Today’s college fans attending the 2015 NCAA Division I Wrestling Championships in St. Louis may think they’ve traveled back in time, if proposals to commemorate the 85th edition of the national collegiate wrestling championships are implemented.
Among the possible changes which may be featured at next year’s NCAA finals: a roped-off wrestling ring, wool tights or trunks instead of today’s synthetic singlets, and reinstatement of many of the rules which governed college wrestling at the very first NCAA championships in 1928.
“The idea is to provide wrestlers, coaches and fans with a sense of what wrestling was like at those very first NCAAs, 85 years ago at Iowa State,” said one source, who spoke off the record to College Wrestling Examiner. “Some of us feel it would give today’s athletes and fans a new appreciation and respect for the challenges wrestlers of a bygone era faced.”
Another individual who took part in ongoing discussions on possible retro-style wrestling next year said, “A number of us believe these changes would be truly attention-getting, thus generating additional media coverage, along with higher TV ratings, for college wrestling’s premiere event.”
Initially, the idea was floated that all Division I college wrestling events – dual meets, independent tournaments, conference championships, and the three-day NCAA tournament – would all be required to incorporate these turn-back-the-clock changes throughout the 2014-15 season, but a number of meeting participants were concerned about issues such as cost of implementation for each school, as well as difficulty in sourcing wrestling rings and old-time gear before this fall, not to mention instructing wrestlers, coaches and officials on 1920s rules.
Instead, the proposal now being discussed would be to have these changes instituted only for the finals matches at the 2015 NCAAs at Scottrade Center in St. Louis.
A familiar ring
Perhaps the most attention-getting proposal would be to conduct the ten championship matches not on a foam-core mat on a raised platform, but in a raised, roped-off wrestling ring with horsehair mat, somewhat similar to what present-day sports fans might associate with boxing or professional wrestling. A number of major college programs in the 1920s and 1930s used 20-foot-square wrestling rings, including Oklahoma State, University of Iowa, Indiana University, and Northwestern. Most of these schools had mats on the floor, surrounded by ropes on the edge of the mat. However, wrestlers at least one school -- Oklahoma State – along with their opponents climbed into a ring that was 3-4 feet up off the ground. (Wrestling rings were banned by the NCAA during World War II.)
“A number of participants in these discussions felt that, in addition to providing today’s wrestlers and fans with a first-hand appreciation of the challenge of wrestling in a confined space, that the raised ring would force the action to the center of the mat, eliminating ongoing issues with wrestlers fleeing the mat,” said one historian. “No wrestler is going to want to risk ring-rope burns, let alone potential career-ending injury from falling off the raised platform.”
In keeping with the attempt to make the 2015 NCAA finals resemble the 1928 NCAA championships at the Iowa State Armory, all wrestlers would be required to wear uniforms appropriate to the era: a choice of full-length tights or trunks, of wool fabric, shirts optional. Back then, most wrestlers from Midwestern and Western colleges wrestled bare-chested; shirts were more common on wrestlers from Eastern schools such as Penn State and Lehigh.
“Ohio State, with its tradition of having its finalists spend time in the tanning bed, may have an unfair advantage in preparing for wearing this old-style gear,” joked one historian. “We also want to discourage manscaping. The only thing champs of the past like Dick Hutton, Gary Kurdelmeier and Phil Kinyon waxed were their cars.” (See photos of these wrestlers below.)
One aspect that has yet to be pinned down is rules. While some participants involved in planning an old-school 2015 NCAA finals have insisted on slavish adoption of the 1928 rulebook, others believe that only the basics should be incorporated, such as nine-minute matches (instead of today’s seven), and the full three-second pin instead of one-second falls nowadays. As one participant in these planning meetings told College Wrestling Examiner, “If three-time NCAA heavyweight champ Earl McCready could hold all three of his finals rivals’ shoulders to the mat for three seconds, surely today’s studs can do the same.” (See photo below.)
Another issue is whether modern-day technology might be banished from the retro-style 2015 NCAA finals. Some planners would like to see elimination of matside video review and electronic scoreboards just this once. However, sources indicate that there is close to universal agreement that the championships would continue to be shown live on ESPN and online, and that photographers and journalists would still be allowed to use present-day technology tools, all to help promote this uniquely historic event.
More than one source indicated that all these proposals are not set in stone; one went so far as to state he thought the chances of any of these changes being implemented were about as likely as “Logan Stieber moving up to 285 in pursuit of his fourth NCAA title.” In other words, not very likely.
That said, a special commemoration of the 85th anniversary of NCAA mat championships has some precedence. For the 75th anniversary of the NCAA wrestling championships in St. Louis in 2005, the NCAA conducted an online poll to ask fans to select the fifteen greatest college wrestlers of all time. Among the honorees: Dan Hodge, Dan Gable, John Smith, and Cael Sanderson.
About the photo: Indiana University was one of the schools that wrestled in a raised, roped-off ring, as seen in this IU Archives photo from 1932.
Get a good look at what we could be seeing at the 2015 NCAA finals... along with photos of some of the wrestlers mentioned in this story by looking at the photo-list below...