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NCAA To Experiment With New Wrestling Rules

The NCAA Wrestling Rules Committee has some ideas designed to attack the pervasive trend of stalling in college wrestling.

Alonzo Adams-USA TODAY Sports

The NCAA announced plans this week to discuss the inclusion of three new rules, two of which are explicitly designed to attack the onslaught of stalling that continues to drain entertainment value from the sport.  The rules are scheduled to be discussed at a meeting of the NCAA Playing Rules Oversight Panel on June 25.  The NCAA Wrestling Rules Committee has recommended that the rules be implemented on an experimental basis at the National Wrestling Coaches Association (NWCA) All-Star Classic event on Nov. 1, 2014.

Again, the first two of the three rules are designed to reduce stalling in the sport:

The first experimental rule focuses on wrestlers who step out of bounds with both feet while in a neutral position. In this scenario, the referee will call stalling on that wrestler.

The other experimental rule will result when, from a kneeling starting position on the mat, the wrestler in the top position drops to a lower extremity or uses a side headlock. In either of these situations, the referee will make a visual five-second count using his arm. If the wrestler who started in the top position doesn't make an attempt to engage in action before the referee reaches the count of five, the referee will call stalling.

The protocol for stalling calls would remain the same: a warning for the first offense, followed by a point awarded to the opponent on the second offense, and continuing with one point each being awarded for the third and fourth offenses, followed by disqualification on the fifth offense.

On paper, these rules seem like positive changes.  It's frustrating to watch wrestlers simply duck out-of-bounds to avoid attacking moves from an opponent, and it's maddening to watch wrestlers simply hug a leg or ankle in an effort to "maintain control" and accrue riding time.  Theoretically, at least, these rules would seem to do something to curtail those activities, which seems like a good idea.

The third rule has less to do with stalling and more to do with accruing points without giving up "cheap" escape points:

The final experimental rule involves a wrestler earning a position of control, such as a takedown or a reversal to earn the top position, and the action comes to a natural stoppage. An example of a natural stoppage would be when the wrestlers go out of bounds.

In the proposed experimental rule, instead of beginning in a kneeling position on the re-start, the wrestler who earned the top position can indicate to the referee that he elects for the next action to begin in the neutral position.

Currently, the referee awards a point to the opponent of a wrestler who makes this choice. Under the experimental rule, the point will not be awarded.

In positions of control that are not earned - for example, at the start of the second or third periods - a wrestler can elect to release his opponent after a break in the action, and the opponent will receive a point.

As I understand this rule, if Wrestler A earns a takedown on Wrestler B and they then go out of bounds, instead of both guys re-starting on the mat in a kneeling position (with Wrestler A on top of Wrestler B), Wrestler A could opt for a neutral start -- with no points being awarded to Wrestler B.  So Wrestler A gets two points for the takedown, they got out-of-bounds, and they re-start in neutral -- with no points for an "escape" being awarded to Wrestler B.  Currently Wrestler B would be given one point for an "escape," even though he did nothing to escape -- Wrestler A simply let him go.  It seems like this rule would make it easier for offense-minded wrestlers to score points and lead to more bonus point wins... which, again, seems like a definite positive step overall.

These rules are unlikely to completely fix wrestling's inactivity problems, but they seem like steps in the right direction -- assuming, of course, that they're correctly and consistently applied by wrestling officials.  There are rules against stalling on the books already... and we all know how well (and how often) they're enforced.  The one positive about these proposed rules is that they seem fairly unambiguous in their language -- they outline fairly black-and-white situations when stalling should be called, which should (hopefully) make it easier on officials.

We shouldn't necessarily expect to see these rules during the season next year, though.  The rules are being tested at the NWCA All-Star Classic and based on how things go there, the rules committee will determine whether or not these changes should be made permanent in the future.  I don't know whether or not they could make that change immediately after the All-Star Classic and in time for the duration of the college wrestling season, although my guess would be "no."  Still, I'm a big fan of any steps the NCAA takes to curb the use of stalling in college wrestling.