The Missouri Tigers wrestling program faces major changes after the university announced its decision Sunday to leave the Big 12 Conference for the SEC, which is not currently a home to a single Division-I wrestling program.
Although the wrestling program, ranked No. 9 in preseason polls, will not be a casualty of conference realignment, where the Tigers will wrestle is still up in the air. Their decision is one that could set forth a series of major changes in the landscape of collegiate wrestling.
“Our wrestling community has a demonstrated history of adapting to change and this situation will be no different,” said Mike Moyer, National Wresting Coaches Association executive director. “The NWCA is currently developing and evaluating several promising conference and regional models that will position our sport to enjoy unprecedented success that would not otherwise be possible without realignment.”
MU could continue to wrestle against teams in the Big 12, which will add West Virginia to the mix next season. The Western Wrestling Conference and Southern Conference are also options being considered by the NWCA.
“The National Wrestling Coaches Association has been preparing for these changes in regards to how they will impact both Mizzou and the remaining Big 12 Conference programs,” coach Brian Smith said. “We know that Missouri is going to end up in a great situation. I am extremely confident in Chancellor Deaton’s decision.”
Wrestling is a non-revenue sport for MU, but that hasn’t caused a lack of support from the athletic department, Smith said. The university has invested close to $400,000 in the facilities since Smith took over the program in 1998, turning the complex into a regional Olympic training center. The result has been more exposure for the wrestling team.
“Our fan base has grown a lot through the university,” redshirt freshman heavyweight Devin Mellon said. “I think it will continue to grow as the wrestling gets more competitive. This team could bring in a lot of attention.”
Despite some uncertainty surrounding the program’s future, the Tigers remain excited for the change and what it could mean for the program.
“We have a top 10 program, and we’re still growing,” sophomore Alan Waters said. “I think as long as we keep improving, we should be able to go with any team out there, regardless of the conference. We’ve done it before and we’ll keep doing so.”
Smith has built the Missouri wrestling program to withstand any amount of change. The program has produced 26 All-Americans, an Olympic qualifier and a junior freestyle world champion in the past 10 seasons alone.
“We’re still just going to wrestle,” Mellon said. “The only thing that’s going to change is who we’re wrestling before the national tournament. We’re going to be fine.”
For now, the Missouri Tigers are focused on Sunday’s season opener at home against the Purdue Boilermakers. Everything else is a waiting game.