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Shannon Scovel | NCAA.com | October 31, 2022

Everything you need to know about the new college wrestling rules ahead of the 2022-23 season

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With every new wrestling season comes a tweak of the current rule set, designed to improve eligibility and enhance excitement. Last year, the biggest shift occurred within the overtime rule as the first sudden victory period shifted from one minute to two minutes with riding time determining a winner after the second set of tie-breakers. This move led to a number of thrilling sudden victory battles.

Here’s what you need to know about the 2022-23 NCAA bylaws and how they might impact the upcoming season. 

First, click here to read the official updated bylaws.

Now, let's break down each of these new regulations. 

The freshman eligibility exception

All athletes competing in the NCAA are granted the opportunity to compete in “four seasons of intercollegiate competition in any one sport,” according to the NCAA rules and regulations. Wrestlers, of course, are also granted redshirt seasons in most conferences that allow them to wait a year before competing in the varsity lineup or sit out a year with an injury without burning one of those four seasons of eligibility. But those four seasons fly by, and teams competing for a national title consistently weigh the pros and cons of redshirting talented recruits or allowing them to join the starting lineup right away for the potential benefit of the team. 

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Debates have long existed about how that freshman year should be handled, but, on June 16, the NCAA officially adjusted its rules around the rookie season, allowing any Division I men’s wrestler to “compete in up to five dates of competition during the student-athlete's initial year of collegiate enrollment without using a season of competition.” 

So what does this mean? And how does this new rule change the game for freshman wrestlers? 

Previously, in men’s wrestling, any time an athlete took the mat as an attached member of a collegiate program, that match would mark the start of a wrestler’s season and count towards eligibility. Under this old rule, coaches proceeded with caution when pulling a freshman athlete’s redshirt, knowing that the minute that athlete stepped up to compete in a school’s singlet, they would be accepting that the year, regardless of injury, success or lineup changes, would count towards a wrestler’s competitive career.

In one of the most notable examples of using a deliberate and thoughtful uses of a freshman athlete in a lineup, Penn State head coach Cael Sanderson waited until January of 2017 before pulling the redshirt of 174-pounder high school phenom Mark Hall at the Penn State vs. Iowa dual in Carver-Hawkeye Arena, ensuring that his athlete was ready to make a national title run before committing to using Hall’s first year of eligibility that season (spoiler: he was ready). 

While Hall is a standout example of how a brief redshirt season set up an athlete for success after joining varsity action in the second semester and using a year of eligibility as a freshman, this rule also led to some less than positive examples for athletes. In fact, the most notable example of the negative impacts of the old eligibility rule actually came last season when Iowa’s Cullan Schriever competed in just one varsity match for his team in a dual meet and burned an entire year of eligibility. Schriever stepped up for the Hawkeyes, filling a needed lineup spot, and his selflessness prevented Iowa from having to forfeit at 133 pounds, but he lost a season of eligibility because of it once Iowa’s regular starter, Austin DeSanto, returned to the lineup. 

As the Schriever example demonstrates, the old rules meant that even if a wrestler only competed in one match the entire season, that year would count against eligibility.

These redshirt rules can affect all male athletes participating in a redshirt season or just trying to maximize their eligibility, but they disproportionately impact freshmen. The well-known growth that occurs for a first-year redshirt college wrestler during that rookie season in a college room is represented by the fact that just 19 wrestlers in the entire history of the NCAA have won a national title in their true freshman season. Most national champs capitalize on that opening year as a chance to figure out their habits, strengths and skills. 

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Competing in a few collegiate matches as an attached wrestler of a program during a redshirt season, however, can be good experience, experience that those athletes are denied unless they are willing to declare a year as one of their seasons of eligibility. For older athletes, competing for a few matches during a redshirt season can also allow them to gauge an injury, assess their health or just wear off some rust. Fans and advocates of a change to eligibility rules have long pushed for a loosening of these rules, citing a freshman exemption rule in football that allows first-year football players to play in up to four games with a program and still qualify for a redshirt. 

Any football athlete that competes in more than four games will have to count the year towards their four-year total, but the four-game exception allowed for lineup flexibility, increased experience for younger players and, potentially, as promoters of this rule have argued, more excitement for the fans because of the increased lineup depth. 

Starting in the 2022-23 season, wrestlers will have a similar opportunity, with a five-game window. 

Attached vs. unattached: Further understanding the new rules around eligibility

Prior to these new rules, any freshman taking a redshirt season or considering taking a redshirt season had the opportunity to wrestle for his or her school in an open tournament or holiday tournament as an “unattached” wrestler, meaning the wrestler was not affiliated with the school or competing as a member of the varsity lineup. Athletes would be required to wear a singlet other than the one issued by their school, and their points would not count towards a team total in any way. Essentially, these wrestlers would compete as individuals in a tournament surrounded by athletes representing their school, but this “unattached” option allowed redshirt wrestlers the chance to compete. Open tournaments occurred throughout the year, and these events have also served as a chance for a coach to determine his best starting lineup based on the performance of some of the redshirts competing. 

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The new NCAA eligibility rules change this system slightly. Now, in men’s wrestling, an athlete can compete in outside competition unattached starting November 1 without those matches counting towards eligibility, except for freshman athletes. The rules state that the “period that occurs during the student-athlete's first academic term of full-time enrollment” is subject to eligibility rules for men’s wrestling.

In women’s wrestling, the rules are more open, with the bylaws reading: “a student-athlete may compete outside the institution's declared playing and practice season as a member of an outside team in any non-collegiate, amateur competition during any official vacation period, except a vacation period that occurs between the beginning of the institution's academic year and November 1.” The language about the first semester of a freshman's career is not included. 

Classroom rules

In addition to new rule surrounding freshman athletic eligibility and competition, the NCAA also refined its rules around academic eligibility, requiring any “student-athlete who has completed an academic term in residence at the certifying institution” to show a cumulative GPA of at least a 2.0. Every male wrestler competing in the 2022-23 season will need to demonstrate proof of this GPA at the first day of competition each term, starting in the second semester that an athlete is fully enrolled. 

Scholarship regulations 

Rules around athletic and academic competition follow precedent, but the new financial and monetary rules around scholarships are a little more complicated. Starting in the 2022-23 season, any member of a men’s wrestling team on an athletic scholarship must receive at least 20% of a full scholarship. 

Athletes receiving athletically-related need-based aid at an institution that offers such funding do not need to receive at least 20% of their costs, but they still must demonstrate financial aid as any non-athlete would be required to do. Wrestlers in their final two years of eligibility who have not previously received aid at any institution may also receive less than 20% of athletically-related financial aid. 

These new rules contain complex language, but the purpose of these changes is simple: more action, more excitement and a new and improved 2022-23 season. 

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