Iowa won the 2015 Big Ten Championship on Sunday. Well, sort of. They finished tied for first in the conference with 120 points... but Ohio State also finished with 120 points. Unlike the Big XII, Jim Delany and the Big Ten have never marketed themselves as the home of #OneTrueChampion and there are no tiebreaker procedures for a scenario like this. There is simply a tie and co-champions. To be fair, perhaps they didn't expect it to ever come up -- since it never had before in the 81 year history of the current point system.
This was the first tie for the Big Ten title since the point system was introduced in 1934.— Andy Hamilton (@Andy_Hamilton) March 8, 2015
As for what it feels like to share a championship... well, I think the faces of the Iowa wrestlers accepting their championship tell the story better than 3000 words from me could:
Iowa Hawkeyes (@TheIowaHawkeyes) March 8, 2015
As frustrating as the tie itself was, there was as much -- or more -- angst over the way Iowa wrestled to get that tie. Iowa went 0-4 in the championship matches Sunday afternoon and just 3-4 in the final session altogether (and one of those "wins" was due to a medical forfeit from an opponent*). Worse, Iowa recorded just one takedown (at heavyweight, of all weights) in those final seven matches of the day. I wish that was a new phenomenon, that this was a particularly bad day... but it was not. I lamented it after National Duals a few weeks ago. I lamented it after the Midlands Championships final round. I lamented it last year. I have no more lamentations to give. At least not today.
* Picking up the championship-tying three points on a medical forfeit made the championship feel even more hollow -- had an Iowa wrestler won a match to earn the tie, it would have felt more satisfying. (Or at least as satisfying as a tie could feel.)
While it's fair to be frustrated at the Iowa wrestlers for not making more chances and for not wrestling more aggressively, blaming them -- or the Iowa coaches -- is only part of the problem. We notice it with Iowa because we care about Iowa. But the "problem" with Iowa is, by and large, a problem with college wrestling in general. There were a few exceptions on Sunday -- Logan Stieber once again put on a show (at Iowa's expense), Isaiah Martinez and Dylan Ness had a thrilling match at 157, and the matches at 174 and 184 didn't lack for much action, either -- but there was also a lot of dull, conservative wrestling. The amount of dull, conservative wrestling was even more pronounced over the course of the entire tournament.
I don't even blame the wrestlers or coaches all that much. Wrestlers want to win. Coaches want to win. Unfortunately, right now the rules of the sport -- and the way the officials enforce those rules -- do not offer enough of a disincentive to not wrestle so conservatively and with such a cautious, risk-averse mindset. Wrestlers wrestle this way because they are allowed to get away with it and because it works. If you can win with an escape and a riding time point and you can spend the rest of the match defending without getting called for stalling, well, then you can win without exposing yourself to danger -- and potentially losing.
It wasn't all doom and gloom for Iowa -- seven Hawkeyes finished in the top 3 at their respective weights (and an 8th wrestler finished 4th). Cory Clark and Bobby Telford wrestled above their seeds, as did Josh Dziewa, who beat the #2 and #3 seeds at 141 and was arguably Iowa's wrestler of the tournament until Sunday. (Dziewa's performance in many ways offset the disappointment of Sam Brooks, a #1 seed and clear championship contender at 184 who fell in the quarterfinals.) There's more to be said -- good and bad -- about Iowa's performance, but that can wait for another day. For now, Iowa won a Big Ten Championship... sort of. It beats losing the Big Ten title for a fifth straight year. But a tie and a limp to the finish line certainly doesn't warrant a great deal of excitement, either.