Now in its third year the National Collegiate Open is being held Saturday Feb. 19, 2011 at Clarion University. This tournament is a true open tournament that allows any post high school athlete wishing to compete in collegiate style wrestling to be able to wrestle. Additionally, the event provides a postseason style event for any non-starter and redshirt from any level of college wrestling. Registers from throughout the country are competing in the 2011 event.
By Matt Krumrie
WIN Magazine Contributing Writer
The inaugural National Collegiate Open was held in 2009, at Clarion University, with 179 wrestlers competing. The event is managed and operated by the National Collegiate Open and is currently hosted by the Clarion University Pin Club. This year, 320 wrestlers are expected to compete.
Kyle N. Smith, a management consultant in Washington, D.C. by day, and full-time wrestling fanatic, is the organizer of this event. Smith, a former youth wrestler from New York and former college soccer player who also now coaches youth wrestling, talked about the idea and concept behind the National Collegiate Open.
Matt Krumrie: Who will be competing in this tournament?
Smith: There are many teams and individuals wrestling in the event and many Division I coaches have committed to supporting the event by sending their wrestlers. For example, coach Duane Goldman. at Indiana has been very supportive in getting as many of his guys out to compete each year as he can. The event is not limited to Division I, though that is the majority of the field and the main focus. Ideally, I would like get to the point where we are able to hold two divisions (University and College) where the college Division is D2/D3/NAIA programs. There is no doubt that, without the ability to redshirt, D3 has talented wrestlers unable to make their lineup.
MK What is the goal of this tournament?
Smith: The goal of the National Collegiate Open is to provide a post season championship for all of the wrestlers that are not able to compete in a post season event.
Where did the idea come from?
Smith: I was thinking about the low retention rates in wrestling and how so many leave the sport. Wrestling is unique in that one athlete competes in one position (the weight class) and there is little flexibility to move to a new position like in other sports—it is not a matter of your style or skill. Guys can train all year, win matches at opens, even win matches in dual meets but if they don’t have the spot in the post season there is little way for their successes to be recognized. A wrestler could be pound for pound the second best on his team and not have a spot in the lineup if he can’t beat the number one at his weight or the number one at the weight above. In basketball a non-starter can work into the lineup and be a part of a championship and the second best basketball player will be on the court even if he has to move positions. We say that championships are won in the wrestling room but we don’t provide any recognition for those guys behind the scenes helping to win those championships.
Even in other individual sports, like diving, multiple athletes from the same school can compete at championships. Wrestling has always marketed itself as a sport where anyone can compete no matter their size, but often their size correlates to their ability to compete in the post season—rather than their skill. We don’t use our 10 best wrestlers we use the best at each weight.
We, as a wrestling community, often judge a team by their performance in the post season and we also judge these individuals by their post season performance. For those outside the sport, they too judge our athletes based on their ability to make the lineup. If a student is in class while the starters of the team are at the conference championship then people would assume that the wrestler does not add value to the program—especially if they have not wrestled in a competition all month.
When the NCO held the first event, Cal State Basketball had four post season championships after the conference championships. If you didn’t get into the NCAAs then you could play in the NIT, CBI, or CIT. Out of the 346 Division-I basketball schools nearly all go to the post season to play for their conference championship and 129 get an invitation to the post-post-season. This means that every athlete on the roster has the chance to work into the lineup and compete in the championship they attend.
When you break it down nearly 40 percent of the Division-I basketball players are getting to finish their season at a national event that brings athletes, in similar situations, together on a level playing field from many conferences.
When we compare it to Division-I (FBS) football we see that there are 120 schools in the FBS. Of those 10 will get invited to the BCS Bowls. Then there are an additional 60 schools that get invited to second tier post season bowl games. In all nearly 60 percent of the athletes in Division-I FBS are provided with the chance to travel with the team and experience championship competition and maybe compete in the post season—if only for one play. This is not 60 percent that get to compete over the course of their careers but rather each and every season. Division I wrestling has 81 programs and average about 30 athletes per roster while providing post season competition for 330 wrestlers. This means that about less than 15 percent of college wrestlers get to compete on a national stage each year.
If we are going to grow wrestling, we need to change the paradigm. I have always felt that the sport does not thrive on the performance of our elite. Fans will stay based on the performance of the elite but they are not the ones that attract the fans. Personal connections—institutional or personal—will bring fans. Every year there will be 10 National Champions and 80 All-Americans no matter how tough the talent pool is that year or how weak it is that year this number will remain the same. If we want to promote the sport we have to recognize other successes. We need to give everyone something to strive for. We need to give respect to those that pay their dues and know that if fans in these other sports can support these programs, when they fall short of the elite post season competitions, then we too, as wrestling fans should be supporting all of those that pay their dues. These are the guys that keep the sport thriving. The All-Americans and national qualifiers, for the most part, have always been good and those around them have always known them to be exceptional wrestlers. If we want to attract more people to college wrestling we need to reach out to more people and this event allow for more athletes to find success which gets the people around them excited for what they have accomplished in the sport. We need to provide people with something to talk about.
The NCO provides an opportunity for these athletes to compete in a national event against athletes in the same situation as them—just like all the other alternative championships mentioned. It allows athletes to see that though they might not be the best at their weight in the practice room, they can be one of the best in the country and recognized for their success. It provides athletes with something to train for, a reason to stay with the program when the focus has turned from pre-season opens to preparing the team for championships.
When I spoke with them about this event, Teague Moore and Ethan Bosch at Clarion University were excited about the possibilities and were on board 100 percent. It is the Clarion University Pin Club that has made this event possible and the reason that it is a success. They are a dedicated group that is passionate about Clarion Wrestling and doing anything to help the sport.
MK: How many people are competing this year?
Smith: Currently we cap each weight class at 32 wrestlers due to facility limitations. But currently I am looking for a new facility that would provide for a great atmosphere for wrestling which could allow for some changes in the future. The guys deserve a first rate event. (Always open to suggestions.)
Who is eligible to compete?
Smith: The event is a true open. This is done to allow red-shirts to be able to get out and compete. Additionally, should there be any guys sitting out a year for any reason (transfer, personal issues, Ivy-Shirt, etc) they can enter. At this time we do not turn anyone away and even have some grad students that enter.
Can you talk about the history of this event?
Smith: The 2008-09 season had already started when we decided to hold the first event. It was just another open—the final one of the season—and nothing more than an idea. We were still unsure if it would even get enough people to show up to be viable. Coach Moore sent out emails to college coaches about the event in January and it didn’t seem like there was much, if any, interest. Then Coach Moore received a phone call from TJ Kerr asking about the event and saying that he had seven athletes from Cal State-Bakersfield that wanted to fly out on their spring break to wrestle. That was where it started and when we were committed to hosting the event. We ended up with about 250 pre-registrations and 176 wrestlers showed up. It was a start. It was a success.
When the first event was held, we had no idea what the talent level would be like. As I watched the competition in the first event it was hard to tell how talented the field was and if they would be a threat in the future. There were guys placing that hadn’t placed in an open all season. There were blue chip recruits losing to backups or other redshirts. It was hard to tell at the time, but looking back and seeing the transition of the guys and seeing that the guys who stepped it up at this event, the guys who really did believe that they were on a national stage even if there were no fans in the stands, those were the guys that you see as starters, the guys you see going to nationals and in the ranking.
There were guys at this event that hadn’t had a chance to wrestle in an open for a month or two and finally felt like they had something to look forward to and it re-energized them in their training. Even if the talent level wasn’t clear, there was no doubt that these guys were laying it on the line. If they weren’t able to beat the best starters across the country they were at least going to know that they were the best of all the guys like them. These wrestlers are passionate and they compete for themselves.
After this weekend, every conference except for the Western Regional will have sent athletes from a school in the conference.
MK: How has the event been received by wrestling coaches, competitors and fans?
Smith: It wasn’t until last year that people started to take notice. The first year we were sponsored by the United States Marine Corp and no one seemed to mention the National Collegiate Open. Most school SIDs and the wrestling media were calling it the Clarion Open even though everything we distributed listed the National Collegiate Open. After the second year some people started to ask what this event was about and there was a slight, although guarded, interest from the media.
This year, we feel like we are getting to the point where we can turn the corner and the event can start to take off. We are getting more coverage from the media and more support from coaches which is really making it a national event. The format has been changed for this year to two separate sessions which will provide a better atmosphere for the finals. We are planning to do a streaming audio feed announcing results during the day for all of the fans that are unable to attend as well as do three streaming video broadcast so that fans can watch all three mats for the 1-6 placers in the All-American round.
As a divergent thinker, I could go on and on about the ideas I have, how they relate, what benefits they draw, and what I would like to see in the sport to ensure that it grows. But I wanted to act rather than talk about it and at the moment I am just enjoying seeing this event grow and the excitement that true-freshmen and their parents have when they are successful against a field of competition just like them reassuring them that their efforts through the long and grueling season are being rewarded.
I am always interested in talking wrestling, it is defiantly a passion of mine, and I welcome anyone contacting me through email at email@example.com.
About Matt’s Mat Notes
Matt’s Mat Notes is a new feature on WIN-Magazine.com which consists of feature stories, news, notes and quotes related to developments on and off the mat in college wrestling. Author Matt Krumrie is the former editor of TheWrestlingMall.com and in addition to contributing to WIN Magazine and The Guillotine, is the author of the new book The Ultimate Guide to Wrestling Camps, a comprehensive guide featuring resources, tips and stories for parents and youth to high school-age wrestlers. If you have a story idea or suggestion, news, notes or tidbit, please email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.