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Wrestling: Tom Ryan eyes more dual meet emphasis in NCAA

Ohio State wrestling coach Tom Ryan addresses his team after the Buckeyes’ practice on Oct. 20. Credit: Jeff Helfrich | Lantern Reporter

The television outside of Tom Ryan’s office is often set to ESPN. Inevitably, he walks by a lot of College Football Playoff talk on the sports network.

And every time he hears it, he can only think of one thing — a college wrestling playoff.

This idea has been more than a thought in the mind of Ohio State’s wrestling coach. Ryan has pushed for a stand-alone, dual-meet championship tournament in the NCAA, among other things. He’s even a member of the Blue Ribbon Task Force committee, which is dedicated to developing a long-term plan for NCAA wrestling.

The Blue Ribbon Task Force includes members such as North Carolina State Athletic Director Debbie Yow, NCAA executive vice president of regulatory affairs Oliver Luck and Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby. The task force was formed by the National Wrestling Coaches Association.

“We’ve got some big dogs involved,” Ryan said. “And they all like the sport and they all see the value in wanting to move in this direction. And because they’re involved now, things can happen.”

There is currently a proposal, unanimously approved by the committee, in the works that would change college wrestling to a one-semester sport that starts during December and would end about six weeks later than usual with a dual-meet tournament. The current individual championships would stay in March. The NCAA has yet to sign off on the proposal.

Ryan’s reasoning for the change stems from the idea that dual meets are more fan-friendly than longer individual tournaments. He wants to attract more interest in his sport.

“I think it’s spectator-friendly,” Ryan said. “An hour and a half, an hour and 45 minutes is way better than three days in a gym, or tournaments two days in a gym. I think it’s substantially more team-oriented. I think team sports are sports that our culture follows. I think it’s important for the sport of wrestling that we value the team aspect as much as the superstar aspect.”

Ohio State has experience balancing individual success with team success. The Buckeyes won a team national championship in 2015 and their current roster is home to former individual national champions and an Olympic champion in heavyweight Kyle Snyder.

Ryan said the proposed changes would place importance on more wrestlers in his program, due to the fact that dual-meet wins and losses would count more in preparation for a dual-meet tournament.

“I think it would add more value to more people,” Ryan said. “Because, right now if you lose a dual meet, it doesn’t hurt your chance to win the national tournament. And because of that, you’re hesitant to put all your guys in when they may be banged up or not. So, because of that, it brings less value to your guys in the room.”

Ryan said most of the opposition that the proposal faces involves the timing and scheduling of the hypothetical events. He said there also are differing viewpoints on how teams would be chosen for a dual-meet tournament and how many teams would be involved. The ability of wrestlers to maintain their peak performance for an entire season is also up for discussion.

Redshirt senior Nathan Tomasello seemed to be all for the proposed changes. He placed value on the ability of dual meets to attract new, casual fans to the sport.

“I think it’s important to make it more of a team sport and easier to follow,” Tomasello said. “If you don’t really know wrestling that well, it’s tough to follow how people get points at national tournaments.”

Ryan said wrestling is one of the few collegiate sports that actually succeeds as a business model with ticket sales, and that gives the NCAA incentive to retool the sport and maximize profit. A dual meet at the Schottenstein Center between Ohio State and Penn State drew an attendance of 15,338 just last season.

Ryan drew a comparison to Ohio State football fans tuning in to Saturday’s game between Penn State and Michigan because of a vested interest in the sport and the outcome of the game. That type of heightened interest is what he desires for the sport of wrestling.

“We don’t have that in wrestling,” Ryan said. “And we need it. And until we get it, we’ll continue to be a sport that’s kind of status quo instead of one that’s thriving.”

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