Opinion: Don't Expand State Wrestling Tournament

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The Philadelphia Inquirer


The NJSIAA's decision to invite 112 extra wrestlers to the state championships this weekend in Atlantic City eliminated one of the most compelling scenes in scholastic sports: A distraught athlete, usually a senior, pounding the mat and walking away in tears after losing the third-place bout at the regional tournament.

Sounds harsh, right?

It's just the opposite, actually.

As tough as it was for those wrestlers to fall one step short of advancing to Boardwalk Hall, the do-or-die, win-or-go-home nature of third-place bouts at regions was one of the best things about high school sports in New Jersey.

The notion that adding more than nine dozen wrestlers to the sprawling event under that famed vaulted ceiling somehow enhances the competition by providing "more opportunities" for more athletes sounds good in theory.

In practice, it's a mistake and a continuation of a dangerous trend.

The NJSIAA needs to pump the brakes on its increasing compulsion to keep adding volume to its championships. Quality matters, not quantity.

And less often is more.

Five groups in team wrestling?

Not a good idea when it was introduced a few years ago and even worse today, thanks to a decision this season to increase the number of squads that qualify for each sectional tournament from six to eight.

That resulted in a lot of long bus rides for forgone-conclusion matches as No. 8 seeds routinely were overwhelmed by No. 1 seeds.

Five groups in football?

Another example of the NJSIAA watering down the product to provide additional opportunities for student-athletes to experience the wonder of participating in the state tournament.

Hey, you want to experience the wonder?

Put together a good regular season.

Otherwise, learn a lesson - nothing comes easy in this world.

Same goes for an individual tournament such as wrestling.

The decision to invite the fourth-place finishers from the regions to Atlantic City - while mathematically convenient, as it swelled total participants to 448 and allowed for full 32-man brackets in each weight class - took something significant away from the regional tournaments and from the athletes as well.

Those third-place bouts at regions used to be great theater, maybe the most exciting round of competition outside of the state semifinals and finals.

This year at Region 8 at Egg Harbor Township, the dearth of drama was startling - wrestlers going through the motions, no electricity on the mats, no charge in the building.

In the past, seniors knew those third-place bouts were a last-chance opportunity to stay alive for one more weekend - and compete in that famous arena off the boardwalk along with the best wrestlers in the state before crowds that sometimes top 10,000 - or deal with the sudden death of their careers.

That was the source of all those tears.

And that's not such a bad thing. Kids who try that hard, who care that much - they usually learn to channel that passion into something positive in their lives.

We do these young athletes no favors by lowering standards and widening the staircase to the top.

This is education-based sports, right?

These tournaments are an extension of the classroom, right?

Learning is priority one, right?

I'll submit that the kids who lost those tense third-place bouts in the past - especially the ones who pounded the mat and walked away in tears - learned lots more than the fourth-place finishers who advanced to Atlantic City this year.

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March 5, 2017


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