Brands Suggests Possible Appeal Process After NCAA Ruling

Iowa wrestling coach Tom Brands says he would like to see Spencer Lee get a chance at four national titles. (Darren Miller/hawkeyesports.com)

John Bohnenkamp

Spencer Lee was going for his third NCAA individual wrestling championship this season before the national championships were canceled over concerns about the COVID-19 coronavirus.

The Iowa 125-pounder, a junior who went undefeated this season on his way to winning the Hodge Trophy as the nation's top wrestler, was the No. 1 seed for this year's tournament, and had he won, he would have been on the path to being the Hawkeyes' first four-time national champion.

The NCAA canceled the winter championships as well as the spring regular season and championships. But on Monday, the NCAA ruled that spring athletes would be granted an additional year of eligibility while the winter athletes would not since most or all of their regular season was completed.

It was a decision that Iowa wrestling coach Tom Brands expected. He's not ready to fight it just yet.

"I’m smart enough to know not to fight battles when you don’t know, necessarily, what you’re talking about," Brands said on a Tuesday teleconference. "I think the timing of appeals, and those things, are down the road. I think the one thing that you have to realize in this job is that you don’t get anywhere by taking on the establishment. You have to be very well thought out, very plan-oriented."

Brands, who has been in self-quarantine for more than a week after coming into contact with someone who has the coronavirus, said there are bigger issues at the moment.

"It is bigger than sports right now," said Brands, who has one more day of quarantine and hasn't shown symptoms. "We’re not out of the woods with COVID-19. So, there are times to fight these battles. Let’s get rid of COVID-19, let’s do that first."

Brands, though, is wanting to make a case for Lee, who took time off from the Hawkeyes in December to wrestle in the U.S. Senior National Championships, winning an individual title to qualify for the U.S. Olympic Trials.

The Olympic Trials, along with the 2020 Tokyo Games, have been postponed until next summer.

Lee could have taken an Olympic redshirt season this year to prepare to qualify for the U.S. team, but didn't. He said on Monday he has no plans to do that next season.

"I know Spencer Lee has to win three (national titles) before he can win four," Brands said. "Four is very important for him. But he has to win three before he can win four. So, regardless of how he goes about moving forward to get an opportunity to win four, he’s got to win three first and that’s what I was talking about with that perspective."

Brands also would like to see the NCAA recognize All-Americans for this season, even though there was no national tournament.

"At the very least, there has to be official recognition, in some way, shape or form, of how the NCAA is going to name its All-Americans," he said. "In this case, they have to name it, and it has to be official. That’s at the very least. From then, you go on and look at appeals, and look at it case-by-case as you get into it.

"You can’t say ‘COVID-19.’ It can’t. It can’t be a blank spot. There has to be a differentiation in the seedings, and the body of work you did all year. You wrestled 16 regular-season dates. You wrestled a postseason qualifier — everybody did. The brackets were set, the matchups were laid out. The 33 seeds were laid into the brackets. You have to honor the top eight or top 12 seeds in an official way from the mouth of the NCAA. Or, you know what? You got bested by something, and you rolled over and let it best you. And I don’t see how there’s any value in that at all."

Brands knows there will be a time for these decisions.

"When I talk about appeals process, I’m talking about this COVID-19 thing that is the battle we’re fighting," he said. "That’s the priority, that’s enemy No. 1. Let’s eradicate enemy No. 1. Then, when we go forward, you don’t just ignore this stuff.

"I don’t know what it looks like. I know with dealing with this kind of stuff, you have to have a plan. And it has to make sense. And that’s what we’re working on. Right now, we have to beat enemy No. 1."

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