It's been one of the biggest questions ever since it was announced that the 2020 NCAA Wrestling Tournament would be held in U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis: what's it actually going to look like to hold a wrestling tournament in a football stadium? The playing surface in a football stadium is much (much!) larger than the playing surface in a basketball arena (the typical host site for wrestling tournaments). It turns out the NCAA intends to take full advantage of that extra space:
Based on the graphic released by the NCAA today, the eight mats will be spread across the field, rather than nestled next to one another as they are in arenas. Here's what the more common set-up looks like:
This year's set-up will provide more room around and between the mats, which should make it easier for officials, photographers, coaches, and trainers. It also means you're not likely to see action from one mat spill onto a nearby mat (if it does, something has probably gone very wrong!), which is a positive in terms of wrestler safety.
The downside is that some of those mats are going to be very (very!) far from some of the seats. The mats near one end zone are going to be pretty far from the seats in the opposite end zone, for instance. U.S. Bank Stadium has no shortage of (large) video screens in the stadium and the word is that matches will be visible on those screens; that may be a necessity to see some of the action on the more distant mats.
I was also surprised to see the presence of so much natural light in the rendering above. There's a lot of glass on the roof and walls of U.S. Bank Stadium, which lets in plenty of natural light; it's one of the better features of the stadium and something that helps it feel a bit less anti-septic than most domed stadiums. That said, they paid almost $5 million for a curtain to use last year when the stadium hosted the Final Four and I suspected they would do the same for wrestling this year. Natural light is nice, but it can also create some wicked glare situations, especially around sunset; that could be a factor at the beginning of the evening sessions this year.
Of note: this will only be the set-up for the first three sessions of the tournament (both sessions on Thursday plus the early session on Friday). The Friday night session (aka, the semifinals in the championship bracket) will use the "dog bone" set-up with six mats; two mats on each end, with two mats sandwiched in-between. (This is what it looks like.) The Saturday morning session (featuring the all the remaining consolation bracket matches, including the 3rd, 5th, and 7th place matches) uses a set-up featuring three mats side-by-side (like so), while the Saturday evening session (featuring the national championship match at each weight) features just one mat, centered in the middle of the playing surface (like this).
I predict a fair amount of griping about the visibility (or lack thereof, in many cases) of the action on the mats from a lot of fans in attendance. We'll see!
Of course, as Cody Goodwin, Hawk Central's excellent wrestling writer, pointed out today, Iowa fans have more experience than most when it comes to watching wrestling in a football stadium.
For perspective, this is what the mat looked like at Grapple on the Gridiron. About 15 yards. They wont be massive, but they will look bigger than that picture suggests. pic.twitter.com/mmtP9UdlXG— Cody Goodwin (@codygoodwin) February 26, 2020
The Grapple at the Gridiron event should give folks at least some sense of what the NCAA Wrestling Tournament might look/feel like at U.S. Bank Stadium. If you were at that event, what'd you think? How do you think that might translate here? And are you planning to attend the NCAA Tournament up in Minneapolis in a few weeks? (I am, so say "hi.") If so, what do you think about this mat set-up?