College Wrestling For Dummies: Everything You Need To Know To Enjoy The NCAA Championships

If your March Madness bracket is busted within hours of the tournament starting, you might find yourself looking for something to take your mind off what could’ve been and flip over to ESPN.

You wince at every inhuman contortion made on scream. A man who looks and sounds strangely similar to Alec Baldwin is yelling about how jacked up he is. And Cael Sanderson looks as mean as ever.

But you can’t exactly keep up with all the action, wonder what happens when the score is tied at the end of regulation, and aren’t positive why everyone in PPG Paints Arena yells “TWOOOO! at random points.

Wrestling is one of the toughest sports to follow if you’re unfamiliar with it. There’s nothing that’s similar enough to compare it to, and there are seemingly so many scoring rules to keep track of. But for those who do know what’s going on, it makes for the most exciting seven minute bursts in sports, thanks to the man-to-man combat, finesse, and grit that characterize it.

The First Sport takes over the city of Pittsburgh this weekend for the NCAA Championships. Penn State, winners of seven of the last eight national titles, enters the tournament once again as the heavy favorite. Here’s everything you need to know to be an informed viewer and appreciate history in the making.

How To Watch/Follow

If you aren’t going to be in the Steel City this weekend, ESPN will broadcast all six sessions of the tournament on its family of networks.

The second round, semifinals, and finals will all air on ESPN in primetime on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights. The first round, the quarterfinals, and the medal round will all be broadcast on ESPNU during the day.

Additionally, if you get so into the action and become a typical Penn State wrestling hardo over night, every match will be streamed on ESPN3. Just don’t be the kind that sends me angry emails.

Onward State will provide full coverage of the event, so be sure to keep up with our updates on Twitter, Facebook, and our live blog all weekend.

Here’s a full schedule of the sessions and how you can watch them:

1Thursday12 p.m.First round/wrestlebacksESPNU
2Thursday7 p.m.Second round/wrestlebacksESPN
3Friday11 a.m.Quarterfinals/wrestlebacksESPNU
4Friday8 p.m.Semifinals/wrestlebacksESPN
5Saturday11 a.m.Medal roundESPNU
6Saturday7 p.m.FinalsESPN

What To Know

Here’s a rundown of the basics:

Match structure: A wrestling match, called a bout, is seven minutes long. The first period lasts three minutes, and the second and third periods each last two minutes. The first period begins with both wrestlers on their feet in what’s known as the neutral position. Before the second period, the ref flips a coin to determine which wrestler gets to choose the starting position. He can decide to begin the position on top, on bottom, or in neutral. The other wrestler can make his choice at the start of the third period.

If the bout is tied after seven minutes, the wrestlers enter a 60-second sudden victory period. If the score is still tied, they wrestle two 30-second periods where they alternate being on top and bottom. If the score remains tied, they repeat this sequence one more time. If somehow, the score is still tied, the winner is determined based on which wrestler has the most riding time.

A bout can end four different ways:
Decision: One wrestler leads by seven or fewer points after seven minutes of wrestling
Major decision: One wrestler leads by more than seven but less than 15 points after seven minutes of wrestling
Technical fall: One wrestler leads by 15 minutes at any point in the match
Fall: One wrestler holds his opponent’s shoulders on the mat

Winning by fall, tech fall, or major decision means to score bonus points.

In duals, when a wrestler wins a match, he earns points for his team’s score. It’s the same way at the NCAA Championships, although they follow a different scale. Wrestlers can score points for their teams in three ways at tournaments: advancing, scoring bonus points, and placing.

Black Heart Golden Pants has a pretty useful guide for team scores, which go as follows:

Advancing Points
Advancement in championship bracket: 1 point
Advancement in consolation bracket: 0.5 point
Bye followed by win in championship bracket: 1 point
Bye followed by win in consolation bracket: 0.5 point

Bonus Points
Fall, forfeit, default, disqualification: 2 points
Tech fall (with near fall points): 1.5 points
Tech fall (without near fall points): 1 point
Major decision: 1 point

Placement Points
1st place: 16 points
2nd place: 12 points
3rd place: 10 points
4th place: 9 points
5th place: 7 points
6th place: 6 points
7th place: 4 points
8th place: 3 points

Now, there’s a separate scale for in matches where different moves are awarded with varying amounts of points. Here’s a basic breakdown of scoring in bouts:

Takedown – 2 points
Wrestlers begin on their feet and can earn two points by taking their opponent to the mat and securing control.

Escape – 1 point
When a wrestler is on bottom, he can earn a point by getting out from under his opponent and back to the neutral position.

Reversal – 2 point
The wrestler on bottom can earn two points if instead of getting to his feet, he manages to go on top of his opponent.

Back points/near fall points – 2-4 points
When a wrestler is attempting to pin his opponent and presses his shoulders against the mat, he can earn certain amounts of points depending on how long he holds him.

Stalling – 1 point
If you’ve ever been to a dual at Rec Hall, you’ve undoubtedly heard a few different deep-voiced fans belting out “STALLING!” every few seconds. Wrestlers are each allowed one stall warning, which is called when a wrestler makes no attempt to progress a match’s action. After that warning, the next stalling call against him results in a point added on to his opponent’s total.

Hands to the face – 1 point
Another frequently called violation that gives a point to your opponent’s score, hands to face means exactly what it sounds like.

Riding time – 1 point
A clock tracks how much time each wrestler is on top. This is known as riding time. If a wrestler’s riding time is more than a minute greater than that of his opponent at the end of a bout, he is awarded an additional riding time point.

Who To Know

Cael Sanderson | Coach
As if being the greatest college wrestler of all-time wasn’t enough for him, Cael Sanderson is well on his way to becoming the greatest college coach of all-time. He was 159-0 and won four national titles while wrestling at Iowa State. After graduating, he also casually won a gold medal at the 2004 Olympics in Athens. Ever since he left his alma mater to coach in Happy Valley, Sanderson has built the most dominant dynasty in modern day sports, winning seven of the last NCAA team titles and 59 straight duals. Reserved, tactical, and intimidating as heck, Sanderson will be hard to miss while he intently watches his wrestlers compete from his corner.

Roman Bravo-Young | 133 lbs. | Freshman
Roman Bravo-Young has been among the best true freshmen country this year. Known for his flashy, up-tempo style and impressive flexibility, Bravo-Young will be an exciting wrestler to watch for years to come. He enters this weekend with a 21-4 record and seeded No. 10 at 133 lbs.

Nick Lee| 141 lbs. | Sophomore
After burning his redshirt and taking fifth place at last year’s NCAA Championships, Nick Lee has enjoyed a breakout sophomore season. He is 21-2 this season and a dangerous contender at 141 lbs. as the three seed. According to 184-pounder Shakur Rasheed, Lee is “always cheesin’.” Expect to see plenty of smiles from him if he pulls off a few big wins this weekend and ends up on top of the podium.

Brady Berge| 149 lbs. | Redshirt Freshman
Brady Berge was in an ongoing battle with Jarod Verkleeren for the starting job throughout most of the season. He earned the spot down the stretch, going 18-3. He’s seeded 12th at 149 lbs., a weight class dominated by Nittany Lions great Zain Retherford for the last three years.

Jason Nolf | 157 lbs. | Redshirt Senior
This weekend marks the end of an era for Penn State wrestling. Jason Nolf is one of a handful of wrestlers from the legendary 2014 recruiting class who’ll hang up their white-belted singlets after the tournament. A two-time national champion and three-time finalist, Nolf has put together one of the best careers in program history. He’s 112-3 overall and currently the program leader in falls with 59.

Vincenzo Joseph| 165 lbs. | Redshirt Junior
Somehow, Vincenzo Joseph is a two-time national champion and zero-time Big Ten champion. He’s been scoring more bonus points this season and seemed to have distinguished himself from the pack up until his first loss of the season in the conference finals. He fell to Iowa’s Alex Marinelli, who beat him last year as well in a near identical match. If ‘Cenzo wants to make it for 3-for-3, he’ll likely need to go through Marinelli in the finals.

Mark Hall | 174 lbs. | Junior
Mark Hall won a national title as a true freshman and finished second last season. This year, he’s been on a rampage, going 26-0 and rolling through his slate of opponents. All eyes will be on a potential Round V match-up between him and Arizona State’s Zahid Valencia in the finals. Valencia had his way with Hall in the finals last year, but Hall avenged the loss with a dominant shutout win during the teams’ dual this season. An imminent finals showdown will be the rubber match between the two rivals.

Shakur Rasheed| 184 lbs. | Redshirt Senior
Shakur Rasheed has wrestled at four different weight classes during his up-and-down career but seems to have finally found his home at 184 lbs. After taking seventh at last year’s NCAA Championships at 197 lbs., Rasheed dropped down a weight class and hasn’t missed a beat. In spite of a nagging knee injury all year, he’s 18-0 and seeded second. When he’s on top, watch out for one of his trademark death grip cradles that bring opponents straight to their backs. Worth noting: Rasheed is an aspiring actor, a bold dresser, and the team’s most quotable student athlete. Hopefully that makes for some great post-match interviews.

Bo Nickal | 197 lbs. | Redshirt Senior
Thought that Nolf guy was impressive? What if I told you there’s another wrestler just as dominant as him? Bo Nickal is also a three-time finalist and two-time champion. He has a career record of 115-3 and sits three pins behind Nolf on the all-time record list. Nickal jumped up to 197 lbs. before the season and has won 63 consecutive matches. With his blue hair, the Texas native is easy to pick out.

Anthony Cassar| 285 lbs. | Redshirt Senior
Anthony Cassar is one of the best feel-good stories to come out of college wrestling this season. After injuries derailed the first few years of his Penn State career (to the point that he spent two years off the mat), Cassar broke out last season while competing with Rasheed for the starting role at 197 lbs. but ultimately fell short. This year, he bumped up to heavyweight and challenged two-time All-American Nick Nevills for a spot in the lineup. Cassar took over heavyweight duties and has yet to look back. Cassar is seeded No. 2 after going 25-1 and placing first at heavyweight at Big Tens. He won the title by beating previously top-ranked Gable Steveson in the finals. The two will likely meet up once again Friday night in the semifinals. Need another reason to love him? He has great taste in runout music. Last year, it was the Jersey Shore theme song. This year, it’s “Soulja Boy.”

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About the Author

Anthony Colucci

Anthony Colucci was once Onward State’s managing editor and preferred walk-on honors student who majored in psychology and public relations. Despite being from the make-believe land of Central Jersey, he was never a Rutgers fan. If you ever want to know how good Saquon Barkley's ball security is, ask Anthony what happened when he tried to force a fumble at the Mifflin Streak. If you want to hear the story or are bored and want to share prequel memes, follow @_anthonycolucci on Twitter or email him at [email protected]. All other requests and complaints should be directed to Onward State media contact emeritus Steve Connelly.

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