Foley's Friday Mailbag: April 5, 2013
T.R. Foley, InterMat Senior Writer
firstname.lastname@example.org, Twitter: @trfoley
InterMat senior writer T.R. Foley answers reader questions about NCAA wrestling, international wrestling, recruiting, or anything loosely related to wrestling. You have until Thursday night every week to send questions to Foley's Twitter or email account.
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Boston University athletic director Mike Lynch announced Monday that the school had decided to discontinue the Terrier wrestling program following the 2013-2014 season. According to head wrestling coach Carl Adams the news came as a surprise to him as well -- only learning of the team's fate moments before the school made the announcement official on its website. It was a telling anecdote about a team and coach out of touch with the reality of college athletics.
The elimination of any program causes concern within the wrestling community. We unite behind Facebook pages asking us to support the reinstatement of the team, and notable alumnus write letters in support of the program and admonish the administration. It's our therapy, our way to vent about the inequities of an amateur athletics culture that stresses anything but the ideals of amateurism. Social networking campaigns and letter writing initiatives feel productive, but are nothing more than twisting tight the cap to a bottle of spilt milk.
Mike Lynch and I spoke on Tuesday about the university's decision to drop the program. He's a well-mannered administrator who lives inside the bubble of education and believes that his school chose to act in a way that would "increase visibility and competiveness in the region as well as nationally." He added that despite recently adding a men's lacrosse team, the school had not fallen out of Title IX compliance because they had "consistently added women's programs and met the needs of our female students." Cutting wrestling he said was a "tough decision," but only in the way a leader is supposed to say the words. There was no pain behind his voice.
That's because when it came time for the board and the president to evaluate the wrestling team and the future viability of the program they were met with total institutional apathy. By Lynch's account wrestling had no notable alumni giving, negligible fan support, and limited nationwide success. Add-in that the school would be transferring conferences next season and the decision made itself. A sport on cruise control, running out of gas and with no plans to refuel.
If Lynch wanted to create a scapegoat he could have cited any number of reasons, but when pressed it came blurting out: outside of the wrestlers and Adams, few people cared.
Was he right?
Play the devil's advocate and think about how many fans are going to miss the Boston program, a team with four All-Americans in 32 years? Those non-existent alumni, the negligible number of fans? You can agree or disagree with the outcome, but Lynch was right that the support and results weren't substantial enough to prevent the elimination of the program. By almost every metric available to the modern athletic director the Boston University wrestling was failing. No success, little support and poor fan interaction. What was the purpose of continuing to help a team that wouldn't help itself?
Wrestling deserves to be a sponsored sport in higher education, but the wrestling community knows the score, and that includes Carl Adams. Our sport has learned that we can't expect handouts or to be immune from meeting financial obligations. The elimination of Boston wrestling, while enraging to fans and lifelong supporters, was the fault of the coaching staff and alumni, but the media and the wrestling community at-large also played a role.
In terms of the democratic process, media is supposed to be a check on the powerful; in sports it's much the same. We are supposed to be outside the system of graft and corruption that brings down politicians, but in the wrestling community we've had our courage snipped by the tight working quarters of our assignments. We've become complicit in letting the coaches who are under-performing on at-risk campuses continue as though nothing is wrong, because we are afraid to hurt their feelings and lose access. I'm the worst offender, backing off an annual hot seat article after my initial list irritated some coaches. The awful part was that I knowingly, consciously refused to list the have-not's like Boston University because I figured that it would be in bad form. I was wrong.
Football and basketball coaches get fired because the members of the media write articles about their win/loss record -- the wrestling media ignores the bad and promotes the good. Without a check from the media, coaches are allowed to sustain their inaction and eventually become the chicken with the longest neck. Adams, while widely respected as a great guy and a leader on campus, was simply not getting the job done. We all need to take responsibility for what happened, stop having hurt feelings over what is written or said, and start building powerful alumni and fan bases to keep this from happening in 2014.
Wins and losses matter, but preserving your favorite collegiate wrestling program from elimination is actually more about fan and alumni support. You've heard the platitude about how some coaches "make it difficult to cut the program," well in this circumstance an alumni base like you see at Maryland or UT-Chattanooga would have made eliminating the program impossible. As it was there was nothing standing between the athletic director and a wrestling-less Boston University.
Being a 21st Century coach is not easy. You need to understand everything from social media to low singles finishes. It's a huge task, but there is an army of young, intelligent assistant coaches willing to become CEO's of their programs. They have the tools to not only create All-Americans and conference champions, but to recruit an alumni base and curate a fan culture that will be their buffer against easily slung axes of athletic directors. Adams will be missed. He deserved better than to see the program he loved eliminated. He was a pioneer, a black head coach in a sport with only a handful at a time. He's beloved by his wrestlers and respected by his peers. He's a good man, and that should still mean something.
But what happened in Boston should never have occurred. The wrestling community has the map to right these ships, which makes watching them run aground just an exercise in pride and stubbornness. We need to do more as alumni, fans and media. We need to push our coaches for results on and off the mat. Or as Ben Askren so eloquently stated this week, let's not be afraid to see some heads roll.
To your questions ...
Q: Why are the NHSCA High School Nationals and FloNationals held on the same weekend? These are two of the biggest high school tournaments in the country and they have to be the same weekend? This divides the talent. I want to see all of the elite wrestlers in the country all at one tournament. We can see who is the true national champion. So many tournaments now call themselves "nationals" that the title national champion does not mean as much anymore. I think I remember Flo having some issues with the NHSCA about the way they ran the tournament. Maybe it was cost or they were not giving Flo access to the tournament? Can't Flo and the NHSCA work things out and join efforts to create the best tournament in the country? If you were a coach of an elite high school wrestler, where would you send him? FloNationals or the NHSCA Nationals?
I miss the days of seeing a weight class like this one at 2001 NHSCA Senior Nationals.
1st: Joe Dubuque NJ
2nd: Ricky LaForge NJ
3rd: Nick Simmons MI
4th: Nate Gallick AZ
5th: Travis Lee HI
6th: Shawn Bunch KS
7th: Jacob Palomino CA
8th: Drew Opfer OH
Foley: That's an insane weight! I'm assuming you know this bracket because you were in attendance. I'll be scanning the brackets all night ...
Flowrestling founder Martin Floreani talked to InterMat about FloNationals a few years ago and had this to say:
We saw an opportunity where we feel like people weren't doing it right. They were trying to take advantage of the sport to really make money. I'm not a socialist by any means. I'm a thriving capitalist. But my philosophy is you better put out an awesome product and especially when I have one as emotionally attached to as I am with wrestling. You better treat wrestling right and then make money. You better have a foundation of putting out an amazing product and then if you can make money off that, then that's great.We live in a competitive world, and Flo isn't scared to mix it up with the established powers in the sport. The NHSCA Nationals are well run, but Flo's desire to create a better experience for the wrestlers and the fans, regardless of motivation, is admirable. The market will dictate whether or not they're doing a good job of meeting the demands of their participants, something undoubtedly assisted by their online presence and video streaming capabilities.
What about a round-robin among the champions at each weight class? Could be a cool idea, but maybe we should let the high schoolers get a little break from the road. Let 'em rest, overeat and enjoy the social anxieties of being a teenager.
Q: Looking to next season and the 174-pound class, with Andrew Howe projected to come back, Chris Perry coming back, and Matt Brown returning as a junior after a great season, this weight class is looking like the most competitive and fun to watch. Thoughts and predictions?
-- Ken S.
Foley: You're tempting me to choose Matt Brown, because you know I have an unabashed faith in his abilities. However, I'm playing it smart and going with Andrew Howe.
Howe will be a sixth-year senior, and a full three seasons removed from his 2010 NCAA championship. (He finished third in 2011, Olympic redshirted in 2012 and medically redshirted in 2013). Brown and Perry are both low-scoring wrestlers, a game that Old Man Howe can play better than anyone. Were it not for an ACL surgery we'd be talking about Howe as one of the all-time greats. As is he can win a second title and end his career in elite company as a three-time finalist.
Hopefully the media and fans will get as interested in the champ vs. champ matchup here, as they did for Dake and Taylor in 2013.
Howe over Brown in the NCAA finals, 3-2.
Q: Has anyone ever gone undefeated in a college season with bonus points in every victory? It seems like that would be a good goal for David Taylor. He will most likely go down in history as the best and most dominant two time NCAA champ, but maybe something a little extra to stamp his name in the history books.
-- Seth H.
Foley: Not in the modern era. Gable was close his senior season, right up until that match with Larry Owings.
Should he defeat every opponent by major or better, Taylor would certainly put a stamp on his career. However it's just as likely that Ed Ruth would run the table as a senior and secure bonus points in every match.
Q: Being a Wisconsin Badger follower, and a big time fan of Andrew Howe, I remember when he defeated Kyle Dake in a freestyle match two years ago. In my opinion Dake should think twice about believing that he will be replacing Burroughs after 2016 as the 165 champ, because he will never defeat Howe. The fly in the ointment is Howe's recovering from his ACL, which should not be a problem. Also, the Badgers will be a top six team at year end.
-- Howard D.
Foley: Of course Howe is wrestling for Oklahoma in 2014 so if you're adding him to the Badger roster you may want to stop before placing a big bet on Wisconsin.
You're right. Dake would be a fool to overlook Howe, who has given Burroughs a match every time they've faced each other. Assuming that his ACL has been repaired and is functioning at one-hundred percent, then Dake will need to figure out how to create offense. As stated earlier, there just aren't a lot of ways to score on Howe, who like Dake has a tendency to win the close matches.
Howe-ever, there is also the issue of age and sturdiness post-2016, to say nothing of the IOC's decision to eliminate wrestling. Dake will be three years Howe's junior and likely have suffered fewer catastrophic injuries.
Q: I watched the Jason Welch-Derek St. John final and was surprised by the locked hands call. It looked like Welch's hands were locked when St. John stood up, but he released them immediately when they came down to the mat. Wondering if you saw it differently or if there is something in the rule I don' understand.
-- Joe C.
Foley: Wrestlers are given a moment of reaction time, but anything beyond a half-second would be considered a gift. The replay on ESPN shows that it took him more than a second and a half to unclench his hands. The locked hands were odd especially given Welch has made a career riding from the top position, but mistakes happen.
European Championships Highlight Film
We need MORE of this type of exposure. Will the IOC drama mean more original content? Or will we just be reading AP newswire stories? I vote for more cowbell.
Iran's Sporting Dreamers
This is a 45-minute documentary that is absolutely engrossing. A must-watch, must-share bit of exposure into a part of the world we hear about, but rarely see.
Witness - Iran's Sporting Dreamers by aljazeeraenglish
Q: I'm going to bet on David Taylor making his fourth final next year and winning his second national title (quite the risky bet, I know). That leads me to ask this question. In the eyes of history, who will be seen as the more dominant four-time finalist, two-time champ, David Taylor or Ben Askren?
-- Daniel L.
Foley: Ben Askren was a more dynamic public figure in college, and progressed the sport through a unique style and technical innovation. David Taylor is a rock star with an enormous amount of fan appeal. Choose your side wisely.
Were it not for Chris Pendleton the decision would be easy, but given Askren's 1-7 record against the Okie State national champion it makes an open-shut case more difficult to argue. Also David Taylor has social media, which amplifies his popularity when compared to the then Twitter-less Askren.
Much will come down to how DT does next year, and for the moment I think we can assume he'll win the NCAA title which would lead to a split popular vote. If the tiebreaker came down to my humble opinion, I'd choose Askren as the more dominant champion. The man barely broke a sweat in disposing of Jake Herbert, an eventual two-time NCAA champion and Olympian.
Taylor beat Brandon Hatchett. Askren had to beat THIS LOOK.
Q: How good is N.C. State going to be next year? With everyone returning and Nick Gwiazdowski off redshirt, can they be legit top 10? Also, Cornell: Lots of good young wrestlers (Brian Realbuto, Dylan Palacio et al), joining a solid retuning cast. What is in their immediate future?
-- TJ Hart
Foley: N.C. State: Very, very good. Pat Popolizio is an incredible coach and leader. Though the team is going to suffer for a few years from a lack of depth and talent in the room, he has his guys competing at ACCs, with several over-performing on the weekend. If he can keep up the momentum with his existing guys, and get Gwiazdowski back on the podium, N.C. State has an outside chance of placing in the Top 25 at the NCAA tournament.
Cornell: When won't they be good? They recruit studs and coach 'em up. They've reached the point where anything outside of the top ten is a massive disappointment, and in good years they feel like they should be in the top four with a chance to win the whole thing.
*Re: Head coaches as CEOs: Coach Koll is exactly what the wrestling community should demand from their head coaches. He engages alumni better than any other head wrestling coach I've met and has a loyal fan base. Good things happen to your program when you work hard to bring people into the fold.
Q: What is the story with Destin McCauley? Been Wisconsin, ISU and OTC? Any chance he finds himself at Iowa fitting into the 149 slot?
-- Craig G.
Foley: He is finalizing the paperwork with his chosen school and should be announcing next week. Stay tuned ...
Q: After re-reading your post regarding Gable vs St. John I noticed for the first time the statement that this year's NCAA champs would beat a group of "old timer's in "9 of 10" matches. I was flabbergasted. I thought the math is right but probably the other way around, so I put together a team of pre-2000 wrestlers and I am sending them out for a mythical match. Quite frankly, I would not be surprised if the maligned group of decrepit old folks sweep. But, you take a look and tell me your opinion:
125: Yojiro Uetake
133: Dan Gable/John Smith
141: Cary Kolat/Dan Gable
149: Lee Kemp/Wade Schalles
157: Lee Kemp/Pat Smith/Wade Schalles
165: Dave Schultz/Mark Schultz
174: Mark Schultz/Les Gutches
184: Cael Sanderson/Ben Peterson
197: Cael Sanderson /Ed Banack
285: Bruce Baumgartner/ Lou Banach/Kerry McCoy
-- TJ Hart
Foley: You dog, you just dropped the best names from the last 50 years of wrestling!
And still I tell you that they are at best going to split with today's wrestlers. That's right, ONLY SPLIT.
You can't tell me that the technique and athleticism of a wrestler 40 years ago is on par with what we see today. Our wrestlers right now are the best we've ever seen, not because of their ability to dominate each other but their ability to understand and respond to more techniques.
For example a fireman's carry was the iPhone of wrestling for more than two decades. You just don't see guy getting hit in a fireman's carry anymore! Why? Because the young guys learned how our opponents might set it up, which blocks it from being utilized. Next, if it is launched, this generation's wrestlers have adapted enough to figure out how best to avoid hitting the mat. And that's just one move.
Think of wrestling like the advances in technology, as more becomes known and shared, the faster we adapt and innovate. With kids watching YouTube every night learning the most effective techniques they can skip out on learning too much about the fireman's carry, a low-percentage finish, and focus on an outside leg series with a higher rate of successful finishes. Even Jesse Jantzen's tilt series from the shallow half is starting to have less success in the college ranks, and that was NEW in 2002. Since then coaches and wrestlers have learned to prevent the position and defend it once attempted.
However, I do think that the great champions of the past -- if put in a time machine and given the chance to brush up on techniques and athleticism, or given a chance to grow up and eventually wrestle in this decade -- would be as successful as they were in their time. Champion stock has nothing to do with technique, it's a mentality, and you picked wrestlers who had everything it takes to succeed at any task and in any decade.
The debate continues ...
Roger Ebert was a friend to some of the wrestlers I knew in Chicago. It's self-serving, but I liked Siskel & Ebert growing up and found this commentary on Star Wars and the power of watching "children's movies" to be immensely pleasurable.
RIP Roger Ebert.