T.R. Foley is a freelance journalist whose work has appeared in several national magazines including ESPN, Men’s Journal and FIGHT! You can read him online every week at IntermatWrestle.com and ESPN.com. He was an All-American wrestler for the University of Virginia and former assistant wrestling coach at Columbia University in New York City.
BSD: Thanks for taking time to visit our little corner of the Internet, TR. Ready to talk a little wrestling?
Like much of the United States I’m battling the flu. I’m told I’ll live, but I’m putting my odds at 50/50. Also, you can call me Tim, it’s easier on my ears.
BSD: The Big Ten received 64 automatic bids in 2011. They added Nebraska in 2012, and that number climbed to 74. Now they'll be adding Maryland and Rutgers starting in 2014. Most people expect two more schools to join the mix in the not too distant future. Football's driving the conference realignment bus, and all other sports are along for the ride. But are the ACC and Big-12 at risk as wrestling conferences moving forward? Even if the numbers don't change, how do you think it could impact recruiting in those conferences?
There is no question that the B1G’s expansion is disturbing the balance many conferences took decades to find. Expansion isn’t an altogether new idea, but this many high profile teams moving to conferences that are primarily moored in schools halfway across the country, is new. Sports used to be regional because local rivalries forced tickets sales, but in the new football economy there is only one rivalry game and the rest are opportunities to find extra income. Take for example the opening game of the NCAA football season between Michigan and Alabama. Both schools walked away with $10 million. Money talks and the B1G wants Maryland and Rutgers so that they can capture more of the east coast market share on the BTN. More money means more … Well I’m not sure what it means in the end. Seems like capitalism is a crappy supporting philosophy for an educational institution.
I think the ACC will be fine without Maryland. They’re adding Pittsburgh in 2014 and there is strong administrative support for the remaining programs in Virginia and North Carolina. I’d only start to worry about the ACC if my alma mater (Virginia), decided to join the B1G.
The Big 12 is in a desperate spot. They have four teams competing next season: Iowa State, Oklahoma State, Oklahoma and West Virginia. There is no more room for contraction within the conference. As it stands the conference works off an NCAA exemption to hold a conference qualifier with fewer than five teams. If one of the four teams vacates, or West Virginia loses it’s administrative support, we’ll see that conference dissolved and the remnants spread to conferences like the West Regional and the MAC. That’s the type of action that might force the NCAA Championships cabinet to consider a regional system for all of wrestling. If that happens it’s anyone’s guess if we add or subtract to our total of 77 Division I teams.
BSD: The National Duals has been a source of disagreement between some of the higher profile wrestling community members in the past, and this off-season's idea to award the team National Championship off of it didn't help matters. Meanwhile, a new event like "Grapple in the Garden" appeared to have been a big success. We all want to see the sport grow. What are your thoughts on the best way to facilitate that?
Events. We need to continue creating media-friendly and profitable events that attract a large and diverse audience. These weekend-style events allow 30-something alumni to congregate and eventually bring back into the fold former teammates who may have steeped away from their wrestling obsession to start a family or focus on their career.
I’ve always liked the idea of a legitimate National Duals, and though it’ll take some tinkering, I think we’ll get to that point within the next five years. We exist in an attention economy and to get more looks we have to have bigger and better events. When dual meets matter the students and fans will show up to the matches, or tune in on the television.
BSD: Sites like YouTube, Intermat, Flo, and others have really changed wrestling for the better. It used to be impossible to find much action beyond what you could drive to see in person. Now the access to the sport is broader and deeper than ever, not to mention the instruction that you can find out there, and the 'advance scouting' that a wrestler could use. Do you think that's translated to the mat as better wrestling, with deeper fields?
Absolutely. Wrestling is in its Golden Age, and much of that has been driven by parity among individuals, which in large part has been driven by the access to information about wrestling. The training and technique of a collegiate freshman wrestler in 2012 is far beyond a similar aged wrestler in 2002 or 1992. There are online videos, wrestling clubs and individualized coaching that simply didn’t exist ten years ago. Thanks to a confluence of events young wrestlers today have every opportunity to succeed. I think we’ll see the sport continue to grow and watch as our young athletes come into college prepared to win NCAA titles.
BSD: Speaking of wrestling video - tell me a little about WrestlingRoots.org, and this match (above) at Mongolia's Naadam festival. There can't be a lot of Westerners in that tournament. What was your reception like before and after you planted your opponent with that double leg? Could we look forward to a book out of those travels?
Mongolians are by nature sweet and encouraging. Like Americans they pull for the underdog so seeing my upending the big fella’ was met with a loud cheer and a day being treated to small gifts and kisses on the cheek (my cauliflower seemed to legitimize my presence as well). I spent two weeks in Tsetserleg and by the time I rode my motorcycle out of town I felt like a member of their community. I don’t think my opponent was very amused, and though it seems culturally insensitive to beat someone at their own game, that’s the beauty of wrestling. You don’t see me moaning about the NCAA success of Ganbayar, Undrukh, or Turtogtokh.
The book is being written. I made a major adjustment to the outline in September when I decided to write about all my wrestling travels instead of just focusing on Mongolia. It’s a more honest approach to the story. The new book will discuss my experiences with traditional styles of American, Vietnamese, Chinese, Brazilian, and Iranian wrestling. Nothing is concrete, but I should be traveling to India in February for the capstone to the project. I’m then hoping that I can finish up the writing in to be published by September 2013.
I’m also the Founder and Executive Director the Wrestling Roots Foundation, a non-profit dedicated to documenting and promoting traditional wrestling styles from around the globe. We’re working on a massive project and should we win our bid and earn funding we’ll be launching our first project in April. We’ll see wrestling in some pretty gnarly places.
BSD: Let's get to the Scuffle. Midlands has always been the big December/January tournament. But looking at the teams in this year's Scuffle, after it lost its home in Greensboro just two years ago, you have to be impressed with how Chattanooga stepped up. The team race is going to be tight - who do you see coming out on top, and who do you think could make some noise (other than the top 3 squads)?
Penn State is winning the Scuffle with little competition. I know that Minnesota has a talented squad but the Nittany Lions are in the finals at 125, 149, 157, 165, 174, 184 and 197. You don’t wrestle a dual meet in the finals and not walk away with the tallest trophy.
My Virginia Cavaliers! I’m serious. These guys are tough and well-coached. At one point earlier this season there were six wrestlers ranked in the top 12 nationally. A few of them dorked up those rankings by losing close matches, but a Steve Garland led team might fudge a dual meet, but are on fire when it comes time for the big tourney.
BSD: Taylor vs. Dake II (or III, depending upon who's counting) will get all of the attention. But there are a ton of other potential match-ups that could be outstanding. What one or two would you really like to see?
I have an article on Intermat that outlines my top ten matchups for the Scuffle and Midlands. My favorite is the 197 lbs. Midlands matchup between Dustin Kilgore (Kent State) and Matt Wilps (Pitt). Kilgore is a 2011 NCAA Champion and a certified killer, but Wilps is having a best-ever season (sorry, to fans of Q!). He’s constantly attacking, rarely has him out of position and has the type of toughness many wrestling fans appreciate in their stars. I’d still bet on Kilgore to win by four points, but I also suspect that Wilps likes being the underdog and will put on his best performance of the year.
If you want to read the rest you have to check out Intermat’s Platinum service!
BSD: Give me a wrestler or two that's a little under the radar that could surprise us with his finish at the Scuffle.
Under the radar doesn’t really exist anymore in college wrestling. There is so much quality coverage of wrestling today that many of the top guys are well-known from the time their in high school. When they do pop up in the college ranks it’s less a surprise and more like “about time!”
The Scuffle could be Matt Brown’s crowning as the nation’s top wrestler, and while that might not be the biggest surprise of the year, it’ll have major implications for the B1G and NCAA Tourneys. Who would have guessed that Brown would be the nation’s top-ranked wrestler 18 months after returning from his two-year mission?
BSD: Thanks again for your time and insights. Hope you can make a return trip before March rolls around.
Can’t wait. Thanks for having me.
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