There was some controversy this week when the National Dual Selection Committee, delayed and then released this weekend's matchups. Message boards reacted, fans debated, and coaches subtweeted, but wrestling didn’t grow.
The NCAA individual wrestling tournament might be the single best wrestling event on the planet. No one wants to change or alter that, but that doesn’t mean the dual championship needs to be put in a corner. The goal is to grow wrestling not just keep everything the same and a true dual championship in D1 can grow wrestling beyond its current base.
Casual fans or viewers will never understand the subtlety of a sport; this isn’t specific to wrestling but any sport. So while the wrestling community can have a debate whether having a few high point scorers at NCAAs is better than a team with 10 solid guys, what is important to grow the sport is have something that is broad, quickly picked up, makes sense and has the ability to get someone unfamiliar with the sport to pay attention to it.
This is where duals, specifically college duals have an opportunity. Each school has a built in alumni/fans who will root for “their” school in almost anything. When non-revenue sports have success, it gets posted on various social media platforms and sports reporters who normal cover football or basketball tweet about things like volleyball and bowling. And fans of that school watch. Of course, not every fan, but more fans than the sport’s typical core. And this is where wrestling should utilize duals.
Duals allow fans and alumni of a school to follow it. Essentially, they are marketable! Yes, the NCAA individual championships are marketable… to wrestling fans, but try telling someone not familiar with the sport what time any one particular match is going to take place or that a certain quarterfinal match (or realistically a consolation match) is critical to the national title and it will be at about 11:30 AM on Friday morning (the key consolation match won’t be on TV). Conversely a dual can be scheduled and marketed to a broader base with the ability to explain the stakes.
Problem with current format
Simply put, it’s horrible. No one understands this format. It is a BCS type format (there is reason football hated it and eventually replaced the system) that pits the best Big 10 team against the best non Big 10 team. That is the simple part and thankfully this year Penn State in the Big 10 and Oklahoma State in the non-Big 10 went undefeated and are clearly the two best teams, because if it didn’t play out exactly like it did this year, then no one knows how the teams will be selected. The format also takes 7 other Big 10 teams and pits them up against 7 non Big 10 conference teams. No one knows who is going to wrestle whom in the National Duals Series or how the teams are selected. This last Sunday there were a number of key matchups, but the implication for the winner of those duals was unknown until Monday when the NWCA released the matchups. And it gave us #1 v. #2, # 3 v.#23, #4 v. #8, #5 v. #6, # 7 v. #16, #11 v. #12; #17 v. unranked, and 20 v. unranked. Um, okay so maybe the results on the final day weren’t that important.
Here is the thing, there are number of different solutions if the sport cares and wants this event to be successful. The event could go back to one weekend in mid-January like the other non D1 teams, it could spread a 16 team bracket over 4 weekends throughout the year and build hype to an ultimate championship, it could even use it to kick the season off in November. There are pros and cons to each. I personally like putting the top 16 in bracket and spread it out over 4 predetermined weekends building to a Championship, while it does have the most logistically challenges it also would create the most marketability and hype.
This solution won’t be solved on message boards and podcast, it will ultimately be decided by the coaches, who get paid to put their programs first and foremost. The coaches are the key and ones who will decide even if they want to grow the sport and not just talk about it. It will require heavy lifting and sacrificing of agendas and egos. The solution will be to care about building a true national dual championship regardless of the format. There is no way you can convince me that the sport that was taken out the Olympics only to fight its way back in can’t be better. So let’s enjoy this weekend’s upcoming matchups. Penn State v. Oklahoma St. should be great and let’s enjoy that too, but let’s also know, it could be better.