For the first time in more than 80 years, the NCAA Wrestling Championships could experience a substantial change.
Since 1929, the NCAA has determined a team champion in wrestling based on a points system at the NCAA tournament each March. The tournament, which is wrestling’s most popular event each year, is an individual event in which the wrestlers earn points for their teams.
If the championships committee approves the proposal, an NCAA-sponsored national dual tournament would be added at the end of each season to determine wrestling’s team championship. Team scoring would still be kept at the individual tournament, with the team that scores the most points recognized as the National Wrestling Coaches Association Champions.
“We are one the few NCAA sports that has a revenue-maker championship,” Missouri coach Brian Smith said. “That’s why the NCAA is looking into adding another championship to wrestling.”
The second tournament would be another nationally televised wrestling event each year, which could provide an opportunity for the sport to grow.
“If you have two national events on TV, it’s going to expand your sport,” Smith said. “Any time you can get on TV and get positive exposure, you have to do it. Wrestling is going to experience a growth.”
Wrestling could use the growth, too. Over the past 30 years, the number of Division I wrestling programs has decreased from 146 to 77.
For that reason, many coaches, like Smith, say they think change is necessary to increase the popularity of the sport.
But that’s not a consensus opinion. Penn State associate head coach Cody Sanderson is weary about changing wrestling’s most popular event. The Nittany Lions have won the past two national championships under the current format.
“The national wrestling tournament in its traditional format is one of the most successful and exciting events in our sport,” Sanderson said. “We’re concerned about taking that event and making it less important.”
Smith contests that the two events can co-exist, and a national dual tournament may be more popular with casual fans because it’s a team event and provides more opportunities for upsets.
“You’re always going to have the wrestling fans,” Smith said. “Dual is going to draw more crowds because people will come to see one team against another.”
While the national dual tournament would create a chance for smaller schools to be bracket busters, not all of the small-school coaches are in favor of the change, according to Sanderson.
“I think it will have the opposite effect,” Sanderson said. “The small schools are going to have a harder time keeping up because of scholarship limitations.”
Sanderson stressed the need for caution above all else in deciding on such a big change.
“Before we make any change, we need to know what it is we’re doing,” he said.