Iowa wrestler Nelson Brands to return after betting suspension

Iowa All-America wrestler Nelson Brands, whom the NCAA suspended last season for sports wagering, has been granted an additional year of eligibility.

Brands announced Tuesday night on social media that he will be back for the 2024-25 season, joking that Kenny Rogers' hit "The Gambler" should accompany his return to the mat.

Brands, the nephew of Iowa coach Tom Brands and son of Hawkeyes associate head coach Terry Brands, applied for a medical hardship waiver after a torn ulnar collateral ligament shortened his 2021-22 season. Nelson earned All-America honors during the 2022-23 season and finished fifth in the NCAA championship at 174 pounds.

He was among a group of Iowa and Iowa State athletes who faced penalties resulting from the state's investigation into sports wagering in the spring of 2023. Brands never faced criminal charges and was of age when he made the wagers, but he was suspended by the NCAA for wagering on Iowa's football team.

The NCAA in December denied Brands' appeal, and Brands announced then on social media that his college career was over. Three other Hawkeyes wrestlers also faced NCAA suspensions amid the sports wagering investigation.

But Brands ultimately pursued the hardship waiver and told ESPN in April that he expected it to be granted.

"I'm working towards that to maybe cushion the blow," Brands told ESPN. "It just sucks for the seniors that don't have the opportunity I have to get another year. Their careers are done."

Brands said he used DraftKings in the fall of 2022 to make wagers after seeing an advertisement on social media offering $200 in free bets. He soon got "bored" and stopped making wagers when wrestling season began. Brands said his wagers on Iowa football, totaling $55, to go over the points total in games led to his seasonlong suspension. He did not wager on any other Iowa sport, although he made bets in professional sports.

"I lost all of it because I was betting on the over for Iowa because I'm a fan and I want Iowa to do well," he said. "It was one of those situations where I was going against the norm because I'm a fan and I wanted them to win."

Brands is among the 26 current and former athletes in Iowa who last month filed a federal lawsuit against the state, alleging investigators with the Division of Criminal Investigations violated their constitutional rights by using geolocation software to track wagering activity on their cellphones.

"I'm not a bad person because I gambled," Brands said. "I'm still a guy who can have morals. People understanding that what I did was not illegal, it wasn't against the law. I was just a kid being a kid, making a mistake."