Although the NCAA Division I Council's decision not to extend eligibility for winter-sport athletes affected by COVID-19 this season was expected, wrestling coaches and the athletes themselves were disappointed nonetheless.
Penn State head coach Cael Sanderson, who may be the greatest college wrestler of all time, broke a 17-month silence on Twitter to voice the feelings of many in the wrestling community:
Winter sport student-athletes who lost the opportunity to compete at the NCAA championships need to be given the option of another year of eligibility. Although complicated, details can be worked out and it's the right thing to do in the long run.— Cael Sanderson (@caelsanderson) April 1, 2020
Sanderson, coach of eight of the past NCAA Championship teams, acknowledged that the situation is complicated both in terms of financial aid and roster management implications of granting athletes an additional year. But the more important issue, he said, is "doing the right thing" by the students.
His sentiments echoed those of Ohio State head coach Tom Ryan, who joined The Eleven Dubcast last month.
“To me, just kind of throwing it under the carpet and saying, 'We're sorry, there was a pandemic…' that's an option, but to me not a valid option,” Ryan said on The Dubcast. “That's not an option that as a leader of any organization that I would ever just live with. I don't think that's a valid option.”
Ryan agreed that granting wrestlers another year of eligibility was extremely complicated, listing the issues Sanderson mentioned and adding the implications of academic situations where an athlete will graduate this semester.
Lets end the NCAA winter season w/ the best option we can for these student-athletes. I hear heart breaking stories of businesses lost after years of hard work. My guys & others have spent 12-15 years of their life tirelessly working on their craft. Equally hard to imagine.— Thomas Ryan (@Buckeye158) March 29, 2020
If the NCAA Council doesn't reconsider its stance on winter athletes, one option Ryan is pushing for is to recognize teams and athletes for what they accomplished in the season that did happen. Since All-America honors in wrestling are based on final placements at the NCAA Wrestling Championships, there would be no All-Americans this season as it stands right now.
For Ryan, that isn't a "valid option," either. He and other members of the National Wrestling Coaches Association have advanced a proposal to right that wrong.
“There's a possibility that you simply do like college football did before there was a playoff: whatever you were ranked in the last ranking, that’s where you finish,” he explained. “If you were ranked 1, you finish the season No. 1; if you were ranked 2, you're No. 2; if you were ranked 7, you're No. 7.”
This proposal is still in front of the NCAA committee. They ruled on spring sports today. On the left side of the photo is the request from wrestling coaches and select administrators for a reasonable solution to bring closure to the 2019-20 college wrestling season. This is free & reasonable, as the data is incredibly strong showing the correlation between NCAA pre seeds and NCAA All-Americans. No one is asking for a hand out. All of the allowable 16 dates of competition were completed, plus the conference tournament. These rankings were earned. We have a strong sample size & plenty of data points to make this request. We owe a logical closure to our student-athletes and their families. There are a lot of moving parts to this and I hope to see this get passed.
Speaking to the media Wednesday, he expanded on the concept.
"If you were ranked from No. 1 to No. 4, you’re considered first-team All-American," he said. "If you’re ranked from No. 5 to No. 8, you’re second-team. And 9 to 12, you were third-team."
Ryan said he's adamant about having some recognition for men like Luke Pletcher and Kollin Moore so that, "the record book doesn’t say 'coronavirus' in 2019-20. It says here’s first-team, second-team, third-team All-American, and it’s based on very powerful data through the years that show the likelihood of those seeds being All-Americans."
For the Buckeyes, that would mean five of the team's eight NCAA qualifiers would earn All-American honors this season:
- No. 1 seed Luke Pletcher (141 pounds) – First Team
- No. 1 seed Kollin Moore (197 pounds) – First Team
- No. 3 seed Sammy Sasso (149 pounds) – First Team
- No. 6 seed Kaleb Romero (174 pounds) – Second Team
- No. 12 seed Ethan Smith (164 pounds) – Third Team
There has been no indication whether the NCAA Council will consider the proposal at all, let alone how soon. But until they do, expect Ryan and his peers to keep beating the drum for their wrestlers to receive the recognition they've earned.
"I’m gonna be really outspoken about my opinion on this, and I have been really outspoken about it, and that’s because I think there’s a right and there’s a wrong," Ryan said.