UNIVERSITY PARK — Cael Sanderson called Mike McCormick one of the best officials in the country, if not the best shortly before the Penn State wrestling teams practice on Tuesday.
McCormicks resume he was awarded the lifetime achievement award for officials by the National Wrestling Hall of Fame in 2011, among other honors backs Sandersons statement.
But even the best make mistakes sometimes.
According the NCAA rulebook, McCormick, who served as the main official during No. 2 Penn States loss to No. 1 Minnesota on Sunday, erred on a call during the 149-pound bout that pitted the Nittany Lions Zack Beitz against Chris Dardanes.
With Beitz up 3-2 in the third period, Dardanes shot in and gained control of one of Beitzs legs near the edge of the mat. Beitz turned his back to Dardanes trying to kick free and the action moved out of bounds. McCormick called a technical violation on Beitz fleeing the mat and awarded Dardanes a penalty point. It tied the match and forced overtime after neither wrestler could score in the remaining 20 seconds.
Dardanes secured a takedown in a second sudden victory period to win the match and the three team points that went along with it. Minnesota won the dual 18-17.
Rule 5.13 of the NCAA rulebook states: Fleeing or attempting to flee the wrestling area, or forcing or attempting to force an opponent out of the wrestling area as a means of avoiding being scored upon, is considered stalling.
Furthermore, Rule 5.9.1 defines stalling and decrees that the first time a wrestler is called for stalling results in a warning. The second time results in a penalty point for his opponent. Beitz had not previously been warned for stalling in the match therefore Dardanes shouldnt have gotten a penalty point either way.
It wasnt the correct call per the rulebook, and the official knows that, and I think he feels pretty bad about it, Sanderson said.
Sanderson challenged the call. But after looking at replays, McCormick determined his call of fleeing the mat was correct. Sanderson blamed himself for not asking McCormick to look at the rulebook to determine the correct penalty procedure.
Sanderson said McCormick realized his mistake soon thereafter and reached out to apologize for his incorrect awarding of a penalty point after the next television timeout.
We talked about it right after the next break. He made a mistake. I made a mistake, Sanderson said. Mike may be the best official in the country. I always feel very comfortable with him. Hes a very good official, very consistent, doesnt get flustered. The crowd doesnt get to him. He just calls what he sees and hes definitely one of the best officials in the country if not the best.
Meanwhile, Beitz said he was surprised by the call and said he wouldve taken the same approach trying to prevent Dardanes from getting the takedown even if they had been in the center of the mat.
I was just trying to make sure he didnt work up to get a takedown, Beitz said. I wasnt thinking about kicking out of bounds. I just knew my leg was a little bit loose so I just kicked away.
Sanderson refused to blame his teams loss on the loss at 149. He insisted, there was still time for Beitz to come out with the win.
More than anything its tough for Zack, Sanderson said. There were still 20 seconds left and that kids good at scoring with short time. But that was obviously a big point and Zack had a chance to beat a top-3 guy. Wrong call, but thats life. It happens and you deal with it. He had more chances to score points and win in overtime, but I think Zack did a great job.
McCormick could not be reached for this story. McCormicks father Pat also a National Wrestling Hall of Famer is the president of the National Wrestling Officials Association. NWOA vice president Pat Fitzgerald did not return calls seeking comment.
Beitz solidifies status as Lions starter
Despite the loss, Sanderson has liked what hes seen out of the redshirt freshman from Mifflintown.
Hes seen enough to know he can depend on Beitz in the postseason where hell likely be Penn States Big Ten and NCAA tournament entry in the 149-pound weight class.
Beitz is 11-8 overall with wins against two of the nations top-ranked 149-pounders. Meanwhile, Beitz has been close in four bouts with other highly ranked opponents.
Thats what its looking like now, Sanderson said when asked if Beitz has locked down the spot. He keeps doing a great job when hes out there. You still have to be fair to your guys. (James) English went and wrestled this weekend and did well. He lost in the finals (of the Edinboro Open on Saturday) to Hunter Stieber who if he were wrestling hed be one of the top guys obviously in that weight class.
Sanderson said the fact that English and Andrew Alton are not 100 percent healthy has also factored into his decision.
Return trip to Oklahoma State planned
On Sunday, the No. 7 Oklahoma State Cowboys will trek to Rec Hall for a dual with Penn State.
Itll mark the first time the teams that finished first and second in last seasons NCAA tournament meet since 2010 when the Cowboys won 24-13 in the Virginia Duals. Penn State traveled to Stillwater, Okla. in 2007.
Theyll do so again next season, Sanderson confirmed. A date for the dual is still to be determined. Meanwhile, Sanderson hinted that the Nittany Lions may be working on making a weekend out of the trip but for now, Penn State doesnt have a dual with the Oklahoma Sooners set in stone.
(Maybe well) try to wrestle Oklahoma, Sanderson said. Thats just a thought.
Norman, Okla., is about 80 miles south of Stillwater.
Lawson getting closer to return
While injured heavyweight Jimmy Lawson (knee) has been walking without a brace, he still hadnt been cleared to wrestle live, Sanderson said.
The hope is that Lawson will be able to return to the teams practice mats this week.
Were not really into rushing him, Sanderson said. Id like to get him at least another match before the conference meet. Maybe two. But again, I think hell be on the mat (Tuesday). Well see.
From one Olympian to another
Sandersons Olympic exploits are well known.
A gold medalist at the 2004 Summer Games in Athens, Greece, the Olympic rings always bring a smile to Sandersons face when he sees them. Hes been smiling a lot lately, with the winter Olympics in full swing in Sochi, Russia.
I like to watch people compete and I read the interviews and just look for insight and how these guys think, Sanderson said. Its just a great story. The Olympics are such a big deal to Olympians. Its like, you cant see life without winning a gold medal, so its fun to watch them compete for it and see how they stay focused and poised.
He makes no secret what his favorite winter sport is.
Wrestling, Sanderson deadpanned.
While its not a winter Olympic sport, it pretty much has been for Sanderson and other members of the Penn State wrestling team who have spent their winters inside wrestling rooms instead of on ski slopes or on hockey rinks.
Sanderson grew up in Heber City, Utah about 20 minutes from Park City where Park City Mountain Resort is known for its skiing. Likewise, Penn State 174-pounder Matt Brown also grew up in West Valley, Utah, close to the same ski slopes as Sanderson, has also never been skiing.
When Brown was told that it was a common thought that every Utah native was a skier or snowboarder, he followed Sandersons comedic lead.
Maybe with wrestlers its a misconception, he said.
Follow Travis Johnson on Twitter @bytravisjohnson.