The collegiate wrestling season this coming year may be like nothing we have ever seen. With many fall sports being pushed back, it would not surprise me at all to see the wrestling season shortened, and perhaps even limited to only in-conference matches. This could create a serious problem when it comes to gaining bids and compiling national rankings. I watched a video made by Fanco Wrestling (go ahead and subscribe to him immediately) and he proposed the idea of moving to regions separated by location and doing away with the current system we have to get our NCAA qualifiers. While all of this is completely hypothetical, I know wrestling fans love the hypotheticals! So let’s get into the pros and cons of this system, and take a dive into what the regions could look like if NCAA Division 1 moved to a super regional format.
How it works.
Each of 4 regions takes the top 7 to nationals. It’s that simple. My justification for 7 qualifying and not 8 is that it eliminates the need for a true 8th bracket. If top 8 went, we would have to wrestle a 4-man bracket out of the bloodround losers to see who gets the chance for that final spot, and that is just too much extra work, in my opinion. The 7th and 8th place matches in most brackets are considered boring, but this will make for an electric final round of the tournament with the winner moving on to nationals, and the loser’s path to glory coming to a tumultuous end. No wild cards, end of story. The 8th-place finishers will be the alternates in case someone doesn’t make weight or *gasp* gets the coronavirus.
This also makes seeding pretty easy as the champions of each region would start off with a bye, while the 2nd place winners will face off against the 7th, 3rd against 6th, and 4th against 5th. 1st will then get the winner of 4th vs. 5th, while the winners of 2nd/7th will get to face the victor of 3rd/6th.
This takes the guesswork out of qualifying for nationals. We don’t have to worry about rankings so much. Given the potential landscape of the season going into next year, this is a good thing.
The other divisions already do this. D2 and D3 both take the top 3 from 6 different regions, and uniformity between different NCAA divisions is certainly not a bad thing.
This makes the national tournament truly a national tournament. We will get an equal amount of representatives from different regions of the country.
The case against wildcards: you need to earn your spot by winning the matches to get there. Yes, the rest of the season is important. But if you don’t show up ready to fight for your berth to the national tournament, and other guys do, they need to be rewarded.
Many people might argue that the super regional format takes away the need to compete earlier in the season, as there is no search for bids to the national tournament. Keep in mind, however, that the super regional brackets will need to be seeded, and that seeding can of course make all of the difference. Intra-region and conference matches thus become all the more important.
The big one is that we won’t necessarily be getting all of the best guys at the national tournament. As you will see below, certain regions such as the Central region and Northeast Region seem admittedly tougher and deeper than other regions, despite sending the same number of guys to the next stage.
No wild cards. Wild cards are good for many reasons. If a really good wrestler is battling an injury or just has the worst tournament of their life, should he be punished that severely? One of the main reasons the NCAA D1 tournament is so tough is because they can use wildcards to get every last hammer they desire into the bracket. With the super regional format, that option is lost.
I attempted to divide the 78 NCAA Division 1 wrestling programs into four super regionals that made sense geographically and also as talent-balanced as possible. Also, I made the host site of each region from a different conference. Western is PAC-12’s Arizona State, Central is BIG 10’s Iowa, Northeast is EIWA’s Cornell, while Southeast is the ACC’s North Carolina State.
Western Region (18) - Host: Arizona State
Teams: Oregon State, Fresno State, Cal Poly, Cal State-Bakersfield, Arizona State, Utah Valley, Wyoming, Northern Colorado, Air Force, NDSU, SDSU, Nebraska-Lincoln, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Iowa State, UNI, Mizzou, Arkansas-Little Rock
The big-hitters in this region include Arizona State, Oklahoma State, and Nebraska, as well as Iowa State and Mizzou. After that, the depth in this region is insane, with only 2 or 3 teams that I would consider weak.
Due to lack of wrestling programs out west, this region covers a ton of ground and even includes much more central schools such as UNI, Iowa State, and Nebraska-Lincoln. This is basically PAC-12 and BIG-12.
Central Region (17) - Host: Iowa
Teams: Minnesota, Iowa, Wisconsin, Northern Illinois, Illinois, SIUE, Northwestern, Indiana, Purdue, Central Michigan, Michigan State, Michigan, Ohio State, Cleveland State, Kent State, Edinboro, Clarion
This region has a lot of the best BIG 10 schools in it, being led by Iowa, Ohio State, and Michigan, as well as about 5 other tough BIG 10 universities. In addition to the BIG 10, MAC makes a decent-sized splash here.
Due to the high concentration of talent in this region, the number of teams was kept lower. I am personally very interested to see how teams like Clarion and Central Michigan can stack up against their BIG opponents.
Northeast Region (18) - Host: Cornell
Teams: Harvard, Brown, Sacred Heart, Army West Point, Binghamton, Cornell, Buffalo, Hofstra, Columbia, Long Island, Rutgers, Princeton, Lehigh, Franklin & Marshall, Bloomsburg, Penn State, Lock Haven, Bucknell
Here we have a good EIWA/BIG 10 mixture. The top teams here appear to be Penn State and Cornell, along with rivals Rutgers and Princeton. Many of the other tough Pennsylvania teams like Lock Haven and Lehigh make a really tough top 6. With only one spot for qualification left after that, the balance works well here as the rest of these teams seem to be a bit lesser compared to those 6, with Army easily being the next best.
Having Princeton and Rutgers in the same region could make for some really dramatic qualification matches. On top of being the smartest region with all of the Ivy league schools, the finals matchups in this region will be the best out of them all, in my mind.
Southeast Region (23) - Host: NC State
Teams: The Citadel, Presbysterian, Gardner-Webb, Tennessee-Chattanooga, Davidson, App State, Campbell, North Carolina, NC State, Duke, Virginia Tech, Virginia, VMI, George Mason, American, Maryland, Navy, Drexel, Penn, West Virginia, Ohio, Pitt, Rider
The two best teams leading this pack seem to be the Wolfpack and the Hokies, followed by about 5 other above average teams. Due to the lack of higher level wrestling institutions in this region, it has quite a few more teams than the other super regionals.
Location-wise, this region makes a lot of sense. Ohio and Rider could reside in other regions, but I figured the depth they could provide to the Southeast was worth moving them out of the tougher regions. Pitt competes in the ACC with all of the other Southeast teams, so I threw them in, as well.
A team like Maryland, which went 0-20 in the Big Ten main brackets (1-25 if you count the true 9th brackets), could really have a chance to shine in this region.
I know many people might seem sceptical about this plan, but some serious thinking needs to be done moving into this next season to determine what is best for the athletes, and if we want to avoid cancellation of yet another national tournament. D2 and D3 have already proved that this model works.
Of course this is all hypothetical, but having host sites and limiting the number of qualification tournaments from 7 conferences to 4 regions can only be a good thing. If we are unable to have a full season and compete to earn bids to the national tournament, a cut-and-dry system like this works. Want to go to nationals? Simple: place top-7 at your super regional.
Where does your favorite team end up in this format? Are the regions well-balanced? Could something like this work? Let us know down in the comments!
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