Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Pondering how the Notre Dame College wrestling team would fare in Division I

The question reverberated throughout Public Auditorium last weekend.

How good is the Notre Dame College wrestling team?

The Falcons were the class of Division II, beginning the season No. 1 and ending 4 1/2 grueling months as NCAA team champions. They left little doubt about their status atop the Division II hierarchy by going a combined 8-0 in the finals and semifinals. In short, the final day represented a dream for Coach Frank Romano and his wrestlers.

But let's dream a little more. Let's ponder how the Falcons would fare in Division I.

Only 79 Division I wrestling programs remain. The maximum number of scholarships a program can distribute is 9.9, meaning plenty of talented high school wrestlers are receiving little financial assistance for their athletic abilities. Division II programs are permitted to distribute as many as nine scholarships. Fully funded wrestling programs are dwindling, but a Division II school with a supportive administration such as NDC can offer more athletic much scholarship money than Division I schools with lukewarm support.

The numbers also suggest the talent gap between Divisions I and II isn't as great in wrestling as it is in football, where Division I programs receive 85 compared to 36 for Division II. The difference in basketball is 13-10. Wrestling programs need 10 athletes to fill a starting lineup. Basketball programs need five.

Wrestling programs operate on limited travel budgets, allowing for more interactions between Division I and II programs. NDC wrestled Ohio State, a top-10 Division I program, on Nov. 15 and lost 29-11. The Falcons won three bouts, but neither team was operating at full strength. Since starting wrestling in 2007, NDC is 83-7 in dual meets. Three of their losses are to Ohio State.

Open tournaments give the Falcons another forum to compete with Division I programs. Five Falcons placed at the Cleveland State Open: Joey Davis (first, 174), Maurice Miller (second 141), Brandonn Johnson (third, 197), Marty Carlson (fourth, 133) and Brian Hauser (sixth, 125). Eric Burgey, who became a two-time national champion last weekend, wasn't in the Falcons' lineup.

The results are impressive. But the backgrounds of NDC's national qualifiers might be the best way to gauge the program's strength. The Falcons recruit nationally.

Three of NDC's nine national qualifiers -- Andrew Bannister (VMI), Carlson (Utah Valley) and  Johnson (Kent State) -- started their careers at Division I schools. Burgey was NAIA champion before arriving at NDC. Davis, a California native who is 72-0, was considered a big-time recruit who landed at NDC for academic reasons. Freshman Garrett Lineberger (Maryland) and Jonatan Rivera (Georgia) were Dave Schultz Award recipients for their respective states as high school seniors. Senior 125-pounder Brian Hauser (Brush) and junior 141-pounder Maurice Miller (Canton McKinley) were the only Ohio natives in the NCAA tournament lineup.

More talent is either in or headed to South Euclid. Former Massillon Perry state champ Sam White has transferred from Illinois to NDC. White was one of the nation's top 125-pound recruits as a high school senior. Tony Dailey, a Massillon Perry standout who won a state title earlier this month, is part of the incoming recruiting class.

Few Division I programs besides Ohio State are willing to wrestle NDC in a dual meet, a fact that bothers Romano. Still, enough evidence exists to determine that the Falcons would be a competitive Division I program.

How competitive?

The guess here is somewhere in the top 35.

-- Guy Cipriano | @newsheraldguy

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