Wrestling safely slims down with NCAA weight-cutting rules
By James Freeman Daily Pennsylvanian

PHILADELPHIA (U-WIRE) -- For wrestlers at Penn and other schools all over the country, weight loss is just part of the job.

"You just get used to it," Penn junior Doug McGraw said.

In some instances, however, the weight loss has been taken to extremes, so far as resulting in deaths.

In 1997, three wrestlers died throughout the country in the presence of coaches, while attempting to lose large amounts -- eight-to-12 pounds -- of weight in the hours leading up to a match.

After the deaths of the three student-athletes, weight cutting methods have become closely restricted.

The major concern of the NCAA in setting up the new guidelines during the 1997-98 season for weight-loss was to protect the wrestlers by reducing dehydration techniques that have been commonly used in the past.

Some of the practices that have been outlawed in the past several years include running in rubber suits, practicing in a room that is above 75-degrees and excessively limiting liquid intake.

The updated rules and regulations, set forth six seasons ago, are strictly followed and overwhelmingly supported by both players and coaches.

"There are quite a number of changes in the weigh-in certification process," Penn coach Roger Reina said. "Everybody's weight is measured, their body fat is measured and a minimum healthy wrestling weight is determined. So basically people are losing a lot less weight than they have in the past."

With the additional restrictions put forth by the NCAA, athletes are now forced to lose weight in the traditional fashion of hard work through practice.

"I'm not cutting very much weight, not many guys are with these new rules," Penn freshman Matt Eveleth said. "Working out real hard twice a day, your body fat percentage just goes down."

Other dietary aids, such as diet pills and other drugs, like the recently popular but potentially deadly ephedra, are explicitly forbidden by the NCAA's regulations.

The fear of dehydration is one reason for the ban on such drugs. However, Reina disapproves of these supplements for reasons beyond just player safety.

"We want people understanding what good nutrition is," Reina said. "Like anything we do in our program, we don't want short cuts. We don't want short cuts in technique, we don't want short cuts in nutrition and we don't want short cuts in weight loss either. That would be going against everything we believe in."

For the incoming freshmen, these new regulations can be quite a shock.

There are currently few regulations on weight loss for athletes who compete at the high school level and of those regulations that do exist, even fewer are actually followed.

"[In] high school I think it was done the wrong way," Eveleth said. "A lot of kids wouldn't eat instead of working out harder and eating, that's what coach Reina stresses and I think it's great for the sport. I never feel weak, tired or really hungry."

Even with all of the weight loss that is associated with wrestling, athletes can gain weight and still have much success.

Penn freshman Matt Herrington wrestled at 160-pounds his senior year in high school, but has come to Penn and participated all season at the 174-pound weight class.

Herrington still had to lose 10 pounds before the season began, but the process of weight-cutting changed dramatically from his senior year to his freshman season in college.

"I was worried at first but the regulations made it a lot easier," said Herrington. "I pulled a lot more weight in high school. Also the way it's approached here, the coaches are a lot better. I also think with the extra year your body is more mature, so you lose more weight in practice."

No matter the weight class or the age of the wrestler, cutting pounds has always been and will always be a fact of the sport.

However, with the new emphasis on better off-season training and the more rigid rules protecting today's wrestlers, cutting weight has become much safer for all of these athletes.

(C) 2002 Daily Pennsylvanian via U-WIRE.

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