If you made the trip to Nokomis Regional High School for the New England Qualifier last weekend you were treated to some great wrestling action. Unfortunately, you also saw a tournament that had seven weight classes missing at least one wrestler from the 8-man bracket.

For those of you who don’t know, that means that half of the brackets at the tournament that decides which wrestlers are going to represent our state at the New England Championships were not full.

The 182-pound bracket had two empty spots, and the 195-pound weight class had THREE wrestlers not show up.

This is not a new phenomenon at the New England Qualifier. It seems to happen every year — and something needs to change.

The New England Qualifier — also known as All-States — takes the top four from Class A and the top four from Class B and is meant to get the best three wrestlers in each weight to represent Maine in Providence.

One problem with how Maine’s wrestling postseason is set up is that the actual state championships are handed out a week before the qualifier — and once those gold medals are handed out, some wrestlers believe their season is over.

The way Class B is currently split up is also a problem as the North region has twice as many teams as the South.

That lopsided alignment resulted in one weight class in Class B South having just two wrestlers at the regional meet. Yes, you read that right — TWO wrestlers in one bracket. I’m sure it was quite a stress reliever to have qualified for the state tournament before wrestling a single match, but I’m also confident that those wrestlers would have loved some competition.

I don’t care if it’s a regional tournament, state meet or the New England Qualifier, there should never be a bye in an 8-man bracket. But unfortunately that has turned into a common occurrence here in Maine.

The Maine Principals’ Association made the smart move of going from three divisions down to two a few years ago, but I believe it’s time to make the move to one class when it comes to the individual state tournament.

It’s not a secret that Maine is one of the smallest states in the country when it comes to population. That of course means that we also don’t have the luxury of having a large pool of high school student athletes.

As of the 2016 season, FloWrestling had Maine’s number of high school wrestlers at 701. In comparison, two states that also have two divisions for their individual state tournaments — Pennsylvania and New York — had 9,780 and 11,521 high school wrestlers, respectively.

I think it’s clear that a move to a one-division state tournament makes complete sense, but the MPA should also set things up so the smaller schools aren’t hurt by the move.

If I was magically given the power to create the new Maine wrestling postseason here is what it would look like:

1. Create a dual meet state championship

I would keep Class A and Class B when it comes to the dual season. Take the top eight teams from each class and have them battle it out for separate state titles. The new dual tournaments would take place on what is now considered “regional week.” That was Saturday, Feb. 11 this year.

2. Have four individual regional tournaments

This is where the MPA needs to be careful. The four regions will need to be split up in a way where the smaller wrestling programs get a fair shake when it comes to qualifying wrestlers for states. This will take some time to map out the four regions, but in the end each region will send four wrestlers from each weight class to the new state tournament. The new regional meets would be held on what is currently “state week.”

3. State tournament with 16-man brackets

The top 16 wrestlers in each weight class will now head to the state championships, which will also be used as the qualifying tournament for New Englands. Where the Class A and Class B state meets handed out medals to four wrestlers in each weight, with the larger bracket there will now be a podium with six spots. The top three wrestlers in each weight will earn trips to Providence. This tournament will be held in what is currently “All-States week.”

The larger brackets will force the tournament to be held over two days and it will most likely need to be held in a larger venue. If you have read the Nosebleed Section in the past, you probably know I believe that the state wrestling tournament deserves to be held somewhere other than a high school gym — and this new tournament will require a larger space.

I believe that this new setup will not only create a more competitive individual state tournament, but it will give some wrestlers who may never win an individual state title a chance to taste gold at the new dual meet championships.

The biggest thing this new format will do is help Maine when it comes to competing at the New England tournament. We are sending a strong group down to Providence this weekend, but having a bye into the semifinals at the qualifier certainly didn’t help our wrestlers prepare for the grueling tournament that lies ahead of them.

I believe going to one state tournament will also force the rest of the country to take Maine wrestling more seriously. We are too small of a state to be splitting up our wrestlers into two divisions and watering down the most important meet of the season.

While I feel the format I laid out earlier would be a good move for the state, I am not saying I have all the answers. There may be a better way to fix the current system. But I do believe that this conversation needs to be started — and there is an answer out there.

Sports Editor Pat McDonald can be reached at [email protected] or at 282-1535 ext. 322. Follow the Journal Tribune Sports Department on Twitter @JournalTsports.

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