Illinois high school wrestling is changing its match limits, and it will alter the sport

Illinois high school wrestling is changing its match limits, and it will alter the sport

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More than just district football was voted on by Illinois High School Association member schools in mid-December.

Somewhat lost in the hype surrounded by the rescinding of district football was a change in the rules for wrestling.

Proposal 18, submitted by well-respected Geneseo coach Jon Murray, modified the team dates limitation in wrestling to a fixed number of dates (25) rather than a combination of dates and tournaments. It also modified the individual match limitations in wrestling to a set number of matches (45), rather than a combination of dates and tournaments.

The change, which goes into effect in the 2020-21 school year, easily passed with 410-85 vote with 202 schools choosing not to vote.

Currently, wrestlers are limited to four tournaments and 21 duals in the regular season.

The change essentially gives coaches and athletic directors the flexibility to choose whether they prefer to schedule more tournaments or more duals, depending on the makeup of their team.

Count Washington coach Nick Miller as one who likes the change.

"For us, this is going to be big," said Miller, whose team is ranked No. 3 in the state with five wrestlers (Kannon Webster, Abe Hinrichsen, Joey Cape, Brody Norman and Zeke Hulet) ranked in the top three of their respective weight classes.

The change could allow the Panthers to return to the nationally renowned Ironman tournament in Ohio that annually features many of the best wrestlers in the nation.

"I wouldn't want to take my full team out there right now," Miller said. "I have a few guys that would really benefit from being out there. But I can't say my full team is at that level. They need to be out there competing. What we can do with that new (rule) is put that tournament on our schedule and only take three or four guys out there and it doesn't affect us anymore."

The elite wrestlers should benefit.

"It evens the playing field for elite individuals that aren't in elite large tournaments and may only get two or three matches in a tournament that we attend as a team, due to smaller brackets and a first round bye," said Illini Bluffs coach Shawn O'Connor. "With today's structure one, of my better kids may not reach the 35 or 40 win mark based on our schedule. This keeps them from earning critical seeding points for the state tournament."

Notre Dame is one of those teams that has top individuals -- led by 1A top-ranked 126-pounder Tristan Daugherty and sixth-ranked 132-pounder Grant Peterson -- but cannot fill all 14 weights.

"You can look at it two different ways," longtime ND coach Kevin Burk said. "We're looking at it to find as many tournaments as possible. Other schools can look at it and say, we've got our six or seven kids, let's find other schools that have six or seven kids and get together on a given night and wrestle three matches and even four matches."

Burk also does not see the 25 dates as an issue. The Irish have 10 dates this year, where their wrestlers will be able to get around 39 matches in, based on multi-team dual meets.

The end of the regular season could get intriguing as wrestlers approach the 45-match barrier.

"You get to a tournament the last week of the year and you have someone lose and be put in the consolation bracket, he'll probably have to forfeit out of that to stay under his 45," Burk said.

Same with duals.

"I'm curious to see how the 45-match limit plays out down the stretch when a team has a dual or two scheduled the last week of the regular season but some of their kids wrestled more matches than expected in some tournaments and now can't wrestle that last dual match or two because they reached their match limit," said O'Connor.

The traditional two-team dual may, or may not, be a thing of the past.

"The only con for me is the fact that I do not want to see dual meets go away entirely," Prichard said. "I think duals are great for wrestling from a fan perspective, because fans are not there sitting all day. A dual meet is usually pretty fast depending on the number of teams. It will all depend on how each of us start to set up our schedules. I don't think we need to wrestle 21 duals a year, but I also think duals are an important part of the high school wrestling season and it allows another team element to the sport other than just tournaments."

The flexibility to schedule, though, could benefit duals, according to Limestone coach Jeff Schmider.

"It will give schools the opportunity to participate in more dual matches instead of tris and quads, where we can go back to spotlight matches and create a great atmosphere for our kids."

Other down sides?

"It will drive up costs, as we will enter into more tournaments as an overall team and also splitting our team into elite individuals going to a tournament and less advanced wrestlers on the team competing in different tournaments," O'Connor said. "This could create conflict between individualism and the team concept. "

O'Connor also said teams may need to shake up their schedule to align with the proposal, possibly forcing schedule changes for teams that have competed against each other for years and built rivalries.

Since the proposal passed, Geneseo's Murray has received nothing but positive feedback, according to Burk.

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