IOWA CITY, Iowa – In Thomas Gilman’s world, there is no such thing as a bad wrestling venue.
“I welcome anything,” Gilman said Thursday while standing in the north end zone of Kinnick Stadium. “I love the snow. I love the ice. I love everything. I love Iowa.
“So if it’s negative thirty and there is ice and it’s snowing, I’ll be out there ready to go.”
Let’s hope that Mother Nature cooperates more than that when Gilman and his Iowa wrestling teammates square off against Oklahoma State on Nov. 14 at Kinnick Stadium in an unprecedented event that’s being called “The Grapple on the Gridiron.”
The match will be held hours before the Iowa football team faces Minnesota in a rare night game at Kinnick Stadium.
“They might want to go to Carver because, you know, Oklahoma State, that’s in Oklahoma, they’re not used to that cold weather,” Gilman said of the Oklahoma State wrestlers. “But I’ll be ready to go no matter what.”
What’s a wrestling match without a little trash talk to go with it?
Gilman wasn’t disrespecting the Oklahoma State wrestlers, but rather just pointing out a geographical fact that he thinks could work to Iowa’s advantage when looking for that mental edge.
The Council Bluffs native, who placed fourth at 125 pounds at the 2015 NCAA Championships, is a free spirit, even for a wrestler. All that matters to Gilman is the competition on the mat. You probably could throw him in a ring of fire, but that still wouldn’t change his approach.
“We have indoor sports and outdoor sports, but honestly, is there really a difference if we play them outside or wrestle inside or outside?” Gilman said. “I don’t think so. If we had a basketball meet in the middle of winter outside, would that change the sport at all? I want to say no.
“They’re athletes. They’re competitors. I think every athlete and competitor should experience the outside weather. It’s nice out. I’m not just saying that about right now. It’s always nice outside in Iowa.”
Gilman’s gladiator-like approach fits perfectly with what UI officials have in mind. You hope for decent weather, but if not, it’ll add to the drama and to the wrestling mystique where toughness prevails.
Gilman said he’s always imagined wrestling outside because that’s how his mind works, always looking for the next challenge. He admires Russia for staging outdoor wrestling matches as a way to promote the sport throughout the country.
“People ask about the cold weather, I love cold,” Gilman said. “I like hot, too, but I love cold.
“So if it’s thirty or twenty degrees, bring it on. I like it.”
Unfortunately, for Gilman, there is a limit to how bad the weather can be.
“Weather is important,” said Iowa Director of Athletics Gary Barta. “Obviously, that’s going to be driven by student-athlete safety. And both sides have agreed to some general concepts.”
Barta then mentioned that the average low for mid-November is 32 degrees, while the average high is 50 degrees.
“Anything between that is a go,” Barta said. “Probably, we could higher and it would be fine. Any lower than that, we’ll have to have a serious conversation.”
My guess is that Gilman wouldn’t be a part of that conversation because his standards are too extreme for most people. What he might consider nice, others would consider unacceptable.
Iowa wrestling coach Tom Brands seemed annoyed by all the concern over the weather, with the match more than three months away.
“The temperatures aren’t going to be balmy, but you never know,” Brands said. “We’re getting uptight about what the weather might be. But really, it might be a great day, too. You don’t know.
“If the weather is bad, you grow a beard and put on a stocking cap.”
The threat of bad weather is probably the only thing that could stop this event from being an overwhelming success. It’s just hard to find anything wrong with it from a competitive or a promotional point of view.
Brands said he started talking about having a match at Kinnick Stadium in 2008. He knew it would help promote the sport, while also giving Iowa a chance to set an attendance record.
That’s part of the motivation for wrestling at Kinnick Stadium, to break the current attendance record held by Penn State.
A scheduling conflict kept Penn State from being considered for the Nov. 14 match at Kinnick Stadium.
Oklahoma State is hardly a consolation prize, though.
Combine Oklahoma State’s status as an elite program with the willingness of its head coach to accept Iowa’s challenge and the pieces will be in place for a classic showdown.
“I called John Smith and he was on board immediately,” Brands said of Oklahoma State’s veteran head coach. “He was excited and didn’t even hesitate. It wasn’t what are you talking about? Wait a minute. Let me get this straight. It was, we’re in.”
Brands called Smith a wrestling purist who seeks out adventure.
“He’s shot cape buffalo with a bow in Africa,” Brands said of Smith. “And that’s saying something right there. He’s probably my kind of guy when it comes to adventure.
“I don’t think we’re going to hang out together anytime soon. But certainly, there is a lot of like-mindedness there. He didn’t hesitate at all, though. And that’s a tribute to his program and to what he’s trying to do with his team as well.”
Brands then issued a warning, or maybe it was just a reminder about who the Hawkeyes will face at Kinnick Stadium
“Make no mistake about it, I’ll say, this, they’re coming in for blood,” Brands said of Oklahoma State.
Blood mixed with snow and perhaps 25,000 fans sounds like an event we’ll talk about for years to come.
Barta declined to say whether UI officials are considering hosting other matches outside.
My hope is that this will be the start of a new tradition in college wrestling where the elite programs try to top each other on and off the mat.
It wouldn’t surprise me if Penn State coach Cael Sanderson already is thinking of a counter move because that’s part of wrestling and part of business.
College wrestling has to be more creative in order to grow the sport’s popularity. The University of Iowa will certainly help that cause on Nov. 14.