By Request: Wrestling Rules & Scoring

Hey guys, as most of you know, I've been trying to provide BTP coverage of our outstanding wrestling team this season. Unfortunately, I sort of overlooked a pretty major part of my journey to endearing you all to the sport - and that was actually explaining the rules. Wrestling has been a pretty huge part of my life for the last 13 years, so I forgot how difficult it can be to pick up on the rules and scoring when you're not as familiar. After a couple requests from some of you all, I decided to put this post together to highlight some of the things you will see from match to match. Wrestling is very situational, so there is something specific I will likely miss, but I'll try to hit on the main things.

There are three styles of wrestling: folkstyle (the style used in college and most high school competition), freestyle (the most widely-recognized style internationally, style used at Olympic and World competitions on the Senior level), and Greco-Roman (less popular international style, used at the Olympic and World competitions also). They each have different rule-sets, but for our purposes I will stick with folkstyle.

In college wrestling, there are two kinds of competitions: duals and tournaments.


A dual is a direct competition with another team, where each squad is composed of ten wrestlers: one at each of ten different weight classes. Each team sends out their respective wrestlers to compete and earn points for their team. You can earn your team 3-6 points for varying margins of victory.

  • Decision (3 team points): you beat your opponent by 1-7 points
  • Major decision (4 team points): you beat your opponent by 8-14 points
  • Technical fall (5 team points): you are beating your opponent by 15 or more points, resulting in an immediate stoppage of the match
  • Fall/Pin (6 team points): you pin both of your opponents' shoulder blades to the mat for 1 second, resulting in an immediate stoppage of the match
  • Injury default (6 team points): your opponent cannot finish the match due to injury
  • Forfeit (6 team points): the opposing team does not send out a wrestler at your weight class

The team that has the highest point total after the ten individual bouts is declared the winner of the dual.


Depending on the tournament, each team gets an entry at each weight class, which is then assigned into a seeded bracket. You earn points for your team's total based on how far each guy advances in their bracket, their final placements, and can earn bonus points if you win by major, tech fall, or pin in any of your individual matches.

Scores are tallied up to reflect the total from each competitor's placement. At NCAAs, each team is not guaranteed an entry at each weight. You must earn it with your body of work throughout the season. Therefore, some teams will start with more national qualifiers, and thus, higher scoring potential than other teams.

Match Scoring

Every match starts with two opposing wrestlers, designated with a red or green ankle band. This will correspond with the referee’s wrist bands, and the color of each guy’s score on the scoreboard. Matches are seven minutes long - the first period is 3 minutes, and the second and third are each 2. The match begins with the wrestlers in the neutral position. In the second period, one wrestler (usually determined by coin flip) gets to choose their preferred starting position (top, bottom, neutral, or defer their choice to the third period). Then in the third, the choice swaps, with the other wrestler getting to choose. At the end of the third period the wrestler with the higher score (if not already ended by tech fall or pin) will be declared the winner. If the score is tied, the wrestlers go to a 1-minute sudden victory overtime period, where the first score wins. If still tied, they go to two 30-second rideout tiebreakers. This process is repeated once more if still tied. If still undecided, the wrestler with the greater amount of riding time wins.


  • Takedown (2 points): Neutral position -> top - taking your opponent to the mat and gaining top control from the neutral position. This usually involves being around & behind your opponent, covering the hips, with their weight on some third point of contact other than their feet (a hand, a knee, a hip, their butt)
  • Escape (1 point): Bottom position -> neutral - escaping from your opponent's top control and returning back to the standing neutral position
  • Reversal (2 points): Bottom position -> top - reversing your opponent's top control straight into your top control without making it to the neutral position
  • Near-fall/Back Points (2 or 4 points): holding your opponent on their back, in a near pinning position, from the top position. Shoulder blades must be within 4 inches of the mat and must break a 45 degree angle. The referee will begin swiping his arm for a count. If the referee gets to a 2-count, you earn 2 points. If the referee gets to a 4-count, you earn 4 points. In order for the referee to award you your points, you must release the turning hold.
  • Stalling: if your opponent is evading action, or just generally appearing to waste time without advancing toward a scoring combination, the referee will (sometimes) hit them with a stalling warning. Each wrestler gets one warning. The second such warning results in 1 point for the opponent. On the rare occasion that a fifth stalling violation is awarded to a single wrestler, the match is ended in a disqualification.
  • Caution: If your opponent false starts before the whistle, he will be hit with a caution. Each wrestler gets two caution warnings. On the third caution, the opposing wrestler gets 1 point.
  • Riding time (1 point): whenever a wrestler is in the top position they will begin accruing what is called riding time. There is a secondary clock which begins counting up (or down) to show which wrestler owns the advantage in riding time. For example, if Wrestler A accrues 1:00 of riding time in the first period but takes the bottom position in the second, his riding time will start going down for as long as he remains in that position. Once the time reaches 0:00 and Wrestler B is still on top, the clock will then begin ticking in the positive direction for Wrestler B. If either wrestler finishes the match with 1-minute or more of net riding time, they will be awarded 1 point.

These are the basic rules of college wrestling, but I understand it can be difficult to associate the words above with the actual sequences. So check out this video, which does a good job of explaining with some live-action examples.

I hope this helps each of you enjoy the action a little bit more!