Coach Cael Sanderson told NWCA executive director Mike Moyer the same thing each time: We’re flattered you want our young team in the 2011 NWCA National Duals. We respect your event. We aren’t making the trip to Cedar Falls, Iowa, for the 16-team tournament.
Other prominent coaches declined Moyer’s invitation. Iowa coach Tom Brands isn’t bringing the Hawkeyes, who have won three straight national duals titles, to Cedar Falls this weekend.
Instead of traveling to Iowa, Penn State is participating in this weekend’s Virginia Duals, a nice event, yet one lacking the same punch as the national duals. Iowa wrestles Southern Illinois- Edwardsville on Friday.
“I like Moyer,” Sanderson said. “I like the NWCA. But ultimately we want to do what’s in the best interest of our program and we felt like we were getting what we needed from the Virginia Duals.”
Moyer isn’t dwelling on the no-shows. The NWCA’s event attracted four of the nation’s top-five teams. Penn State, tied for second with Oklahoma State in the USA Today/NWCA rankings, is the only top-five team missing from the field. Iowa is ranked seventh.
“We still have a lot of really, really good teams coming and we have a very, very strong wrestling spectator base in Iowa,” Moyer said. “My guess is the Iowa wrestling community will show up.”
Spectators might be witnessing the final national duals in its current format.
The NWCA wants to overhaul its Division I duals by creating an event comparable to the NCAA basketball tournament. The event would include a 16-team field comprised of 11 conference champions and five at-large selections.
The tournament would start the second Sunday of February at four regional sites. It would conclude with college wrestling’s Final Four a week later.
Coaches voiced unanimous support for the changes during the NWCA’s annual convention last August. Moyer said the new format could be implemented as early as next season.
“At the end of the day we have to grow the spectator base at the institution level,” Moyer said. “The primary way to do that is to build around the dual meet and make it meaningful.”
Moyer pitched the idea to a reporter during a phone conversation Tuesday evening. The reporter initially called Moyer to discuss Penn State’s absence at this year’s national duals. By the end of the conversation, the reporter forgot the Nittany Lions will not see a Big 12 team until the NCAA Championships.
No Big 12 programs attended last week’s 30-team Southern Scuffle won by Penn State and Cornell. None teams are attending the Virginia Duals. The Nittany Lions wrestled Oklahoma State and Oklahoma in last year’s tournament.
“I have said before that when we signed up we thought Oklahoma and Oklahoma State would be there,” Sanderson said. “But it’s fine. We’re not going to analyze where we should be.”
Sanderson said his No. 1 goal is to prepare his team for the NCAA Championships. Attending the Virginia Duals are part of the program’s year-round training plan.
Sanderson added that flying to Cedar Falls less than two weeks after the Southern Scuffle presents logistical challenges. The trip would have cost Penn State $20,000, according to one source.
“It’s a lot different for us to go out there than a team in the Midwest that can just get in the bus,” Sanderson said.
Moyer said a revamped national duals eliminates guesswork from scheduling decisions. He envisions most coaches placing a significant emphasis on qualifying for duals, increasing the emphasis on November, December and January results and possibly making February as exciting as March.
Wrestling’s regular season can use a boost. Lock Haven and Ohio State forfeited weights during meets against Penn State at Rec Hall. Arizona State forfeited two weights during a home meet against Oklahoma State earlier this week.
Resting for March is fine. But is it worthwhile for Oklahoma State to fly to Arizona to wrestle eight bouts? Moyer said the proposed format dangles a desirable carrot — a spot in a major 16-team tournament — in front of coaches.
The NWCA and NCAA are collaborating on the plan. But Moyer said they are “a long way” from making the duals a NCAA-sanctioned championship.
Moyer is confident February represents the best time to conduct a the tournament. The NWCA surveyed 22 state athletic associations and found that a dual meet championship after the traditional state tournament would be anticlimactic.
The PIAA debuted its duals in 1999 and 16 Class AA and AAA teams will wrestle in Hershey next month. Some coaches balked at the timing of the 1999 event.
Northampton’s Don Rohn brought his JV team to the first duals. The tournament is now staged during the second week of February, and many programs consider a state dual meet title as meaningful as the team scoring crown.
Dual meets embody America’s sporting culture better than individual tournaments. Television’s highest rated programs are NFL games. Football, basketball and baseball generate more viewers, advertisers and headlines than wrestling, track and field, tennis and non- Tiger Woods golf events.
Moyer is right when he says compelling on-campus meets are the best way to help wrestling. Sitting through a two-hour dual meet is easier on a wrestling newcomer than enduring a 12-hour day in an eight-mat gym.
Imagine Penn State, Iowa, Oklahoma State and Cornell surviving regionals and competing at the Bryce Jordan Center on Feb. 19, 2012.
That’s must-see stuff. That’s the kind of stuff that makes you forget the difficulties of assembling the nation’s best teams before March.