IBM v. Everyone Else: A History Lesson for State Wrestling Associations

During the 1970s, a group of companies developed and published a low cost, simple and high speed method for transmitting information between computers.  At that time, computers operated mostly in isolation and a “standard” way for sending information from one device to another was needed. This multi-vendor supported method of communication was well-documented and thereafter made freely available without restriction.  

IBM, not aligned with this multi-vendor initiative, developed a competing and incompatible method for inter-computer communication.  As was its nature at the time, IBM worked mostly in isolation from other vendors intending --  by virtue of its market dominance --  to establish their competing “standard” as the leading technology for computer-to-computer communication.  

The ensuing war between IBM’s method and the multi-vendor method played out in the 80s and early 90s.  Despite its size, market power and technical prowess, IBM didn’t gain any any traction and its closely held method for computer communication is now practically obsolete. IBM lost the war.

Why did IBM lose?

IBM lost because its method for computer communication was not accessible in any meaningful way to other interested companies. IBM closely guarded their method and its use which, in turn, impeded its adoption by other companies. In contrast, the multivendor method thrived by virtue of its accessibility, simplicity and cost-effectiveness. Today, this method is implemented in hundreds of millions (probably billions) of computing and other devices manufactured by thousands of vendors.

Relevance for Scholastic Wrestling

Every year, most state wrestling associations require their member schools to weight-certify participating wrestlers. Today’s pre-eminent weight-certification methodology, the National Wrestling Coaches Association’s (NWCA) patented Optimal Performance Calculator (OPC), works well enough and is used by most states. In 2014, the NWCA engaged TrackWrestling to administer the database generated by the OPC weight certification process. Similar to IBM’s closed approach to computer communication, the NWCA does not permit other companies to access to the weight certification database. Indeed, the NWCA and Trackwrestling create the appearance of owning the data when, in fact, the state wrestling associations (and their respective member schools), paid for creating the data.

The weight certification database is foundationally necessary to many companies whose mission is developing products for the wrestling community.  Yet, this state association-owned data remains unavailable to any company except for TrackWrestling.  The NWCA has conferred monopoly status to a single vendor in the use of state-owned weight-certification data to the detriment of the wrestling community.

Call to Action

Each state wrestling association should insist that their weight certification data -- state, school, wrestler name, grade, alpha weight, minimum weight class (MWC) -- be made easily and programmatically available to any organization.  Even better, the states should donate their certification data to an independent third party which could then create an accessible and free repository of the basic information.  The certification database for the entire country is extremely small so the technical effort is trivial.  But, getting the state associations to assert their legitimate ownership rights to the certification data and take action to make that data work for the benefit of wrestling is, perhaps, not so trivial. The NWCA will balk and complain for no good reason.  TrackWrestling will reflexively feel threatened. Yet, the case for openness is unequivocally compelling and history shows that openness spurs innovation and widespread adoption of good ideas.  And, the OPC is more than good: it is a great idea.  But, having it locked away in a digital safe for the benefit of a single company isn’t good for wrestling.

Don’t be IBM.  Open up the weight certification database.


Takedown Scoring and Stats is a single-team focused, mobile app for scoring wrestling matches, recording video, creating stats, managing teams and rosters, and engaging fans via social media. Download from the App Store.

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