116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
IOWA CITY – The NCAA determines its national champion wrestling team at the end of season tournament.
For decades, the National Wrestling Coaches Association crowned a national champion dual team. The organization still holds it for other levels, but it has gone the way of the dodo bird and saber-toothed tiger at the NCAA Division I level.
The bracketed 16-team competition started to struggle to attract the top teams and then changes to the format caused it to fizzle, even when some viewed duals as the way to gain interest and excitement.
Don’t confuse the new Collegiate Wrestling Duals, presented by Journeyman Wrestling, in Niceville, Fla., as a prelude to a D-I national duals return.
“I don’t think this has anything to do with a dual championship,” University of Iowa Coach Tom Brands said. “I think that died a long time ago. I’m not saying it’s not still there and maybe if the NCAA sanctioned something there would be legitimacy there. I think this is just a dual event that is at a good time.”
The top-ranked Hawkeyes, University of Northern Iowa and Penn State will participate in the 12-team field split into two groups with pool competition Monday and placing duals Tuesday at NW Florida State College’s Raider Arena. Iowa (3-0) faces Central Michigan at 6 p.m. and No. 17 Lehigh at 8.
Iowa, Lehigh, Central Michigan is half of the red pool, which also includes fifth-ranked North Carolina State, No. 10 Missouri and Binghamton. In the blue pool, UNI faces No. 11 Cornell University and second-ranked Penn State, while No. 6 Arizona State, No. 8 Virginia Tech and Hofstra round out the group.
Teams with similar records will wrestle for first, third and fifth within their own pools. There will be no cross-pool duals.
“The format was hatched by (Journeyman Founder and Director) Frank (Popolizio) and (Rokfin Founder and Chief Executive Officer) Martin Floreani,” Brands said. “I think there’s a good concept there. The concept is to get wrestling in a place that is visible and let’s make that as attractive as we can with times, time of year, the number of high-powered programs that are going to show up and then the format.”
Brands said he has no issues with the tournament’s structure. He also said he was interested from the early conversations. The original name caused second thoughts, but a change brought Iowa back on board.
“We were in right away and then they called it the National Duals and we were out,” Brands said. “We’re just not going to be a proponent, not going to be an advocate for the national duals. We tried to sail that ship many, many times to no avail. It doesn’t work.
“This is a dual-meet event. When they switched their thinking to a dual-meet event we’re in and it’s that simple.”
Brands mentioned that wrestling leaders have attempted to get answers on the sport’s value to the Big Ten Network, crediting Penn State Coach Cael Sanderson’s effort. The increase on the conference network demonstrates value, but the event on the Rokfin platform will provide a better idea of how much.
“This is going to show in a more real way the value that wrestling has being televised, streamed or whatever format you want to use,” Brands said. “Right now, the numbers are good and that’s what we want. We want to show, first of all, that the value is there and then we want a number. We want an answer.
“That’s not being belligerent or being out of line at all. We just can’t get an answer. This is a good way maybe to get an answer.”
Football is the accepted leader, according to Brands. Men’s basketball is next. He said Iowa has surpassed sports like hockey, women’s basketball and volleyball.
“So, we’re in between men’s basketball and those three sports, what’s our value?” Brands said. “This is going to show us through the Rokfin format.”
Wrestling is an individual sport. Duals provide excitement, but it doesn’t match the vision wrestlers have for national team champions. The Hawkeyes are still energized for the opportunity to compete.
“I love dual meets,” Iowa senior Alex Marinelli said. “I love tournaments, but dual meets are fun because you get to cheer on your guys and go watch them wrestle but also stay in your match.
“I don’t think we’ve done a dual-meet tournament, so doing this is pretty cool. It’s good for the fans. They want to see these different types of dual-meet scenarios where we face different teams.”
The National Duals are about 10-12 years removed from being a notable tournament for D-I programs. Current wrestlers have few memories of it.
“Not really,” Iowa heavyweight Tony Cassioppi said. “I don’t really know much about it now.”
Wrestlers approach tournaments and duals similarly. There are some tweaks to routine, but most remains the same.
“It’s cool,” Cassioppi said. “I get to watch my teammates right on the mat in front of me instead of them being al over the place, but it doesn’t change my preparation either way”
Iowa’s Spencer Lee is among the wrestlers listed on the probable lineup. The three-time NCAA champion and two-time Hodge Trophy winner has not taken the mat this season. Freshman Jesse Ybarra will also attend.
“Spencer is something that everybody wants the answer to and I don’t know if there is an answer,” Brands said about Lee’s possible debut. I think the answer to the question will be there when the timing is right.
“There is no prediction or plan that’s in concrete,” Brands said. “It’s day-to-day, on the fly. I know our fans are anxious.”
He is joined by 149-pounder Max Murin, who won his season debut over Iowa State’s Ian Parker on Dec. 5. Mike Kemerer (174) was not included in the original release.
“The timetable is he’ll be on the mat when he’s ready,” Brands said. “There’s nobody want these guys on the mat more than them. They’re the most important people that count when you’re gauging.”
“It’s a day-by-day process and both guys are coming along the way we want them to come along.”
UNI (0-2) will look for its first dual victory of the season. The 22nd-ranked Panthers face two highly-ranked foes.
“You’re trying to get the best teams in the country to come to an event,” UNI Coach Doug Schwab said. “There are a whole lot of them down there. ... Obviously, pretty dang good.”
Schwab noted the lineup has some question marks, depending on who is healthy to make the trip.
“I’d like to have certain guys in the lineup but if they’re not quite ready then they’re not quite ready,” Schwab said. “We’re always going to be smart with the guys.”