Des Moines, Iowa • he NCAA is thrilled with the fan support during its national wrestling championships.
The next step is to get the casual fan engaged for more than just a weekend.
A proposal pitched Tuesday to the NCAA's sports management cabinet includes a new, 24-team dual tournament with points available to pick up before the event.
The proposal, first reported by the Des Moines Register, wouldn't be implemented until at least 2016 because of procedural and budgetary issues. But the idea behind the change is to emphasize the regular season by forcing teams to compete for a spot in the 24-team event, said Anthony Holman, the NCAA associate director of championships.
The wrestling championships are typically among the most successful the NCAA puts on, selling out again this March in Des Moines. But lackluster attendance for regular season meets has long been an issue.
"Our avid fans come to our national championship. They're committed to it. They're very supportive. But we've not seem that trickle down to help programs," said Holman, who presented the proposal. "By making dual matches early in the season and on campus more important and more relevant, it strengthens our sport."
Under the proposal, teams would compete all season for a bid to one of the four, six-team regional tournaments, likely to be held after the conference tournaments. The field would be selected in roughly the same manner as the men's basketball tournament, with the highest seeds hosting the regionals.
According to Holman, only 11 teams have won a national title in 85 years. The NCAA would like to see that number grow as it attempts to broaden the sport's popularity even as the International Olympic Committee weighs a decision on whether to cut it out of the Olympics.
"If you've got 24 teams that say 'We've got a chance,' or we're going to go into the national championships with 12 or 15 points, their fan base is inspired," Holman said.
The championship cabinet will soon make their recommendations regarding the proposal, which will then be brought before the National Wrestling Coaches Association convention in August.
One of the major points that officials need to figure out is what percentage of points can be carried from the 24-team event into the national meet, but Holman promised that it will be "significant."
"It will be very difficult for an institution that does not compete in the dual portion to win the national championship," Holman said.
The NCAA doesn't want to take anything away from the national championship meet. But Holman said that the IOC's recent recommendation to drop the sport is proof that improving wrestling's appeal is crucial.
"We need to be creative. We need to be proactive regarding our sport, our championship and bringing in and introducing more casual fans to our sport," Holman said.