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NCAA approves new experimental wrestling rules to attempt to reduce stalling

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Seeking to reduce the ongoing problem of stalling in college wrestling, the NCAA Playing Rules Oversight Panel approved four new experimental rules, the NCAA.org website reported Thursday.

Two of the rules will go into effect at the start of the 2014-15 season, while two others will be given a limited tryout exclusively at the 2014 National Wrestling Coaches Association All-Star Classic November 1 at the University of Pennsylvania.

Two new anti-stalling rules for the entire season

The first experimental rule for the upcoming season focuses on a wrestler who is in the offensive position and locks or holds his opponent’s leg (or legs), and fails to take any attempt at offensive action, such as breaking down his opponent, executing an offensive move, or working back up towards the upper body to attempt to score points. If no such action is taken within five seconds, the offensive wrestler will be called for stalling.

The second experimental rule applies when an offensive wrestler applies a side headlock on his opponent, and fails to break down the opponent or execute any other offensive move within five seconds. In this case, a stalling call will be placed on the offensive wrestler.

For both situations presented in these new rules, the referee will provide both a verbal and visual count (via gestures) the five seconds.

Two additional rules only for the All-Star Classic

The NCAA Playing Rules Oversight Panel has approved two additional experimental rules that will be put in place only at this fall’s All-Star Classic, the beginning-of-the-season event that traditionally features the two top wrestlers in each weight class.

The first rule for the All Stars focuses on wrestlers who are in a neutral standing position and, to quote the NCAA press statement, “not actively engaged in an offensive attack, or a defensive counter to an offensive attack, while their feet are out of bounds.” Under this new rule, the referee will call stalling.

In explaining this rule, the NCAA statement said it is designed to encourage wrestlers to remain active in the center of the mat, and stay away from the out-of-bounds line.

In addition, NCAA also made clear this new rule is “not intended to be a ‘push out’ rule,” such as those which have been implemented in freestyle and Greco-Roman wrestling. Again, quoting from the statement, “A wrestler not engaged in an offensive attack or a defensive counter to an offensive attack who is only attempting to push or pull the opponent will be called for stalling.”

The second experimental rule to be used only for this year’s All-Star Classic is geared toward a wrestler who gains an offensive position and is awarded a takedown or a reversal. When the action comes to a natural stopping point – for instance, when the wrestlers go out of bounds – the controlling wrestler can chose the option of resuming the action in the neutral (standing) position (instead of the kneeling position), without an escape point being automatically awarded to the controlling wrestler’s opponent, as is the case now.

Why a two-prong approach to experimental rule changes?

Why are two of the rules being implemented for an entire season, while two others are being used at just one event?

In examining the NCAA’s new experimental rules on stalling, it might be helpful to use the analogy of an individual at car dealer seeking a test drive. The two rules only being used at this fall’s All Stars is as if the dealer said, “Why don’t you take the car around the block and see what you think” while the other two rules to be in place all season are akin to the dealer saying, “Why don’t you take the car on vacation with you, so you can really get comfortable with it, and make sure it works for you in all situations.”

In coming up with a two-prong approach – two rules being implemented for the entire season, and two others being used at just one event – the NCAA seems to be saying “some experimental rules are more experimental than others.” In other words, perhaps the organization has more confidence in the all-season rules than the ones just for the All-Star Classic. Or, perhaps it’s a case that the NCAA wants to keep a very close eye on its new anti-stalling rules for the All Stars to monitor their effectiveness, and assure no untended consequences.

Whatever the reasoning, it appears that the NCAA sees stalling – and a lack of offensive scoring – as a problem that needed to be addressed with these rule changes, even if they are labeled “experimental.” In fact, three years ago, the NCAA implemented a set of rules to address the stalling issue. While stalling is an age-old problem that has been an issue in college wrestling going back decades, it has become even more of a topic of discussion in online wrestling forums, on social media, and among wrestling writers including the Des Moines Register’s Andy Hamilton and InterMat’s T.R. Foley.

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