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NCAA Proposes New Format for Wrestling Championship

Hello, dual meets.

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I'm watching you, NCAA.
I'm watching you, NCAA.

While the NWCA National Duals continue their annual mutation into one new form after another (the latest iteration is a one-weekend event in February at Madison Square Garden in New York City, albeit without participation from Iowa, Oklahoma State, and Penn State), there's still a push among many in the sport to figure out how (if at all) to better incorporate dual meet competition into the season-ending tournaments. Last year the push was for a true National Duals tournament that would be used to crown a team national champion (individual national champions at all ten weights would still be crowned at the regular NCAA Tournament); that push broke down among bitter disagreement among the sport's coaches and administrators. Mainly, coaches and administrators were concerned about potentially damaging the NCAA Tournament, the one aspect of the sport that continues to thrive.

This year's push for change is not nearly as radical as taking the team national championship away from the NCAA Tournament and awarding it to the winner of a national dual meet tournament; instead, it's a more incremental change. Rather than creating an entirely new structure (or at least massively altering an existing structure -- the NWCA National Duals), the current plan would graft a new structure onto the existing structure.

The general concept would leave teams competing throughout the season for spots in six-team regional tournaments on the campuses of the top four seeds. The field would be comprised of dual champions from automatic-qualifying conferences and filled out with at-large teams selected by criteria similar to those used by the NCAA for its basketball and baseball postseason tournaments.

Under the proposal, the further a squad advances in the two-weekend dual tournament, the more points it would bank toward its team scoring total for the individual tournament.

Holman said details such as the point structure and schedule still needed to be ironed out, but the concept would likely move conference individual qualifying tournaments like the Big Ten and Big 12 Championships ahead of the postseason dual tournaments on the calendar.

On its face, it does look like an interesting idea and one worth exploring. I'm in favor of doing something that adds more importance to the dual meet season and makes them something than an endless string of largely pointless quasi-exhibitions and this seems like it would do just that.

Of course, the devil is in those exact details that Holman said need "to be ironed out." How many points will a team receive for being the dual meet champion? 15? 20? To put that in perspective, a wrestler will earn around 20 points for his team if he finishes 1st (not counting whatever he accrues in bonus points along the way) under tournament scoring. Or do you go even further and award almost as many points to the dual meet champion as they would receive in the individual tournament, with the teams finishing behind them receiving proportionately less? For instance, the dual meet champion could earn 100 points, the dual meet runner-up could earn 90 points, the dual meet third-place team could earn 80 points, and so on. That gives the dual meet champion a 10-point head start on the dual meet runner-up heading into the individual NCAA Tournament, which is significant, but not insurmountable. On the other hand, a 20 or 30-point deficit almost certainly would be insurmountable, given the heavy overlap between teams that would finish near the top in both formats (i.e., your Penn States, your Oklahoma States, your Minnesotas, your Iowas, etc.).

It would certainly add some intrigue to the proceedings at the individual NCAA Tournament. This year, Penn State beat Oklahoma State by 4 points and Minnesota by 20 points -- you think the Cowboys and the Gophers might have liked to go into that fight with a few points banked from the dual meet tournament (where Minnesota and Oklahoma State finished 1-2, respectively)? I think so. Of course, if participating in the dual meet tournament meant earning points towards the team national championship awarded at the individual NCAA Tournament, then you can be damn sure that Penn State would stop making a habit out of skipping it every year in favor of their barnstorming tour across the U.S. They might still have ended up winning the team national title -- they have a pretty good dual meet team, too, in case you've forgotten -- but they wouldn't be sure things to win a dual meet title, either. (After all, they lost to Iowa during the regular season.) And, if nothing else, we may have been treated to dual meets between Penn State and Oklahoma State or Minnesota (neither of which happened last year; Penn State-Oklahoma State, in particular, would have been a doozy), or possibly an Iowa-Penn State rematch (the first go 'round was rather entertaining).

Of course, aside from the headaches in sorting out the proper scoring for such a change -- which could be considerable -- the logistical nuts and bolts issues of such a dual meet tournament figure to be sizable. That was one of the things that bscaff and I discussed in our back-and-forth a few weeks ago. Having the top four seeds serve as hosts should ameliorate some of the attendance concerns, but the issue of travel costs -- for both the other participating teams and, more importantly, fans -- could still be a rather significant problem. And if the format is a two-week event, that presumably has the final four (or perhaps eight) teams squaring off for the title in that second weekend, additional issues arise. Where are those matches held? At the site of one of the top four seeds? At a neutral location? And what impact would this change in the wrestling calendar have on the training approaches that coaches take? Currently, most coaches seem to train their wrestlers to peak in March, for their conference tournaments and the NCAA Tournament. Does that change if there's a national duals tournament sandwiched in between conference tournaments and the NCAA Tournament?

Still, for the most part this seems like an idea with a lot of merit. A lot of the details need to be ironed out and while travel concerns should be considered, I don't think they're enough to eliminate this idea from consideration. As I said, enhancing the importance of regular season dual meets is an interesting and potentially very worthwhile idea. If you can do it without damaging the prestige and value of the NCAA Tournament, why not give it a chance?