The No. 2 Ohio State (12-0, 7-0) wrestling team heads to No. 1 Penn State (11-0, 7-0) on Saturday to take part in what some are calling the “Dual of the Millennium.” The match will be aired live on BTN starting at 8:00 pm.
There is good reason for such a moniker, as both teams are undefeated and have their respective sights set on B1G and national titles.
Penn State is coming off a 25-15 win at No. 13 Rutgers on Sunday, remaining unbeaten on the year. While the Lions won the dual, Penn State lost defending NCAA champion and top-ranked junior Jason Nolf to an injury at 157. Nolf will not participate in Saturday’s event.
Ohio State, meanwhile, comes in off of a 35-7 win over Purdue this past Saturday.
Buckeye senior All-American and Olympic Gold Medalist Kyle Snyder was not on hand for that contest, or the one before it, because he was busy competing in the 2018 Golden Grand Prix Yarygin in Krasnoyarsk, Russia. Dubbed “The Toughest Tournament on the Planet,” Snyder became the first American male to ever win a second Yarygin title. He was awarded the Most Outstanding Foreign Wrestler for his efforts.
Despite the globe-trotting and wins that wrestlers can only dream of, Snyder is also very much looking forward to what comes next — namely, Penn State.
“I’m excited,” he said on Wednesday, less than 24 hours after returning from Russia. “The individuals on the team I’m really good friends with. I’ve trained with those guys. It has nothing to do with the individuals, but just the team itself. Something about when you put them all together and they wear a Penn State singlet, I just want to destroy them. Probably just because they’re good. I just want to beat them worse than I’ve wanted to beat any team since I’ve been at Ohio State.”
Snyder comes into Saturday’s match having not felt the sting of a collegiate loss since March 21, 2015. The Nittany Lions can do him one month better, however, because because Penn State hasn’t lost a dual match since February 15, 2015. They are on a current 42-match win streak, including 23 B1G wins in a row, and a 2-0 mark against Ohio State.
A win for either team will guarantee at least a co-Big Ten Championship from a dual meet standpoint.
“It’s a real rivalry,” said OSU head coach Tom Ryan. “I can’t imagine being a student-athlete on either one of these teams and not thinking that. This is a little kid’s dream, right? This is based loaded, World Series, ninth inning. This is a lot of fun. They’ve done a great job with their program. We’ve done a really good job here. And because of the people we have and the people they have, it’s made it a great event.”
Unfortunately, the event won’t be as big as it could have been.
The sold-out Dual of the Millennium will take place in Penn State’s Rec Hall, which seats 6,502. With an event of this magnitude, a move to the Bryce Jordan Center and its 15,261 seats would have been a welcome move for all involved, but Penn State is hosting Iowa in men’s basketball at 6:00 pm that evening, so the scheduling wouldn’t allow a move.
Ohio State was permitted around 100 tickets for the match, which gets friends and family into the venue and not much else.
For Kyle Snyder, the unwelcome venues are fine by him.
“I like the hostile environment, it’s cool,” he said. “I think we’ll quiet the crowd in a couple of weights. I think some of the places where we’re really favored there’s not going to be much for them to cheer about. But then in other weights where it’s going to be a close match or they’re going to be favored, they’re probably going to be getting after it pretty good. I think all of us have prepared our minds for that. That’s the way it’s going to be, we just have to wrestle through it.”
A Missed Opportunity for College Wrestling, But Still Plenty Big
Because of the scheduling conflict, the match will take place in a smaller venue, which is going to be a problem for wrestling until there is a change of mindset according to Tom Ryan.
“I think that – and this is not necessarily directed at them – but I think that an event like this could sell 45-50,000 tickets,” he said. “I think my kind of aerial view of this is that wrestling can become a revenue-generating sport if we start to think like people that want it to be. If it was here, I would have asked [Ohio State athletic director] Gene [Smith] to do what he can to have it in the Schott.”
It’s not just the venues that can sometimes hold wrestling back, and Ryan believes that some other changes could also improve the excitement levels around the sport.
“I have been an extremely vocal advocate of this for our sport,” he said. “I believe the event has to have more significance than that evening. I think if we just study any TV show that has a following, there’s something else coming, right? Now it does have incredible significance, we want to win this dual, so there is significance. But college wrestling needs to move to a place where there is season-ending significance. And when we get there I think it will add to the excitement. When Michigan and Ohio State play [in football], look at that model. Now it’s more complicated than that, it’s not that simple. But when everyone knows at the end of November, whoever won that game, there’s a greater significance than just that night.”
The good news for the sport is that not only is interest up, but the ease of marketing has never been greater. The internet has allowed the sport and the fans to find each other much easier than they ever have before. While there is still media coverage of the sport — and the Big Ten Network is a huge part of that — schools are also able to market themselves via Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and the like.
Tom Ryan knows that the sport will still continue to grow, but individual duals like the one people are going to see on Saturday have never been bigger.
“There’s tremendous hype in the wrestling world in general,” he said. “The bottom line for me is that I’ve been in this for a long time, and these events, man what a blessing. How can you not be excited to watch 20 high-level guys fight it out?”
Probable Lineups No. 2 Ohio State at No. 1 Penn State
Kyle Snyder Talks Russia, Penn State
Tom Ryan Talks Penn State and the Next Step for Wrestling