The days of the National Duals in its traditional time slot and format could be nearing an end.
Mike Moyer has a vision for the tournament. It includes an NCAA tag attached to the title, an in-season qualification process, regional tournaments on college campuses and a Final Four every February to determine a dual meet national champion.
“Where we’re really challenged is our whole infrastructure is currently designed to support an individual tournament at the end of the season, which is counterproductive to really placing very much importance on dual meets at all,” said Moyer, the executive director of the National Wrestling Coaches Association. “Now we do have some traditional rivalries out there when Iowa wrestles Iowa State or Oklahoma State comes to town, but those are much more the exception than the rule.
“I always ask myself one fundamental question: Would as many people follow the NBA or the NFL or Major League Baseball if the outcome of the games didn’t matter?”
Moyer wants to make every dual matter. He wants to see the champions of the sport’s nine conferences and one super regional plus six at-large selections vying for the NCAA dual title. He wants to see those 16 teams tangling on the second Sunday of February in predetermined regional sites with the four winners advancing to wrestling’s Final Four the following Sunday.
There seems to be some support for a change from the format of the current tournament, a two-day event that begins Saturday at the UNI-Dome in Cedar Falls.
“Sounds good to me,” former Iowa coach Dan Gable said. “Sounds like we’re getting more organized. Sounds like we’re trying to do things to build more spectator base. Sounds like we’re trying to do some things to get us more exposure on television and in the media.”
The NWCA has had difficulty attracting the sport’s top teams to the event in recent years. The tournament’s top box office draw — the Iowa Hawkeyes — aren’t in the field this year. Neither is second-ranked Penn State, No. 8 Oklahoma, No. 9 Lehigh or No. 10 Illinois. Oklahoma State is back in the field after a three-year absence, but tournament organizers scrambled in the last month to fill out the 16-team bracket.
“Iowa has been criticized, like we’re the savior,” said Iowa coach Tom Brands, whose program claimed the National Duals title the last three seasons. “We’re not the savior.”
Brands said the National Duals needs to be NCAA-sanctioned with a qualification system.
“It’s an invitational with some of the best teams in America,” Brands said. “Penn State’s not there, Iowa’s not there, last year Oklahoma State wasn’t there and other teams aren’t there as well, and also there are teams that are ranked way outside the top 25. That’s not a national tournament.
“A national tournament is where you have eight (teams) or 16 or whatever and you regionalize them with however Mike Moyer’s vision is, and that’s a national tournament.”
Moyer said coaches at the NWCA convention in August voiced unanimous support of the changes. But he also said “there are some challenges that we need to work through.”
Moyer said one challenge is finding sponsors or funding sources to help the event get off the ground and compensate schools for travel expenses.
Another obstacle is attendance. Iowa averaged 8,125 fans per home dual last season. Only five other programs — Iowa State, Penn State, Minnesota, Oklahoma State and Lehigh — averaged more than 2,000. Moyer said the schools with the top turnout and the box office would be likely candidates to host regional events.
“One of the challenges is you have no guarantee that those teams would qualify in a given year under this new format,” Moyer said.
Another issue is the scheduling conflicts. Moyer said an application for a waiver from the NCAA’s 16-date limit is in the works. Still, conference dual seasons would have to be completed by the end of January to determine qualifiers for the event.
“You’d have to move everything up,” Northern Iowa coach Doug Schwab said. “The Big Ten is going to have to move everything up. Then Iowa-Oklahoma State is out the window and Iowa-Iowa State is out the window. They’re already starting to get to where that’s getting tough. You’d have to get creative in your scheduling, and people don’t like change very much.”
Other questions have surfaced.
What would the 65 teams that didn’t qualify for the tournament do during those two weekends? Moyer said regional open tournaments or dual meet festivals could be spawned.
Could the overhaul take place in time for 2012?
“That seems aggressive to me,” Moyer said. “But I wouldn’t say it’s impossible.”
Can the current format continue to exist?
“Clearly, I think it’s in the best interest of the event to try to sustain it as long as we can without having to shut it down and start from scratch,” Moyer said. “I’d like to think we can keep this thing moving forward in some capacity until we can get to this new format. But I’ve come to the realization that the current format that we’re operating under is not sustainable.”