OKLAHOMA CITY – For the most part, coaches and wrestlers subscribe to the attitude that to be the best you have to beat the best.
You can save the Ric Flair “Woo” after some of the head-scratching seeds for the NCAA Division I Wrestling Championships.
A handful of coaches commented on some of the seeds and the process during a pre-tournament news conference Wednesday at the Chesapeake Energy Arena.
Minnesota Coach J Robinson said the committee needs to explain their decisions, validating the final seeds.
“I think the Committee and the people that do it owe an explanation why it is done, because if it isn’t done the right way you can’t correct it,” Robinson said. “I believe it needs to be transparent.”
You don’t have to look too far to see a couple questionable seeds. University of Northern Iowa’s Ryan Loder is a returning All-American at 184 and has reached at least the round of 12 in all three NCAA tournament appearances. He is 12-2 this season, but a loss in the Mid-American Conference finals dropped him to a 15th seed, which could mean a second-round bout with Penn State’s two-time NCAA champion Ed Ruth.
Iowa State’s Kyven Gadson ended the regular season as the consensus No. 1 ranked wrestler in the country and is 25-2 after winning his second straight Big 12 Conference title. He is seeded fifth at 197.
“I don’t understand how Gadson’s at No. 5,” Robinson said. “I was one of the ranking coaches this year. All through the year you’re looking at who’s wrestled and one tournament he doesn’t lose.
“He’s the most glaring one,” Robinson said. “(Penn State’s Zain) Retherford is another one.”
Retherford, a true freshman, is 29-1. His only loss was to Ohio State’s two-time NCAA champion Logan Stieber in the 141-pound final of the Big Ten Championships. Despite beating Stieber earlier in the season, he opens with The Citadel’s All-American and unseeded Undrakhbayar Khishignyam (22-3).
Penn State’s Cael Sanderson said it doesn’t matter now and that every wrestler still has to beat five or six opponents to win a title.
“It is not a time for us to worry about how things happened or why they didn’t happen,” Sanderson said. “If you look at all the weight classes, there were some strange some of the seeds. Why that is I don’t know, but it’s what we have and we have to make do.”
Iowa Coach Tom Brands said the qualifying rules have changed. With 33 wrestlers per bracket and more of an effort to get the nation’s very best wrestlers in the field, it is a tougher task to sort out the top half.
“The qualifying rules have changed,” Brands said. “There’s no question the brackets are deeper.”
Oklahoma Coach Mark Cody said that he heard some mention the Sooners were “hammered” when it came to tough draws. He said a new process may have some things to tweak, but the decision-makers try to be as fair as possible.
“The way we look at it is you get the seed you get and then you prepare and that was our focus,” Cody said. “I didn’t really notice one way or the other.”
Oklahoma State Coach John Smith questioned how you judge whether seeds are accurate. He said many people who complain don’t do their homework.
“When you’re seeding 160 athletes, there are probably a few that could have went either way,” Smtih said. “Overall, I looked at it and it looks pretty good.”
Wrestling with parity
The topsy-turvy college wrestling season has seen revolving doors at the top of rankings and defending national champions lose. The sport’s landscape at this level might be levelling a bit.
“I think it’s very exciting,” Iowa Coach Tom Brands said. “It hardens our guys and our program to the battle. We love it.”
A couple reasons were thrown out Wednesday. Coaching has improved and money has caused wrestlers to seek a more fiscally responsible decision coming out of high school.
“I think we’re going to see it more and more as we go forward from here,” Oklahoma State Coach John Smith said. “I think we have some great coaches out there, working hard at it.
“With tuition and fees going up money does make a difference in recruiting and people are choosing somewhere else because of that opportunity. I think we’ll continue to see it get tighter and tighter.”
Most agree parity creates a buzz, even if Penn State has had a grasp on the last three NCAA and Big Ten titles. Minnesota Coach J Robinson said competitiveness is cyclical. He also mentioned that technology has helped followers gain access to results and generate discussion, which is a huge plus.
“Regardless of what it does, it is good,” Robinson said. “Whether you win or lose, what happens is you get people talking and when they talk they get engaged and when they get engaged they pull other people into the conversation.”
Last year, the NCAA switched the order of the championship bouts, deviating from their normal lightest to heaviest lineup to highlight the 165-pound match between Cornell’s four-time NCAA champion Kyle Dake and Penn State’s three-time national finalist and this year’s top-seeded David Taylor.
The order this year won’t be determined until the championship pairings are decided.
Penn State’s Cael Sanderson seemed fine with the format and Oklahoma State’s John Smith said he likes it, saying he wouldn’t be against doing that in regular-season duals.
“I think it makes sense,” Sanderson said. “They’re following the models of other combat sports, obviously boxing and MMA, and why not? The sport had great success with it last year.”Smith added, “I think it’s a great idea. I think we ought to continue to do it. There are highlight matches, and we need to try to expose those highlight matches at the right time."