Monday, November 1, 2010

Is it good for wrestling?

“It’ll be good for wrestling.” How many times have you read that on the internet or in a wrestling magazine? Recently that comment has been most frequently linked to pre-season rankings that show Cornell University and Boise State topping the Division I polls.

Oklahoma State, Iowa, Iowa State, Oklahoma and Minnesota are the only schools in NCAA Division I history to win multiple titles since the championships were launched in 1928. Oklahoma State and Iowa account for 57 of those. Indiana, Cornell College, Michigan State, Penn State, Northern Iowa and Arizona State have each won a single team title.

Will wrestling benefit if another school joins this exclusive fraternity? Of course. For too long talented high school wrestlers have factored in their chances to be on a national championship team when selecting a college. This has contributed to the rich getting richer and the five top schools attracting many of the blue chip recruits. That’s changing. Coaches like Rob Koll at Cornell University, Greg Randall at Boise State, Tom Ryan at Ohio State and Cael Sanderson at Penn State are building teams that will legitimately contend for the Division I championship over the next several years.

How is this good for wrestling? I’m not sure, but I have some ideas. Getting more young kids on the mat and keeping them there is the future of the sport. Those kids will need role models, coaches and advancement opportunities.

State pride is a funny thing. I’m not sure how you explain it, but young athletes seem to feed off of the success of the home state schools. This leads to keeping your best in-state athletes “home”. A lack of success by the local university can have the opposite effect. The northeast United States – particularly New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania – has been a hotbed for high school wrestling for many years. Several wrestlers from there have played a major role in national championships at Iowa, Minnesota and Oklahoma State.

Where do good youth, middle school and high school coaches come from? The best come from successful college programs. They may not have been star wrestlers themselves but if they come from a solid program with a winning atmosphere they often replicate that atmosphere in their own wrestling rooms. Broadening the reach of championship wrestling just might improve the quality of coaching at every level.

There are far more high school kids that would like to continue wrestling in college than there are college wrestling opportunities. Is there any way to know if spreading NCAA Division I wrestling championships to other regions will help increase intercollegiate wrestling opportunities that will trickle down to younger kids? I don’t know – but as the comedian used to say – “It couldn’t hurt”.

Online fans tend to focus on Division I – but in recent history Division II and Division III team championships have also been concentrated in the middle part of the country. North Dakota State, Central Oklahoma, Nebraska Kearney and Nebraska Omaha have won all of the Division II titles this century and Augsburg and Wartburg have split the DIII championships since 1995.

Instead of expanding geographically, college wrestling is becoming more of a regional sport. A return to prominence by former powers San Francisco State in DII and The College of New Jersey (formerly Trenton State) in DIII would be just as good for wrestling as Cornell University or Boise State winning the Division I championship.

The bottom line – any thing that heightens interest in the sport is “good for wrestling”.

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