When wrestlers hit the mats at the 2019 NCAA Wrestling National Championships in March, the competition will look a bit different. The NCAA announced on Tuesday that starting with the 2019 tournament, all 33 wrestlers in each weight class will be seeded in the brackets.
In prior years, only the top 16 wrestlers at each weight received a seed. The other 17 athletes were randomly assigned matches in the first round. According to the NCAA, this change will make the tournament more competitive and balanced.
“The Division I Wrestling Committee believes the weighted selection criteria provide a clear and consistent quantitative process, enabling the committee to effectively seed the entire bracket,” the NCAA said in a press release. “The modification also will produce more balanced brackets and removes random matchups.”
While the new seeding process has the possibility to make the tournament fairer and more structured, not everyone in the sport is in favor. Virginia Tech head coach Tony Robie sees the trouble of seeding 33 wrestlers in each of the 10 different weight classes. Robie also thinks that the new change will reduce the excitement that comes from upsets in the tournament.
“I’m glad I’m not on the seeding committee at the NCAAs,” Robie said. “I wasn’t in favor of seeding all the way to 33. I think a big part of what makes the NCAA Wrestling Championships a great event is the early round upset factor. This change will reduce some of those outcomes.”
Robie makes a good point regarding the excitement of the competition. Part of the reason people love sports is the possibility of an upset occurring at any moment. However, in March Madness, an event in which upsets are part of the main draw, every team is seeded and underdogs still pull off the unexpected wins on a regular basis. Perhaps the same will continue to happen in wrestling.
In recent years, unseeded upsets have not been a factor for Virginia Tech. The last time an unseeded Hokies wrestler won a first-round match was in 2015, when Nick Brascetta defeated ninth-seeded Joseph Lavallee of Missouri. Brascetta went on to defeat eighth-seeded John Boyle in the next round before losing to eventual champion Isaiah Martinez in the quarterfinals. Brascetta would place fourth in the tournament, the only unseeded wrestler to place in the 157-pound weight class.
Since that 2015 tournament, no Virginia Tech wrestler has had a first-round upset as an unseeded competitor. Of the Hokies’ nine wrestlers in the 2018 NCAA Championships, four were unseeded. Kyle Norstrem, Brent Moore, Hunter Bolen and Andrew Dunn were all assigned random matches after not receiving seeds for the National Championships.
All of those wrestlers could have benefitted from receiving a seed based on their regular season performance, but the rules at the time left their opponents up to chance when they took to the mat.
Despite winning the ACC Championship two weeks prior, Moore had to settle for a randomly-placed match assignment. He ended up facing Bucknell’s Tyler Smith, who was the 12th seed at the tournament. Smith won the match 7-0, sending Moore to the consolation bracket. Moore was eventually knocked out in the second round of wrestlebacks, losing 8-5 to Illinois’ Michael Carr.
While Robie’s concern about the upsets is legitimate, one can’t help but wonder where an ACC champion would have ended up if the seeding had gone past the top 16 wrestlers. Perhaps Moore would have received a bout that more accurately reflected his regular season performance. Or perhaps his tournament would have gone the same whether he received a seed or not.
Whatever the effects of the seeding changes are, we’ll see them when the NCAA Championships take place in Pittsburgh in March of 2019.