NCAA president Mark Emmert's announcement Thursday that the NCAA will not conduct any fall sports championships this year left a number of questions unanswered, including what effect if any COVID-19 might have on the start of winter sports like basketball and wrestling. The National Wrestling Coaches Association Division I Leadership Group published a letter Thursday calling for "a sport-imposed delay" to the 2020-21 competitive season until January 1st, 2021.
Ohio State's wrestling season has typically kicked off in early November. Last year the team contested three dual meets in November and one in December, and competed as a team in two open tournaments before winter break.
The NWCA letter was sent Wednesday to all Division I Coaches, Athletic Directors, Senior Women’s Administrators and Conference Liaisons to recommend a shift to the 2020-21 season as a result of ongoing complications related to the COVID-19 pandemic. NWCA surveyed all Division I head coaches with regard to a delayed start, with 92% of coaches in favor of postponing the sport's start of competition.
"I think we had thought as a group that we would likely go with a Big Ten schedule," Ohio State head coach Tom Ryan said Thursday. "Be conservative, and just start in January, end in March; a shortened season, and then hopefully the following year you go back to more of a normal college wrestling season."
NWCA said while the official start of the season should be Jan. 1, the start of official practice should remain in place, "or at the decision of the respective state, institutional, or conference guidelines." The letter also noted that if schools choose to compete prior to the self-imposed start date, those matches should not count toward the 2021 NCAA Championships' qualifying criteria.
The Leadership Group said it will continue assess COVID-19 trends, data and models on a bi-weekly basis, "so that if the environment were to improve and safety restrictions were reduced, the 2020-21 wrestling season could be restored to its traditional format."
One conference already announced it would push back the start of its season. The Eastern Intercollegiate Wrestling Association said Wednesday that its members, which include wrestling powerhouse Cornell and several Ivy League programs, as well as the United States Military and Naval academies, would delay the start of the competitive season until January.
But even with consensus on a delayed start, the news of the Big Ten and Pac-12 postponing their college football seasons could have a more profound effect on wrestling and other Olympic sports.
"Right now, I don't know what the worst-case scenario is," Ryan said Thursday. "The worst-case scenario is, if you don't have football, is there a wrestling season, are there going to be winter sports?"
Earlier this summer Stanford University made waves by cutting 11 varsity sports – including wrestling – because of the "harsh new financial realities imposed by COVID-19 on all university operations."
While Ohio State's wrestling team is one of the rare "non-revenue" programs that generally pays its own bills, the financial toll of a COVID-cancelled football season is too big for anyone to take for granted.