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RULES PROPOSAL: Wrestling’s version of Back to the Future

RULES PROPOSAL: Wrestling’s version of Back to the Future


By Jason Bryant
Editor, Amateur Wrestling News

For years, fans worldwide have been clamoring for a change in the international styles of Greco-Roman and freestyle wrestling. With pressure coming from nearly every national federation, FILA will be submitting proposals for modifications in scoring for Greco-Roman and freestyle prior to the Extraordinary Congress set for St. Petersburg, Russia on May 18.

Amateur Wrestling News received both proposals Monday and confirmed the validity of the proposals. At this stage, the freestyle proposal is much more advanced and thorough than the Greco-Roman proposal. With that in mind, here’s a breakdown of what will and what won’t happen.

If you’re a fan of the movie franchise “Back to the Future,” then you’ll see where this is heading. There still are some interpretations that remain unclear. Hopefully, this is thorough enough for most to follow.

Match length will be six minutes. Under the proposed rule changes, matches would no longer be two-out-of-three periods, they will revert back to the two 3-minute periods with cumulative scoring. The tie-breaking procedure is proposed to remain somewhat in place, although the first tiebreaking criteria dealing with cautions was not addressed. The cautions will be explained below.

Technical falls are going back to 10 points. While not specifically written into the proposal, it appears match termination after one 5-point throw or two 3-point moves has been abandoned.

Scoring has also been modified with takedowns and turns all becoming two points. The pushout still remains, although its interpretation is still an item that will be discussed. An action starting in the competition area can be completed out of bounds to finish a score. This is similar to starting a turn in par terre and then continuing the action out of the zone and out of bounds. If Jordan Burroughs hits a double-leg on someone and they land out of bounds, but Burroughs maintains control, he would be awarded two for the takedown. If he doesn’t have control for the takedown, he would score one point for a pushout. It appears the rationale here is to reward offensive action, and if a 2-point takedown doesn’t occur, the 1-point pushout would still be rewarded points.

Again to note, these descriptions are not fully vetted by FILA rules interpretations, but as we understand it, the above scenario is believed to be an accurate representation of an action that could happen with regularity.

All turns in par terre are two points. Interpretations on hand-to-hand versus hitting the head, shoulder or elbow are now taken out of discussion. If you turn someone, that’s two points. Easy to understand.
Actions with 3-point and 5-point outcomes remain unchanged, although as stated above, the number of those actions to terminate a match look to be abandoned under this proposed set of changes.

Now comes one of the more polarizing topics – passivity.

Well, it’s back, with a slightly different way of dealing with it. In the past, a wrestler would be hit for passivity if the official felt their wrestling wasn’t real action, or as the proposal calls it a “feigned attempt to waste time.” The first passivity will be met with an attention. The second passivity call will result in the offending wrestler being “put on the clock.” A 30-second clock will then continue along with the match clock. As our contact on the FILA bureau described it, it’s essentially a shot clock. The wrestler who was hit with the penalty has to score in that 30 seconds or they will get hit with a caution point. If either wrestler scores during that 30 seconds, the points will stand and the “shot clock” will go away. Unlike the previous rules prior to 2004, there is no clinch if a match is scoreless after the first three minutes. Why? There will be a forced passivity call two minutes into a scoreless period. Obviously, if there’s no scoring in that 30 seconds from either wrestler, a caution point.

As mentioned above, the first tiebreaker in the 2005-2012 rules was wrestler with the least amount of cautions would be declared the winner. It’s unclear in this proposal whether or not cautions would play a factor in declaring a winner in a matches ending in ties.

Two positives, at least from the wrestling fan standpoint, are the elimination of the ball draw and the elimination of the leg clinch. These two actions alone have turned off many fans to the international styles of wrestling.

The proposal presented to the FILA bureau will also look at tweaking the tournament format; spreading competitive weight classes over two days instead of one and with earlier start times for competition. While the proposal states this would create two sessions, common sense says it makes sense to showcase the finals and semifinals.

One part of that competitive structure is separation of wrestlers, or seeding. The opinion piece Amateur Wrestling News posted last week recommended seeding down to 10 wrestlers, using the current FILA rankings. The proposal suggests separation of at least the returning World medalists into different groups.

Nothing really changes with the challenges, other than if an official is overturned by the Jury of Appeal, they’re downgraded. Every review will be looked at by the Jury, even if the call on the mat is agreed upon by the referee, the judge and the mat chairman. According to the proposal, this prevents officials from sticking to a call simply because they’re sticking with the call.

Team scoring hasn’t been a huge point of contention, except during the Olympic Games where the medals table dictates, albeit unofficially, a team champion. This part of the proposal definitely seems to have some American fingerprints on it, as it would be more in line with collegiate and high school tournament scoring, with advancement and bonus points being grouped together. Under this proposed change, winning by fall would net 2 points, a technical superiority (or technical fall) would net 1.5 points, while a simple victory would net 1 point.

Placement points would be: Gold (15), Silver (12), Bronze (10), Fifth (8) and seventh through 10th place would be scored 5-4-3-2.

The current bracketing format does lead to some potential discussion about how to determine places after fifth place. The AWN proposal creating a repechage with athletes losing to semifinalists rather than finalists could address this concern, adding matches for fifth and seventh place, although the AWN proposal calls for the elimination of the double bronze.

The Greco-Roman document doesn’t have the attention to detail with scoring changes the freestyle document has, but it does have a few differences to freestyle.

Match length and separation of wrestlers were pointed out in both styles, although the differences are as follows:

Passivity: Rather than go to a “shot clock” type of format like freestyle is proposing, Greco’s proposal states the first passivity call is an attention. The second is a caution (one point) and the opponent of the offending wrestler has the choice to stay standing or to go down on the mat in par terre. A third violation would be exactly the same as the second. A fourth would mean disqualification.

Pushouts: A stepout or pushout deemed unintentional would result in an attention. The way this looks to be interpreted is if two wrestlers are pummeling on the edge and one steps out. No point. If it happens a second time, then a caution point would be awarded and the wrestler awarded the point would have choice of standing or par terre position, just like steps two and three of the passivity breakdown.

While proposed, it’s clear there are several questions as to what would constitute a stepout. Is it basically a “freebie” or would it be scored similar to the suggested freestyle stepout/pushout, scoring the point for the wrestler doing the attacking. As we all know in Greco, the amount of attacks are limited compared to other wrestling styles, simply because everything below the waist is no good.

Technical superiority: This proposal calls for a 7-point technical fall.

Turns in par terre: Unlike the freestyle proposal, Greco proponents are calling for any turn to be one point if the attacking wrestler’s shoulders touch the mat at any time. Two point turns will be awarded if a wrestler arches back and his shoulders do not touch the mat.

The Greco proposal also brings back the dreaded “referee’s decision,” in a case where there’s a 0-0 final and neither wrestler has more than one passivity call. The proposal points out that as unlikely. The winner would be determined by the Jury of Appeal.

AWN Editorial Reaction
It’s a step back in the right direction, although many of us feel the rules should have never been changed in 2005. It’s clear the freestyle proposal has looked at more situations and how to score them than Greco, which makes some sense, considering different nations were charged with developing sets of rules for their styles of wrestling. Denmark, which wrestles nearly exclusively in the Greco-Roman style, wouldn’t be charged to make changes to freestyle and vice versa.

I honestly believe the team scoring aspect has some sense of national pride connected to it. Straight placement with the randomness of the draw makes team scoring essentially useless. Now, at least there’s something most of us can seem to understand. Using the semifinal loser repechage format we released last week would make a top eight placement more viable, although a full wrestleback would eliminate all these questions. That doesn’t appear to be a high priority at the moment.

I’m still not sure what to make of the “shot clock,” but I think it’s better than the 2004-era rules where a scoreless first period gave us this clinch (not the leg clinch) where we’d see grown men groan and whine like children. At least in this format, if you’ve gone two minutes without scoring, there will be a point, but it’s not an automatic penalty point. There’s going to be action to either create a point or defend the point. And when the shot clock is done, there’s still time on the clock to get that point back, especially with takedowns worth two points.

In talking with Andy Hrovat the past few weeks, some of these changes mirror what he would prefer, I think one difference he had that wasn’t included in the proposal was putting a wrestler into par terre if they’ve given up a pushout.

I also believe overtime should be brought back – a true sudden victory. While the last-point scored tiebreaker can create some dramatic finishes, which is always good for any sport, we need an overtime to determine a winner.

We didn’t go fully back in time, since there was no discussion about mandatory points to end a match. Before 2005, a wrestler had to score three points in regulation to win a bout or go into another three-minute overtime. Only after that overtime was done, then you’d see a winner declared by “referee’s decision.”

One thing that does somewhat boggle me is with Greco’s referee’s decision. Unlike freestyle, where the 2-minute mark was written in specifically, Greco will rely on a Jury of Appeal? This seems a bit tough to figure out, since typically the Jury of Appeal is one set of officials – not for the mat, but for the tournament. How are they going to know who did more during a match if they’re worried about three other matches and any reviews going on?

There’s a lot of interpretation needed with Greco-Roman. How much of their scoring will be the same? What will they have that freestyle doesn’t? Will this cause issues if there are two styles of wrestling going on the same day?

All in all, it’s hardly perfect, but it’s something that resembles the best parts of wrestling that we remember.

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  1. Ken Chertow says:

    Good job explaining and reacting Jason. Thanks, Ken

  2. RandomOfficial says:

    We don’t want the decision in our hands. Passivity = attn, caution, caution+1 Easy to follow no clock no confusion. Mark attn add attn to tie breaker criteria. Ball draw and clinch gone. Same for Greco. eliminates guess work and makes it simple for fans.

  3. Gantry says:

    I agree, step in the right direction. Greco is too much to wrap my head around but I like the simplification of the scoring for par terre and less points for pushout over TDs. Shotclock better than the leg clinch, though not fully sold.

    I hope they do double-elimination or at least AWN’s proposal of repechage if you lose to a semi-finalist.

  4. No referee’s decision, regardless of which body makes it. How could that end well?

    Also, I’m not sure what the point of having the officiating crew even look at the video during a challenge anymore would be under this proposal. While I do understand not wanting refs to just “stick to the call,” the camera will only show one angle of the action. Is it right for an official to be concerned with what the video will show and make a call to protect their category, rather than what they saw?

  5. Mark says:

    Great break-down Jason, thanks. These rules “reverts” go a long way toward helping to ensure our sport remains in the Olympics. Interesting will be how they end up being received by the OC and whether the open issues have an impact on them.

  6. ARefereeGuy says:

    As a referee, I must admit that I am a little worried about being downgraded if I am over-ruled 3 times. I think that will result in the slaughter of a lot of referees… that said, I like most of the rule changes. They are similar to when I wrestled back in the early 80’s and 90’s, which seemed to favor athleticism as well as technical skill. I would personally hope for a straight 5 minute match, myself.


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