Van Kley: Overthinking rules, making rules to defeat champs may be hurting the sport

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Updated: April 22, 2022

Photo: The official gave two points to Northwestern’s Ryan Deakin after he caught Princeton’s Quincy Monday in a “neutral danger zone takedown” during the 157-pound finals at the 2022 NCAA Division I Championships in Detroit. (Justin Hoch photo)

By Bryan Van Kley

The collegiate nationals in every division and another outstanding season are in the books! As I watched the sport’s crown jewel, the NCAA Division I Championships, and talked about the tournament with WIN staff and friends, one point came out: too many recent rule changes may be hurting the sport. 

I really think the sport is in a great spot. I believe administrators and committee members of the NCAA Rules Committee have the best of intentions when they add a new rule or redefine an old one. However, mostly, we need to just let the guys wrestle!

An example in recent years deals with athletes wrestling near the edge of the mat to stall from their feet. With the new rule changes, you’ll now see that situation scored differently all the time. Now, the offensive wrestler isn’t looking for anything but push-outs most of the time. This was not the intent of the rule.  

I suggest giving the officials more freedom to call it as they see it, a grand majority of the time you can see stalling vs. a situation where a person is just defending leg attacks from an aggressive opponent. Or, simply just change to the freestyle push-out rule. That’s very black and white and has worked well. 

A good friend pointed out to me that almost all the rule changes in the last 10-12 years have come because of something unique that national champs are doing that other guys can’t stop. If enough people complain about it, the Rules Committee attempts to neutralize that position or tactic. 

Point in case, Logan Stieber’s ankle-ride and far-half nelson, Andrew Howe’s pushing opponents to the edge, Jordan Oliver’s ability to wrestle on the edge as defense, Dean Heil’s scrambling where he laid on his back and grabbed an opponent’s ankles to defend a takedown attempt and Chris Perry’s double-legs and side headlock from on top. Even further back, a rule was created after Stephen Abas dropped to an ankle on a ride-out.   

Let’s simplify things. Top-level wrestlers and coaches need to figure these situations out, which I realize is easier said than done. Certainly, there are situations where guys are stalling. There’s not a difference between grabbing an opponent’s far ankle with your hand to stall vs. just sitting on the inside ankle with your foot and body. The bottom guy can’t get out without that ankle. However, riding is a skill just like getting out from bottom is a skill. The point is, it’s not good to simply add new rules, guys need to adjust.

Finally, for the official reviews, one way to clean up any coaches’ challenges which go to video, is to simply put them on the arena’s big screen. This will create a more intense atmosphere at events with a lot of booing. But, our sport has an extremely knowledgeable fan base and you’ll see this simple step result in more correct calls. 

Our WIN staff is excited to bring this Nationals Commemorative Issue to you as fans. It really is one of the most enjoyable ones of the year to put together. There are way more great stories coming out of the national tournaments than there are pages in this magazine.

This column by publisher Bryan Van Kley appeared in WIN’s 2022 Nationals Commemorative Issue. Click on cover or call 888-305-0606 to subscribe.

Our editor Mike Finn and staff of writers have worked extremely hard to produce this action-packed issue that is the result of dozens and dozens of interviews. As you can imagine, many of the quotes and stories you’ll see here come from elated champs who have achieved the goal of a lifetime. 

But many others are from wrestlers who fell short, some of whom will never get a shot at that elusive collegiate title again as their careers are ending. 

These incredible athletes in our sport are helping to sell wrestling to a huge national audience when ESPN broadcasts the NCAAs. Guys like Hodge Trophy winner Gable Steveson, three-time champ Yianni Diakomihalis and Aaron Brooks remind us that most college wrestlers are warriors for the amount work they put in, but also in the courage it takes to win multiple college titles. And, they entertain fans with their unique personalities. One champion after another provided unique insight to the ESPN-TV audience as to their personalities. Many shared openly about things like their faith, gratitude to their parents and coaches and the heart it took for them to pursue their championship goal. 

They make you proud to be “wrestling people” and are a big part of the reason the future looks bright. And they’re also a shining example of what the “end product” of a long career in the sport produces: highly-motivated, mature student-athletes who are ready as they can be for anything life will throw at them.  

One last highlight from the wrestling pilgrimage to Detroit was the RUDIS Super Match the night before the NCAAs at MotorCity Casino. Owner Jesse Leng and his team did an outstanding job putting on a great event welcoming fans to the championship weekend. 

The main event of the 15-match card was a best-of-three match-up of wrestling superstars J’den Cox and Kyle Snyder. The pair didn’t disappoint a near capacity crowd. Snyder won a wild first match 5-5 on criteria, then won a more controlled second bout 7-1. 

Other big-name match-ups on the card were Sarah Hildebrandt vs. Ronna Gross, Zain Retherford vs. James Green, Jordan Oliver vs. Alex Pantaleo, Isaiah Martinez vs. Alex Dieringer, Myles Martin vs. Marc Hall and Kayla Miracle vs. Emma Bruntil. 

The event was in a small, theatre-like venue. The atmosphere was electric and the production of the event top-notch, with music playing during the matches. Public address commentators, including Jordan Burroughs, described the action while it was taking place so fans felt like they were always in the coaches’ corners. Great job RUDIS. 

Please enjoy another NCAA Commemorative Issue of WIN. 

(WIN Publisher Bryan Van Kley can be reached at Bryan@WIN-magazine.com.)  

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