Dual meet season is winding down, but there's still one more big(ish) event to go: the NWCA National Duals, taking place next weekend (February 21-22). And surprise, surprise -- the event has another new format. They've tried just about everything with National Duals -- from a a one-day, one-site event with multiple rounds to a multi-weekend event at multiple sites with multiple rounds. Last year's event featured 16 teams spread over two weekends, with the winners of a series of eight duals one weekend descending on Iowa City for a two-day, three-round event the following weekend. As you may recall, Missouri beat Iowa in the finals.
This year again features 16 teams, but it will take place over just one weekend. And it's ditched the tournament format for an approach similar to one college football fans should be familiar with: the BCS. Two teams will be assigned to the championship match and the winner of that match will be deemed the NWCA National Duals national champion. Although it's really kind of a hybrid BCS approach because the conference for one of the championship teams is already locked in: the Big Ten. The Big Ten champion (which will be either Penn State or Iowa, pending the result of this weekend's Penn State-Michigan State dual) will face the highest-ranked non-Big Ten team in the championship dual. The remainder of the National Duals event will feature a series of duals between the top Big Ten teams and the top non-Big Ten teams.
The format is really more similar to the Big Ten-ACC Challenge we see in basketball, only with "Every Non-Big Ten Conference" replacing the ACC and if it happened at the end of the season and one of the match-ups determined a national champion. Frankly, it's probably better to view this iteration of the National Duals as a nice non-conference event that provides an opportunity to see Big Ten teams wrestle teams that might not otherwise see than as an event to determine any sort of national champion.
Because as a means of determining a national champion it's pretty much crap. Iowa wrestled a perfect regular season, but they're (likely) going to be shut out of the national championship dual. I get why Penn State will be chosen ahead of Iowa (assuming they beat Michigan State, which will absolutely happen unless there's a food poisoning outbreak in the Penn State locker room) -- they did wrestle an overall more difficult schedule, especially in the Big Ten where they faced --and beat -- the two best non-Iowa teams, Ohio State and Michigan. Unfortunately, Iowa has no control over their Big Ten schedule -- they're at the mercy of the Delanybot 9000 on that matter.
Of course, it's hard to get too bent out of shape about this issue because... no one really cares about a National Duals championship. Try as the organizers might, the event just hasn't gained much traction because being the best dual meet team just don't seem to matter -- to schools or to fans. I compiled dual meet record data to help determine who would be participating in this event and, frankly, it was much harder than it needed to be. There isn't a good centralized resource of dual meet records (at least, not that I'm aware of -- if there is, let me know in the comments! EDIT: In fact, there is a good resource for this!) Conference websites are hit or miss in terms of recording conference standings. Hell, even individual school websites are hit or miss in terms of listing their records -- imagine going to a football schedule page and not being able to immediately see what a team's record is. If the schools themselves can't even be bothered to track their dual meet records, why should fans care?
But the record-keeping issue is a minor point; a bigger problem with the matter of determining a dual meet national champion is unbalanced schedules. Partially, this is a problem of conferences of wildly varying sizes; the Big Ten has sprawled out to 14 members, while the Big 12 contains just four members (it's now up to 10 members thanks to affiliate schools, but those schools aren't a part of the conference dual meet season, to the best of my knowledge) and the Pac 12 contains just six schools. Bigger leagues have too many teams for everyone to wrestle each other during the regular season (a fact Iowa fans are all too aware of), while smaller leagues sometimes resort to teams facing each other home and away to boost the number of conference duals. There's also the fact that some leagues (I'm lookin' at you, EIWA) seem to wrestle an inconsistent number of conference duals from school to school. The dual meet season is a mess and until it can become better organized it's hard to see how to build a framework for a genuine national dual meet championship. (And that's without even getting into the question of whether such a thing would be desirable in the first place...)
So yeah: National Duals! Huzzah! Here's how things look in terms of the conference standings and the possible match-ups.
In the Big Ten:
The eight host teams from the Big Ten have already been selected and announced -- they're the teams in bold above (Penn State, Iowa, Michigan, Ohio State, Minnesota, Nebraska, Rutgers, and Indiana). Sorry, Illinois and Purdue.
Iowa has already finished the Big Ten portion of their dual meet schedule and claimed a share of the dual meet championship, but they're unlikely to be the Big Ten's representative in the national championship dual at NWCA National Duals this year. That's because Penn State's remaining Big Ten dual is against Michigan State and they should wipe the mat with Sparty. That will give Iowa and Penn State identical 9-0 records in Big Ten play, but the edge will likely go to Penn State because they're ranked higher in the NWCA Coaches Poll (#1 to Iowa's #2). Hooray for unbalanced scheduling.
The ACC is still up for grabs.
NC State and Virginia Tech wrestle this weekend -- the winner of that dual will win the ACC and claim the ACC's spot in the NWCA National Duals.
The Big 12 was tiny and has gotten larger since absorbing the Western Wrestling Conference, but when it comes to dual meets the scheduling is decidedly imbalanced. I also believe (but am not positive) that only the all-sports members of the Big 12 (Oklahoma State, Oklahoma, Iowa State, West Virginia) are eligible to win the regular season championship.
|#24||South Dakota State||5-1||12-5|
|North Dakota State||2-2||3-5|
In any event, it's much ado about nothing -- Oklahoma State is once again the kingpin of the Big 12.
In the mighty MAC, a newcomer continues to dominate the league.
Another year, another MAC regular season title for Missouri. They'll be the MAC's representative at the NWCA National Duals this year.
The EIWA is a behemoth of a wrestling conference, even bigger than our own beloved Big Ten.
|Franklin & Marshall||0-8||3-12|
Scheduling in the EIWA is a nightmare, but Lehigh appears to have emerged from the pack to win it all this year. They beat Cornell in a key dual meet last month.
Meanwhile, in the Pac 12...
There's still several duals to go before the Pac 12 is settled -- Boise State still has four duals (80% of their schedule!) to go. In fact, they're scheduled to face Oregon State on February 21, the same weekend that the NWCA National Duals meets are scheduled to take place. That could be a problem. The favorite here is Bakersfield, but if Boise can run the table in their dual meets, they could win the conference. If things get extra-messy, Stanford is poised to sneak by everyone. For now, let's assume that Bakersfield finishes what they've begun and wins the Pac 12.
And in the EWL...
Edinboro has wrapped up the championship in the EWL (again), so they should be the representative from that conference.
Finally, let's look at the Southern Conference:
A messy situation at the top of the Southern Conference -- Appalachian State has a narrow lead on Chattanooga, and Gardner-Webb. Gardner-Webb beat Appalachian State but lost to Chattanooga. Appalachian State beat Chattanooga but lost to Gardner-Webb. And Chattanooga beat Gardner-Webb but lost to Appalachian State. If Chattanooga and Gardner-Webb win their final SoCon duals of the season, they'll end the year tied at 6-1 in conference duals. The head-to-head tiebreaker will be useless, given that they all went 1-1 against the other two. If overall record is the tiebreaker, Appalachian State has the edge now but could eat another loss -- they host Missouri tonight. Chattanooga ends the season with duals against The Citadel and Virginia. If rankings are used as the tiebreaker, Appalachian State could be favored as they're the only SoCon team currently receiving any votes (although they're outside the Top 25). Then again, that could change after their dual with Mizzou. This spot is very much up for grabs.
So right now it looks like the 16 teams competing at the NWCA National Duals this year will be:
#1 Penn State
#10 Ohio State
#3 NC State (ACC champ)
#4 Oklahoma State (Big 12 champ)
#5 Missouri (MAC champ)
#6 Lehigh (EIWA champ)
#7 Oklahoma (at-large/wildcard)*
#25 CSU Bakersfield (Pac-12 champ)
NR Appalachian State (SoCon champ)
NR Edinboro (EWL champ)
*This spot is likely contingent on the result of the NC State-Va Tech dual. If Tech wins that, they'll likely win the ACC. In that case, NC State would probably still be ranked above Oklahoma, which would enable them to become the wildcard team. However, if NC State wins, they'll claim the ACC title and Oklahoma will stay ahead of Virginia Tech in the race for the wildcard spot.
If the match-ups were set strictly by the finish/rankings, we could end up with these dual meets:
National Championship Dual Meet: #1 Penn State vs #3 NC State
#2 Iowa vs #4 Oklahoma State
#9 Michigan vs #5 Missouri
#10 Ohio State vs #6 Lehigh
#11 Nebraska vs #7 Oklahoma
#14 Rutgers vs #25 CSU Bakersfield
#18 Minnesota vs NR Appalachian State
NR Indiana vs NR Edinboro
From an Iowa fan perspective, that's a disappointing match-up -- Iowa already faced (and defeated) Oklahoma State earlier this year. There's not much to be gained from a rematch with them. To avoid that possibility, we should root for Virginia Tech to beat NC State this weekend. If that happens, Oklahoma State will likely slide up to face Penn State in the national championship dual meet and Iowa would face either NC State or Missouri, neither of whom they've wrestled this season. (Missouri has no real chance of moving up to the national championship dual, because they lost to Oklahoma State earlier this year.) Alternatively, the NWCA National Duals organizers could simply make an effort to avoid rematches (EDIT: which they do!) and flip the Iowa-Oklahoma State and Michigan-Missouri dual meets so that Iowa faces Missouri and Michigan faces Oklahoma State.
Who would you like to see Iowa face at the National Duals this year?