed PPG Paints Arena to the brim for all six sessions. The excitement isn’t just limited to the national tournament. The Iowa Hawkeyes have led the country for the last 13 years in dual-meet attendance, averaging more than 8,500 fans in 2019 and totaling 59,684 supporters in Carver-Hawkeye Arena last season.
The defending champion Penn State Nittany Lions also draw famous crowds to Rec Hall, and Cael Sanderson's team attracted a total of 55,222 fans to State College in the 2018-2019 season to finish second nationally for home attendance. Penn State also fills the Bryce Jordan Center once a year for a big dual that welcomes more than 16,000 fans.
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Rec Hall and Carver-Hawkeye Arena are two of the most well-known arenas in college wrestling. It's also worth noting the unique places duals have occurred, including Fresno State's Battle of Midway tournament which will be held again in 2019 on the flight deck of the famed aircraft carrier. Duals have also occurred in Yankee Stadium, on football fields, on college quads and in theaters. Last year, North Carolina State and Oklahoma State competed in the first college wrestling dual in Italy when they battled at U.S. Navy base in Naples.
Given all these venues for college wrestling, it's a tricky task to create a list of the best places to watch the sport. So we put this question to a vote and asked the experts: you.
🔥No. 1 Penn State downed No. 7 Iowa 28-13 at the Bryce Jordan Center in front of 15,998 fans, which set a new NCAA record for dual meet attendance at an indoor event. #NCAAWrestling pic.twitter.com/VNmKW6Ne81— NCAA Wrestling (@NCAAWrestling) February 12, 2018
Nearly 300 fans let us know their favorite places to watch the sport via Twitter, Instagram and Facebook last week. We read them all, tallied the votes and came to a conclusion. Based on voting through 10 p.m. on Sept. 29, here are the best places to watch college wrestling, according to the fans:
1. Carver-Hawkeye Arena, University of Iowa
Carver-Hawkeye Arena is home to the 23-time NCAA champion Iowa Hawkeyes and was overwhelming voted the best place to watch college wrestling by fans. The arena opened in 1983 and had a major renovation in 2011 that has given it its current look. The inaugural event in the arena was a dual between Iowa and Oklahoma in which the Hawkeyes prevailed 35-7 over the Sooners for the first of more than 1,000 wins in the now-famous arena. Iowa is 255-25 in Carver and has posted 21 undefeated seasons on its home mat; the team also captured a national championship when hosting the NCAA tournament in Carver-Hawkeye Arena in 1995. Expect this trend of success to continue for Iowa with the stacked lineup legendary coach Tom Brands has assembled this year. The Hawkeyes make their 2019-2020 Carver-Hawkeye Arena debut on Nov. 17th against UT-Chattanooga.
Iowa is proud of its wrestling tradition and is willing to debate anyone on why this is THE place to watch college wrestling. The only place that Iowa fans think could rival the experience of Carver-Hawkeye Arena? Kinnick Stadium, the school's football stadium and the host of multiple fall duals over the last several years. In 2015, the Hawkeyes welcomed Oklahoma State to the first Grapple on the Gridiron in Iowa City, drawing a crowd of 42,287 people for Iowa's 18-16 upset win over the then-No. 1 ranked Cowboys. Kinnick Stadium was voted the fifth-best place to watch college wrestling, further proving that Iowa City is synonymous with an enthusiasm and love for the sport of wrestling.
2. Recreational Building (Rec Hall), Penn State University
Penn State's Rec Hall trailed Carver-Hawkeye Arena by 10 votes. Give Cael Sanderson another few years at the helm of this program, however, and that gap may shrink
Rec Hall first opened in 1928, and in 1953, Penn State made history in the arena by winning its first NCAA wrestling tournament at home. Three titles later, in 2013, the Nittany Lions ventured to a new campus location just a few miles down the road to the Bryce Jordan Center where 15,996 fans came to watch their championship athletes compete. The Bryce Jordan Center also earned a top-ten spot in last week's poll, and this venue will host the 2020 Olympic Trials in March for what promises to be an electric event in State College.
Rec Hall isn't big or flashy, but that's part of the draw. Though not the top choice for wrestling fans, Rec Hall is clearly one of the best places to watch a dual, and in the words of Penn State sophomore Roman Bravo-Young, "Rec Hall is a vibe."
3. Gallagher-Iba Arena, Oklahoma State University
The winningest program in NCAA wrestling history would naturally be housed in one of the most popular wrestling venues in the country, so it's no surprise to see Oklahoma State's Gallagher-Iba Arena near the top of this list. Though still trailing Carver-Hawkeye Arena and Rec Hall, Gallagher-Iba Arena is known to loud, rowdy and full of support when the Cowboys take the mat.
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Built in 1938, Gallagher-Iba Arena is rooted in wrestling history as it takes the first part of its name from Oklahoma State's famous coach Ed Gallagher. Under Gallagher's leadership, the Cowboys won 11 national titles and posted a 138-5-4 dual record. Basketball coach Henry Iba served as the inspiration for the second half of the venue's name, and Iba was added to the arena's title in 1987. Two empty seats remain in the arena during every event to honor these two men.
Today, Gallagher-Iba holds 13,611 fans, and while every dual is loud in support of the Cowboys, the place erupted at the end of last season when Nick Piccininni pinned NCAA champion Spencer Lee at the annual Iowa-Oklahoma State dual. Piccininni's win was one of several major moments in the 27-12 win over the Hawkeyes, and his vote in the best places for college wrestling poll was noticed. The Cowboy senior has a lot of reasons to take pride in his home mat, but last year's win over the defending national champion in front of him his home crowd would certainly be one more reason for the All-American to appreciate wrestling in Gallagher-Iba.
Gallagher Iba Arena.... I promise 🔥🍊 https://t.co/26I3NRRfz3— Nick Piccininni 🗽 (@NickyPich96) September 26, 2019
This year, the Cowboys will host eight home duals in Gallagher-Iba, including four Big 12 contests and the famous Bedlam dual against Oklahoma on Feb. 16.
4. Rutgers Athletic Center (The RAC), Rutgers University
Pennsylvania and Iowa may be known as two of the biggest breeding grounds for wrestling success, but New Jersey, as a state, claimed more national champions in 2019 than either of those two states. Two of those champs wore the R block on their singlets and made history for Rutgers. Nick Suriano and Anthony Ashnault become the first NCAA champions in program history when they won the 133-pound and 149-pound weight classes for the Scarlet Knights. But, as we've mentioned before, NCAA wrestling fans don't just show up in March.
Rutgers fans packed the Rutgers Athletic Center — known affectionately as The RAC — all season and the quality of the venue also made it a great location for a Final X tournament this summer. Scarlet Knights fans are here to contend that New Jersey should be the home of college wrestling, and these photos of the RAC suggest they may have an argument to make. Look at those flames!
Compared to Rec Hall and Gallagher-Iba, the RAC is relatively newer, built in 1977 and originally housed the New Jersey Nets as well as Rutgers wrestling, basketball and gymnastics. Rutgers wrestling has made its mark at The RAC, and now with two champions in its history books and a new loaded recruiting class, the Scarlet Knights are back and ready to put on a show in front of their home crowd.
5. Leeman-Turner Arena at Grace Hall (The Snake Pit), Lehigh University
The state of Pennsylvania has two of the top five college wrestling venues in the county which should come to no surprise to wrestling fans who know the state to be a hotbed of talent for the sport. The fifth and final most popular wrestling home mat is none other than Lehigh's "Snake Pit," a small venue formally known as the Leeman-Turner Arena at Grace Hall that seats 1,788 fans.
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Like Oklahoma State, this arena is built on wrestling roots, with its modern name coming from Lehigh's successful wrestling coaches Gerry Leeman and Thad Turner in 2003. Twenty-eight national champions have come through the Lehigh program, and the history of success from the Mountain Hawks will likely continue to draw fans to the Snake Pit for years to come.
Honorable mention: Moss Art Center, Virginia Tech
Virginia Tech's Moss Art Center earned five votes in the social media poll, finishing in the top ten of all arenas in college wrestling, and this venue deserves special attention. While the Hokies normally wrestle in Cassell Coliseum, they've partnered with the Moss Art Center on campus to host annual duals in the theatre each year to create an experience for 1,300 college wrestling fans. Carver-Hawkeye may be packed and loud, but wrestling on a stage is particularly cool. Kudos to Virginia Tech for finding special ways to promote its program and celebrating wrestling on its campus.
Watch this video to learn more about how the Moss Arts Center first became a space for wrestling in Blacksburg.
Did we leave out your favorite venue? Tweet @NCAAwrestling and let us know your favorite college wrestling arena.