Should Hawkeyes place importance on National Duals?

Chad Leistikow
Carver-Hawkeye Arena will feature four quarterfinals going on at once on Saturday: Iowa-Chattanooga, Minnesota-Cornell, Ohio State-Lehigh and Missouri-Illinois.

IOWA CITY, Ia. – In college wrestling, the timing of the National Duals stirs interesting conversation about its importance.

It's a logical discussion, especially this year for Iowa backers. Is the two-day event that begins at noon Saturday at Carver-Hawkeye Arena worth ramping up for, considering more revered tournaments await in the weeks ahead?

On one hand, the word "national" portrays what's at stake: a claim to a national championship.

On the other, this isn't an NCAA-sanctioned event (it's run by the National Wrestling Coaches Association), and some teams, like four-time defending NCAA champion Penn State, elect not to participate.

The top-ranked Hawkeyes didn't compete in last year's Duals. But this year's different: Iowa is the host school for the Duals for the first time since 1999.

Iowa coach Tom Brands emphasizes dual meets, and he'll be the first to tell you that the National Duals is good for extending the brand of wrestling, which had to fight for its life to stay on the 2016 Summer Olympics program.

"Duals are fan-friendly," Brands said. "It's an event. It's a single date on a calendar. You walk in, you've got a ticket. You sit down in a seat, you're entertained for an hour-and-a-half or two hours."

This year's event is a TV draw, too. The Big Ten Network stepped up to air Saturday's 3 p.m. semifinals and Sunday's 11:30 a.m. final. This year's program panned out as good as could be hoped — the nation's top five teams in the coaches' poll are among the eight quarterfinalists: Iowa, Missouri, Ohio State, Minnesota and Cornell.

A proposal to make the National Duals results a component in how the NCAA crowns its team champion at the season-ending three-day individual tournament fell short last year.

Coaches are split on the issue, and Brands understands that.

"(Maryland coach) Kerry McCoy talks about the disparity between budgets in wrestling. And that's a problem with having a dual-meet component. Because programs that have 4½ scholarships can't possibly compete for the dual-meet team points," said Brands, whose storied program doles out 9.9 scholarships. "On the other side, can those schools compete for a (NCAA) tournament title?"

For now, the Duals go on. In the future?

"The way it's going, it's either going to die or the NCAA is going to make it part of the team scoring," Brands said, "and I don't know. I don't really want to get bogged down with questions like that."

That's because for Iowa, there's motivation in trying to treat the home fans to three dual wins and to continue its perfect season.

Iowa's wrestlers dismiss the notion that it'd be better to peak for the March 7-8 Big Ten Championships in Columbus, Ohio and the March 19-21 NCAA Championships in St. Louis.

"It's a mindset," 125-pounder Thomas Gilman (23-1) said. "You've got to peak every week."

Conserving energy this weekend, 174-pounder Mike Evans (21-1) said, shouldn't impact how the Hawkeyes perform in March.

"The training's already done," Evans said. "Everything that I'm going to take with me out on the mat is already done and put away.

"It's just an opportunity to flex your muscles."