By CLAY HORNING
NORMAN — Sunday afternoon I was at McCasland Fieldhouse for Bedlam wrestling.
It wasn’t a very good day for the Sooners, who fell 26-9, won only 2 of 10 bouts and lost for the second time in less than 72 hours. Still, packing up and walking out of the arena I had the same thought I always have when walking away from the mat.
That was fun, when does it happen again?
I looked at OU’s schedule. Iowa State visits Jan. 5. West Virginia arrives Jan. 20.
It seems like the season just began. The Sooners welcomed NAIA power Oklahoma City to the old field house. Binghamton was in Norman a week before Bedlam. Then Bedlam and only two more duals?
We know wrestling will never rival basketball the way it once did around here, and interest may never be as broad for it as for college baseball, nor may the mat Sooners become the cool new team on the block the way Patty Gasso’s OU softball team has been the last 15 years. Yet it would stand a much better chance if OU was at home more than five times a season.
Another thing about the mat.
It may not generate deep interest beyond anybody without a cauliflower ear, but in the moment, when a reversal comes out of nowhere, an escape beats the buzzer or even when a weak spot on the roster simply avoids being pinned, saving the team a point or two … when those things happen, when it’s meaningful and top drawer, wrestling is better than basketball, baseball even football.
Because nothing is more exciting than a 3-2 ninth-inning pitch with two outs and runners at the corners and a guy who can really hit on deck; or fourth-and-4 with minutes to play in a razor-tight game; or coming out of timeout, down a point with 15 seconds to play. But so many things must first happen for those moments to ever happen.
Put two strong grapplers on the mat and you might get 10 moments like that in a single bout. And there are 10 bouts in a dual.
So part of wrestling’s answer is more wrestling. And while hardly an insider, only a sports editor who knows wrestling but doesn’t really know wrestling the way most of my ilk don’t know horse racing and hockey and turning ovals on a superspeedway, I’m convinced a few changes could do wonders for the collegiate mat.
There may be great reasons why none of this would work, even better than but we’ve always done it this way, but that’s not my problem.
Here we go.
- Last season, OU competed in 18 duals, but they wrestled three times in a day once and twice in a day once. That’s 15 days of dual competition. Seven were at home.
Make it more like basketball. In the four-program Big 12, everybody should wrestle everybody home and away. That’s six duals. That’s enough to crown a real team champion, or to properly seed a conference dual tournament on a Friday night before coming back the next day to crown individual champions.
Heck, make Saturday an open event. If two Sooners or two Cowboys meet each other along the way, so be it. If you need another day, finish Sunday.
Make the regular season mean something. Make the duals more than exhibitions and have more of them on campus and say good-bye to the Lone Star Duals and the National Duals. It’s a great sport. Bring it back to campus.
- Change the way duals are run. Let the home team choose the first bout, the visitor the second bout so on and so on and so on. Do it on the fly. Adjust in the moment. Maybe the weights will go in order or maybe they’ll look like this: 141, 174, HWT, 125, 149, etc.
It’s not the way NCAA championships are determined — yet, we’re getting to that — but the essence of the wrestling season is the dual and the dual is the essence of wrestling as a team sport. Create a better dual.
In hockey, the home team gets the last change. In football, the offense can choose to sub or not sub, dictating if the defense is to receive time to make its subs. Well, introduce macro-strategy to the mat. Let OU coach Mark Cody decide when it’s Kendric Maple’s turn to wrestle.
It’s already exciting, make it more exciting and fascinating, too.
Sometimes, duals go too fast. But now that you’ve brought macro-strategy to the game, give coaches 15 minutes to think it over, fans the time to hit the concessions and a little while just to let the tension build. Maybe the right time to bring Maple out at 141 is right after the half. Hear the PA guy in your head. Imagine the eruption.
- This last one could be the entire column. It might shake the sport to its core. Old school guys will hate it. They’ll be wrong.
Many believe there should be an NCAA dual tournament. Take it a step further instead. Sure, there should be the an NCAA dual tournament. Indeed, make the NCAA tournament a dual tournament.
Not only are duals about 100 times more television friendly than what you have now, but there’s precedent.
It’s the way the NCAA decides its tennis championships. The team champion is determined just like NCAA basketball and volleyball champions are determined, from a field of 64 that’s pared down to 32, 16, 8, 4, 2 and 1. When that’s over, an entirely new tournament begins to determine individual singles and doubles champions.
If tennis used wrestling’s model, it would only have the individual draws, extrapolating the team finish from within. But if the essence of the season is the dual, and the dual the essence of wrestling as a team sport, you must go this route.
No longer can four of five great grapplers win you a team crown. Now only a team can win you a team crown.
Make it 32 teams instead of 64 and send eight to four different regionals. After two days, you’re down to the final four.
Wrestle the semifinals the following Sunday, the national championship dual on Monday, then begin the individual championships inside the same arena on Thursday and finish Saturday.
The national tourney’s already an extravaganza and now you can throw two of them in the same building in the same week.