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Date, site for D1 National Duals set, but fight over event importance continues

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As the National Wrestling Coaches Association unveiled specifics about the upcoming 2014 NWCA Division I National Duals on Monday, there’s still controversy about whether the event needs to be reformulated to take on greater significance within college wrestling, perhaps being a determining factor – or, THE determining factor – in figuring which program wins the NCAA Div. I team title.

First, the facts

The 2014 Division I National Duals – known officially as the EAS Sports Nutrition NWCA National Duals presented by Hibiclens and the United States Marine Corps in honor of Cliff Keen, and unofficially as Mat Mayhem -- will take place at Ohio State’s St. John Arena on over the Presidents’ Day holiday weekend, February 16-17.

First-round action begins at 1 p.m. Eastern on Sunday, Feb. 16, followed by consolation matches at 5 p.m. and quarterfinals at 7 p.m. The championship semifinals will start at 1 p.m. on Monday, February 17 with the finals set for 4 p.m.

Fourteen top D1 wrestling programs will compete in a dual-meet tournament format to determine a national dual champion. Teams participating at the 2014 National Duals include Bloomsburg, Central Michigan, Chattanooga, Cornell University, Hofstra, Illinois, Iowa State, Kent State, Minnesota, North Dakota State, Ohio State, Oklahoma, Oregon State and Virginia Tech.

This year’s Div. I National Duals reflects additional revisions to the event format that has undergone a number of changes in recent years. Until a couple years ago, the National Duals was a mega-event which included teams from all three NCAA divisions, as well as NAIA (National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics), NJCAA (National Junior College Athletic Association), and Women’s programs. Then, in 2012, the NWCA rolled out its first new format, splitting the National Duals into two separate events – a Multi-Divisional version in January, and a Division I National Duals held in February. Last year, the D1 National Duals was a two-weekend event, consisting of regional mini-tournaments the first weekend, with the champs of those tourneys facing off the following weekend for a National Duals championship. For 2014, the format has been simplified to a single weekend.

Now, the arguing

There has been an 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.

It’s a topic that’s been up for discussion for months, if not years. It came up again in discussions on Twitter involving Penn State head coach Cael Sanderson (whose team, which has won the NCAA team title the past three years, is not participating in the 2014 National Duals) and Ohio State’s Tom Ryan (host of the 2014 National Duals)… and in competing columns from Land Grant Holy Land (an unofficial Ohio State sports blog) and Black Shoe Diaries, representing the viewpoint of Nittany Lion mat faithful.

According to Dan Vest’s column for Land Grand Holy Land, Buckeye head coach Tom Ryan's plan is to make the National Duals more meaningful by awarding NCAA tournament points to teams based on how they finish at the National Duals. “The NCAA tournament is a fantastic event, but is it ever really going to be more than it is now?” asks Vest. “Maybe, but I doubt it. By making the National Duals a more significant event, you have the opportunity to give the sport a second high-profile end-of-season competition. More marquee events means more tickets sold, more television coverage, and thus more viewers and more money.”

In furthering his case, Vest quotes former Nebraska wrestler Tucker Lane:

“The crux of the matter lies in the fact that the individual nature of the sport tends to cannibalize any team interests.

“To sustainably grow the sport we need to build interest in programs, not individuals. That's where a national dual meet championship could be a huge help. Tournaments can't hold a candle to dual meets when it comes to exciting team competition.”

Writing for the Black Shoe Diaries blog, B. Scaff serves up a very different perspective.

“Duals suck because they use an arbitrary "team" scoring method that discourages excitement. This is the root cause.

“Duals, by their existing incentives, discourage aggressive, offensive wrestling, and encourage boring, scoreless, defensive wrestling, particularly between mismatched opponents. That, friends, is why Duals suck.”

What’s B. Scaff’s solution? Follow FILA’s example in revising Olympic wrestling after the International Olympic Committee first eliminated the sport from the Summer Games. FILA changed the rules to reward scoring. Scaff suggests reformulating the dual-meet scoring system to reward risk-taking and activity that leads to points on the board, rather than encouraging wrestlers to “play it safe.”

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