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Burroughs: Here are several recommendations to make wrestling’s best event better
Editor’s Note: The following column by Jordan Burroughs, who won two NCAA titles and the Hodge Trophy before capturing one Olympic and two World championships in freestyle, appeared in the latest issue of WIN.
Future Burroughs columns in each monthly issue of WIN will only be available to annual print and digital subscribers and not offered free through our weekly eNewsletter.
By Jordan Burroughs
I was in attendance for this year’s NCAA Championships as an assistant coach for the University of Nebraska, but also just as a fan of the sport of wrestling.
During every session, you could hear the piercing voice of Sandy Stevens, friendly and familiar, announcing the total attendance and declaring that the numbers were record breaking. There were 18,000 plus fans there at each session, hoping to see their son, grandson, nephew, boyfriend, friend or representative of their favorite school fight through the battlefield of college wrestlers, win five matches and be crowned as an NCAA champion.
Fans came to St. Louis excited, and when they walked away from the Scottrade Center on Saturday night, the buzz should have stuck with them. From a disgruntled fan’s perspective, here are a few things I noticed that I wanted to point out to readers and wrestling fans. Did you see these things as well?
A need for more action
As the tournament began, I quickly noticed a displeasing trend. Rarely did wrestlers attack from the first whistle. Collegiate wrestling has become more tactical and less exciting, more about strategy and less about scoring, more about winning, and less about how you got there.
For a number of wrestlers, the game plan has become this: go scoreless in the first period, escape in the second, get 1:01 of riding time, let him go, defend the rest of the match, and win; and if you get a takedown in there somewhere, even better.
The bottom line is: you’re a national champion and then everyone goes home happy! It’s easy for me to complain about, right? It’s rare that I come across an opponent who forces me to slow down the pace of the match to have a shot at winning, but that’s not the point I’m trying to make here. I want to encourage guys to create opportunities for themselves. The harder you wrestle, the better chance you have to score, and win.
My favorite round is Saturday morning and the placement matches. That’s when it truly seems like all competitors have thrown caution to the wind and wrestle relentlessly. There are a ton of bonus-point victories and incredible scrambles.
Those young men are less worried about winning and more concerned with ending their season in exciting fashion, being remembered, and going out on their own terms. These wrestlers are relentless, fearless and have nothing to lose.
You’ve seen it. It happens at every weight class, in almost all the close matches. One guy is the aggressor the entire match, has taken multiple shots and in doing so has gained a small lead. As the third period winds down, his opponent realizes this is his opportunity to snake a takedown late and win. He has spent the last six minutes being defensive. But now with one minute left, he’s within one point and a takedown wins it.
All of a sudden, he becomes the aggressor, and the officials are on his side. Now the guy who has taken all the risks the entire match is hit for stalling. I don’t disagree with the penalty; I just think the call should be consistent during the entire match, not just with short time left. If the first period ends scoreless, unless there was a ton of action and attempts and neither guy was fortunate enough to score, both guys should be warned. You can ding guys in the first period too.
Rarely do referees change their calls. I saw a statistic from Flowrestling that noted only 12 of 59 challenges were overturned. That’s roughly 20 percent. So only one out of every five challenges were overturned. Considering each team was only allowed three challenges for the whole tourney, you could quite possibly lose all three without having one overturned, and be out of luck for the rest of the weekend.
Part of this blame goes on some of the coaches, who were challenging calls they knew shouldn’t be challenged. Most challenges are impulsive and not well thought out, and do nothing but slow down the flow of the tournament. If a team loses a challenge, they should lose a point. That would make coaches think twice about throwing flags around.
Also, the refs reviewed their own calls! They need a committee of referees whose only job is to review calls, uninhibited by the fear of making a bad decision. Dear refs, it’s OK to make mistakes. It’s not OK to not stand behind them.
This was the talk of the tournament. I’ve never seen the wrong score influence the outcome in any high-level sporting event. It’s sad that both of these young men were negatively affected by this mishap; Miller, for missing an opportunity at a national final, and Realbuto, for receiving undeserved condemnation from the fans.
In the heat of the moment, I don’t believe it’s the coach’s or the wrestler’s responsibility to know the score. They look at the scoreboard and wrestle accordingly. It was totally unacceptable and someone should be responsible for such recklessness.
Consolation stall calls
What’s the point? Seriously? Calling stalling with 10 seconds left in the match? Thanks, but no thanks. That really is just a useless token of gratitude for the guy that is being aggressive but is about to lose. It’s like the referee is thinking, “I appreciate your hard work, so here’s a warning, but I can’t call this guy for stalling in the last 10 seconds. Do you know how that would look? I would get booed out of this place.”
The invisible ref is the best ref right? Wrong. Take chances Mr. Official. Create action. If the wrestlers won’t do it, you should. From me to the entire NCAA wrestling community, bring the excitement back. Not just in the story lines, but in the actual competition.
Make the call
The bottom line is that the referees have to get involved. I completely understand that no official wants to be the guy to ultimately decide the outcome of the match. You know the quote, “Don’t leave it in the hands of the officials.”
Sometimes as a competitor you don’t have a choice. I’m not by any means a referee, but I believe that his or her outlook usually is, if you deserve to win, you will. If you take risks, you will score. Do your job, and we’ll do ours.
But by doing nothing, you are essentially deciding the outcome. I know it’s hard, and the best officials are those you don’t know, because they don’t draw attention to themselves. But in these cases, you have to make an exception. Make the guys wrestle.
Dominance of Logan Stieber
To put this into perspective, I was 16-13 as a freshman in college and went 1-2 at that NCAA tournament. Logan is a four-time national champ? Enough said.
Out of bounds equals points
Folkstyle wrestling needs a push-out rule. Out of bounds refers to being outside the wrestling boundaries of the mat or “the circle.” Due to the chaotic nature of wrestling, it is normal for wrestlers to go out of bounds frequently during a match. In some cases, wrestlers may intentionally go out when it is to their advantage. Hmmm.
In other words, use the line as a safety net to prevent being scored upon. I saw too many guys diving for the line when an opponent was in on their legs. NCAA wrestling needs to create a push-out rule and force wrestlers to defend in-bounds or give up a point.
These are just my observations as we put another NCAA tournament in the books. This article is in no way indicative of my complete outlook on the tourney. I really enjoyed the tournament as always and my son, Beacon, got a chance to attend his first NCAA tournament at eight months of age! I want to personally congratulate every All-American and national champion. Now that folkstyle is over, let freestyle begin!