IRVING, Texas – UNI wrestling will be moving to the Big 12 Conference effective for the 2017-18 season.
The Big 12 has added Fresno State and Northern Iowa as affiliate members in the sport of wrestling to give the Conference a 12-team field.
The new additions will join Air Force, Iowa State, Northern Colorado, North Dakota State, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, South Dakota State, Utah Valley, West Virginia and Wyoming in future regular and postseason competition.
"We are excited to add Fresno State and Northern Iowa as affiliate members in the sport of wrestling," said Big 12 Commissioner Bob Bowlsby. "We already compete at a high national level in the sport, and look forward to welcoming coaches, student-athletes and fans from each institution."
The affiliate membership is effective immediately for the 2017-18 academic year. Northern Iowa and Fresno State will join the other Big 12 wrestling members in a regular-season scheduling alliance and will compete for the conference postseason title and automatic qualification into the NCAA championship.
"We are extremely excited that our wrestling program has been accepted into the Big 12 Conference as an affiliate member," said David Harris, UNI director of athletics. "The Big 12 is one of the best conferences in all of college athletics, and it contains some of the very best student-athletes and coaches within the sport of wrestling. We look forward to the challenge of competing in the Big 12 and expanding the brand of UNI wrestling."
The Panthers are coming off a regular-season Mid-American Conference championship, where they went 8-0 in conference duals.
"The Big 12 is predominantly one of the best conferences," said head coach Doug Schwab. "Five years ago when we made the transition to the MAC, it was the best choice at the time. It created a good rivalry with Missouri and Central Michigan and some of those other teams. Now, we have the opportunity to move to the Big 12. It puts us in a conference with Oklahoma State, one of the best teams in the country, perennially. It puts us with Iowa State, an in-state rival. We haven't been able to have that ever, so I think that adds to it. People know the Big 12. People know that name. It's a brand."
The Big 12 received the third most allocations for automatic bids to the 2017 NCAA Division I Wrestling Championships. The Big Ten continues to lead the nation. Eastern Intercollegiate Wrestling Association was No. 2 with 42 automatic bids, and the Big 12 was just behind that with 38 spots secured. UNI's former conference, the Mid-American Conference, was a close fourth with 36 bids.
Complete list of allocations in 2017:
CONFERENCE 125 133 141 149 157 165 174 184 197 285 TOTAL
Atlantic Coast Conference 3 2 3 3 4 2 3 2 2 5 29
Big 12 Conference 4 4 4 4 3 5 3 2 5 4 38
Big Ten Conference 7 9 9 6 9 7 9 9 7 5 77
Eastern Intercollegiate Wrestling Association 2 4 5 3 3 4 6 7 4 4 42
Eastern Wrestling League 3 2 2 2 1 2 1 1 1 2 17
Mid-American Conference 5 6 2 5 2 3 3 3 4 3 36
Pacific-12 Conference 1 1 3 3 2 2 2 1 3 3 21
Southern Conference 3 1 1 1 2 1 1 3 1 3 17
TOTAL QUALIFIERS 28 29 29 27 26 26 28 28 27 29 277
"At the end of the season, we looked at what was going to be the best thing for our program moving forward, not just in a year's time, but 10 to 20 years down the line," Schwab said. "We wanted what was going to be best for the program, stability-wise and competitively."
The Big 12 produced the second most All-Americans in the nation last season, with 11. The Big Ten led the way with 36. The ACC was third with nine. The MAC was fourth with eight, including Panthers Max Thomsen and Drew Foster who took fifth and seventh, respectively.
"We look forward to competing in the Big 12 and being more prepared for the national tournament," said Schwab. "In the Big 12, you are going to go through a tough tournament to get your team to nationals. We look forward to creating some more rivalries and get teams back on our schedule that we haven't had there in a while. We are very familiar with many of these teams. The end game is that we want to be more ready for March, and the Big 12 allows us to do that."
The 2018 Big 12 Wrestling Championship will take place for the second consecutive year at the BOK Center in Tulsa, Oklahoma, on March 3-4.
"I am looking forward to winning a Big 12 title," Schwab said. "Once you can do that, then you are in the hunt for a national title. The work has already started."
In addition to wrestling, the Big 12 also includes affiliate members in the sports of gymnastics and rowing.
UNI IN THE MAC
The Panthers joined the MAC on a five-year agreement in 2012 at the same time Missouri and Old Dominion joined. The Panthers competed in the 2013 conference tournament and implemented a full MAC dual schedule the following season. The Panthers secured nine MAC titles with back-to-back wins from Joey Lazor in 2013 and 2014 and Cooper Moore in 2014 and 2015.