Editor's Note: The following was a post I wrote on the blog I ran at InterMat and cross-posted to ArmchairGM back on July 11, 2007. I’d contributed a few wrestling stories to Armchair that year, but after reading some of the rants of some regular (read: non-wrestling) sports fans, I figured I’d make a point about why Ben Askren should win the ESPY Award for Best College Athlete. It's kind of relevant again in the wake of Baker Mayfield taking the honor when a three-time NCAA champion and World champion (psst, Kyle Snyder) wasn't even nominated in the category. The story is below.
I’m guessing the folks here at ArmChairGM aren’t familiar with 174-pound wrestler Ben Askren.
I’m also fairly confident the same folks know the names Kevin Durant, Greg Oden and Troy Smith.
Two of the four will be making big money on the professional stage next year, while Smith was a fifth-round draft pick. He’ll still garner a sizeable income.
The last of the four will be working on a graduate degree and have the title of “volunteer” attached to his job title. There will be no big signing bonuses for one of the four – and that one is Askren.
Here’s a few reasons why Askren, a two-time NCAA champion and four-time finalist for the University of Missouri “should” win. However, we’re realists in the wrestling world. We know the mainstream masses won’t give the afro-laden Askren a second-thought.
Askren was recently named the Big 12 Male Athlete of the Year. That’s right; he won the award from the conference in which Durant competed. So if there was a “rational” thought in this voting process, Askren would win by process of elimination, right?
So the Associated Press’ National Player of the Year was behind a wrestler in the Big 12.
If I were Askren and the conference tells me I’m the best male athlete – over the National Player of the Year — I’d be waiting for sponsorships and shoe contracts to come rolling in. Maybe a Gatorade plug or something with Snickers. But wrestlers don’t get that type of love from the big companies. Sure, Askren’s endorses Brute/adidas wrestling, but that doesn’t bring in the seven-figure endorsement deals 19-year-old seven-footers are entitled to these days.
This brings us to Troy Smith, who shouldn’t be considered either. Why? He wasn’t even the Big Ten athlete of the Year, but to his defense, did walk away with probably the most prestigious trophy in all of college sports.
The Heisman Trophy winning quarterback wasn’t named the Big Ten/Jesse Owens Male Athlete of the Year. That honor went to – a wrestler.
Minnesota heavyweight Cole Konrad, who, like Askren, is a Wisconsin native and went undefeated his last two years won the Big Ten’s award for Male Athlete of the Year. Score one for the little guy (and by little guy, I mean wrestling, not Konrad, he’s a very big guy.)
Askren gets the nod with an assist from King Cole.
Actually, now that I think about it, give Konrad another assist since Oden also plays in the Big Ten and wasn’t even his school’s own nominee for Best Male Athlete. In case you’re wondering
So there’s only one clear-cut winner at the conference level in ESPN’s voting pool, which concluded just days ago.
Reasons why Ben Askren should win the ESPY for Best Male Athlete.
(Note: This list was compiled in 2007, it's out of date for 2018 with its statistics of historical relevance)
- He finished his career with 87 straight wins, made the finals of the NCAA Division I Championships four times and came away with two championships. His career record was 153-8.He went 42-0 in 2007.
- Askren is the first and only wrestler at the University of Missouri to win an NCAA title. The Tigers also were ranked #1 for the first time in school history this season during a three-week stretch in January.
- Askren led the nation in pins in 2007 and led Division I in 2006. He calls his signature cradle “the world’s greatest unknown move.”
- Askren won the Dan Hodge Trophy – a.k.a. wrestling’s Heisman – twice.
- During the season, Askren pinned the second-ranked wrestler in the nation in under a minute. Of his 29 wins by pin, 23 of them were in the first period.
- Askren made it cool again for white folks to have an afro. (It's a joke, people)
- Askren has 91 career pins, third all-time in collegiate wrestling.
- Askren is one of only 12 wrestles in the modern era (post-1950) to make the NCAA Finals every single year of his career (Updated Note: As of 2007).
- Askren would only be the second wrestler ever to win the category. Current Iowa State head coach Cael Sanderson, you know, the undefeated guy and gold medalist, won in 2002.
- Askren is the second wrestler to win the Big 12 Male Athlete of the Year award since the conference expanded from the Big 8. Sanderson was the other.
- Askren was a four-time selection to the NWCA and Big 12 All-Academic Teams.
- Wrestling’s a sport where you have to win something directly to become an All-American. There are no “named” All-Americans, you place top eight, and you’re an All-American. Askren did it four times.
- Reasons to vote for either Askren or Smith: They graduated.
- Askren can bench press more than 185 pounds. (Don't remember the reference? Link)
(Image from above linked story)
- There are 62 facebook groups listed when you search for ESPY. Askren has four different groups pushing him for the award, and one was started by Askren himself.
- Askren recently placed sixth at the St. Louis Open – in disc golf. In 2006, he placed 46th in the PDGA Amateur Disc Golf World Championships.
For Smith, Durant and Oden, it’s really hard to match the career of Askren on just stats alone. Durant and Oden might have had a shot at the argument, had they competed all four years.