We learned last week of Northern Iowa’s intention to join the Big 12 conference for wrestling, but it turns out that the conference didn’t have it’s eyes only on the Panthers. The Big 12 will also add the newly reformed team out of Fresno State to it’s ranks, Associate Big 12 Commissioner Bob Burda told IAwrestle.com in a phone interview earlier today. Fox Sports first reported the news that Fresno would be added to the Big 12 back on June 2nd.
“With the addition of our other affiliates (the Big 12 added the old Western Wrestling Conference schools five years ago) we were looking for other options to expand,” Burda said. “With the addition of Northern Iowa and Fresno State the conference will be stronger going forward.”
The official announcement is set to take place July 1st.
UNI is leaving the MAC after going a perfect 8-0 in conference duals, taking the regular-season title from Missouri in a dual that saw seven Panthers score a win. The Tigers would come back and win their fifth MAC Conference Tournament title.
As for UNI’s departure from the Mid-American Conference, Commissioner Dr. Jon Steinbrecher had “intentions” to re-sign the Panthers to a new affiliate contract, and that it was entirely UNI’s decision to leave the conference. Northern Iowa gave the MAC official word they were leaving the conference either June 6th or 7th.
“We were informed by Northern Iowa that they would not be interested in re-signing on [as an affiliate member] today or yesterday,” Steinbrecher said during a phone interview June 7th. “We have added another affiliate [Southern Illinois-Edwardsville], we have had past success and want to continue to do well in wrestling.”
UNI’s Head Coach Doug Schwab spoke with us earlier today as well and spoke about the move:
“It’s something that, we sat down with the administration and just figured out what we thought was going to be the best as a program moving forward. Not just next year, but 10, 20 years down the line. To me it just makes a lot of sense.
“We enjoyed the MAC, it was a step up from where we were at, but I think this is another step up. The better competition that we face during the year will better prepare us for the national tournament.”
Missouri has re-signed with the MAC, as their contract was up at the end of the 2016-17 season. Old Dominion has one year left on their original affiliate deal, as they signed on to start the 2013-14 season. It is unclear at this time for how long Missouri’s deal is with the conference.
With the addition of UNI and Fresno, the Big 12 still has no plans to create a regular-season dual championship, Burda said. The schools of the conference will continue to have a “scheduling alliance,” but seemingly have no obligation to wrestle all of the other schools in the conference.
“Scheduling has been a little bit rough right now, there were some things that had to get cleared first [the move to the Big 12],” Schwab said. I know that we’re going to wrestle probably four Big 12 teams for sure, but we’d like to get a couple more on there.” Schwab indicated that UNI would wrestle Iowa State at home, North Dakota State (undetermined where that would be), at South Dakota State, and at Oklahoma State.
Previously the only confirmed date that between UNI and a Big 12 school was the Panthers traveling to SDSU on January 21st. Schwab doesn’t expect to fill all the non-conference dates that are available to UNI. He did say that he hopes to keep Missouri on the schedule.
“I think they’re going to stay on the schedule. It just makes sense, with where were at. It’s less than five hours away, they’ve been a great team, top ten the last how many years. It’s good for them, it’s good for us. There’s been a little rivalry created, we’ll be able to keep that.”
Overall Schwab praised the move his program is making, focusing on the new, tougher competition that the Big 12 provides overall and the ability to better prepare for the national tournament.
“You’ve got to look at everything as a whole, what we feel like is the absolute best thing for us. It’s not like this is anything new, teams are moving conferences all over the place in every sport. They’re trying to align themselves in the best position possible and that’s what we’re trying to do.”
Update – UNI Athletic Director David Harris had this to say about the move to the Big 12:
“We are extremely excited that our wrestling program has been accepted into the Bg 12 Conference as an affiliate member.
“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.”