Monday, January 19, 2009

I heard it on the radio

I occasionally have to pretend to work for a living. I’m self-employed, so many people think that I get to set my own schedule. Wrong!!! My clients determine when I work. I have fast approaching deadlines on a couple of projects that require a lot of computer time. I spent this weekend toiling away – and listening to radio programs in the background.

Saturday I got caught up on the Thursday 1/15 broadcast of Wrestling 411 and Sunday I listened to KXIC airing the Iowa vs. Oklahoma State dual meet. There’s a week-long cosmic thread that runs through these two events. As the old radio announcers used to say, “Return with me now to an era long ago and far away – last weekend in cyberspace.”

There was much complaining on college wrestling forums far and wide about ESPNU not broadcasting the finals of National Duals live. Making the matter worse, the finals could not be live streamed on Live Sports Video. LSV had done a magnificent job of showing the earlier rounds, but the ESPNU contract apparently prohibited a live webcast of the finals. This led to online discussion of why wrestling can’t get better total coverage and more live TV exposure.

I read many theories – some even made some sense. Then, Saturday on Wrestling 411, I heard Jason Bryant launch himself into a couple of “rants” on the subject that made perfect sense. I hate to paraphrase because I always misinterpret some key point and give it a meaning never intended by the speaker so please listen to the show. It’s archived on their website.

Kyle Klingman, Jason’s broadcast partner, took off on a “rant” of his own – this one about the prevalence in college wrestling of “3-2 matches”. You know the kind – one takedown and then lots of blocking off. Again – listen to the program to hear Kyle’s points.

Now for Sunday – and the Cowboys against the Hawkeyes. These are the two most storied programs in the history of American wrestling – 55 NCAA team championships between them. Once again – lots of online whining about a lack of TV coverage or free internet streaming. After listening to the meet, I’m actually glad that it was not on television. Based on Mark Ironside’s radio commentary, watching the proverbial “paint dry” might have been more exciting than some of the matches in this meet. Both teams seemed equally guilty. I could only imagine what Kyle Klingman might be thinking.

There are those who seem to think that the media owes the sport better coverage – that they don’t give the sport or its fans enough respect. Well – respect has to be earned. But even that isn’t the real issue. There just has to be a larger potential audience before there will be better coverage.

Let’s look at some hard facts. Too many college “fans” don’t even attend wrestling meets. Fewer than 5,000 were in the seats Sunday in Stillwater to watch these two legendary programs compete. According to a comment made by Jason during one of his rants – about 4,000 people watched the free live streaming of the “non-final” rounds of National Duals. These are not the kind of numbers that attract advertisers.

So what’s to be done? Fans can start by becoming more active in their support of wrestling and of the outlets that are working to give it greater exposure. Go to meets and take a friend. Be willing to pay when someone invests time and money in bringing you an event.

Let’s face another hard fact. Sometimes college wrestling can be boring. Maybe I’m wrong, but the frequency of Kyle’s “3-2 matches” seems to be growing. In today’s college wrestling world there are fewer than twenty athletes who provide the kind of entertainment that will entice the average sports fan into watching wrestling. Jake Herbert, Brent Metcalf and Darrion Caldwell come to mind immediately – but then you have to start thinking about it. You can talk all you want about “keeping good position” and “hand fighting” – to the occasional viewer that translates into reaching for the remote. More action will translate into more viewers. For that we must rely on the sport’s coaches and athletes.

Now for a non-wrestling aside. My youngest daughter attended Cedar Rapids Regis High School (now defunct) and played sports there, so I attended a lot of athletic events. A couple of Regis alums had a pretty good day Sunday – Kurt Warner leading the Arizona Cardinals to his third Super Bowl appearance and Zach Johnson winning the PGA’s Sony Open. Go Royals!

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