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Division I coaches find balance in qualifier system
By Jason Bryant
jbryant@intermatwrestle.com

A goal of the 2007 NWCA Convention was to poll coaches and see where they stood on a variety of topics affecting the sport of wrestling.

The most pivotal and controversial dealt with the recent NCAA mandate that the Division I wrestling qualification system no longer be based on historical data.

While the suggestion from the NCAA memorandum regarding the qualifier allocation listed RPI as an option, several matters were discussed at the Horizon Casino Resort in Lake Tahoe on Friday.

Many wrestling fans and coaches felt incoming director of the NCAA Wrestling Rules Committee Brad Traviola was walking into a den of lions.

After two two-and-a-half hour group discussions with member coaches, an epiphany emerged, one that started with a fiery comment by Iowa head coach Tom Brands at the tail end of the first meeting.

What do Division I coaches Jim Beichner, Steve Garland and Derek DelPorto think about the discussion and changes that are to be suggested? Check out these Premium Service clips for more insight.
?This is a drastic change,? said Brands. ?I
know the needs of the ACC and I know about the tradition and representation. Don?t tell me you can?t increase qualifiers. We can serve the interests of both groups and give the underrepresented conferences their due.?

Brands then pointed to Ohio State coach Tom Ryan, who touched on what would be the day?s most important topic.

?The fix was let?s get more,? said Ryan. ?We just need to tweak, we don?t need to change. We need something that?s not historical data. (We need) what?s returning, what?s eligible.?

Ryan?s comments sparked a discussion that saw supporters of a regional system like University of Buffalo coach Jim Beichner and University of Virginia coach Steve Garland shift away from their preference and join what seemed to be a mountain of support for current data vs. historical data.

The whirlwind of support got bigger when Traviola explained a notation that the NCAA can modify championship qualification and format for endangered sports, which wrestling is listed.

The by-product: Discussion about adding 30 more qualifiers, keeping the current conference tournaments intact, but changing how the qualifier process would be displayed.

Instead of a five or three-year rolling Round of 12 formula, it was discussed that current season data would determine how many qualifiers a conference would receive.

?I?m extremely encouraged the coaches came together and were unified in a direction to go forward in,? said Traviola.

?I think the AQ (Automatic Qualifier) issue has been a contentious one for a number of years and people are very passionate about it and they?re passionate about their position. From their perspective, they have very sound arguments,? he said. ?To try to take that stance and then to be able to get people on the same page and try to something not only to fix the AQ issue, but do something to help the sport. That?s exactly the walk away you wanted to get coming to the convention.?

On the same page? Exactly.

There was not a single vote amongst the Division I coaches in attendance that opposed adding 30 more qualifiers and the usage of current data to establish how many qualifiers a conference will get.

But while the coaches agreed unanimously that 30 additional qualifiers would help aleviate the controversy surrounding the process, it's not a certainty that 30 more qualifiers would be approved, but the discussion did steer to a common ground.

?Some years, the ACC might deserve 14, some years they might deserve 40, that?s the way it could be,? said Brown head coach Dave Amato.

NWCA Executive Director Mike Moyer was more than pleased with Friday?s developments.

?It speaks volumes for the wrestling community that when there?s a task at hand and the task has to be accomplished, we?ll do whatever it takes to circle the wagons. This was a situation where we just kept talking.?

And it was talking, not infighting, that prompted unanimous support.

?We kept talking about it and the longer we talked about it ? it was just a matter of time before something surfaced with something everyone could rally around,? said Moyer. ?That?s the importance of getting everyone in one place for a discussion like this.?

?One of the things that happens here that doesn?t happen when everyone?s at their institutions is you have to hear different things. You need to have information and facts in order to make an informed decision. There were a lot of facts being put out, a lot of great information being put out and everyone was hearing the same thing. That?s the reason of the importance of a convention.?

?A lot of great minds, a lot of great thoughts until something surfaces,? added Moyer.

Traviola echoed those sentiments, but wasn?t sure what to expect leading into his first NWCA Convention and having to stare down coaches that had become used to a qualification system.

?I was cautiously optimistic,? said Traviola. ?I?ve had individual meetings with separate conferences to explain things to them. People kind of saw the need to come together. As much as you plan for things, you never know what the outcome is.?

?The consensus that we came to wasn?t brought up at all or brought up by the committee. It?s one of those things were it?s better to be lucky than good,? he said.

Traviola and the Division I membership were at a cross-roads after the NCAA mandate was passed that would throw out the use of historical data to determine automatic qualifiers after the 2007-08 season.

?To me, there?s two parts. We were under mandate to not use historical data anymore and so how do you do so in a way with balancing the best wrestlers to the championship and getting a broad representation there,? said Traviola.

?I think we?ve accomplished that with this system,? he said. ?It?s nothing where you can point to another sport that does it this way now, it?s going to be new, we?re going to learn from it, but to have consensus that this is the way to go, that?s all I need to feel comfortable that we?re heading around the right path.?

Moyer feels this is a step in the right direction to help perpetuate the belief that the NCAA championship should have regionally diverse competition and the best wrestlers.

?Historically, we?ve had plenty of coaches have highlighted instances where quality wrestlers have not advanced to the NCAA tournament,? said Moyer. ?The advantage we have is, even if the additional 30 qualifiers aren?t granted, is to take whatever this formula is that we develop and apply it to each of the last two years and if it?s a good formula ? and it does attract quality wrestlers that were left behind, then it should rectify that problem.?

This isn?t a done deal, though.

?By no means is that a slam dunk,? said Traviola. It?s a wish of the coaches, but as a committee we think we can make a pretty compelling argument that?s necessary to achieve that balance between broad representation and getting the best wrestlers there.?

?We?re going to move forward through the system and hopefully be successful.?