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Dual Drama: Iowa and Penn State Won't Wrestle One Another in 2013-14

The Delanybot 9000 strikes again!

This news has Tom Brands and Kurt Backes so upset they're hoppin' mad.
This news has Tom Brands and Kurt Backes so upset they're hoppin' mad.

Schedules, schedules, schedules. Basketball schedules, football schedules, and now wrestling schedules. It feels like that's all we're talking about these days. But that's kind of the nature of the beast in the dog days of the off-season. Anyway -- wrestling schedules. Iowa's 2013-14 wrestling schedule hasn't been released yet, but a few details are trickling out anyway.

The most important one so far? Iowa and Penn State won't be facing one another in a dual meet in 2013-14, per The Centre Daily Times:

Sanderson has long maintained that a marquee opponent like the Hawkeyes would have to be the foe for a BJC dual as the Penn State coach believes big dual meets fuel the sport’s growth, helping to draw in the common fan. A Penn State spokesman confirmed to the CDT that Iowa is not a part of the Nittany Lions’ upcoming conference slate, however. (emphasis added)

Good job, good effort, Big Ten.

Look, I understand that opponents are going to rotate on the conference schedule. There are 11 opponents and only eight available slots on the conference schedule -- something has to give there. But Iowa-Penn State is not just another dual meet, either. Iowa-Penn State is the biggest dual meet of the year and has been every year since Cael Sanderson decamped to Happy Valley. Last year, the dual drew the highest attendance in the country and brought a sellout crowd to Carver-Hawkeye Arena. A meet this year would have easily sold out Penn State's Rec Hall and, as the article notes, had led to discussion about placing the meet in the much larger Bryce Jordan Center and attempting to break the sport's all-time dual meet attendance record (currently held by Iowa for an Iowa-Iowa State dual at CHA in 2008 that was attended by 15,955 fans). I've long thought Penn State should use the BJC for "big" duals, so to that idea I can only say: about freaking time.

Now that attempt will have to wait at least a year, all because the Big Ten scheduling gurus apparently decided that arguably the two most popular teams in the sport shouldn't meet this year. I suppose Iowa needed to renew a dormant series with Indiana or something.

Putting this rivalry on ice -- even for a year -- is stupid. It's stupid for the schools (although they likely have little-to-no power over this decision), it's stupid for the conference, it's stupid for the NCAA, and it's stupid for the sport in general. Hell, it's even stupid for the conference's favorite cash cow, BTN, since it takes away a potentially valuable commodity (an Iowa-Penn State dual meet, hands down the most interesting match-up of the season) and replaces it with... well, we don't know what exactly, but unquestionably something less valuable (Iowa vs. Indiana wrestling! This Friday on BTN! Catch the fever!).

A scheduling rotation based on an equal rotation of opponents might be a nice idea in theory... but it's a terrible idea in practice here. Fans don't want an equal rotation of opponents: they want to see the best teams face the best teams. Wrestlers don't want an equal rotation of opponents, either: they want to face the best opponents. Ask any Iowa wrestler if he'd rather wrestle Penn State or Indiana in a dual meet -- I would be stunned if any of them picked Indiana. Not to mention that wrestling is a sport that struggles mightily for attendance and attention. If you have a dual meet that is a lead pipe lock to get both, why would you mess with that?

Moreover, it's not as though the Big Ten is averse to embracing a scheduling model that's not based around an equitable (or random) distribution of opponents in other sports. Just two weeks ago, Big Ten Grand Poobah Jim Delany was crowing about the inclusion of "party-based scheduling" in the conference's upcoming football schedules:

In the first 18 years, you're going to see a lot of competition between teams at the top of either division. We call that a bit of parity-based scheduling. You'll see Wisconsin and Nebraska and Iowa playing a lot of competition against Penn State, Ohio State and Michigan.

So why not steal that idea for other sports, like wrestling? Parity-based scheduling makes sense for football because match-ups like Wisconsin v. Ohio State and Nebraska v. Michigan are desirable: fans want to see them, TV networks want to broadcast them, and players want to play them. Well, the same principle is every bit as true in wrestling for match-ups like Iowa vs. Penn State or Iowa vs. Minnesota (or Minnesota vs. Penn State, to use an example that's not Iowa-centric). Those match-ups should happen every year. Period. They're good for the teams, they're good for the schools, they're good for the fans, and they're good for the sport.

Presumably, the Big Ten conference wrestling schedule for 2013-14 isn't set in stone just yet. Hopefully, there's still a chance that the Big Ten scheduling gurus can fix this error and eliminate this mistake-in-the-making. Because Iowa and Penn State should wrestle each other in a dual meet -- this year and every year.

* * *

In terms of the rest of Iowa's 2013-14 schedule, we can guess at a few other details. We know Iowa will be wrestling Iowa State again (this time in Ames) and they'll probably resume their (near-)annual series with UNI, barring any schedule-related hiccups. They'll also be heading to Edinboro in spring 2014 to finish off the home-and-home series that began this past year. We don't know who their other non-conference dual meet opponents will be, nor if they'll be participating in any individual tournaments, like Midlands or the Southern Scuffle (although I hope they're at one of those events). I also don't know if the Grapple at the Garden event will be returning in 2013-13, or if Iowa would participate again if it does come back. But, per that same CDT article, we do seem to know that Iowa probably won't be back at the National Duals Tournament in 2014 to try and improve upon their disappointing 4th-place finish in 2013.

"I don’t think so. We’re still trying to decide what to do there," Sanderson said. "I’m pretty sure Oklahoma State’s not going and Iowa’s not going and if they’re not going there’s no reason we’re going."

Loathe as I am to agree with Sanderson about anything, he's right on this point -- if the best teams aren't going to be there (and it sounds like Penn State and Oklahoma State won't be there), then there really isn't much point in attending the Duals. The Duals are a great idea in theory (and the actual structure of the event last year was pretty good, a few seeding issues notwithstanding), but it's an event that still needs some significant fine-tuning as well.

(H/T to BSD's own bscaff for pointing me to the CDT article.)