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Jeff Byers: Wrestling Bowl System Would Boost Exposure

by on December 29, 2011 11:27 PM

For as long as I have been following wrestling, there have been conversations from those who follow the sport on how it should be promoted and marketed and covered better by the media.

Many suggestions have come and gone over the years and some have been implemented, others discussed and many forgotten. There's been talk of moving the season to the spring and having it finish in late April to get away from the basketball coverage. There have been strides in TV coverage, and now there are some matches carried live on the Big Ten Network and multiple rounds of the NCAA tournament are broadcast live by ESPN's networks.

The coverage has unquestionably aided the sport’s growth. Most fans are realistic and practical enough to realize that wrestling will never overtake football or basketball in national popularity. But fans want to grow the niche in the market the sport has carved out for itself.

I, of course, love wrestling and want to see it promoted and marketed better so it will grow. I am also a big sports fan in general and have a passion for college football. For years, I've complained about college football's bowl system. But the sport continues to reign as king at the collegiate level and I continually hear national media folks defend the bowl system as a great situation that makes college football special for all involved. It makes the regular season more meaningful and the fans enjoy the bowl trips and half the teams get to finish their season as winners in the postseason.

Well, I now think it's time for wrestling to adjust its thinking and have the sport adopt the "if you can't beat them, join them" mentality.

I propose a bowl system for college wrestling. Casual sports fans have said they have trouble following the tournament scoring in wrestling and many have argued that the dual team championships are more conducive for public acceptance of the sport. This year there is a new format for the dual championships with regional sites and then a Final Four. This may be a step in the right direction, but I say why not take it a step further and have a bowl system determine wrestling’s champion. Longtime followers of the sport will still want the NCAA tournament and I propose we use that as part of the new equation.

First off, we have to acknowledge that football has cornered the bowl terminology. And wrestling fans must understand that even if this plan takes off, football will still be the top dog. So, I propose college wrestling adopt the term "dish meets" or “dish matches” instead of bowl games. And since there is no professional wrestling (what many call professional wrestling bears the same resemblance to our sport that European football, or soccer, bears to American football, which is to say none), our top-two teams can play in the Super Dish.

Because there are fewer schools and significantly less money, I propose that wrestling settle on a mere six postseason dish matches instead of the 30-something and growing number of football bowl games.

Because we are following football's model and want to incorporate the NCAA tournament into our procedure, the NCAA tournament results would count for one-third of the total ranking. Another third would be determined by computer polls which would take into account a team's regular season strength of schedule and results. The final third would be determined by a poll vote from media members and coaches. We would take the top eight teams and they would automatically qualify for dish meets with the top two teams meeting in the Super Dish event. The final four selections would have to come from teams ranked in the Top 20, but the dish committees could determine which teams they wanted.

The NCAA tournament and the Super Dish could be held one week apart so that fans could spend a week’s vacation time there if they choose. The other dish meets could be held on various days over a two-week period. Most years, experts would agree, the COWDS (Championship of Wrestling Dish Series) would get it right and the top-two teams would meet in the Super Dish. And, just like college football, when there is disagreement, it will be good for the sport because it will keep wrestling in the headlines and controversy sells.

We would rotate between six locations for the various dish meets. I would propose St. Louis and Philadelphia be two of the sites with a look to growing the sport into other areas by taking the other sites to Honolulu, Miami, Dallas and Los Angeles.

As an example, last year’s Super Dish, making its debut in Hawaii, would have featured a rematch of Penn State and Iowa. At the NCAA tournament, Penn State finished first, with Cornell second and Iowa third. But the Hawkeyes would have received a big boost with their strength of schedule in the Big Ten, and Iowa had a dual win over the Nittany Lions.

The Super Dish committee would have been very pleased because Penn State and Iowa have two of the largest followings — if not the largest followings in the sport (only Oklahoma State might rival them). Cornell fans would have felt snubbed but would have been featured in the prestigious Resilite Dish match against Oklahoma State in Philadelphia. And the controversy would add to the interest and keep the debating for weeks. The Asics Dish match between Arizona State and Boise State would have been wrestled in Los Angeles. Meanwhile, Minnesota and American would have squared off in the Decker Tape Dish down in Dallas. Out in St. Louis, Wisconsin and Oklahoma would have met in a less than stellar matchup. Lehigh and Michigan would have squared off in the Powerade Dish in Miami. Sure, fans from teams like Stanford and Central Michigan would be upset and feel slighted, but that would only add to the interest in the sport.

It's time we make wrestling’s regular season as important as college football, and I look forward to the inaugural COWDS match — hopefully the Nittany Lions will be headed to Honolulu. 

Jeff Byers has been the wrestling team’s traveling announcer since 1990.
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