If wrestling wanted something resembling an NCAA selection show, they just might get it.

The word is resembling, not duplicating. With last summer’s NCAA mandate to eliminate the usage of historical data to determine the qualification system to the NCAA Division I Wrestling Championship, the NCAA Wrestling Committee is recommending a complete overhaul to the qualifier system as we know it, and at first glance, it seems to have evened itself out.

| RELATED : NCAA News Story on qualifier allocation plan |

The NCAA News released a story Tuesday unveiling the recommendations the Division I Wrestling Committee will present to the Competition Cabinet, which will meet in late June.

 “The drastic change was the elimination of historical data,” said Brad Traviolia, the Chair of the NCAA Wrestling Committee and the Deputy Commissioner of the Big Ten Conference. “There wasn’t any possibility that would change, it was a mandate.”

After the mandate was ordered, 2007-08 used three year data instead of five and 2007-08 data would serve as the guinea pig for the 2008-09 committee recommendations.

“Really what the committee in August wanted to do was use the 2007-08 season as a trial run and we were able to do that as a trial run with the NWCA,” explained Traviolia. “We were able to use all the match data from the NWCA web site and we could slice and dice that data for each wrestler’s weight class, wins, losses, percentages, we also created the RPI.

“The process we went through this year and the data we were able to pull the results, as a committee, we poured through this info and answered the cabinet’s charge to see what a more standard NCAA model will look like,” he said.

The conference champion will still automatically qualify from the ten Division I wrestling conferences and the East Region (the West Region will be formally recognized as the Western Wrestling Conference next season).

“What type of representation is good and necessary is good for an endangered sport?” said Traviolia. “We’ve asked for two tweaks which are necessary to make it applicable to bring wrestling in line with what the NCAA is. We’re moving the qualifying formula with more of the standard NCAA model. Keep at heart what is in the best interest of the sport.”

One of the first things Traviolia and the wrestling committee will be asking is an additional 30 qualifiers to the Division I championships, bringing the total number of qualifiers to 360, in effect, a 36-man bracket in each weight at the NCAA Championships.

“It’s a big ask,” admitted Traviolia. “It’s not something normally would be passed. Expanding brackets at the NCAA championships is heavily scrutinized, and for good reason.

“What we’re saying, for the health of the sport; it is an endangered sport and we’re doing what the cabinet asked us to do and creating a qualifying system that mirrors the NCAA model.

“We’re going to do that, but if we did that and looked away, long term, that would hurt the sport. We’re going to ask the cabinet to expand the brackets. We think it’s very important and we think we have data and sound rationale that would provide it,” said Traviolia.

“Expanding brackets is something that is closely watched and monitored,” continued Traviolia. “Is this a priority? We think we have a compelling case for it. It’s not a done deal by any stretch, but we have a legitimate case.”

But what about the actual format?

As Traviolia mentioned, the automatic qualifiers (AQs) would come from each of the conference and regional championships, giving you 11 qualifiers per weight as AQ’s and a total of 110 wrestlers right off the top.

The next recommendation would be to allocate a number of conference qualifiers prior to the tournaments, letting teams and coaches know how many bids they will get before the final selection. According to the NCAA News:

The committee recommends that most of the berths be determined through a primary criteria formula in which wrestlers will be measured on the following:

  • Winning percentage
  • A rating percentage index conducted by the National Wrestling Coaches Association
  • A coaches’ ranking poll (five coaches from each conference will be assigned to nationally rank wrestlers in two different weight classes).

If wrestlers in a particular conference reach standards in at least two of those three criteria, that conference will earn qualifier position in their respective weight class at their qualifying event.

This number would be specific for a weight class. The EIWA, for example, could have four bids at 125 but six at 133 and two at 285.

The logic is to preserve the integrity of the NCAA qualifying tournament.

Virginia head coach Steve Garland, one of the members of the NCAA wrestling committee finds this a paramount detail.

“We’re trying to keep emphasis on the conference tournaments,” said Garland. “Every coach in the country, integrity of the conference is important. We keep the kids in control of their own destiny.”

If a conference, based on current year data, was allocated 20 bids, it gives the wrestlers in such weight class the ability to know where they need to place to qualify.

Garland loves the new scenario.

“It’s so much better in my opinion than it has been on the past,” he said. “It’s all based on current data, so it’s what you’ve done that year. It’s going to have kinks that need to be ironed out. The sport of wrestling needed, it was needed and I think it’s a good thing.”

The idea is to get the 36 best wrestlers per weight class in the event, but the emphasis, at least for Garland, is the full season.

“It doesn’t matter if he’s from Virginia, Northwestern or Arizona State, he’s beaten who he’s beaten,” he said.

“(Wisconsin’s) Craig Henning’s a returning national finalist. He didn’t win the conference, man, he didn’t place. That kid needs to be there. I like the way it’s going to be set up. Guys that had one bad day can still get to go based on their complete body of work.”

What would a wrestler need to get selected to the tournament if they fail to qualify through  the conference tournament? Wrestlers who meet certain criteria set by the committee would be placed on a board for an at-large selection.

After the qualifying events, the Division I Wrestling Committee will meet in person to select the final at-large berths into the championships. Wrestlers being considered will have their updated winning percentage and RPI examined. Factors such as wins against wrestlers receiving automatic qualification, head to head matches amongst wrestlers up for consideration, common opponents, last ten matches and placement at their qualifying event will be reviewed as well.

When all the selections are made, each of the 10 weight classes will have 33 wrestlers in the bracket (provided the recommendations end up with the 330-qualifier model).

“I’m on the committee and I’ve been there the entire step of the way,” said Garland. There’s a perception there are people in a dark room making decisions … but people work hard on it for the good of the sport.”

Oregon State head coach Jim Zalesky agrees. He too is on the committee.

“The new system is equal,” he said. “It’s all what happens on what year. You can qualify your whole team. More emphasis on how you’re doing for that year and on how many you’re going to get through the qualifying tournament.”

Zalesky likes the idea of the entire season mattering rather than one event and looks forward to the elimination of the current wildcard system.

“The object is to get the best guys there and if they don’t qualify they still have a chance to get in the tournament,” he said. “It takes the wildcard part of it out of the conference tournaments, which is where you get in fights and who should go and a lot of politics.”

“That’s not going to happen, the selection committee’s going to pick the qualifiers,” said Zalesky.

The question now is, how will this adversely affect the smaller conference … or how will it effectively help those same smaller conferences. It depends on perception.

Will the Big Ten and Big 12 benefit and end up soaking up all those extra qualifiers?

The NCAA Wrestling Committee met in Indianapolis last month and held a “mock selection show,” to determine how this year’s brackets would have turned out using the system discussed.

“We filled out each bracket 33 people deep and who would go and how they got there,” said Traviolia. “The Big 12 went from 38 to 45; Big Ten went from 72 to78.”

“The ACC doubled, they went 14 to 28,” he continued. “On the flip side, the EIWA and the Pac-10 went down. Both Greg Strobel and Zalesky agreed their respective conferences had down years.”

How would the scenario have panned out with the additional 30 qualifiers?

“When the committee went through the mock trial run, we filled out 33, we went three more deep, so we went 34-35-36 using the methodology,” explained Traviolia. “Of those 30 additional wrestlers, only three came from the Big Ten or Big 12. It’s only one year data, but it further justifies an additional 30 qualifiers to spread around to programs that need the exposure for the NCAA championships.”

“There might be years where the Big Ten and Big 12 get more and there are years they might get less,” said Zalesky, who previously coached in the Big Ten at Iowa.

But will doubters find immediate flaws in terms of scheduling, travel, budgets and regional competition? Garland doesn’t buy it.

“How do we schedule?,” said Traviolia. “You need to achieve balance, you can’t emphasize any one thing. If you go for a killer schedule but you lose the matches, that’s not going to help you. The thought process and balancing act has been prevalent in other sports.”

And competition against non-Division I competition won’t be as negative of a factor as coaches and fans might think. In other sports where an RPI is used, only contests against Division I opponents are factored in.

That will be the same with wrestling, but only within the RPI framework. Those matches still count in the overall body of work, winning percentage and coaches rank scenarios.

“We initiated legislation which encourages programs to wrestle Division II and III schools,” said Traviolia. “The ability for a smaller travel budget, if they could use dates of competition and wrestle locally, shouldn’t be punished. If you have say a 70 percent win percentage, you’re still going to get on the board.”

With the NCAA mandate coming down last summer, it has been a busy year for those involved in developing a system, use the results data to justify it, and finally, recommend the system.

“This first year is going to be critical and a big need for an educational effort,” said Traviolia. “This is where the standard model comes into play. In a perfect world, we’d have loved to use 2-3-4-5 years of data to use this model. We only had the ability to base this recommendation on one year of data. The data we saw this year supports what we’re trying to do.”

“It’s one of those things and there will probably be some tweaks here and there,” said Zalesky. “We felt comfortable and most of the coaches want the qualifiers at the qualifying tournaments and be up for grabs.

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