As you may be aware, wrestling has seen better times. The sport has lost more than half its Division I college teams since the 1970s and is down to fewer than 80 today. In February 2013, the International Olympic Committee voted to remove wrestling as a core sport of the summer games, but reinstated it seven months later after a backlash.
Locally, Wisconsin finished the regular season nationally ranked with a respectable sixth-place showing in the Big 10, the only conference that matters when it comes to wrestling. Nonetheless, the crowds for Badgers matches at the Field House are more like "sparse gatherings," according to my friend Matt, one of the few people in town who follow the sport. "You can't call it a crowd."
Time for Madison to step it up, then, as the Kohl Center hosts the conference wrestling tournament Saturday (10 a.m. and 5 p.m.) and Sunday (11 a.m.), March 8 and 9. If you've ever had any interest in seeing the sport, this weekend is your big chance. The Big 10 dominates college wrestling the way the SEC does football, so most of the country's best teams will be here.
Minnesota, Penn State and Iowa finished the regular season as the top three squads in the nation. The Nittany Lions, coached by Cael Sanderson, one of the sport's all-time greats, have won three consecutive team national titles and are a favorite to make it four at the NCAA tournament in Oklahoma City later this month.
While the Badgers don't have a realistic shot at the team title this weekend, they have some good individual talent, including All-American Tyler Graff, who wrestles at 133 pounds; sophomore Connor Medbery, the team's heavyweight starter; and redshirt freshman Isaac Jordan, who two weeks ago beat a pair of the nation's best in the 157-pound weight class. That final name might sound familiar; Isaac's uncle and father were All-American wrestlers at the UW during the 1980s.