Gable: Teams need to follow Penn State’s lead at NCAAs

Updated: April 13, 2022

Photo: Penn State wrestlers were happy to raise the 2022 NCAA Division I Championships team trophy, March 19, in Detroit, Mich. This marked the Nittany Lions’ ninth team title over the past 11 NCAA tournaments. (Justin Hoch photo)

Note: Dan Gable produced 15 team championships over a 20-year period at Iowa before retiring after the 1997 NCAAs. He recently spoke to WIN Editor Mike Finn about the 2022 NCAA Division I Championships in Detroit, where Penn State won a ninth team title in the past 11 national tournaments.

This Gable Q&A appeared in WIN’s Magazine 2022 Nationals Commemorative issue. Click here or call 888-305-0606 to subscribe.

WIN: With Penn State having at least three of its 2022 NCAA champions returning for next season, many people believe the Nittany Lions are starting a new dynasty. You also had two Iowa teams with five champs. Is that an accurate description of Penn State is trying to do?

GABLE: I don’t know if it’s the beginning a new dynasty … or a continuation of what they started a decade ago. Of those NCAAs, between 2011 — when Penn State won the first of nine under Cael Sanderson — and 2022, I’d call this period a dynasty.

What other sport would a team accomplish such a feat and not call it a dynasty?


WIN: What similarities and differences do you see in this Penn State team compared to when the Nittany Lions had their pair of four-year winning streaks?

GABLE: There really hasn’t been much of a fall-off over these years. They had a couple of “off” years, then bounced right back. They don’t show a pattern of letting up. I think they are helping other programs raise their levels. They realize they can’t wait around for Penn State to lose their momentum and dynasty. Penn State is always going to be strong, until they show something different over a multiple-year period. Other programs are going to have to go after them. It’s no different than the success we had at Iowa.

WIN: What do programs have to do beat Penn State when it really matters at the NCAAs?

GABLE: Programs have to analyze who is winning and see why they are winning and look at who they are, including coaches because they are the ones talking about what kind of program they want. So, you analyze Penn State a lot and you analyze your program and compare them. Is it night and day? You have to take some things that are out there.

And that also comes down to recruiting. Are they recruiting enough people with potential?


WIN: With that in mind, is there something unique about the potential of the Penn State wrestlers?

GABLE: One thing about many of those athletes is that they are very athletic and are very impressive with their skills and technique. And there are a lot of mental games that go in today’s wrestling. They have to have that mental part to win that much. Other teams have athletes with this mental capability but not as much as Penn State.

Also, Penn State’s returning champs scored a lot of points this year, so one should expect that the champs who return for next year could do the same thing.

There were two other teams — Michigan and Iowa — that also had good teams this past year. Michigan didn’t really put it together at the NCAAs and Iowa was always right there and was No. 1 ranked for the majority of this past season, only to see 40 percent of their wrestlers injured, which really knocked Iowa out of the race this post-season. Iowa has to look at why that happened. It’s time to put ideas down on paper on how to eliminate some of the negative things that impacted teams.

WIN: How could teams cut down on injuries? Should there be more rest?

GABLE: Teams should look at their practice stuff, because that is where you usually get hurt and teams spend a lot more time in practice than in real competition. There is also a shift in today’s rules, especially how wrestlers are diving at opponents’ legs or rolling around, which leads to a lot of injury potential.

I think it has to do with technique from the offensive guy instead of technique on the defensive guy. The defensive guy is going for broke in trying not to get taken down. There are skills on the offensive end that would not allow those defensive moves to happen.

WIN: When a defensive wrestler dives at his opponent’s legs, should officials call that a stalemate right away … or at least if there is no movement by either wrestler for say five seconds?

GABLE: That’s a pretty simple answer and I like it. Both wrestlers in a scramble are always in a dangerous position for injuries. Yet, you don’t want to take away wrestlers’ ability to counter moves.

You don’t want to take away counters because that also leads to flurries between wrestlers. But I do agree that officials allow wrestlers to go a little bit too long in this position. And there are some wrestlers who create dangerous situations so they don’t give up points. That is not the object of this sport.

WIN: With so many veteran wrestlers ending their careers with injuries, does it suggest there is a physical limit to how long college wrestlers should compete?

GABLE: This is probably the only time the NCAA will give exceptions to wrestlers’ eligibilities.  Because of that, I think people are panicking too much and we shouldn’t worry about this too much.

WIN: Many of the wrestlers in Detroit talked about looking forward to competing in freestyle wrestling because college wrestling has become such a grind compared to freestyle, which they felt is more enjoyable as an athlete. Is college wrestling at a point where it needs to address this?

GABLE: Wrestling talked about it a few years ago when there was talk about making it a one-semester sport or at least shortening the season. But for some reason, we’ve gone the other direction and now there are tournaments as early as October.

WIN: Should we get away from having to call the college season a grind?

GABLE: I think so. I heard that a lot, dating back to people saying when you wrestle Gable’s guys, it’s going to be a grind. A grind is a negative (word) in terms of when it comes to motivating wrestlers, who might say, ‘practice is going to be a grind.’ Wrestlers should look forward to going to practice, where they want to have fun and work hard.

When I was an athlete, I’d spend all day planning my practices. I did the same thing later when I was a coach. And when I got to practice and it was not going the way that I wanted, I would make adjustments in practice.