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NCAA proposes new team scoring component to determine wrestling team title

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The NCAA has proposed a new method for determining team titles at Division I Wrestling Championships that would add a new team component in addition to the present method using points scored by individual wrestlers.

In its recommendation put forward earlier this month, as of the 2016 NCAAs, the team champion will be determined by a combination of points earned by individuals during the NCAA championships (what the NCAA refers to as “the individual component”) as well as team points earned through what is called a “team component” or a “dual team competition component.”

With this proposal, 30% of the scoring to determine the team title will come from this new team component, and 70% from the individual component. Presently, the NCAA team title is solely based on the individual component: points earned by individual wrestlers on a team at the Division I championships determine the team titlewinner, a method that has been used since the first NCAA wrestling championships in 1928.

“The individual component will be unchanged,” according to the NCAA recommendation. “330 student-athletes will continue to earn spots into the individual component. Those individuals will continue to earn points that will be included in their respective teams’ overall score.”

The team component

In describing the new team component of its proposal, the NCAA said that 24 teams will qualify for this component. The top qualifier in each of eight conferences would automatically qualify for this component; the remaining 16 slots would be filled by the NCAA Division I Wrestling Committee, “using similar selection criteria currently used for individuals, which would be calculated for team competition,” as the NCAA described it in its recommendation.

There would be four regional tournaments, to be hosted by the top four seeded teams. Each regional would feature six teams.

To give wrestlers, coaches and fans a clearer idea of how these regional tournaments and the new team component would fit into the 2015-16 college wrestling season, the NCAA provided a timeline leading up to the 2016 NCAAs. On February 6, the eight conferences would submit the name of their top qualifier to the NCAA. The following day, the NCAA Division I Wrestling Committee would select the at-large teams. The weekend of February 13-14, the four regionals would take place. The following weekend (February 21), the four regional winners would battle at the NCAA Team Component finals. Two weeks later -- March 5-6 – the individual conference/regional qualifier tournaments would take place, with the 2016 NCAA Division I Wrestling Championships – the Individual Component Championships – scheduled for Madison Square Garden in New York City on March 17-19, where the 2016 team champion would be announced based on results from the Team Component Finals (30% of the total score) and the Individual Component Championships (70%).

How are points for the Team Component calculated? According to the NCAA proposal's scoring model, team that doesn’t advance out of the first round of its regional would earn 7 points; non-advancing teams from the second round receive 14 points. Non-advancing teams from the regional quarterfinals would get 21 points. For the non-advancing teams from the semifinals competing for third place would earn either 28 points (fourth place) or 35 points (third place). Finals runners-up would garner 42 points, while the team component champion would get 50 points. These points would be applied to a team’s quest for the team title, and added to whatever points its individual wrestlers score at the 2016 NCAAs.

Who pays to make the new Team Component competition a reality? Not the NCAA; each program would be responsible for all expenses. In addition, “The host institution shall cover all hosting expenses, and retain all revenues received,” according to the NCAA proposal.

The thinking behind the NCAA’s proposal

In its rationale for its proposed change in determining team titlewinners, the NCAA wrote, “Teams compete during the regular season in both dual meets and individual tournaments, thus the national championships should incorporate both components to best represent a National Championship Team. The proposal places a priority on team competition, and enhances the values associated with that form of competition, while maintaining the integrity of the current individual championship structure.”

The NCAA cites these projected outcomes, if this proposal were implemented: a greater focus on team competition during the season… attracting more casual fans, and building even stronger fan support among traditional long-time fans… and additional media coverage and enhanced broadcast opportunities.

The NCAA proposal also lists a number of potential benefits, such as increasing the relevance of team competition… enhancing the team experience for all wrestlers (not just NCAA championship qualifiers) by allowing them to have an impact on their team’s performance in the Team Component phase… and maintains the idea of having a single NCAA Division I wrestling team champion (unlike some proposals that would have had a “duals team champ” and an “NCAA championship team champ.”)

Potential problems

The NCAA and fans have already identified a number of potential pitfalls and problems with this proposal, including the expense of traveling to regional sites (with little time for preparation)… not to mention very limited time for host sites to plan and prep for what would be a major event.

A major concern expressed on TheMat.com forum: what about teams that fail to qualify for the Team Component tournament. These teams and their wrestlers could experience an entire month of no competition and no activity between the end of the traditional dual-meet season and the start of conference championships… a complete reversal of long-held, tried-and-true peaking plans. As one fan stated on TheMat.com college forum, “Even the teams that do make the field of 24 but don't make the final weekend will have three weeks off. This creates a scenario in which 72 of the 76 DI teams wrestle one time (in the individual qualifier) between February 14 and March 17. This runs counter to the idea of increasing fan interest.”

What would this long stretch of inactivity do to wrestlers who, based on their individual accomplishments/records, would compete at their conference championships and potentially at the NCAAs? Some have already suggested staging individual tournaments during this period that would provide competition for these wrestlers and programs who might otherwise be sitting on the sidelines during the Team Component events.

Still others may be asking, “What problem does this solve?” – presuming there is a problem. Some movers-and-shakers within the college wrestling world want to make dual meets count more, with the idea that dual meets are the foundation and lifeblood of college wrestling. Not every fan can attend the NCAA Division I Wrestling Championships… but they can, presumably, more easily take in dual meet action at a nearby college. Increased attendance at duals can help finance college wrestling programs, generate additional media coverage, boost morale of individual athletes, and demonstrate the strength of wrestling to school administrators who might be otherwise clueless. On the other hand, there are a number of D1 college mat programs that already host well-attended dual meets that garner all the media attention that’s possible that have openly stated, “The existing way of picking NCAA team champs has worked well for 85 years. Look at how tight the team race has been the past couple years. Why mess with a good thing?” (Or words to that effect).

One last question: What are the odds this proposal will become the roadmap for the 2016 NCAA Division I college wrestling season? As someone suggested online, the NCAA wouldn’t go to the time and trouble of developing a detailed plan unless it thought it had a strong chance of becoming reality. It’s already a major topic of discussion in wrestling forums; one can imagine it’s getting even more play among college coaches, athletic directors and the wrestlers themselves.

Years from now, we may look back at this moment as signaling a seismic change in how team titles are determined… or as an idea that never went beyond the discussion stage. Or, crazier still, was a noble experiment that lasted a couple years but was deemed unworkable in the real world, a la the era in the early 1960s where the NCAA devalued takedowns to one point, only to reverse itself a couple years later.

Stay tuned…

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