The National High School Federation Association did not approve the PIAA plan to reduce the weight classes in wrestling to 12 from the current 14.

The NHSFA released its list of rule changes for the 2020-21 season and the reduction of weight classes proposed by the PIAA did not make the list.

Too bad, because it was a good idea and a way to inject more excitement into the sport.

Last summer, the PIAA passed a proposal to cut two of the current weight classes. The organization sought to make the move permanent by having the NHSFA give its approval.

If that failed, then the PIAA was determined to try it as a three-year pilot program. Tuesday’s release of the Federation rule changes sent the state back to the drawing board.

If the pilot plan is approved, it could be implemented for the 2021-22 season. The PIAA board of control will meet today to discuss this and other issues but its strategy won’t be revealed for at least another month.

The plan by the state was sparked by the growing number of forfeits in the sport. Forfeits have been a regular problem for many teams in Class AA, but has been creeping into Class AAA.

The majority of coaches did not want to lose the two weight classes and urged the PIAA to find other ways to improve the sport.

Forfeits are ruining the sport. Roster size has always been a struggle for smaller schools and in many cases, schools do not charge fans for dual meets.

It’s no fun for the wrestler, who is thankful for the victory but unhappy that he was unable to display skills on the mat. Even a match that is lopsided is more entertaining than a forfeit.

The problem began in 2003, when the PIAA expanded the weight classes to 14. The expansion was meant to bring more interest to the sport with more opportunities to wrestle.

But it hasn’t turned out that way. It’s true that there are more opportunities to wrestle now than before the expansion, but this is a unique sport, and a very difficult one to dominate.

If there were fewer weight classes, some athletes might lose an opportunity to compete. That could push them to leave the sport and try something else. But if that happens, how dedicated were they in the first place?

It would be interesting to see what affect 12 weight classes would have. I think it would have a positive effect.

Competing in wrestling is not easy. It takes a lot of hard work, determination and drive to be successful. It is a sport where one’s ability is revealed on the mat, good or bad. It takes a lot of courage to go back out after wrestling poorly. Receiving a forfeit robs these wrestlers of valuable mat time.

The large amount of forfeits has led some teams to insert females into the lineup, taking advantage of the forfeits and sometimes competing against an inexperienced opponent.

But there are problems even in this area. At this year‘s PIAA Team Tournament at the Giant Center in Hershey, Canon-McMillan’s victory over Gettysburg headed off a potentially ugly scene.

Had Gettysburg won, the team planned to insert eight females into the starting lineup against Bethlehem Catholic.

Why?

Because the Catholic diocese forbids a male wrestler to wrestle a female. Bethlehem Catholic would have been forced to forfeit those eight weight classes, assuring a loss to one of the tournament’s favored teams.

Gettysburg has a strong girls wrestling team, and one of them, Montana DeLawder, has more than 100 career victories. The eight women were on the Gettysburg roster this season, keeping them eligible for varsity matches.

The numbers problem is not about to go away as many schools are losing enrollment, making it tougher to field varsity teams.

The Federation gets hundreds of recommendations on rule changes each year so it did not have a comment on the PIAA proposal.

It did make changes to accommodate the growing number of female wrestlers, altering the weigh-in procedure. On the mat, the Federation changed the technical violation process to avoid penalizing a participant twice for the same sequence of events. Wording was added to a rule that states points will not be awarded to a wrestler who’s opponent has fled the mat if that wrestler has already scored a takedown or nearfall points.

A match will now automatically be stopped and restarted in the event a wrestler commits a fourth stalling violation. Previously, if the offender was called for a fourth stall while in the defensive or neutral position, there was no guarantee his or her opponent would be awarded choice of position through a restart if the violation occurred during the third period.

Other changes dealt with the length of hair and with participant injuries. If the referee determines the wrestler would’ve scored had the injury timeout not taken place, the injured contestant will be charged an injury timeout and applicable points will be awarded to the non-injured party.

Hopefully, the PIAA will be able to try the 12-weight-class format. It will be interesting to see the effect it has on the sport.

I am guessing it will be positive.

Assistant sports editor Joe Tuscano can be reached at jtuscano@observer-reporter.

Assistant Sports Editor

Joe Tuscano has been with the Observer-Reporter since 1980. He has covered all sports for the newspaper, including the Steelers, Pirates, Pitt football, local college football and wrestling.

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