Rand: J Robinson's dream dual becomes reality

  • Updated: February 13, 2012 - 6:56 AM

Gophers wrestling coach J Robinson learned a long time ago that he isn't always going to get what he wants. But his consolation prize is a tournament he believes the sport of wrestling needs.

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Gophers wrestling coach J Robinson.

Photo: Marlin Levison, Star Tribune

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Gophers wrestling coach J Robinson learned a long time ago that he isn't always going to get what he wants. But his consolation prize is a tournament he believes the sport of wrestling needs.

Minnesota advanced this past weekend to the final four of an overhauled national dual meet competition -- the culmination of the dual season and an opportunity to determine a true team champion before individual competition takes center stage next month.

Robinson, who has been lobbying for a tournament like this for a quarter-century, had hoped the University of Minnesota would be chosen to host the initial final four next weekend. That distinction instead went to Oklahoma State. Brushing that disappointment aside, though, the Gophers coach is glad to see the true team champion concept get off the ground.

"It's one of those things you start off and you don't think it will take much to get done, and then 25 years later here you are," Robinson said. "I think it's good. It's a step in the right direction."

The Gophers -- just like Oklahoma State, Illinois and Iowa -- won their six-team regional this past weekend, traveling to host Rutgers and defeating Kent State and Missouri with relative ease to advance to the final four.

Mike Moyer, the executive director of the National Wrestling Coaches Association, has said he hopes the "Mat Mayhem" dual meet championship eventually becomes an officially sanctioned NCAA championship. The NCAA meet in March crowns a team champion but it is determined by the sum of points earned by individual wrestlers instead of team vs. team duals.

The Gophers have won three such team championships since 2001, but Robinson -- citing the excitement generated by team competition -- has long thought that a separate dual meet tournament at the end of the season would generate considerable fan interest.

"Fans cheer for teams," he said. "You go to the high school state tournament in Minnesota, and all the noise is coming from where the dual meets are."

Penn State -- last year's NCAA champion and the No. 2 team in the country this season -- opted not to compete in this year's dual meet tournament.

"To make a long story short, it's just not something we feel is in the best interests of wrestling," Penn State coach Cael Sanderson, previously an undefeated four-time NCAA individual champion at Iowa State, said a week ago. Sanderson said he doesn't like the format and believes the tournament was put together hastily.

Robinson agrees that the format can be enhanced and tweaked in future years. But to him, something is better than nothing. That's the attitude his squad will take to the final four Sunday at Oklahoma State. Robinson had visions of close to 10,000 wrestling fans pouring into Williams Arena. For now, he'll settle for a greater vision realized.

"I think wrestling fans will follow it," he said. "I think this will grow."

MICHAEL RAND

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