Journeyman creates “high stakes” duals for top Div. I programs

Updated: December 19, 2021

By Mike Finn

Frank Popolizio, the director of Journeymen Wrestling in up-state New York, has specialized in creating dual-meet competitions for college teams, usually in the month of November. This month, Popolizio and his organization are beginning the holiday season by traveling 1,300 miles to Niceville, Fla., where he hopes to create something more high level for the top college teams in the country.

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Even though most of these 12 teams — including highly-ranked schools by WIN like No. 1 Iowa, No. Penn State, No. 4 NC State, No. 7 Missouri, No. 8 Arizona State and No. 10 Virginia Tech — may not face each other, Popolizio was thrilled to get these schools and six other schools to commit to wrestle a total of three duals at Northwestern Florida State College.

And even though this is not a true National Duals tournament among NCAA Div. I schools — an event that once took place in several forms through 2017 — Popolizio believes he is creating an elite dual event for these schools … and the sport of wrestling. Instead, Iowa and Penn State will headline two different pools of six teams each over two days with a first-, third- and fifth-place dual set for the second day.

Frank Popolizio

Popolizio, who said he loved watching the National Duals — that were once held in the UNI Dome in Cedar Falls, Iowa, where college teams from the different divisions competed —  he had to make sure he didn’t publicize this as a national dual tournament.

“There was an obstacle about calling it a true National Duals,” said Popolizio. “There was resistance from people who were part of the National Duals from the past. They wanted to stay away from the idea that this was a resurgence of the nationals. They wanted it to be its own thing.

“In the end, that’s what it is. We believe it’s a high-stakes duals that have fallen off the wayside as years have gone on. We don’t see a lot of non-conference high-end matches. For whatever reason, that mentality kind of stopped. We wanted to bring back that kind of mentality of getting big matches that people want to see.

“We know that dual meets are a big foundation of our sport. People really enjoy duals, from 125 pounds up. I’ve done things like that (with Journeymen) but it doesn’t take a Frank Popolizio to make this happen, but it does take someone who has relationships with all of these top schools to get them to see the vision. I feel that I have the pulse of what people wanted to see. I pitched it to them and they wanted to do it.”

While Iowa and Penn State will not meet in this community that sits 50 miles east of Pensacola along the northwest coast of Florida, the top schools predicted to contend to win an NCAA Div. I national team championship this March in Detroit, are scheduled to face each other in a Big Ten dual on Jan. 28 in Iowa City, Iowa.

College dual events have been held in Florida around the holidays in the past and Popolizio believe these schools and fans will also enjoy traveling to the warmth of Florida this time of year.

“We thought, ‘Let’s trying something warm, let’s try something different … and this is what we came up with.”

“I think this is one of those things where people talk and gauge interest around the country and there was a lot of interest,” said Iowa coach Tom Brands. “It seems like a pretty good thing to try and there are good people behind this.

“I don’t think this has anything to do with a (national) duals championship. I think that died a long time ago. I’m not saying that it’s not still there. Maybe if the NCAA sanctioned something, there would be legitimacy there. I think this is just a dual event that is at a good time.”

“We are not opposed to a national duals tournament,” said Penn State associate head coach Casey Cunningham, whose team will face Northern Iowa and Cornell on Monday, then a pool placement dual on Tuesday. “We don’t think it counts as a national championship. I think that was the push there for a while. That’s why we moved away from the National Duals kind of tournament. We like the idea of it, but not what they were trying to make it.

“With this, we get a chance to wrestle three really good teams and it’s not going to determine the national team championship.”

Fans can watch the event on Rokfin. Click here for more details.

The following is the schedule of duals that will take place this Monday and Tuesday.

Monday, Dec. 20

Time (EST) Red Pool Blue Pool
10 a.m. Binghamton vs. Missouri Hofstra vs. Virginia Tech
Noon Binghamton vs. NC State Hofstra vs. Arizona State
2 p.m. Missouri  vs. NC State Virginia Tech vs. Arizona State
4 p.m. Lehigh vs. Central Michigan Northern Iowa vs. Cornell
6 p.m. Iowa vs. Central Michigan Northern Iowa vs. Penn State
8 p.m. Iowa vs. Lehigh Cornell vs. Penn State

Tuesday, Dec. 21

1 p.m. Red Pool 5th Place Dual Blue Pool 5th Place Dual
3 p.m. Red Pool 3rd Place Dual Blue Pool 3rd Place Dual
5 p.m. Red Pool Championship
7 p.m. Blue Pool Championship