Abbott Blog: The NCAA, or somebody, should name the missing 2020 national college team champions

By Gary Abbott | March 17, 2020, 12:10 p.m. (ET)
Photo of the 2020 Big Ten champion University of Iowa wrestling team, courtesy of the University of Iowa/Darren Miller.

This is just me speaking, not USA Wrestling, but don’t you think that since a number of national college championship tournaments were cancelled, that somebody should declare 2020 national champion teams?

Hear me out on this. I am not suggesting picking individual national champions. Wrestling is a prove-it sport, and anything can happen in a tournament setting. We are just going to have to get through one year with no individual national champions for a number of divisions. The athletes (including the NCAA Div. II and Div. III men and NAIA women who were already at the event or en route) are now dealing with the disappointment of no chance to chase their personal dreams.

Teams? Well, pretty much, in all the divisions that were cancelled, the entire season was completed, including conference tournaments, except for the national individual tournament. We have had a full season of dual meet and tournament competition to assess the strength of the teams in our sport.

Here is the check list. These were the national tournaments that did get held: NJCAA men, NAIA men, WCWA women, NCAA women (at the NCWWC event), NCWA men and women.

Here are the levels that did not get held: NCAA Div. I, NCAA Div. II, NCAA Div. III, NAIA women.

Now, I really don’t expect the NCAA or the NAIA to name champion teams in the winter sports that they did not host this year. I think if that was going to be the decision of those organizations, then we would have already seen that happen.

We must remember that there have been years in which no NCAA wrestling tournament was held. The National Wrestling Hall of Fame posted a great article about those years, 1943, 1944 and 1945, during World War II when college wrestling mostly shut down, save some dual meets and tournaments. Many of the stars of our sport joined the military to defend their nation. A specific decision was made to cancel the nationals that year.
Click here to read Hall of Fame article

However, I refer to the years in major college football, before the BCS was created, which was then followed by the College Football Playoff. (On a personal note, my friend Bill Hancock has been in charge of running those football competitions, and has done it very well).

Back in the day, which was not so long ago, there was not an NCAA Div. I Football Champion decided on the field. Not really, since there was not a tournament to get that done. College football depended upon a system of bowl games, to evaluate the teams in the post-season. (Not too much unlike our conference tournaments in wrestling, considering a smaller sample size). The National Champion was determined by a vote from two groups, the football coaches and the national media.

The AP National Championship Trophy, determined by a media panel, began awarding National titles in 1936 (won by the University of Minnesota). They still give this award, even after the playoff began.

There has also been the American Football Coaches Association National Championship Trophy awarded, given by college football coaches. They started giving that trophy in 1945, when Oklahoma A&M was retroactively awarded. You might say the first champions announced as the season ended came in 1946, won by the University of Oklahoma. They still give that award, event after Div. I went to a playoff system.

Some years, the AP poll and the Coaches poll differed with their choice. I know this because I live in Colorado, and the University of Colorado was the 1990 AP champion in football, while Georgia Tech was the Coaches champion. It doesn’t matter to Buffalo football fans if they won only one of the trophies; they still consider themselves national champions that year.

Wrestling could do this. We have two national organizations that could fill in the gap, the National Wrestling Coaches Association (NWCA) and the National Wrestling Media Association (NWMA).

The NWCA already does a coaches poll in all three divisions, but stops when the dual meet season ended. All they would need to do was conduct one more poll, consider the conference results, and name a national champion.

I was a co-founder of the NWMA in 1988, when Rob Sherrill, Norm Palovcsik and I decided we needed a professional organization for the media in our sport. This was also my first year at USA Wrestling (FYI). There has been talk about doing a media poll in our sport, but it has never been put together. Now, without a national champion team in four divisions, it might be a good time to start a media poll. As a member of this organization, I would for sure vote on a national champion if given the opportunity.

This would give the top teams in the four divisions affected a chance to hang a banner in their gym, and celebrate a season in which they were the best team in the nation.

The funny part is I think some coaches and wrestling people might select having no team champion than one which somebody else picks. You know how wrestling people are. It is their foundational belief that you have to go out and earn everything in life, rather than have something given to you.

Life is full of disappointments. Just ask a member of the 1980 U.S. Olympic Team, which stayed home from the Moscow Olympics because of a decision of our federal government. These athletes have had their lives affected forever, as have all the wrestlers who were not able to complete their national tournaments this year.

I still think that we should go through the process of selecting national champion teams. Just saying…

What do you think? If you feel like sending me your feelings, email them to gabbott@usawrestling.org. If I get enough good ideas, I might do a follow-up article publishing your thoughts.