Chez Shaffner

Thursday, March 29, 2007

College Wrestling on TV

The last few weeks, I have become addicted to college wrestling on the Fox College Sports channel… First I caught the Division II National Championships, then did a title search in my DVR and recorded the Big 12 conference tourney. A week later, I watched the Division I Championships. The other day, I caught a duals match between two mediocre Division III teams. And yesterday afternoon I worked through the first few weight classes in the NCAA semi-finals…

Keep in mind that all those hours should have been spent toiling on the next Great American Novel, a project that is not progressing as quickly as I’d like. Gee, I wonder why…

Finals tend to be pretty boring fare, which is why I was excited to find the semi-finals listed in the online guide. As it turns out, this year’s finals were tremendously entertaining, heavy on the upsets. Typically, finals bore the hell out of me because the wrestlers prioritize defense, whereas in earlier rounds they take the offensive. The competition is too strong in the finals for either man to pull any of his go-to tricks. Take Ben Askren, the remarkable senior who single-handedly put Missouri on the wrestling map. A four-time finalist (and now, two-time champion), he recorded something like 30 wins by fall this season, including two earlier in the NCAA tournament. Televising only the finals, we don’t get to see that fireworks.

To most people who have not participated in the sport or watched a loved one participate, wrestling can be a difficult sport to understand. The protagonist in my first novel was a high school wrestler. During his review, one of my readers (a former collegiate wrestler himself) noted that perhaps I should explicitly clarify that I didn’t mean the kind of wrestling held in a boxing ring and featuring ornate costumes, scantily clad women, and metal folding chairs.

Every time I watch collegiate or Olympic wrestling, I want to grab the shoes from the closet and march onto the mat. An irrational thought, especially when you consider that I’d have to cut at least 40 pounds even to compete with the rag-taggiest of amateurs. But I can’t help it… Then I think about the cutting weight and the incredible daily discipline required to maintain the requisite conditioning—best conditioned athletes in the world, if you ask me—and the ambition slowly fades, leaving me with nostalgia...and a touch of rage that Comcast didn’t tell me when FCS became part of the crazy-expensive cable package I’ve been paying for all these years…

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