Ohio State senior Joey McKenna dropped a sudden victory decision in the 141-pound final at the NCAA Wrestling Championships to defending national champion Yianni Diakomihalis of Cornell. Buckeye head coach Tom Ryan says the match never should have gone to extra innings in the first place.
Takedown? Absolutely no control. Hips are up in Joeys armpit, leg is not in, weight is falling off to left. Easy to overturn. We need reviewer to be off site and a master of the rules. We work too hard for this. Lets improve. Sorry @Joey_McKenna https://t.co/j6jFv5J5g4
— Thomas Ryan (@Buckeye158) March 24, 2019
McKenna appeared to have the edge early, scoring the first takedown of the match. After trading escape points the score was 3-1 in McKenna's favor at the start of the final period. In the final seconds of the third a wild scramble ended up with a takedown in Diakomihalis' favor and an escape to McKenna, leaving the score a 4-4 tie at the end of regulation.
Ryan says that's where things went sideways.
Ohio State threw the challenge brick, arguing that Diakomihalis did not have control, but after review the call on the mat was confirmed. Professional MMA fighter and four-time All American Lance Palmer summarized how Buckeye fans viewed the call:
McKenna just got hosed.
— Lance Palmer (@LancePalmer) March 24, 2019
Clear and concise, yes, but Palmer is a Buckeye so he may be accused of wearing scarlet-colored glasses. Let's turn to someone without a proverbial dog in the fight, two-time NCAA Champion at Lock Haven and two-time world freestyle medalist Cary Kolat, currently head coach at Campbell University:
Not having third party review at the NCAA Championship is crazy and cost a kid a title. The SoCon conference had independent review why not here?
— Cary Kolat (@kolat) March 24, 2019
Kolat's sentiment about the lack of independent review in the biggest matches of the season was echoed by two-time NCAA Champion and five-time World Champion Jordan Burroughs:
If you lose a challenge you should be penalized a point.
If youre winning in the 3rd period of a close match, no matter what you do, youll be hit for stalling.
Refs rarely overturn their own calls. Challenges should be reviewed by a second party.
— Jordan Burroughs (@alliseeisgold) March 24, 2019
Burroughs' second point is relevant to the McKenna match, too. Despite being the aggressor through much of the battle the Buckeye was warned for stalling midway through the final period, forcing him to take the match to Diakomihalis rather than salting away his victory in the final moments of the match.
The third point about independent review is a bigger issue and gets at what coaches Tom Ryan and Cary Kolat are saying: In the heat of the moment, in an arena filled with 18,950 screaming fans, can an official looking at a single camera angle at the scorer's table make a truly objective analysis of their own calls?
In a subsequent tweet Burroughs went on to say, "There is no clear definition of a takedown," which is the heart of the matter in the call at issue. Diakomihalis was awarded a takedown in the final 15 seconds of the match, Ohio State says he did not actually have control of McKenna.
From the 2017-2019 edition of NCAA Wrestling Rules & Interpretations, here is the definition of a takedown:
Section 2. Takedowns
Art. 1. Match Takedowns. A takedown shall be awarded when, from the neutral position, a competitor gains control by taking the opponent down to the mat in bounds beyond reaction. Exception: Rule 4.2.2.
Art. 2. Hand-Touch Takedown. To award a takedown, reaction time is not required in instances in which a wrestler has standing neutral control of their opponent and the defending wrestler's hand comes in contact with the mat.
So to Burroughs point, the definition of a takedown is... broad. At issue is the concept of control, which isn't spelled out in Rules & Interpretations. Ryan pointed out that although Diakomihalis had one leg thrown over to of McKenna, the Buckeye had the seatbelt on him, and Diakomihalis' weight was falling away from McKenna – not in control, in other words.
"I didn't think it was two. I was fighting the whole time, he never had a leg in, never had dominant control," McKenna told Zebulin Miller after the match. "We challenged it, the refs saw two, I got the escape anyway [and] had a chance to take him down in overtime."
You can watch the sequence in question below and decide for yourself if Diakomihalis had control or not:
— NCAA Wrestling (@ncaawrestling) March 24, 2019
In reality, the point is moot for Joey McKenna. His collegiate career is over, and Yianni Diakomihalis is a two-time NCAA champ.
"Frustrating finish there. I was in on his legs, he didn't have any offensive scores on me, everything was re-attacks and the same thing in the dual," McKenna said. "Lot of frustration going through my mind; I had one chance to get it done and didn't get it done."