IOWA CITY, Ia. — Iowa wrestling coach Tom Brands still doesn’t like the new National Duals format, thanks for asking.
The outspoken leader of the third-ranked Hawkeyes didn’t hesitate Tuesday when reporters asked about his team’s trip Saturday to face No. 23 Edinboro (Pa.).
“I think that we need to focus on things that matter to wrestling. I think that the National Duals are not what’s wrong with wrestling,” Brands said. “We need to focus on rules that are simple, that reward exciting, aggressive wrestling.
“And we need to start a Division I program at a Power 5 conference school — Texas, Washington, Florida, Florida State. That’s what we need to do. That’s where we need to focus. It can happen. You start a women’s sport along with it, the headlines will go for months. We focus on little things.”
Iowa was matched with Edinboro, champions of the Eastern Wrestling League, by the National Wrestling Coaches Association, which sponsors the Dual Championship Series. The dual will start at 6 p.m. Saturday and will be live-streamed on FloWrestling.Com.
Iowa-Edinboro is one of eight duals this weekend in the series that is supposed to pit the top teams in the Big Ten Conference against non-conference opponents in a format akin to college football bowl games. The top two teams — No. 1 Oklahoma State and No. 2 Penn State — are meeting Sunday in Stillwater, Okla.
Other pairings were more random. Iowa (12-2) ended up with Edinboro (8-5) because both schools were seeking Saturday slots, according to NWCA Executive Director Mike Moyer.
“Our committee, with all the moving parts with scheduling, felt this was the best way to accommodate,” he said in a news release.
Last year, the Big Ten teams hosted, so this year they are on the road. Last February, the Hawkeyes, undefeated at the time, lost to North Carolina State in the National Duals.
“Last year it was a mess. I didn’t want to do it. But we had teams come to us, so I couldn’t not do it. I had to be a good sport,” Brands said. “We’ve got to travel this year, so that’s why we’re doing it. It can be a good concept, but it needs to be where it’s, just worry about why dual meets are important on your campus and build your team to win in an exciting fashion.”
Northern Iowa pulled out of the National Duals in order to prepare for its conference championships the following week and to let injured wrestlers heal. Indiana, which will face off against Appalachian State in Boone, N.C., on Sunday, is set to host the March 4-5 Big Ten championships.
But Brands said the Hawkeyes would have had one final meet this weekend anyway.
“It’s not like it’s unusual. It’s status quo, almost,” he said.
He also conceded that if Iowa had won its head-to-head matchups against Penn State or Oklahoma State, it would have more at stake this weekend than a bus trip to Pennsylvania.
“I like the bowl atmosphere. If you’re competing for a national team championship — meaning the dual championships — then you’re going to get matched up right. We didn’t do our job,” Brands said.
The Hawkeyes are 7-0 all-time against the Fighting Scots, most recently a 22-19 victory at Edinboro on Dec. 5, 2013.
“It was a beehive and we’ve got to be ready to go,” Brands said of that meeting. “It is a different style. It’s a fun atmosphere there.”
Iowa senior 174-pounder Alex Meyer didn’t make that trip and said Tuesday he is looking forward to competing at McComb Fieldhouse, which seats 6,000. Wrestling is the only Division I sport at Edinboro, which otherwise competes at the NCAA Division II level.
“I’m excited to go out there for the first time, being another dual meet and going on a long trip with the guys. There’s no other guys I’d rather do it with,” Meyer said of the 10-hour ride.
“Being a senior, there’s a little more sense of urgency. I’m a little more focused.”
The National Duals had been a January competition held in Cedar Falls before being spread out to campus sites and contested a month later. The “bowl game” idea originated last year. Brands said Tuesday he’s not sure what will happen next year before closing conversation on the topic.
“I’m done talking about it,” he said. “We’re going to Edinboro for the National Duals and we’re fired up.”