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Takeaways for the NCAA’s Championships 2016

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1. The Sanderson system works. 5 titles in 6 years.
Move to the middle of the most fertile high school wrestling ground in the country. Nearly 50% of all the national qualifiers went to high school within 4 hours of State College. Wrap your head around that. I know that there are almost 30 D1 teams in the same vicinity but team Sanderson have created a program that sells itself, just as Gable did a generation ago.
Sprinkle in top national recruits from, CA, TX and MN and your lineup is sensational. Then coach them up with one of the best staffs in the country.
Take away as much of the pressure as possible by preaching fun, aggression and “gratitude”.

Coach Sanderson was at the forefront of the generational change that is taking place across our country. American boys are now raised with a much greater emphasis on having fun than they were just a generation or two ago. I know that play and work are closely related but the connection between fun and work hasn’t been explored much by wrestling coaches. If you’re having fun and are passionate about something it leads to the self-discipline that coach Sanderson is looking for in recruits. They don’t cut as much weight as say Okie State seems to. They are the most aggressive team in the country. Their RTC is becoming a powerhouse. How did Iowa State let both Gable and Sanderson escape? It’s going to be hard for any team to knock off this young talented PSU team that looks to be as tough and balanced next season and the season after. Even if Coach Sanderson leaves his graduates will elevate the PA high school wrestling scene to even higher levels and elevate many college programs along the way.

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2. Coach John Smith may have overcome the most team injuries to key starters of any team in the country and finish a somewhat distant 2nd. They too are loaded with top young talent and should battle for the next few years with Penn State. This rivalry is great for the sport. Will it replace the Iowa rivalry? Smith’s team is tough and hard nosed but don’t get as many bonus points as PSU.
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3. What should we make of Ohio State’s redshirt pulling decision? They finished 3rd. I love Tom Ryan’s aggressive mindset and approach to winning a championship. The pulled shirts did their jobs, it was the rest of the team that underperformed from last season. I was in the camp that Snyderman might not ever wrestle another college match. I was wrong and he can go back and forth between styles very well. Martin (Myles) exceeded even the most positive projections – I recognize that his bracket broke just right, but don’t take anything away from him. I don’t think that anyone thought that he’d be a national champ last week or 4 months ago. They are young and will be in the fight for at least the next couple of years.
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4. Virginia Tech. Kevin Dresser and staff brought VT back from a near death sentence after Brands left to join Iowa. His roster is stocked with Mid-Atlantic talent. They didn’t have the ACC’s that they wanted but they overcame a lot, including some under performances, to finish #4 ahead of ACC Champ NC State. That speaks to the growing depth of talent in the ACC.

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5. Iowa placed 5 without a bunch of household names in the lineup. Coach Brands just got a contract extension. Jim Zaleski was canned for similar results. I guess that means the University of Iowa understands they’ll no longer be the center of the American wrestling universe and they just want to be near the top. Most of the team is physically very tough but can’t or won’t get to attacks. Watching Burak and Sorenson isn’t very entertaining for a casual fan and they make everyone they face less interesting. The Dan Gable physical aggressive style has morphed into something boring. Just as edgy 50’s & 60’s jazz was turned into elevator muzak, the Gable style has turned into a sport killer. No wonder Iowa high school wrestling is down, it isn’t fun, aggressive or entertaining for the most part. I’m guessing that they will slowly slide from here… top 5 finishes then they’ll slide into top 10 then who knows. They don’t have near the amount of local talent that OH, PA and NJ have. Getting east coast kids will become harder from here on out. Hold out hope for Spencer Lee but I doubt it. After thinking about it Zain “Spartucus” Retherford is the most Gablesque wrestler at the D1 level and he’s at Penn State. No one at the national level says anything but this means something. Zain would have been a Gable favorite! Can a wrestling program that is stretched or contracted by a new experience ever go back to its old dimensions.
I’m not blaming Brands. It’s a convergence of many things including state talent, change in generational behaviors, expectations and likes. I don’t hate Iowa I want the most exciting and aggressive wrestler to win.

East coast power shift. Tom Brands had the right idea when he came east to VT but didn’t stick it out when Iowa came calling. Cael Sanderson had a better opportunity at State College; tradition, school support and name recognition all helped. He has put the pressure on surrounding colleges to step up their game. He has also changed the aspirations of many Pennsylvania youth wrestlers from wanting to be state champions to wanting to be nation or world champions. Being in the midst of the best high school wrestling in the country every fully funded program in this area should be in the top 25, if they aren’t look at the coaching staff and administration as the problem, not the wrestlers. Look at what Edinboro and Rider have done as tiny schools with much less funding than a B1G School. But it’s not just in PA. Rutgers went from perpetually underperforming to exceeding expectations this year. Is it a coincidence that Rutgers started really climbing with the arrival of Donny Pritzlaff or is it that that the Rutgers administration stepped up support at that time? New Jersey is consistently near the top of the list sending national qualifiers and has notable members of the world team. It’s only a matter of time before they have similar success as Ohio. New Jersey will have 3 D1 team finishers in the top 30, only PA, Iowa & Ohio can match that.

Future opportunities? There are two obvious areas for D1 wrestling to spread their recent success and exposure, California, much has been written about the Fresno and CSB jobs and coaches may be announced before this goes out. Unfortunately NCAA and University bureaucracy aren’t great at identifying quality employees, they are more concerned with feathering their own nests in most cases. I hope that these schools pick leaders of quality. The second area is the SEC Florida and Georgia both has 7 qualifiers. One brave school needs to take advantage of this. I’ve written before that this job would be awesome for Tom Brands. He’s a great ambassador for the sport and being away from the Iowa pressure would allow him to do his best work. There are plenty of northern high school wrestlers looking to go somewhere warmer.

May 285lbs never go back to the boring way that it was. This weight class provided some very exciting and compelling matches this week. How many times, aside from team race needs, has one of the most anticipated finals been at 285? I would love to see Gwiz and Snyder wrestle again.

I’ve pushed for a wrestling match order change in the past but at the very least at the Championships the match order should be decided by combined rankings and most dominant rankings. Retherford is near the top of most dominant but Sorenson is not. Nolf and IMar are near the top of this year’s list but I could make an exception for Gwiz (high on dominance list) versus a world champion. My proposal: the higher you are on the dominance list the closer you are to the end of the championship line up.
My proposal for the championship finals and all dual meets is that the highest ranked wrestlers are always at the end of the dual. Unranked wrestlers are the initial bouts. Showcase the best wrestlers doing the best wrestling last. Why arbitrarily put pressure on your big men to win the match? These guys have enough pressure being bigger than most of their peers, they don’t need more pressure. The military and social science has done extensive studies on the pressure taller and bigger boys face just because of their size. MMA, boxing and most profitable sports try to build and showcase their best talent as headliners. Higher ranked boys and girls have proven that they can deal with the pressure of success and are better prepared for end of dual pressure. Stop just going from light to heavy or randomly picking a weight class to start from popsicle sticks prior to a match.
John Smith is on record saying that this is the best shape college wrestling has been in during his time at Oklahoma State. Programs are improving where high school wrestling is strong. ESPN carried every match from MSG on their broadcast platform. Attendance at MSG was at capacity (110,194 combined) and the National Duals attendance was up from the last several years. Will wrestling turn into a revenue generating sport? It has to be at least close if it wants to survive long term on the NCAA level but it’s a long way from happening. High school participation is strong and growing in areas that haven’t been traditionally strong. Quality at the NCAA level is good. Many weight classes this weekend had enough depth that a returning champ, finalist or #1 seed didn’t get back to the finals.
Lots of people have debated about NYC as a host city. It works for many of the teams, it’s drivable. The fans can debate their experience.I think that it should be on a 5 year cycle around the country.
This was the best action in an NCAA final that I can remember. ESPN doesn’t think that the sport can carry viewers so it filled up most of the narrative with color, human interest but no compelling play by play. It’s a step forward. Enjoy it.

7 Comments

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  1. Great analysis. I enjoy your site and you’ve posted some nice videos and analysis. You have some interesting recommendations, especially concerning ordering dual meets regarding the rankings and draws of the wrestlers. I like it. The one thing that I take issue with is NOT wrestling related! I think 50s and 60s jazz is excellent! Post-bop jazz never morphed into elevator music, and 1959 was a stellar year for jazz! Kind of Blue (Miles Davis), Time Out (Brubeck), Mingus Ah Um (Mingus), and the Shape of Jazz to Come (Ornette Coleman) will remain in the jazz hall of fame forever!!

    1. Maybe I wrote it poorly. Kind of Blue is an all time classic. Mingus was a musical genius. Time Out plays on our Pandora station almost every day. what Kenny G did with that music turned it into a bland distortion.
      Keep coming back. I’ll be running a series of interviews over the next couple of months and I should be covering USA vs Iran in Times Square next month.

  2. With wrestling growing in the South; I would love to see Tampa host the NCAA’s. Its an easy flight, great location and outstanding venue. Think it would be good for wrestling as a whole.

    1. Hosting the NWCA All Star match in Georgia this year was a good start. I’m not sure about team expense of Tampa hosting. I’m sure the warm climate is attractive to programs and fans however every team would likely have to fly, dramatically increasing program expenses. NYC/Philly, Columbus/Oklahoma, St Louis/Chicago, Iowa City/Ames and then maybe a growth area (CA,FL,TX) on a 5 year rotational schedule would be my vote. It’s tough to give every place the love that they deserve.

  3. The article was a very nice read. I whole heartedly agree with the idea of rotating the tournament around the country.
    In the next cycle I would really like to see it held in either Raliegh or Charlotte NC.
    NC has 7 division 1 programs which is the second most behind PA. If we want some SEC schools take notice the tournament needs to be occasionally closer than St Louis or even NYC.

    I would also have at least one in the I95 corridor. NYC, Philly or DC area.

    1. Totally agree about getting North Carolina in on the action, sooner than later if that is the SEC hook. I’ll be talking with the Fresno State AD and pick his brain about NCAA exposure.

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