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Can National Duals survive without Iowa?
By Mike Finn
Call it wrestling’s Catch 22.
At a time when the National Wrestling Coaches Association is close to creating a true “dual meet” championship, it will be without it’s bigger players at this year’s NWCA National Duals in three-time defending champion Iowa.
The Hawkeyes announced in early September that the team would not attend the 23rd annual event, which will be held Jan. 8-9, 2011, in Cedar Falls, Iowa…which is 90 miles from the Iowa City campus.
“There has been a lot of conversation on this topic, which there should be and it is notable that we are absent,” Iowa head coach Tom Brands told Takedown Radio’s Scott Casber. “We support (executive director) Mike Moyer and the NWCA in their energy to change the National Duals to a real national dual championship. That being said, the current format is still strong. We support it as well, except this year it’s best for our team not to enter it at this point.”
One reason for Brands decision not to attend maybe that he returns just one All-American — 125-pound defending champion Matt McDonough — from last year’s NCAA championship team and could feature as many as three redshirt freshmen in this year’s line-up.
In recent years, the NWCA has invited 16 teams from each of the NCAA’s three divisions as well as the NAIA and national junior college association to compete for two days in the UNI-Dome. According to the NWCA, the following Division I teams will compete in Cedar Falls: American, Boise State, Central Michigan, Cornell, Iowa State, Minnesota, Missouri, Ohio State, Oklahoma State, Oregon State, Purdue, Northern Iowa (the host school), Virginia Tech and Wisconsin
Next year, the NWCA hopes to create four regionals on college campuses, where teams — which earn berths based on their regular-season dual performances — will compete for a spot in in a Final Four dual championship shortly before the NCAA’s postseason begins with conference and national qualifying tournaments.
“Right now, it is an invitational and we’re not ready to commit to that type of invitational,” Brands told Casber. “I realize that it’s a hot topic and that the University of Iowa will be a notable absence. If it was a true national championship, we would probably earn our way into it or not.”
But it’s not just the Hawkeyes that will be missed. It’s Iowa’s fans … which made up nearly 50 percent of the 16,000 who attended each of the last two National Duals.
“In the past, we counted on the University of Iowa to make this work,” said Moyer. “Now we are counting on the University of Iowa fans.”
Moyer hopes that Iowa fans will still attend this year’s event, one day after the Hawkeyes entertain Southern Illinois-Edwardsville, Jan. 8, in Iowa City.
“We are asking for Hawkeye fans to show up,” Moyer said. “There is nothing else going on Saturday or Sunday. We need the Hawkeye fans more than ever. Without them, we are going to struggle.”
In fact, Moyer added that the future of this event is in jeopardy without a large attendance.
“We have to make sure this event this year remains financially viable and the only way that can happen is if the spectators show up like they have in the past,” Moyer said. “If it is not financially viable this year, I seriously doubt whether we would have enough momentum for the new format to even have a chance.
“I’m thinking there has never been a more important time for the wrestling community, most noticeably the spectator base in the Midwest to support this event as we move towards repositioning to a new format.
“We are counting on the entire Midwest community to understand that. There is still going to be a lot of great wrestling and there are still plenty of reasons to come out. The spectators are in a unique position to really help us re-position the event in such a way that it could grow our sport.”
Moyer, who spoke to Brands before the coach’s decision was announced, said he understands the tough situation that Brands was placed in.
“What’s tough about this is that he’s been very supportive of a lot of things that we’ve done. Iowa’s not the only team that hasn’t supported this,” Moyer said, well aware that Oklahoma State’s John Smith said he did not like the fact that the tournament was held in Iowa.
The last time the Cowboys competed at the National Duals was in 2007 and Iowa did not compete at the National Duals in 2004 and 2005, when the event was held in Cleveland, Ohio, where the attendance was poor.
“One of the reasons we are migrating towards this new format is to overcome many of the concerns that the coaches have expressed over the past three or four years,” Moyer added. “The challenge that we have is that we have to get from this side of the bridge to the other side of the bridge. We can’t do that if we lose the momentum of the event.”
Moyer also believes the National Duals are more than an invitational tournament.
“It’s been a gateway for mainstream companies to get into wrestling,” he said. “It’s been a gateway towards national television. It’s been a gateway towards showing solitarity. I’m not sure of another sport that has over 80 programs competing in one weekend under one roof, other than the NCAA Division I championship.”
So Moyer, who said a decision on any future National Duals will be determined shortly after this season’s event, believes it’s up to all college fans to continue creating a gateway for the event and the promotion of the sport.
“This is going to require all hands on deck,” he said. “People understand this is not just a wrestling event.”