Power Of The Dual: Creating A Marquee Early-Season Event In College Wrestling
Penn State wrestling, with 45 straight dual wins and counting, released its 2018-19 schedule Monday morning, featuring some of its usual local non-conference opponents like Lehigh, as well as an interesting matchup in Rec Hall against NCAA top ten finisher Arizona State.
What makes that meeting, which will work out as a home-and-home across the next two seasons, so special is the rarity of an out-of-conference clash with one of the sport’s non-local powerhouses.
Don’t get us wrong: The Big Ten slate packs more than enough quality showdowns between the nation’s top teams. But especially now that it looks like the end of the NWCA Dual Championship series — which pitted Penn State against Oklahoma State twice in a de facto dual national title bout — the Nittany Lions lose contact with historic teams like the Cowboys.
The NWCA Duals still had their issues and the NCAA Championships is certainly a superior event to crown a national champion. Yet the major problem is that there isn’t another event on the college wrestling calendar to catch national attention and target an area that doesn’t necessarily have access to top-level competition on a weekly basis.
That’s where a preseason showcase event comes in.
Other college sports have their own major events to open a season. Football packs NFL stadiums with top 10 showcases for one-offs like the Chick-fil-A Kickoff and the Advocare Classic, while basketball plays in front of packed NBA arenas for events like the Champions Classic doubleheader featuring Duke, Michigan State, Kentucky, and Kansas.
What if wrestling put together something similar to either of these? It could potentially be a doubleheader in a professional-level arena (Pittsburgh’s waited 62 years to host another NCAA Wrestling Championships in 2019, so who knows when it’ll get another major event again). For both duals, feature a Big Ten team — like Penn State or Ohio State — against one of the NCAA’s best programs outside of the super conference — like Missouri, Oklahoma State, or NC State.
That would certainly give a tough battle early in the season to the Nittany Lions, who outscored non-conference opponents 199-30 in five matchups last season.
However, a preseason event needs to do more than just attain a competitive matchup for the Nittany Lions. They have faced off with Power Five and ranked non-conference opponents every year since starting their national title dominance in 2011, but rarely receive attention beyond their usual in-season coverage.
Cael Sanderson’s team took on Stanford in a home-and-home series in 2015 and 2016, as well as Virginia Tech in 2014 and 2015. There have been countless other showdown duals throughout college wrestling in recent years, including the current series between North Carolina State and Ohio State.
The issue with these one-off events is that they struggle to truly capture national attention.
Hosting marquee matchups in Happy Valley can appeal to the local fanbase, but don’t do much to grow the sport outside of this area. It’s the same thing with other duals hosted on campus sites.
A neutral-site doubleheader early in the season between some of college wrestling’s best teams has the potential to do more than that.
It shows off the magic of a dual, as we saw last season in the Penn State-Ohio State meet. It could put an extra national TV-level event on the dial to help grow the sport. Maybe most importantly, it gives areas that don’t have top-ranked teams to see most weekends during the winter a chance to see the best college wrestling has to offer.
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