Men's Sports

VISSER: Wrestling rule changes mark turning point in the sport

College wrestling fans have yelled their last collective, “TWOOOOOOOO,” after a takedown. Instead, they’ll have to get used to yelling, “THREEEEEE!”

On Thursday, the NCAA Playing Rules and Oversight Panel approved several rules and rule changes that could have a seismic shift in the sport of wrestling, including making all takedowns worth three points instead of two.

“Members of the Wrestling Rules Committee, which proposed the change, agreed that increasing the scoring for takedowns by an additional point will enhance the sport by rewarding offensive actions and risk-taking,” the NCAA’s press release stated. “The committee also agreed there was a need to create a more appropriate point differential between takedowns and escapes and incentivize offense when competitors are in the neutral position.”

While saying “THREEEEE” will take a lot of getting used to for wrestling fans, I think the rule change has the potential to be a big positive for the sport.

Picture this scenario: David Carr is wrestling Missouri’s Keegan O’Toole for [insert 2024 postseason championship here]. Carr gets three takedowns in the first period and O’Toole gets three escapes. In the second period, O’Toole chooses the down position, gets an escape, and proceeds to take Carr down once. The score would have been tied 6-6 under the old rules, even
though takedowns are 3-1 in favor of Carr. With the new rules, Carr would be up 9-7.

To me, that makes much more sense. Those three takedowns now feel like a sufficient reward for the effort given. Collegiate wrestling rules will now provide more of an incentive to go out and get takedowns. Iowa State coach Kevin Dresser talks all the time during the season about creating separation between you and your opponent. The three-point takedown will allow that
separation to occur for the offensive wrestler, which by and large, is the Cyclones.

Three-point takedowns will also make Yonger Bastida matches that much more high scoring and exciting, which I’ll never be opposed to.
When the rule changes were proposed on April 19, FloWrestling’s Andy Hamilton put together a piece that highlighted just how much scoring has decreased in recent years.

“The three-point takedown had been a discussion piece in recent years but hadn’t generated much traction,” Hamilton wrote. “But with national tournament match points down 19 percent since 2019 and takedowns down almost 17 percent during the same time frame, the rule committee made … moves to jumpstart action, risk-taking, and scoring.”

The three-point takedown has the potential to fundamentally change how the end of periods are wrestled. An unanswered two-point takedown was already a deciding factor in many matches. An unanswered three-point takedown could be demoralizing to the person who got taken down. I would expect to see action pick up more than it already does in the last 30
seconds of a period.

It’ll also change how the person who got the takedown rides. If a wrestler gets a takedown with 40 seconds left in a period, they might be more willing to give up a stall warning to ensure they secure an unanswered takedown. The risk/reward factor shifts significantly toward being willing
to give up the first stall warning to ensure no escape is given up.

Speaking of riding, there are two other rule changes that have to do with mat wrestling and mainly have to do with the top person and riding.
The rules committee also approved a three-point turn as well as a rule that states an official will begin a five count any time a top wrestler drops below the waist to “ankle ride.” Previously, a top wrestler could drop below the waist if both athletes were standing but the top man hadn’t
given up control yet and then return his opponent to the mat. Now, the five-count starts no matter what position the wrestlers are in and the top wrestler drops below the waist. Both should have an overall positive impact on mat wrestling, but I’m not convinced the three-point near-fall was completely necessary.

“The rationale for the rule change includes giving wrestlers a chance to be more creative in attempting to earn points,” the press release stated.

I’m not sure what, “more creative” means or how it’ll help wrestlers be more creative, but I do think it could cause some confusion and controversy. Two-point and four-point near falls already existed, so I’m not totally sure how impactful the three-point near fall will be, and frankly, I think it will cause more murkiness for referees and coaches alike.

Coaches already harp on officials when they want a four-count instead of a two-count — I can’t imagine what it’ll be like if an official doesn’t start his swipes as soon as a coach thinks the referee should and only gives the wrestler two back points instead of three. I could see this one creating some unwanted and unintended ambiguity — we’ll have to wait and see.

As far as the ankle ride, I love the rule change. It’s a rule that’s been exploited in recent years but came to a head this year in the Iowa, Penn State dual meet. The Nittany Lions used the ankle ride to perfection against the Hawkeyes and controlled the pace and the dual meet, winning 23-14. Let’s be clear, the ankle ride wasn’t the reason Penn State won, it would’ve won anyway, but the dual meet wasn’t as action-packed as it could’ve been for a No. 1 versus No. 2. The tactic even prompted former Des Moines Register wrestling reporter, Cody Goodwin, to write a whole article on the topic after the meet.

The one proposed rule change that didn’t make it through that I would’ve loved to have seen was that no riding time point would be awarded unless the top wrestler turned his opponent. As it stands, if you ride your opponent for a net positive of one minute, you get a riding time
point. I think the proposed rule would’ve really incentivized either attempting a turn or cutting your opponent and trying to take them down again.

Maybe next year.

Other rule changes

Video review is already a mess in college wrestling and I’m not sure the new rule will change it. In fact, it will probably make it more of a mess.

  • The rule change provides the referee with the authority to confirm or overturn all calls or missed calls during a video review challenged sequence.

For the coach’s challenges, the sequence is described as the time from the alleged error until the match is, or should have been, stopped by the referee. Before, referees were only reviewing the call being challenged. Now, they can change any call in a sequence, whether it was challenged or not. Expect to see some animated coaches after they not only lose their challenge but their wrestler gets dinged for locked hands, as an example, on top of losing their original challenge.

Here are the other rule changes, which all should have varying degrees of positive impact.

  • The first medical forfeit of a tournament will count as a loss on the wrestler’s record. An exception will be if the medical forfeit occurs immediately after an injury default in a tournament.
  • The penalty for a delayed coach’s video review challenge request will be changed to a loss of the video review. Previously, it was a control-of-mat violation and a 1-point deduction from the team total.
  • Any true placement matches conducted in an event will not alter the final team score.
  • Officials can let action continue after penalizing an illegal hold and not require a stoppage after imminent scoring finishes when the safety of wrestlers is not in danger.
  • Weigh-in times across all competition types will be standardized to two hours or sooner before the start of the competition. Previously, tournament weigh-ins were two hours or sooner, but dual meet weigh-ins were permitted only one hour or sooner before the start of competition.
  • Weight certification for all schools will be permitted to start on Sept. 1.

Last but certainly not least, the rule limiting facial hair to no longer than half an inch has been eliminated. If we don’t see some lumber jack-esque beards by fall, I’ll be greatly disappointed.

This is a transformative time for college wrestling. Whether it’s for better or worse, we’ll have to wait but I’m hopeful that it’s for better.

“We needed to add excitement back to the sport without compromising the integrity of the sport — and I think we did that,” Rider coach and NCAA rules committee chair John Hangey told Hamilton in April. “We’re either going to be loved or hated or remembered as the worst or the best rules committee in history. But we felt we were taking wrestling from
where it is to where we want it to be.”

As a person who loves wrestling, I’m hopeful these rule changes will spark a more offensively-minded and aggressive style of wrestling and we’ll start seeing more and more takedowns. I suppose the ultimate hope for Dresser and Iowa State is that they score so many three-pointers that Hilton feels like the Iowa State basketball teams of the mid-20-teens with the likes
of Georges Niang, Monte Morris, Naz Mitrou-Long, Matt Thomas, and the like raining in 3-pointers.

So, I’ll leave you with this: Who gets more 3-pointers next season — the quintet of David Carr, Yonger Bastida, Paniro Johnson, Casey Swiderski, and Zach Redding or the top-five 3-point shot makers for the Iowa State men’s basketball team?

For reference: those five wrestlers combined for 236 takedowns last year and the top-five 3-point shotmakers for the men’s basketball team combined for 195.


Ben Visser