Recently I was able to catch up with Nebraska Head Wrestling Coach Mark Manning about what’s happened since last season, how the pandemic has changed things, what the upcoming schedule will look like, roster moves and decisions, and of course about coaching Jordan Burroughs.
We’ll start with the No. 1 question: Is there going to be a season? And what will a possible schedule look like?
With an official announcement about a wrestling schedule by the Big Ten expected any day, Manning shed some light on what it could look like.
The Big Ten is looking at a schedule that would include nine conference dual competitions on six dates, with some being triangulars or quads. The season should start in early to mid January of 2021 and go until February 21 before Big Ten and NCAA tournaments in March.
With the risk of losing eligibility like what happened last season when the NCAA tournament was cancelled, the NCAA has granted an eligibility waiver to winter sports athletes, so this season amounts to a bonus year of sorts. And the seniors this season who could potentially wrestle next season again as seniors, their scholarship count would no longer count against the team’s 9.9 total scholarships allowed per season.
That’s a lot to unpack, but basically it means there’s no reason to redshirt anyone and you wrestle your absolute best lineup this season. Manning summed it up perfectly.
“We’re going to wrestle all our guys this year,” he said. “Why wouldn’t you?”
With this condensed schedule, that also means the loss of open tournaments, where Nebraska and all other college programs get valuable experience for their wrestlers who aren’t necessarily in the starting lineup. In fact, by this time last year Nebraska was already 5-0 as a dual squad with a first-place finish at the Cliff Keen Invitational going into Big Ten competition. That’s a lot of experience that these young wrestlers are missing out on.
“Normally a guy will be able to go to six to seven open tournaments rather than just coming into the workout room for seven or eight months and be a workout partner,” Manning said. “A lot of people forget that people are developing all the time, so the development element is really big.”
So the Big Ten is looking at allowing expanded travel rosters so that teams can wrestle exhibition duals.
“Then we get to wrestle those extra guys an exhibition match with other teams’ extra guys,” Manning said. “It won’t count, it’ll just count for them for the development element.”
For Manning, the key has been making sure that his wrestlers know what rides on them being safe. They have a lot to lose if they catch the coronavirus.
“With Covid, the challenge is keeping everyone safe and healthy. If someone has to sit out for seven or ten days for contact tracing, all of a sudden he might miss two weeks of competition,” Manning said. “Well, when you’re only going to get six dates (to compete), those six dates are really precious. So, we’re really trying to make our guys understand the seriousness of it and just having a lot more discipline than the average guy.”
“If you become positive, that’s 21 days (out). That’s half your season.”
With the uncertainty surrounding the pandemic, Nebraska elected to take a small recruiting class. Nebraska brought in two absolute blue chip prospects out of Pennsylvania in Lenny Pinto and Jagger Condomitti, but Nebraska will be sending them both to Colorado Springs to spend a year at the U.S. Olympic Training Center.
“It was going to be a small class anyway, and once this happened we decided to save our money and spend it on next year’s class,” Manning said.
With the eligibility waiver by the NCAA, everyone is kind of scrambling to amend their plans.
“You have to be really smart with your scholarships and you have to be really smart with how you manage your team,” Manning said. “We feel like we have a really good plan in place.”
Keep an eye out for Part 2 where I’ll be diving into Manning’s comments on possible lineup changes and roster battles.