By Gary R. Blockus
MANHEIM, Pa. – With four undefeated teams remaining and four weeks left in the regular season, the excitement is mounting for the 2016 National Wrestling Coaches Association (NWCA) Division I National Championship Dual Series.
Top-ranked Penn State (10-0), No. 2 Iowa (11-0), No. 3 North Carolina State (17-0) and No. 4 Missouri (9-0) are leading the charge to the 2016 NWCA Division I Championship Dual Series to be held on
Sunday, Feb. 21 on the campuses of eight host Big Ten schools.
“The concept is similar to the bowl game series in football,” NWCA President Mark Cody explained of the new format for the national championship dual meet series. This format was developed by the Division I wrestling coaches and the NWCA’s role is to ensure that it gets off the ground. This is a new concept and due to some pre-existing scheduling conflicts, there may be a few teams that qualify but are unable to participate this year. We hope to provide the very short list of teams that are unable to participate by the end of next week. “Nevertheless, our goal is to have the top eight ranked Big Ten schools host a “non BigTen” opponent with one of the duals determining the national dual meet title.”
The idea is to match the top eight Big Ten programs (seven are currently ranked in the Top 13) against the dual meet champions from the seven other Division I conferences. There will be one at large team selected based on their national ranking even though they didn’t win the dual meet championship of their conference.
Even though it’s not a true “team tournament,” the idea of a dual meet national champion is well received.
“It generates interest in the sport,” added Missouri coach Brian Smith, whose Tigers defeated Iowa last year for the dual meet national championship. “We saw that last year when we on the national duals in Iowa. All the attention from the media, our president, the Chancellors and all the people from all over the country who weren’t Mizzou fans and still congratulated us.”
With Big Ten members Penn State and Iowa ranked Nos. 1 and 2 and not scheduled to meet in a dual meet this season, the format will not allow them to meet in the national dual meet championships because the Big Ten teams will be matched up against teams from other conferences. Thus, the Big Ten Champion will be matched against the highest-ranked champion from another conference, the No. 2 Big Ten team against the next-highest ranked conference champion, and so on.
With just four dual meet wrestling weekends remaining until the Feb. 14 selection date when the conference champions and the at-large bid will be determined, every meet brings on added urgency in the race to qualify for the dual meet national championships.
Action kicks off in a very heated way Friday when No. 4 Missouri of the Mid-American Conference visits No. 5 Oklahoma State (6-2) of the Big 12, plus a huge Big 12 match with No. 16 Iowa State (7-3) at No. 7 Oklahoma (6-2).
Iowa is involved in a Big Ten weekend extravaganza by hosting No. 20 Purdue on Friday and visiting No. 11 Nebraska on Sunday. The top-ranked Nittany Lions visit No. 13 Illinois (Illinois is one of the teams unable to participate this year) Saturday in another important Big Ten matchup.
While the conference champions aren’t expected to be determined until the final weekend of the regular season on Feb. 14, the EIWA winner could be determined by Saturday’s outcome when No. 6 Lehigh (10-1) visits No. 15 Cornell (3-3), which has won five straight dual meets against the Mountain Hawks as well as nine straight EIWA titles.
The Feb. 21 dual meet championship date allows the teams two weeks to prepare for their conference championships in advance of the 2016 NCAA Division I Wrestling Championships March 17-19 at Madison Square Garden in New York City.
For more information, go to http://www.nwca.online.com