Two-point takedown. Four-point near fall. Back points.
The sport of wrestling has its own language, its own scoring system and its own complex way of assigning point values to actions. Individual wrestlers can earn between one and four points for a given move, and the wrestler with the most points at the end of seven minutes can earn between three and six points for his team. Between riding time, pins and everything in between, there's a lot to understand about wresting scoring. But here's what you need to know about which moves earn which points and how to keep track of dual-meet scoring
Individual match scoring
One point: Riding time
A "riding time" point is awarded at the end of a match if a wrestler has over one minute of total time in control. A running clock is kept through the match to keep track of the amount of time that either wrestler is in control. A "ride" typically occurs when one wrestler is controlling another wrestler on the mat. If the wrestler loses control and his opponent escapes, the clock stops. If the opposing wrestler previously on the mat then gains control, the time on the clock will decrease and then switch to his favor. Only one wrestler can earn a riding-time point.
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The NCAA rule book defines the awarding of the riding time point as follows: "If one of the competitors has one minute or more of net time advantage, the wrestler is awarded one point. The advantage time point is earned simultaneously with any other points when determining whether a technical fall occurred. (See Rule 2.3.6.)”
The riding time point can push the match to a major decision or a tech fall, depending on the previous points scored in the match.
Watch Nebraska head coach Mark Manning break down how to ride an opponent in a wrestling match to ultimately earn riding-time points.
One point: Escape
An escape is awarded to a wrestler who navigates out of a hold of an opponent. Wresters start in neutral positions at the start of a match, but at the beginning of the second and third periods, wrestlers alternate who gets to choose taking the "top" and "bottom" positions. The wrestler on the bottom has a chance to earn an escape if he is able to regain his own control from the hold of his opponent. The NCAA rulebook explains that the escape is awarded when "the offensive wrestler loses control of the opponent while any part of either wrestler remains in bounds."
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Watch Nick Suriano escape with ten seconds left in regulation to earn a point against Daton Fix and send the 2019 NCAA championship match into overtime. Suriano went on to win this match and become the first Rutgers wrestling national champion in school history after earning an overtime takedown. But the third-period escape enabled him to advance to overtime and fight for the win.
1 point: Unsportsmanlike conduct
Per the table below, an unsportsmanlike conduct results in an immediate point for the opponent. This point can come before, during or after a match and can include everything from throwing headgear, wrestling after the whistle, excessive celebration or frustration, disobeying match procedures, pulling down a singlet during match or blowing a nose or spitting unnecessarily. Unsportsmanlike conduct calls can cost a team a point, or a disqualification, or they can cost a wrestler a team point or disqualification, depending on the time of the call. This point can also be levied against coaches, managers, trainers or other members of the staff.
One point: Illegal holds
An illegal hold can also result in a point for the opponent, but according to the NCAA rule book, “an illegal hold should be prevented rather than called” whenever possible.
Illegal holds include “any hold with pressure exerted over the opponent’s mouth, nose, throat or neck that restricts breathing or circulation” as well as “any down position leg ride that hyperextends the knee of the defensive wrestler beyond the normal limits of movement.” Pulling back on the thumb or three or less fingers is also illegal. In addition, wrestlers can be docked a point for excessively slamming their opponents on the mat. Illegal holds also include over-scissors, a double arm bar, a rear double knee kickback, a neck bow, a high and outside single leg back trip and locking ones hands around the head of another wrestler until a near fall position. Figure-four scissors and hands to the face are also illegal.
Listen to NCAA Secretary-Rules Editor Chuck Barbee discuss exactly how the NCAA enforces rule violations:
One point or two points: Stalling
Stalling points are awarded when an opposing wrestler does not make an effort to continue the action of the match. They can be awarded both when wrestlers are on the defense or offense, depending on the action of the wrestler.
The NCAA rule book explains that “action is to be maintained throughout the match by the wrestlers staying near the center of the mat and wrestling aggressively in all positions.” Wrestlers who do not meet this criteria can be docked a stalling point.
Wrestlers competing too close the edge or being pushed out of bounds while not initiating action can lose a stalling point. Offensive wrestlers can also be docked stalling points for not working on top of another wrestler to turn or score on him. The wrestler on the bottom can be hit with stalling for not working to escape. Efforts to delay a match can also be deemed stalling.
The first stalling call is a warning with the second call resulting in a point for the athlete displaying action. A third stalling call also results in a point for the opponent. A fourth one against a wrestler is two points for the opponent, and a fifth violation results in a disqualification.
Watch Oklahoma State head coach John Smith break down the specific rules related to stalling, control, statemates and potentially dangerous situation:
Two points: Takedown
The takedown is the most common way to score in a wrestling match. If a wrestler gains control of another wrestler on the mat, he will be awarded two points for a takedown. The exact position of the takedown can vary, but in order to earn the points, a wrestler needs to start in neutral position and take control of both ankles and have his opponent on the mat without being held down by his opponent. The NCAA defines a takedown as points given when "from the neutral position, a competitor gains control of the opponent by taking the opponent down to the mat in bounds and beyond reaction."
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Watch some of the best takedowns from Wisconsin alumnus Seth Gross.
You’ll see him control his opponent's legs by barreling through each leg, spinning them onto their stomach and twisting around for the takedown, cradling them with one hand on a knee and one hand on the head and picking an ankle, among other moves. Gross became known for his ability to scramble in and out of positions on the mat during his career and won an NCAA title in 2018 while wrestling for South Dakota State before transferring to Wisconsin for a year of eligibility as a graduate student.
Two points: Reversal
The NCAA rule book defines a reversal as occurring when "the defensive wrestler comes from the defensive position and gains control of the opponent, either on the mat or in a rear-standing position."
This move differs from an escape-takedown sequence because the escape is turned into the takedown with no interruption from the opposing wrestler. The wrestler scoring does not need to come to his feet to score a reversal as long as he ultimately gains control over his opponent.
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In one of the more famous matches in NCAA wrestling history, Mark Perry hits a reversal against Johnny Hendricks with one minute to go in the third period to tie the match. Watch him come out from underneath Hendricks' hold by flipping over and scrambling around to the top position. His back points later in the match gave him the win, but his reversal put him in the position to earn his title.
Did you see that ⁉️ Take a look back at Mark Perry's 2007 title match against Johny Hendricks where his late third period reversal helped him win it all.#NCAAWrestling pic.twitter.com/wX0LyWHo1r— NCAA Wrestling (@NCAAWrestling) March 20, 2020
Two points or four points: Near fall
A near fall is when an offensive wrestler turns his opponent past 45 degrees for a period of time. This can occur in a bridged position as well, on both elbows or when a wrestler has his back within four inches of the mat.
When the defensive wrestler falls into this position, the referee immediately starts counting the amount of time that the defensive wrestler is being held with his back exposed. If the defensive wrestler's back is off the mat, the count will start. The count ends when the defensive wrestler comes out of this position or if his back ends up flat on the mat. If his back is flat on the mat and he is not in control, a pin will be called and the match will end.
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The score is based on the number of seconds a wrestler is held in this position. For instance, if a wrestler is held with his back off of the mat in an exposed position for two seconds, the offensive wrestler will earn two points with a potential to earn up to four points for four seconds.
Watch this wild exchange between North Carolina's Kennedy Monday and Virginia Tech's David McFadden from the 2019-20 season. Monday earns near-fall points on several occasions during this video, and the referee notes these moments by waving his forearm and counting the seconds that McFadden is past 45 degrees on his back.
🎥 One of the best moments from the 2019-20 season 🎥— UNC Wrestling (@UNCWrestling) March 24, 2020
Kennedy Monday's January tech fall in Blacksburg made the difference against No. 3 Virginia Tech 💪#TogetherWeWin | #GoHeels pic.twitter.com/enSyjgHAua
Three points: Decision
A decision is the most common outcome of a wrestling match. If — through a combination of escapes, riding time, reversals, takedowns, stalling points, violations or near falls — a wrester combines for a point total that is fewer than eight points more than his opponent, he earns a decision win. A decision win gives his team three points.
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For example, as the video shows below, Ryan Deakin of Northwestern beat Will Lewan of Michigan 3-1 with a takedown (two points) and an escape (one point). His two-point win falls in the category of a decision, so he earned three points for his team.
Four points: Major decision
A major decision is defined as a win where one wrestler beats another wrestler by a margin of eight to 14 points. This kind of a win earns four points for a wrestler's team. Any win margin of more than seven points is considered a "bonus point win" and bonus point percentages are calculated throughout the season to determine a wrestler's dominance.
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Watch Minnesota's Gable Steveson beat Nebraska's Christian Lance 19-7 for a major decision. Steveson ended the 2020 as the No. 1 ranked heavyweight in the country with a 73.3 percent bonus rate, meaning he beat 73.3 percent of his opponents by more than eight points. He would go on to win the 2021 NCAA championship and the Tokyo Olympics.
Five points: Tech fall
According to the NCAA rule book, “A technical fall occurs when one wrestler scores 15 or more points.” As soon as one wrestler scores at least 15 points more than his opponent, the match is over, even if time remains on the clock. The winning wrestler earns five points for his team for earning a technical fall against his opponent.
In the 2019-20 season, Iowa’s Spencer Lee earned a technical fall, also known as a “tech,” against nine of his 18 opponents. He ended the season with the most tech falls in the country.
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Watch Spencer Lee tech Purdue's Devin Schroder in the first period of his match with a takedown, back points from three four-point near falls and a stalling call against Schroder.
Five points: Disqualified
A wrestler can be disqualified from a match for a variety of reasons including excessive unsportsmanlike conduct violations or technical violations like numerous stall warnings. In the case of stalling, five stall warnings leads to a disqualification for a wrestler, and a disqualification ends the match. Disqualification ends the match and is recorded as a loss on the disqualified wrestler's record. While disqualifications are rare, here's an example of Illinois' Joey Gunter disqualified in a match against Penn State's Mark Hall for excessive stalling.
The first stall warning against Gunther came 30 seconds into the second period. He received another stall warning one minute later after wrestling Hall on the edge without action. With 1:20 left in the third, Gunther was hit with a third stall warning. Three more shots from Hall in just over thirty seconds without any responding action from Gunther forces the ref to call a fourth stall warning against Gunther and award Hall two points.
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Hall finished out the match with a force disqualification with 21 seconds left in the match. Penn State trailed in this dual at the time of this match, making Mark Hall's five team points for the disqualification important for Penn State's team win.
Six points: Forfeit
Forfeits occur in college wrestling when a wrestler does not show up for a match. This could occur because of a failure to make the weight required to compete or for an individual reason causing a wrestler to opt out of competition. The NCAA rules require that "in order to receive a forfeit, the non-forfeiting wrestler must be dressed in a competition uniform and appear on the mat. A forfeit shall be included as a win in the victor’s season record and a loss for the individual forfeiting." A forfeit generates six team points for the wrestler that dresses for the match.
In the 2019-2020 season, Duke forfeited two matches against Minnesota, giving up 12 points to the Gophers in what would ultimately be a 53-0 loss for the Blue Devils. The first forfeit came at 125 pounds, as seen in the graphic, and the second forfeit came at 149 pounds.
Pat McKee gets us started...and gets his hand raised with a Blue Devil forfeit. #Gophers immediately take a 6-0 lead! pic.twitter.com/sru15friS9— Minnesota Wrestling (@GopherWrestling) December 30, 2019
Six points: Medical forfeit
Similar to a forfeit, a medical forfeit costs a team six points, but unlike a forfeit, medical forfeits only count in the results for the winner. They do not count as a loss for the forfeiting wrestler. Wrestlers opting to medically forfeit do not have to weigh in or dress for the match. The NCAA rules do stipulate that "in order for a medical forfeit to be official, the medical personnel, or an authorized institutional representative, shall inform the tournament director before the ill or injured competitor is called to the mat."
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Myles Martin of Ohio State talked about winning the 2019 Big Ten finals by medical forfeit. Tournament scoring is different than dual match scoring, but if Martin had received his forfeit during a dual, the Buckeyes would have earned six team points.
Six points: Injury default
According to the NCAA rule book, "an injury default is awarded in a match when one of the wrestlers is unable to continue due to an injury or by choice of their coach." Injury defaults count as a win for the victor and a loss for the defaulting wrestler.
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In this video, Iowa's Austin DeSanto injury defaults out of a match against Penn State's Roman Bravo-Young. With just over a minute left in the first period, Bravo-Young locks up a second cradle on DeSanto and pulls him to his back. Earlier in the match, Bravo-Young hit a cradle on DeSanto that pulled his knee out of place, causing the Hawkeye junior pain. DeSanto called the match and took an injury default after the second cradle, giving up six team points.
Six points: Pin or Fall
The pin or fall is the ultimate way to win a match in college wrestling and the move is appropriately rewarded so by a full six points. A pin/fall ends the match, regardless of the score at the time of the pin. The pin/fall is defined as putting both of an opponent's shoulders on the mat. Often the entire back of an opponent is also flat on the mat.
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Watch four-time NCAA champion and 2013 Hodge Trophy winner Kyle Dake demonstrate how to pin a wrestler.