Things you can’t get back

The 2020 tournament was canceled for safety reasons as part of a blanket cancellation of all NCAA winter championships. The 2021 cancellation can only be thought of as a cost-saving move. The NCAA and Division III telegraphed as early as October that saving money was going to be an important consideration in the Division III winter championships. In the fall, the field size was cut from 180 to 135 to reduce the cost of putting on the tournament. Subsequently, the various committees decided that 70% of teams would have to compete in order for the championships to be held. That number seems arbitrary, and it is. It is the number below which Division III says having the tournament is not worth the cost.

Twenty years ago, I wrestled in the NCAA Championships for the first time. Going through the qualifying tournament, traveling to Iowa, walking into the arena, competing with the best wrestlers in Division III. All of it was an amazing experience that I and 159 other wrestlers got to share. We put in a tremendous amount of work to get there. I can only imagine the devastation I would have felt if I was told the month before that the tournament was too expensive, so it is not going to happen. This year’s wrestlers do not have to imagine how it feels, and some have now missed out twice.

Four years as a college athlete is not a long time compared to the rest of your life, but athletes get experiences in sports that they cannot have any other way. When you lose part of the college athlete experience, there is no way to get it back, and that applies to more than just the 180 (or 135) qualifiers. Wrestling in the regional and striving to make it through to the second day and then into the top three to qualify is the pinnacle of the season. The regional and national dates are circled on every calendar as soon as the previous year’s tournaments end. It is motivation to train hard, make weight, fight through injuries, do homework on the bus, and get up early to go spend all weekend in a gym while your friends sleep and wonder why you put yourself through this.

I feel terrible for the athletes. I constantly tell wrestlers I coach that they do not get to do this for very long and to be grateful for every opportunity, but it is hard when the NCAA cancels a championship due to money when DIII makes up barely 3% of the NCAA budget. Half a career’s worth of championship opportunities are gone. There are deserving guys who will never get to hear their names announced as they walk into the big arena, never get to stand on the podium, never get the gifts that say 2020 or 2021 NCAA Championships. I feel bad for the 1st time senior qualifier last year who had the rug pulled out from under him, the prior qualifier who would have gotten on the podium this season, and seniors who would have qualified for the first time this year but will never get the chance.

I do not know exactly how much it costs to run the DIII regional and national tournaments, but I believe the savings are not worth the cost of lost experience to the athletes who miss out regional and national tournaments after working towards them for years and years.

It is hard to square the NCAA Presidents Council statement with the what the athletes are going through. “We are committed to ensuring that our student-athletes have the best possible experience, and, for us, this means having a meaningful number of competitions.” It is unclear and unremarked on how removing championship opportunities enhances the experience of Division III athletes. I cannot imagine any Division III wrestler feels like losing a postseason he can never get back ensures him the best possible experience.

10 Comments

  • Kevin Piggott says:

    Very well put. As a father of a D3 wrestler who has put himself through the ringer the last several years with the ultimate goal of being a national qualifier and now seeing this happen not only to him but his teammates, wrestling friends and competitors that have put in the same effort.

    Thanks NCAA for making these decisions while sitting on your can behind your office desk at the last minute. All respect is lost for the NCAA. It’s all nothing more than you guys just running a business rather than “what’s best and most important to the student/athletes”

  • Bryan Brunk says:

    Thank you for this statement. Well written and heartfelt. I’m going to have our seniors read it.

  • James Cavanaugh says:

    Well stated. Spot on. Thank you.

  • Evan Kaliner says:

    Well put Coach Vogel! You captured it well…the devastation of the wrestlers and the utter hypocrisy of the NCAA “leadership”, and I use that term very loosely.

  • D3 Dad says:

    Thanks for a thoughtful and moving statement. I was naive and didn’t realize it was about the money. I just made a donation to d3wrestle.com. I would have done the same for the D3 tournaments if given the chance.

  • Bruce Baum says:

    Well stated and 100% accurate! Thank you for posting this.

  • Bruce Baum says:

    Well stated and 100% accurate! This is devastating to the wrestlers who have trained for years for these moments! Thank you for posting this.

  • Mike Pangle says:

    Well put, from a former competitor turned coach, Who fully understands the Raw Effort it takes to just participate in this Sport……..let alone have the kind of success that he had.
    —A sad time for wrestling, when the governing body that pockets millions of dollars overall from College sports can just simply say, there’s not enough return for Us-after many Quality Coaches took the time and effort required to convince their Schools that the Student athletes that Wrestle for them are Definitely worthy of the chance to compete and proudly REPRESENT their schools at the Nationals after qualifying. I guess only D1 counts cause they fill the checkbook……..???

  • KKahl says:

    Very well stated! I also have a very hard time making a connection with the committees statement regarding a meaningful experience for the athlete and their actual decision. They do not match up. What is meaningful about canceling a competitive event. Particularly one which so many have worked their butt off for over many years? The committee’s decision is not about the athletes. This is truly about the almighty dollar and caving in to the cancel culture!

    I like the dual tournament idea, however I believe an individual tournament is more fitting. It’s hard to determine the real deserving individual AA’s from a dual format. What we need to do is run 2 weekends of individual tournaments. The first week can be 16 – 8 team tournaments. The top 2 advance to the final tournament the following week. You then have 32 wrestle the following weekend over 2 days for 8 AA spots. Call it the Coaches National Invite. Follow whatever rules need to be followed.

    Anything to get our wrestlers on the mat.

  • Dale Lawrence class of 85 says:

    The reward of wrestling in the National tournament (3 times) is something I will never forget. Can’t imagine what a Senior is experiencing having lost two opportunities to be on the podium. It has been evident for sometime that the NCAA’s main concern is not the student athletes. Shame on you NCAA. Shame on you.

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