Maybe you've heard that Penn State Wrestling is good. Really good. You'd really like to check it out, but you didn't wrestle and have no idea how it works. It doesn't look anything like that male-targeted soap opera where people leap from turnbuckles and inexplicably use foreign objects!
Lucky for you, this is one of the best wrestling communities on the internet. And we've got your back. Here I'm going to go over the basics of "folk-style" wrestling (the kind done by scholastic wrestlers in the United States): the positions, how to score, and some basic terminology. Since this is a Penn State blog, we will be focusing on college rules and scoring; youth and high school wrestling are similar but use slightly different rules (usually shorter period lengths and no riding time). The two types of international wrestling (Freestyle and Greco-Roman) differ more substantially, but still share a lot of the same moves. Items in boldface are rule changes from last year.
There are two main types of wrestling competition: standard tournaments and dual meets¹ (team vs team), but each is composed of a number of one-on-one matches between two wrestlers of near equal weight. We will cover the overall team scoring for both forms of competition near the end, but until then we will be focusing on what happens during a single match.
In NCAA wrestling, there are 10 weight classes, each designated by the maximum weight allowed. Wrestlers are weighed a couple hours before competition begins and can weigh no more than the stated weight. For multi-day tournaments, wrestlers generally have to weigh-in each day, but may be allowed to exceed the limit by a couple of pounds on subsequent days. The ten NCAA weight classes are:
- 125 lbs.
- 133 lbs.
- 141 lbs.
- 149 lbs.
- 157 lbs.
- 165 lbs.
- 174 lbs.
- 184 lbs.
- 197 lbs.
- 285 lbs (AKA heavyweight)
Each match is typically 7 minutes long, divided into three periods of 3 minutes, 2 minutes, and 2 minutes. A match can end early by a wrestler pinning their opponent by holding both of their shoulder blades against the mat for one second (a pin or fall) or exhibiting "technical mastery" by building a lead of 15+ points (a technical fall).
Each wrestler is assigned either red or green prior to the match for scoring purposes. In a dual meet, green is generally assigned to the home team unless one team's singlets are predominantly the opposite color they would otherwise be assigned (for example, Nebraska wearing green instead of red). Wrestlers wear color bands around their ankles to indicate their assigned color. The referee has corresponding wrist bands (one of each color). To indicate a scoring move, they will hold the matching hand above their head indicating the number of points awarded.
There are three basic positions in wrestling: neutral, top, and bottom. Wrestlers will always either both be in neutral, or in a top/bottom combination. Much of the scoring in wrestling involves moving from one position to another.
The neutral position is where wrestlers are both on their feet and facing each other. Neither wrestler is considered to have an advantage. Each wrestler is attempting to bring their opponent to the mat and get on top of/behind them (a takedown). All wrestling matches begin with wrestlers in the neutral position.
Offensive (Top)/Defensive (Bottom)
When wrestlers are on the mat, whichever wrestler is on top/behind is considered to be in control and is on "top"; whichever wrestler is on bottom/in front is considered to be controlled and is "bottom". The goal of the wrestler on top is to turn their opponent over for a fall or near fall. The goal of the wrestler on bottom is to get out and return to neutral (an escape), or switch positions and become top (a reversal).
Starts and Restarts
At the beginning of the first period, both wrestlers begin in the neutral position. At the beginning of the second and third periods, each wrestler gets their choice of position in turn. First choice is determined at random in a tournament, or given to alternating teams in a dual. This wrestler may defer their choice until the third period. When wrestling must be restarted mid-period, the wrestlers return to the same positions they were when action was stopped (unless the stoppage was for an injury, in which case the non-injured wrestler gets choice).
When starting from neutral, each wrestler places their lead foot on their designated line at the center of the mat facing their opponent.
When starting in a top/bottom situation, first the bottom wrestler will take their place in the center of the mat facing the referee with their hands on one side of the line and knees on the other. Then the top wrestler will take their place by wrapping one arm around the far side of the bottom wrestler's waist, and placing the other over the opponent's elbow. This combination is known as "referee's position".
Alternatively, the top wrestler may choose "optional start", in which they stand behind the defensive wrestler with both hands on the defensive wrestler's back.This is usually done if the offensive wrestler is not going to contest an escape.² After choosing optional start, the defensive wrestler is allowed to adjust their position. The top wrestler may instead just concede the escape and start at neutral, though this is less common than optional start.
For either starting configuration, shortly after wrestlers are set, the head referee will begin action by blowing their whistle and lifting their arm.
Takedown (neutral → top) — 2 points
A takedown is awarded when a wrestler in neutral position brings their opponent to the mat or a four-point stance while behind/on top of them (this is called control). The wrestler awarded the takedown is now considered the top wrestler. The referee indicates a takedown by holding two fingers above their head on the appropriate hand.
Alternatively, if a wrestler in neutral is held with their back exposed to the mat, the referee will give a verbal "danger" warning. After a three-count ("danger-one", "danger-two", "danger-three"), the other wrestler is awarded a takedown even if they do not satisfy the normal conditions for control. The rules are the same as for a near fall (see below), except for up to a 90° angle instead of 45°.
Escape (bottom → neutral) — 1 point
An escape is awarded when a wrestler in the bottom position gets to their feet and faces their opponent. Wrestlers are now considered to be in the neutral position. The referee indicates an escape by holding one finger above their head on the appropriate hand, then holding both hands up in the air, indicating wrestlers are now neutral.
Reversal (bottom → top) — 2 points
A reversal is awarded when a wrestler in the bottom position directly gets in control over the opponent. The wrestler awarded the reversal is now considered the top wrestler. The referee indicates a reversal by then holding two fingers above their head of the appropriate hand, then rotating their forearms like a football false start signal.
Near fall (top) — 2 or 4 points
As the name indicates, near-fall points (often called "back points") are awarded for holding the opponent near a pinning situation. Near fall points are awarded to a wrestler in top position that hold their opponent on their back at less than a 45° angle or both shoulders within four inches of the mat. If this position is held for two consecutive seconds, the top wrestler is awarded two points. If the position is held for four consecutive seconds, the top wrestler is awarded four points. The referee will verbally and visually make the count by swiping his arm. Wrestlers are only awarded for the longest period earned for any specific hold. The referee will indicate the best points achieved so far by holding that many fingers against the mat. Points are then awarded once the hold is broken and the referee raises the hand indicating the points over his head followed by tapping them on his shoulder.
Riding Time (end of regulation) — 1 point
If, at the end of regulation, one wrestler has accumulated at least one minute more in the top position than their opponent is awarded one additional point. Only one point is awarded even if a wrestler earns several minutes of riding time advantage.
Stalling — Warning/1 pt/1 pt/2 pts/DQ
Wrestlers are supposed to be working to score at all times. If, at the discretion of the head referee, a wrestler is not trying to improve their position or turn their opponent to their back, the referee may charge a wrestler with stalling. Additionally, there are a couple of situations that are stalling by rule. If a wrestler on top hangs on to the bottom wrestler below the waist for a five-count, they are charged with stalling. Additionally, it is stalling if a wrestler intentionally goes out-of-bounds, or forces an opponent out-of-bounds, in order to force a restart or avoid a scoring situation.
Stalling is indicated by the referee holding a fist in the air in the color of the offending wrestler (followed by points raised for the opposing color after the first offense). If the stalling wrestler is on top while on the mat or in neutral, the match is stopped. If the stalling wrestler is on bottom, or on "top" (behind) in a standing position, a verbal announcement is made without stopping action (for a wrestler stalling on bottom, the referee may also slap the mat as an indication to the wrestler).
The first stalling against a wrestler is a warning. After that, points are awarded to the opponent (1 for 2nd and 3rd stalling, 2 for the 4th). After a fifth stalling, the wrestler is disqualified.
Starting Position Penalties — C/C/1 point
If a wrestler does not assume the correct position or commits a false start, the wrestler is cautioned and the restart procedure is repeated. This is indicated by the referee holding his hand in a ‘C' shape (and stopping action in the event of a false start). After two cautions, their opponent is awarded one point for each successive violation.
Technical Violations — 1 pt/1 pt/2 pts/DQ
There are a number of holds and maneuvers that are illegal for safety or competitive reasons. There is no warning for a technical violation; the 1st and 2nd offenses result in a penalty point awarded to their opponent, a 3rd offense yields two points, and a 4th results in a disqualification.
If the wrestlers are tied at the end of regulation, they will begin a series of overtime periods to determine a winner.
The first overtime period starts with the wrestlers in neutral and lasts a maximum of 2 minutes. The first wrestler to score during this period wins. Because the first score wins, it is usually referred to Sudden Victory 1 (SV1).
The second overtime period is actually a pair of 30-second periods. Unlike SV1, the entire 30-sec of each period is wrestled unless there is a fall. Each wrestler has their choice of position at the beginning of one of the periods (just like the 2nd and 3rd periods). The wrestler given the choice first may defer. These periods are commonly referred to as Tiebreak 1 (TB1).
If the score is tied at the end of TB1, if one wrestler has accumulated at least a one second riding time advantage (time in top position) in overtime is the winner. Riding time accumulated in regulation does not count. If the riding time is tied, additional rounds of sudden victory (now 1 minute each) and tiebreaks continue until someone wins (checking riding time advantage after each set of tiebreaks)
NCAA wrestling does allow for video review of any on-mat call other than a fall. It can be initiated by either the referees on the mat or by a coach's challenge. Coaches are limited to one failed challenge per dual meet, or up to 3 in a tournament (depending on the number of wrestlers they have). To initiate a challenge, the coach must throw a provided foam brick onto the mat immediately after the situation being challenged. The referee will then stop the match once no significant action is taking place to review the call. Timing issues may now also be corrected via review.
Like in football, the call on the mat is assumed to be correct and can only be overturned by indisputable video evidence. If a review overturns a call, the match is rolled back to the point of the corrected call (including time), and the match resumes. If a video challenge is successful, the team gets the challenge back. If a call is upheld, any subsequent action also stands and the match continues from the point of the stoppage.
Dual Meets and Team Scoring
Teams will wrestle one match for each weight class in ascending order (with 125 following 285, if necessary). The starting weight is decided by agreement between the two teams; otherwise, a random starting weight is chosen.
Teams are awarded points for each match based on the margin of victory:
- Decision (1-7 points): 3 team points
- Major decision (8-14 points): 4 team points
- Technical fall (15+ points): 5 team points
- The match is halted as soon as one wrestler has a 15-point margin, unless a fall is imminent.
- Fall (pin), Disqualification, Default, or Forfeit: 6 team points
The additional points awarded for more decisive victories are commonly referred to as "bonus points".
Teams may have a team point deducted for unsportsmanlike conduct of a coach, competitor, or other team personnel.
Whichever team has the most points after all ten matches are complete is the winner. In the event of a tie, the following criteria are applied in order until a winner is found:
- Number of victories
- Number of 6-point wins (falls, forfeits, defaults, disqualifications)
- Points scored in other matches not included under (2)
- Near fall points scored in other matches
- Takedowns in other matches
- Fewest unsportsmanlike conduct calls
- First takedown of dual
Tournaments and Team Scoring
Teams are awarded points for each match each wrestler wrestles during the competition. Some tournaments allow schools to have multiple wrestlers in a weight, in which case there may be a maximum number of wrestlers that are allowed to score. Which wrestlers score may either be determined beforehand or simply the best N may count, depending on the tournament.
Most wrestling tournaments will run both a main (championship) bracket and a consolation bracket, with wrestlers dropping into the consolation bracket as they lose. This is not a true double-elimination, as losing wrestlers cannot win their way back into the championship, but is structured similarly with wrestlers joining in later rounds as they are knocked out of the championship bracket. The winner of the consolation bracket earns 3rd place. The consolation bracket is often referred to as "wrestlebacks".
There are three categories of points awarded to teams in tournaments:
- Advancement points — points for advancing in a bracket (by winning a match)
- 1 for winning a match in the championship bracket
- ½ for winning a match in the consolation bracket
- Bonus points — points for dominant victories
- 2 for a fall/forfeit/default/DQ
- 1½ for technical fall
- 1 for a major decision
- 1 for a bye (as long as the next match is won)
Placement points — additional points for obtaining certain podium positions, effectively making the last few matches worth more. These vary depending on the tournament size, but for the largest tournaments (like nationals) that award eight positions, they are:
- 1st: 16
- 2nd: 12
- 3rd: 10
- 4th: 9
- 5th: 7
- 6th: 6
- 7th: 4
- 8th: 3
As in dual meets, teams can also be deducted team points directly for unsportsmanlike conduct of coaches, competitors, or other team personnel.
Starting this year, freshmen wrestlers may compete in up to five 'competition dates' without burning their redshirt. However, freshmen will no longer be allowed to compete unattached during their first semester. ('Unattached' means a wrestler competes in an open tournament 'on their own' without the support or singlet of the university.)
NCAA allows a maximum of 9.9 scholarships for D-I wrestling teams. Note that, like many 'non-revenue' sports, this is fewer than the total number of starting positions. Many wrestlers receive only partial athletic scholarships. Starting with the 2023-24 class, scholarship athletes must receive a minimum of a 20% scholarship. Starting their junior year, athletes may receive a lesser percentage, but only if they had not previously been on scholarship.
Here are some common terms you will hear during a wrestling match. This is by no means an exhaustive list. Feel free to ask for additional definitions in the comments; good ones will be added to future versions of this primer.
A shot is an attempt to takedown an opponent by attacking the legs. Shots are usually characterized by the number of legs and relative position (double-leg, single-leg outside, high crotch, etc.).
Sprawling is the primary defense against a shot. It involves flinging the hips and legs back away from the attack.
A hold in neutral where one wrestler has their arm wrapped around the top (overhook) or underneath (underhook) the arm of the opponent. When wrestlers are standing and facing each other, one wrestler may have overhooks and their opponent has underhooks.
Over/underhooks are common in neutral, both as a defensive maneuver and as an offensive grapple to set up either a throw or a shot.
A move at neutral where a wrestler's head goes under their opponent's arm in order to get behind them.
A move while standing where one wrestler lifts the other off their feet and brings them to the mat behind the thrower. The throwing wrestler is responsible for returning the opponent to the mat safely.
An attempt to grab an opponent's ankle from standing in order to lift their leg off the mat.
A subset of overhooks where the wrestlers are next to each other and the overhook is used as a lever into the back of the opponent's shoulder to lift the arm. This is a common position after defending a shot.
The act of forcing the bottom wrestler down from their hands and knees to flat on the mat.
A hold where the offensive wrestler has their arm underneath the defender's arm with the hand on the head. Usually one of the first top technique wrestlers learn. (A full nelson, where both arms do this and the hands touch, is illegal.)
A cradle is a pinning combination where the offensive wrestler has their hands locked, with one arm positioned behind the head and one behind a leg.
A hold where the offensive wrestler hooks the defender's arm with their own, resulting in their arm straight across the hand in the middle of the back. If the offensive wrestler's arm moves far enough up the back (towards the shoulder) or the defender's arm is cranked too far back, the referee may stop action for a potentially dangerous hold.
A hold where the top wrestler pulls the bottom wrestler over to their side and elevates the defender's hips. This move is good for scoring backpoints, but rarely results in a pin without readjusting because the offensive wrestler's body underneath and doesn't have leverage to force the shoulder blades against the mat.
Legs (Leg Ride)
A technique where the wrestler on top wraps one or both of their legs around the inside of the opponents thighs in order to control the defensive wrestler's leg or hips.
A technique where the wrestler on top grabs the far upper arm of the bottom wrestler, grinding their own forearm into the face of the opponent. This is extremely uncomfortable, and while not a scoring combination on its own, it can be combined with other holds or used to set up further opportunities.
Bow and Arrow
A pinning combination where the offensive wrestler grabs the ankle and far arm of the other wrestler. It is called a bow and arrow because the defender is often bent into the 'C' shape of a bow (with the offensive wrestler as the "arrow"). The hold is uncommon, as it is illegal in many lower levels, but has become a Penn State signature move in recent years.
If a hold presents an unusually high risk of injury, the referee may stop the match immediately to protect the wrestlers. The referee indicates this by placing both hands behind their head. There is usually no penalty for this as long as it is not an illegal hold, but if a wrestler continually applies a hold in a way that generates a potentially dangerous stoppage, they can be assessed a stalling.
If the referee determines the wrestlers are in a situation where neither will be able to improve, they can call a stalemate and stop action, with wrestlers restarting in the current positions.
While on the mat, the top wrestler is prohibited from interlocking or overlapping their hands or arms around the defender's torso or both legs³. Doing so is a technical violation. The prohibition ends as soon as the defensive wrestler gains their feet (even if an escape isn't awarded yet).
How long a wrestler can wrestle without becoming exhausted. When a wrestler is exhausted (i.e. "out of gas"), they are said to be gassed.
If a wrestler suffers a possible injury, the match is stopped and that wrestler's injury time begins. Each wrestler has a maximum of 90 s of injury time during a match, which begins when medical staff arrive on the mat. If a wrestler incurs a second injury timeout, their opponent is awarded one point. If a third injury timeout occurs or injury time runs out, the non-injured wrestler wins by injury default. (Exception: unlimited time is allowed to evaluate a concussion)
Injuries that are the result of illegal holds or actions do not count against injury time, and result in the injured wrestler winning by disqualification if they cannot continue within two minutes.
If a wrestler is bleeding, wrestling is stopped until the bleeding has stopped and any blood on the mat and competitors has been cleaned. Blood time is unlimited within reason at the referee's discretion.
The consolation round-of-12 at Nationals where winners are guaranteed a podium position (top-8), making them All-Americans. Often used more generally to refer to the session when the blood round occurs (Session IV [Friday night]), which also includes the championship bracket semifinals and consolation quarterfinals.
Wrestling's equivalent to the Heisman, awarded to the NCAA's best wrestler. In addition to record, major selection criteria include bonus point wins and performance in previous seasons.
There have been six multi-year Hodge winners. Three of them are connected to Penn State (3× for Head Coach Cael Sanderson when he wrestled for Iowa State, and 2× each for PSU alumni David Taylor and Zain Retherford).
If you want a run-down of the copious, often irreverent, BSD memes, please see this companion fanpost by kavija66.
Enjoy the Fun
Penn State's first competition of the season will be a dual against Lock Haven on Fri Nov 11 starting at 19:00 and like much wrestling will be available on BTN+
Big Ten competition begins Jan 6 at Wisconsin.
A full schedule is available here.
We typically congregate in the comments under the preview post, where I (or someone else, if I can't do it) provide live play-by-play scoring and we discuss the match. Kind of like the football and basketball threads, but without all the doom & gloom.
Much thanks to Scott Pilutik for providing the photos for this post (check out all his PSU wrestling photos), and thanks to JtotheP for reviewing an early version and assisting in coordination to get this post together.