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How to follow a wrestling dual

A series on how college wrestling works

2021 NCAA Division I Men’s Wrestling Championship Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images

Have you ever thought, I’d like to follow wrestling, but where do I start? After all, the Big Ten dominates the sport, with four schools combining for the last fourteen team titles, and eleven teams currently in the top 25. Well, start here! In this article, we’re gonna talk about how matches, duals, and tournaments are structured. Tomorrow, we’ll have a piece on how wrestlers score in matches, and on Thursday, we’ll go over some moves so you can learn what the hell a “hi-C” is.

For starters, there are ten weights in collegiate folkstyle wrestling, which is what we see in the Big Ten. Those weights range from 125 to 285 pounds, though only heavyweight is above 200 pounds.


Matches are broken into three periods, the first of which is three minutes and the following two are two minutes apiece. Wrestlers start in a neutral position, where the wrestlers stand upright facing one another at the center of the mat. Before the second period, a coin flip determines which wrestler chooses their position first, and they can choose neutral, top, bottom, or defer their choice to the third period. Top, or offensive position, is when the wrestler starts behind his opponent, who is knelt on the ground in the center of the mat. Bottom is same position, but with the wrestling choosing to start in the defensive position. Both wrestlers get a choice before either the second or third period. If action should go out of pounds with time remaining on the clock, action is restarted in the same position.


Duals are the team competition format that wrestling uses throughout the regular season. When two teams wrestle one another, that is a dual. A dual can start at any of the ten eligible weights, but most often starts at the lightest weight, 125 pounds. Each match is followed by the weight directly above it until all ten weights have been wrestled. A victory is worth three points in a dual, but there are a number of other ways to score (or be deducted) additional points.

A major victory is one which is won by a margin of eight to fourteen points. It is worth the three victory points and an additional bonus point. A technical fall is when a match is won by fifteen or more points, and the match is ended when the margin reaches fifteen. It is worth an additional two points, for five total. The sexiest way to end a match is by pinfall, which awards the wrestler six total points (three for victory, three bonus points).

Six team points can also be awarded by forfeit if a wrestler is unable to compete, or if no wrestler is slotted by a team at a weight. Usually the team whose wrestler does not forfeit is awarded those six points, unless a wrestler is injured and unable to compete due to an illegal move (which would award his team six points). Points can also be deducted individually due to sportsmanship issues.

If a dual is tied after all ten weights, the NCAA has a series of tie-breakers. The first is awarded to the team which has the greatest number of individual victories, discounting forfeits and disqualifications. The second is awarded to the team which has the greatest number of falls, forfeits, and disqualifications. The third is awarded to the team which has the greatest number of individual match points added throughout the dual, discounting those scored within matches determined by pin. Rarely does it go beyond this.


While comprising a relatively small amount of the season, tournaments are how champions are crowned in wrestling. Each weight class has its own bracket that wrestlers strive to advance though, with the last man standing being named the champion. To clarify, it’s a series of individual matches. This is not the WWE. Wrestling tournaments almost always have consolation sides as well, where wrestlers who lose in any round can wrestle back to as high as third place.

The two biggest tournaments of the year are the Big Ten Tournament and the National Wrestling Championships. Not only are individual champions crowned there, but team champions too. We’ll have something for those tournaments closer to the dates (March 5-6 for the Big Ten, March 17-19 for NCAAs), but here’s a general guide to tournament scoring. There are three ways to score points for your team in a tournament: advancement points, bonus points, and placement points. Advancement points are like victory points, where a wrestler gets one or two points for winning a match and staying alive in a tournament. Bonus points occur just like in dual meets, but generally are half a point for a major, one point for a tech fall, and 1.5 or 2 points for a fall. Placement points reward a wrestler for getting to a “podium finish,” which also varies by tournaments but at NCAAs rewards the top eight finishers as All-Americans. At the end of the day, the team with the most total points from all ten weights is determined the tournament champion, be it Big Ten, NCAAs, or something else.

So, there you have it. Again, we’ll have more information about match scoring and scoring moves later in the week, but hopefully this helps get you started to understanding our oldest, and perhaps most beautiful, sport. Do you have any questions? Be sure to let us know in the comments, and I’ll do my best to answer.