2022 Big Ten Wrestling Championships, Starocci

Penn State's Carter Starocci watches the 184-pound first place match of the Big Ten Wrestling Championships at Pinnacle Bank Arena in Lincoln, Nebraska on Sunday, Mar. 6, 2022.

While the NWCA All-Star Classic certainly had its pros and cons, the intrigue of its high-profile matches was undeniable.

That raises the question: Could college wrestling use a midseason tournament-type event to boost its popularity and the hype around the sport throughout the year?

This same question has been asked by other sports in recent years, most notably the NBA which has been brainstorming ways to generate more interest in its league prior to the playoffs.

College basketball already uses a number of early season tournaments and classics that pit teams from across the country against each other, often grouping together many of the top teams in the country to give fans a look at the best the sport has to offer.

While wrestling does have several midseason tournaments, there’s often a wide range of talent attending these tournaments/opens.

Giving athletes a shot at high-level competition could be immensely beneficial for all wrestlers, especially championship-level ones, and it also provides added excitement for growing fan bases within the sport.

This is especially evident during the transfer-portal era that’s seen several top teams accumulate an abundance of talent. However, these same teams often avoid wrestling each other unless they reside in the same conference and must meet during the regular season.

The Collegiate Wrestling Duals do act as somewhat of a high-profile midseason tournament, but they follow the dual format unlike Tuesday night’s event.

The All-Star Classic followed an almost UFC-like format, with a lineup set ahead of time, matches ordered in terms of potential intrigue and a finale equivalent to a main event in Carter Starocci vs. Mekhi Lewis.

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With professional fighting growing in popularity by the week, and many wrestlers leaning toward a potential career in MMA in the future, it’s hard to blame the All-Star Classic’s organizers for following this already proven blueprint.

That being said, Tuesday’s event didn’t exactly count for anything as it was considered an exhibition and also came with another major flaw: there weren’t any fans in attendance.

Held in what looked like a hotel banquet room with curtains and a mat set up, the event clearly lacked the energy that packed arenas typically provide. This was a major let down for an event that hosted what could be many of the most intriguing matchups ahead of the conference and NCAA Championships.

These flaws leave clear room for improvement going forward — improvements that could be followed through with by a different organizer for a different event. Should the NCAA or some other organization or sponsor create an event similar to the NWCA Classic, the hype around such an event would be massive.

As far as when the event should be held, the Thanksgiving time slot works well.

Picking a destination city with warmer weather, finding a quality arena that can fit thousands of fans and drawing an impressive lineup of wrestlers is all that’s left. That combination of things creates quite the event.

Some may argue an event like this would lack any team scoring dynamics — which is half the fun in being a wrestling fan — but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

Removing the team dynamics will differentiate the event from NCAA or any conference championships, making every bout of equal importance and allowing fans to focus on the quality of each bout rather than the team score.

Aside from the fans, this could also be incredibly beneficial for the wrestlers themselves. The NCAA’s top contenders would get looks at each other ahead of NCAA’s and potentially wrestle guys they otherwise wouldn't see until March.

While many teams may schedule a high-level dual or two against out of conference foes, this does not always guarantee wrestlers will face a quality opponent at every weight class, a guarantee an event similar to the NWCA All-Star Classic could provide.

Several of the NCAA’s best even saw themselves on the losing end of their bout, an occurrence that could lead them to produce even more exciting matches down the line when it really matters.

The results of the Army Black Knight Open this past weekend further suggest this idea has solid grounds to stand on.

Penn State and its contingent of wrestlers clearly outclassed the competition at the Black Knight Open, as several finals featured two Nittany Lions pitted against each other. Several more weights saw the blue and white come out on top, with Max Dean’s dominant march to a title standing out.

While the Black Knight Open was certainly beneficial to the majority of Nittany Lions that attended, it looked to be of little value to Dean and likely would have been a fairly trivial endeavor for the likes of Roman Bravo-Young, Aaron Brooks, Greg Kerkvliet and Starocci — should they have attended.

Providing consistent, high-octane competition for top wrestlers is the best way to ensure they remain sharp throughout the season.

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