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NCAA APPROVES CHANGES TO WRESTLING RULES

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College wrestling should look a little different next year.

Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

College basketball isn't the only sport that's going to look a little bit different next year -- college wrestling is going to be changed as well, thanks to a series of rule changes approved by the NCAA Playing Rules Oversight Panel this week.  How different will it be?  Well...

The first change concerns the drop-down rule, which was used on an experimental basis last year but is now permanent (albeit in slightly tweaked form). Per the NCAA:

While officiating the drop-down rule, the referee will immediately begin a five-second count for stalling once the offensive wrestler positions himself with one or both hands below the buttocks of the defensive wrestler. The referee will stop the count when the offensive wrestler improves his position, moves his hold above the buttocks of the defensive wrestler or releases the hold.

If the referee reaches the fifth count before the offensive wrestler improves his position, moves his hold above the buttocks or releases the hold, the offensive wrestler will be called for stalling.

Additionally, if the offensive wrestler lifts the defensive wrestler's leg off the mat and both wrestlers reach the standing position, the referee will stop the five-second count. But if the offensive wrestler does not continue to attempt to return the defensive wrestler to the mat, the referee can call stalling, as in the past, without the five-second count.

Another stalling call related to the drop-down rule can be made by the referee if the offensive wrestler applies a hold with his hand or arm around the defensive wrestler's waist while applying the other arm or hand below the buttocks. In that scenario, the five-second count will start and continue until the hold below the buttocks has been released.

In essence, this change is meant to cut down on the practice of guys hanging on to legs and ankles.  If one or both hands of the wrestler on top or in control slips below the waist (or "below the buttocks," to be precise), then the ref is supposed to start a five-second count.  If the wrestler on top doesn't "improve his position," or move his hands above the buttocks or just release the hold, then he'll get dinged for stalling.  The five-count can also be stopped if the wrestler on top is able to lift his opponent's leg off the mat and both guys are in a standing position.

So is this a good rule?  Well... maybe.  In theory, any rules to reduce stalling and induce more action in matches is a good thing.  In practice, though, it's likely to be more problematic.  The five-second rule was present last year and, well, it didn't magically cure stalling.  It's a rule that invites some level of gamesmanship as well -- if the wrestler on top moves his hands below the buttocks but gets them back up before the five-count, he can likely repeat that process without much penalty from the referee (although you'd hope the ref would call a stalemate before long).

The panel also attempted some clarification to the neutral-position stalling rule:

[M]embers of the NCAA Wrestling Rules Committee determined that when wrestling is stopped in the neutral standing position for going out of bounds, the referee can make one of the three following calls:

• Stalling on one or both wrestlers for leaving the wrestling area.
• Stalling for pushing or pulling the opponent out of bounds.
• Wrestling action is taking place. (It should be noted that a tie-up, including an under hook with no attempt to initiate an offensive move, is not considered an offensive or defensive attack).

On paper, this looks great -- mostly.  Call stalling on a wrestler for leaving the mat?  Yes!  Call stalling for pushing an opponent out of bonds?  Um... You wouldn't expect a guy to be called for stalling for wrestling in an aggressive manner and pushing the opponent out of bounds, but as this rule is written, it seems like a possible outcome.  More fundamentally, though, this rule boils down to one key thing: referees actually calling stalling.  Anyone who's watched college wrestling for more than five minutes over the last few years knows how difficult that can be.  For whatever reason (and there are probably a lot of them), referees today tend to be very unwilling to penalize wrestlers for stalling.  Until that mindset changes, it's hard to see this rule -- or any rule concerning stalling -- changing things too much.

Some other smaller rules to note:

Recommending that teams wear contrasting colored singlets at dual meets.

Could this be the end of the days of Iowa and Penn State facing off in black and dark navy blue singlets, respectively?  Maybe, although it's worth noting that this is phrased as a "recommendation" rather than an explicit directive.  I'm not sure Iowa has worn a non-black singlet in my lifetime -- the mere thought of Iowa rolling out to the mat in bright gold singlets is enough to throw me for quite a loop -- so I don't know what would happen if Iowa was somehow forced into a situation where they couldn't wear their familiar black singlets.  Let's hope we don't have to find out.

Awarding two points for a near fall if the referee reaches a two-count. Four points would be awarded if the referee reaches a four-count.

I believe that this would have no effect on the current three-point near falls or five-point near falls; if that's the case, wrestlers will now be able to accumulate near fall points for exposing an opponent's back for two, three, four, or five seconds.  This will definitely benefit wrestlers who are good on the mat and who can control opponents; imagine how much faster Logan Stieber could have racked up technical falls with these rules!  The two-point near fall seems to be the bigger change; two seconds is a pretty short amount of time and it's not hard to see flash exposures that wouldn't have garnered near fall points under the previous now garnering two points for a wrestler.  (Conversely, I don't remember seeing a wrestler maintain control for four seconds, but not five seconds, all that often.)

One of the concerns is that this could make it too easy to accumulate points and make it harder for a wrestler on the defensive to come back and make it easier -- perhaps too easy? -- to get major decisions and technical falls, but I think we'll need to wait and see how it plays out.  We've been crying out for more points and more scoring opportunities -- this rule change is a chance to do just that.

Experimenting with a rule at the National Wrestling Coaches Association All-Star Classic that would award three points for a takedown.

More points for a takedown equals more action?  That's the hope, but it's not clear if that will be the result.  We see a lot of 3-2 matches now, with the winning wrestler scoring off a takedown and an escape and the losing wrestler scoring off a pair of escapes.  Could we end up seeing more 4-2 scores with this rule?  That's an increase in the number of points scored, but no change in the amount of action (it's still a takedown and an escape for the winner and two escapes for the loser).  The hope is that making takedowns more valuable will incentivize wrestlers to go for more of them, but the opposite could be just as true -- if a takedown is more valulable to you, it's also more valuable to your opponent and giving up a takedown means digging yourself out of an even bigger hole, which could lead to even more cautious, risk-averse wrestling.  It's an interesting idea and, as I said above, I'm broadly in favor of any efforts to try and juice scoring in this sport, so it seems like it's worth experimenting with.

(One bright side?  I think this might make it even harder for a wrestler to win a match without scoring any offensive points.  If we take the 3-2 score above, it can also be turned into 3-3 if the wrestler who gets taken down is able to escape before his opponent can accumulate a riding time point and also do enough riding of his own to earn a riding time point.  He can then go into overtime and win, say, 4-3 in the tiebreakers if he's able to get another escape while again riding his opponent well enough to avoid conceding an escape.  It's much harder to turn a 4-2 score into 4-4; even if he gets a riding time point, he's still going to lose 4-3.  The only way he's getting extra points to tie or win is if he can get his opponent dinged for stalling or earn a penalty point through other means (repeated false starts, for instance, or misconduct) or by -- gasp! -- finishing some of his own offense.)

Separating the "control-of-mat area" and "questioning the referee" penalties in the penalty chart. If a coach leaves the restricted area, the penalty structure will be: a warning on the first offense; loss of a team point in the event standings/score on the second offense; and loss of two team points and ejection on the third offense.

Watch out, Los Brandses!  Tom and Terry Brands are famous (or infamous, depending on your perspective) for their sideline displays and for forcefully making their points, but they'll have to do so a little more carefully now to avoid costing their team points.  That said, who doesn't want to see a ref try to eject Terry Brands from a dual meet?  That might be worth the two team points, assuming it's a dual Iowa is winning comfortably.

When wrestlers interlock fingers in the neutral position, the referee will stop the action and call it stalemate, and any subsequent offenses would require the referee to call stalling on the wrestler who initiates the interlocking.

This is an issue of both stalling and safety.  If wrestlers have their fingers interlocked, it's hard to initiate any action and it's also more likely to lead to sprained or broken fingers.  Keep those fingers apart, wrestlers.

Once the offensive wrestler assumes the correct starting position, the referee will wait a minimum of one second after saying, "set," before sounding the whistle for wrestling to begin.

Hopefully this cuts down on false starts.

What do you think of the new rules?  Good ideas?  Bad ideas?  Wait-and-see ideas?