This summer, there was a wrestling match that split coaches and fans, generating plenty of heat on online mat forums. It had nothing to do with the 2012 London Olympics… and, in fact, did not even take place on a mat.
The battle was over a proposal to change the way NCAA team championships are determined. Instead of continuing to make it based on total points tallied by individual wrestlers at the NCAA Division I Wrestling Championships – a method used for more than 80 years – the team title would be determined at a newly reformatted National Duals dual-meet tournament incorporating 16 teams competing over two weekends in February.
The controversial plan was introduced by the NCAA wrestling committee at the National Wrestling Coaches Association (NWCA) annual meeting in August.
Those in favor of the change said it would place greater emphasis on the regular season, increase fan attendance and media attention for college dual meets, and, ultimately, stop the decline of the number of D1 wrestling programs. Proponents also argued their proposed plan would make college wrestling more like other sports in which regular-season performance determines participation in post-season championships. In addition, advocates stated that ESPN had expressed interest in televising the dual-meet championships, providing additional TV coverage of college wrestling.
Arguing against the proposed change were a number of college wrestling fans, and some top coaches, such as Cael Sanderson, at the helm of the 2012 NCAA team title-winning Penn State program, and Tom Brands, head coach of long-time collegiate mat power University of Iowa. Among the objections: putting too much weight on an unproven event, abandoning a way of determining team titles that goes back to 1929… and a general feeling among some that the proposal had been rushed through while many were focused on the 2012 Olympics.
The proposal split the college wrestling community, with Brands and Sanderson on one side of the divide, while University of Minnesota’s J Robinson and retired Iowa coach Dan Gable among those arguing for change.
After weeks of sometimes acrimonious public discussion, the NWCA originally proposed to table the proposal for another year. However, after discussions with the NCAA wrestling committee chair and the NCAA associate director of championships, the NWCA instead decided to poll its head coaches. In a survey of the 77 Division I wrestling coaches, 39 voted in favor of the proposal, 36 were opposed, and two abstained… sending the proposal to the NCAA. However, on Sept. 12, the NCAA’s Division I sports management cabinet voted to send the plan back to the NCAA wrestling committee for further evaluation, effectively tabling the proposal for the time being.
Rob Koll, Cornell University head wrestling coach and president of the NWCA, said the NCAA sports management cabinet would review the proposal again in February 2013.
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