Don’t tell wrestlers that their matches don’t count

Updated: December 1, 2023

Photo: Purdue’s Matt Ramos (right), who was WIN’s preseason No. 1 at 125 pounds before losing two matches, scored a 10-2 major decision against then No. 1 Anthony Noto of Lock Haven at the Nov. 21 All-Star Classic. (Tony Rotundo photo)

By Tristan Warner

The 53rd edition of the NWCA All-Star Classic proved to be another successful early-season showcasing of some of the nation’s most promising collegiate wrestlers on Nov. 21 in State College, Pa.

Pitting some of the highest-ranked individuals against each other in mid-November annually, the All-Star Classic accomplishes several feats simultaneously for fans, coaches, and contestants. 

It gives fans a small taste of elite collegiate folkstyle wrestling action and quenches that thirst which has been accumulated since the previous March. It also potentially foreshadows some big-time matchups for the upcoming postseason, especially ones that would not otherwise occur based on schedules. 

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For coaches, the event is not only a prestigious honor in which to have their program represented, but it provides a measuring stick for said coaches’ athlete(s) against high-level foes.

From the athletes’ perspective, this event provides wrestlers the opportunity to rise to the occasion and stake their claim early in the season, perhaps setting the tone for the rest of their season. 

But one ongoing debate that has encircled this distinguished event for years is whether or not these matches should actually count toward the wrestlers’ records? Or, in other words, is this event an actual competition or merely an exhibition?

An exhibition as it stands today, the NWCA All-Star Classic provides these athletes the risk-free opportunity to duke it out without affecting their record or seed, at least in theory. 

But some argue that the result of a seven-minute match between two collegiate wrestlers with all the same scoring guidelines in place should count just like any other wrestling match would.

While I know there are many arguments for or against standardizing the NWCA All-Star Classic as an official match, my stance on the matter is that the event is already accomplishing the aforementioned feats as it is, so there is no need to change it. 

Evolving the sport of wrestling has been a hot-button topic for a while now and seems to have gained even more steam after the near scare of wrestling being temporarily excluded from the Summer Olympics back in 2013. 

Surely, as is the case with any sport, continuing to make adaptations and adjustments to better the longevity of the sport are important. 

However, in some ways, changing things about the sport simply for the sake of changing them is worse. 

That is a whole separate issue, but the concept is not lost on the topic of the All-Star Classic. 

Let’s face it: to the group of constituents that would be most affected by the change, the wrestlers themselves, this already is a real match. No wrestler at this level and of this caliber is treating any wrestling match, whether it is labeled as “exhibition” or not, any differently than he or she would a formal match. 

Wrestlers pour too much of their mind, body and soul into their preparation for competition than to take this event for anything less than another wrestling match against a high-level opponent. 

However, in theory, this match does provide the athletes the opportunity to “let it fly” with a little less pressure than a typical match may pose since their record and potential future postseason seeds are unaffected, also in theory. 

Meanwhile, the quality of matches presents the fans with one of the most exciting contests in college wrestling just as the traditional season is gearing up. 

By standardizing this event, the risk is that higher-ranked wrestlers, or their coaches, may tend to shy away from accepting the invitation in order to protect their record or future NCAA seed. 

Conversely, the event would become more beneficial and more appealing to lower-ranked wrestlers harnessing the “underdog” role and trying to knock off a higher-ranked foe without much to lose for themselves. 

In addition, if the event were to count as a formal match, does that become one of a limited number of competition dates for the entire program of the schools that had a representative accept the invitation? Does that mean a competition is taken away from the rest of the team because one member accepted an invite to the All-Star Classic?

Regardless, the event has become a celebrated and anticipated spectacle of the collegiate wrestling season, and tampering with its format would only be detrimental. 

(Tristan Warner is a former PIAA finalist and three-time NCAA qualifier for Old Dominion. The two-time Elite 89 Award recipient and CoSIDA Capital One Academic All-American lives in Shippensburg, Pa.)