Joe Tuscano's Sports Column

Expanded PIAA wrestling tournament a bad idea

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At its monthly meeting, the PIAA wrestling steering committee approved by unanimous decision to expand the current 16-man wrestling brackets for the state tournament in Hershey to 20.


If the motion passes at the PIAA Board of Control meeting May 21, the new brackets will be in place for the 2014-2015.


What a bad idea.


The expanded brackets are backed by the Pennsylvania Wrestling Coaches Association, which is no surprise because the more wrestlers they can take to Hershey the more secure their jobs become.


The expanded brackets are backed by the PIAA, but that’s not a surprise because it gives the organization more opportunities to sell tickets, T-shirts and walking tacos.


Bob Lombardi, the executive director of the PIAA, expressed his support, telling the Harrisburg Patriot-News:


“The reasoning was to improve participant opportunity and help stimulate the growth in wrestling. We’re not opposed to it and if the coaches association wants to give it a try, we’ll give it a try.


“I don’t think it hurts the integrity of the tournament at this time. We had a kid finish fifth at regionals win a championship. I think our field is pretty deep and by adding four more wrestlers, it doesn’t negatively impact the timing of the tournament.”


The wrestler Lombardi was referring to was Jake Reigel of Bethlehem Catholic, who finished fifth in the Southeast Region and won the 106-pound title in Class AA. Lombardi and the PWCA want you to believe those type of incredible success stories happen all the time in the tournament.


They don’t.


Over the past three seasons, only nine wrestlers won state titles starting from a position that was not first or second in the region and eight were in Double-A. In Class AAA, there was only one wrestler, Dalton Macri of Canon-McMillan, who was runner-up at 120 in 2013. Macri entered the tournament as the third-place finisher in the WPIAL.


Adding more wrestlers waters down the tournament and stretches an event that’s already too long. Wrestling already runs from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. over the three-day event.


Now, the PIAA wants to make it longer?


The PIAA already awards eight medals in each weight class, so half the participants earn a spot on the awards platform at the end. Far be it for me to cheapen that accomplishment, but how many people can name the fourth-place finisher at 152 in Class AA? Or the sixth-place finisher at 113 in Double-A?


How many of you can tell me the name of the 170-pound champion in Class AAA, the 145-pound winner in Class AA? You can look it up on my blog if you’d like.


The PIAA already has cheapened the state finals by holding all the medal matches for a weight class together on the floor of the Giant Center. The move robbed the two best wrestlers in the state in each weight class the undivided attention of the crowd as they compete in what arguably is the most important match of their lives to this point.


This isn’t the first time an effort was made to revamp the state wrestling tournament. An idea to divide wrestling into three classifications and hold a four-day tournament in Hershey has drawn severe push-back from high school superintendents who are already tiring of the expense. Hotel rooms, even in the more rundown hotels in the Hershey, are more than $100 a night. Add in food cost, transportation and the bill for a trip to this event reaches the thousands.


Now, the PIAA and the PWCA wants to add 112 more wrestlers?


The majority of state champions reach that pinnacle because they practice year-round, commit to a club or clubs and prepare themselves for 365 days. Balancing the competition will require more than just adding more faces.


My suggestion is to go the opposite way, cut down on the number of qualifiers to enhance the accomplishment of winning a title.


I seriously doubt that was brought up at the steering committee meeting.



Assistant sports editor Joe Tuscano can be reached at jtuscano@observer-reporter.com.


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