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2015 NWCA National Duals return to University of Iowa, with additional changes

Inside Carver-Hawkeye Arena at University of Iowa, home to the 2015 NWCA National Duals finals
Inside Carver-Hawkeye Arena at University of Iowa, home to the 2015 NWCA National Duals finalsPhoto courtesy of WIN Magazine, used with permission

The 2015 NWCA National Duals will return to a familiar site, with some changes.

The annual event conducted by the National Wrestling Coaches Association for NCAA Division I teams, will return to the University of Iowa next February for the first time since 1999, according to the August 8, 2014 issue of “WIN” (“Wrestling Insider Newsmagazine”). However, fans who watched the National Duals at Carver-Hawkeye Arena sixteen years ago – or even last year’s event – will quickly realize the event’s format has been revised yet again for 2015.

As in past couple years, the 2015 National Duals will take place over two consecutive weekends – Sunday, February 15, and Sunday, February 22. This time, however, on the first Sunday, sixteen teams will meet at eight different locations. The winners of those February 15 duals will travel to Iowa City for an eight-team tournament at Carver-Hawkeye on February 22.

First-round match-ups include Drexel at Cornell University, George Mason at Lehigh, Virginia at Iowa, Oklahoma at University of Tennessee-Chattanooga, American University at Missouri, Minnesota at North Dakota State, Kent State at Illinois, and Ohio State at Edinboro.

The Minnesota Golden Gophers have won the last three National Duals.

The NWCA hopes to attract more fans – and more positive coverage – for its 2015 National Duals, an annual event on the college wrestling calendar since 1989, by having its conclusion at Iowa, which often claims yearly and individual dual-meet attendance records at Carver-Hawkeye. Much was made of the low attendance numbers for last year’s National Duals finale, held at St. John Arena at Ohio State in Columbus.

Another ongoing issue attracting negative attention: the fact that some top Division I wrestling programs decline to participate at the National Duals. Notably absent from the 2015 event roster is Penn State, which won the team title at the 2014 NCAA Division I Wrestling Championships.

“It could absolutely get us over the tipping point,” NWCA executive director Mike Moyer told “WIN”. “I think there will be a terrific crowd and at least getting past the naysayers that if it is so great, why won’t people show up.”

National Duals: Changes over the years

Over the years, the National Duals has undergone a series of changes. For a number of years, the National Duals was a mega-event that incorporated all levels of college wrestling in a single location, most recently at the UNI-Dome at the University of Northern Iowa from 2006 through 2011. In 2012, the National Duals was split to two distinct events – one for NCAA Division I schools, and another for colleges at other levels. In the past three years, the D1 National Duals has featured a two-weekend format, consisting of regional mini-tournaments in the first weekend in which four to eight teams have advanced to a championship tournament the following weekend. This second-weekend National Duals championships were held at Oklahoma State in 2012, University of Minnesota in 2013, and Ohio State in 2014.

There has been effort on the part of the NWCA and some individuals within college wrestling to give greater emphasis to the National Duals, often with the stated purpose of helping to increase the importance of individual college dual meets. The idea: to boost attendance for host schools, generating greater revenue, more publicity, and more media coverage.

Some believe that performance at the National Duals should help determine which program is declared the NCAA Division I team titlewinner, through a combination of points earned at the National Duals and from the performance of individual wrestlers at the NCAA Division I Wrestling Championships. Still others would declare the winner of the National Duals as the national team champion, taking the NCAA championships out of the picture in that regard.

Either way, this would be a significant change from the current way of crowning the team champ, based solely on how each program’s wrestlers perform at the nationals, which has been in place since the first NCAAs in 1928.

Even bigger changes may be offing. As Moyer mentioned in his interview with “WIN”, the NCAA is considering taking over the National Duals from the NWCA and making it part of its traditional tournament that is held annually in March.

“Clearly, there is no consensus among the coaches for any model so the NCAA Wrestling Committee has taken the position they are going to move forward and try to get it through the different levels of approval with the NCAA,” Moyer said. “It remains to be seen what happens there.”

Meanwhile, the 2015 NWCA National Duals will feature incremental changes, with no substantial revisions as to how Division I team titles are determined. The NWCA’s Moyer remains optimistic that the National Duals will become an event that gains buy-in from all top D1 mat programs, reinforcing its importance on the collegiate calendar.

“As controversial and debated as it has been, I just hope we can keep talking until we can land on something that everyone will support,” Moyer told “WIN”. “When you look at the circumstances of our 77 Division I teams, they are so different that it is hard to come up with a concept whether it’s the National Duals or anything that works for all 77 Division I programs given how different they are. That’s a challenge but what is great is that there is a lot of dialogue going on.”