The wrestling programs at the University of Northern Iowa and Fresno State will be joining the Big 12 as affiliate members, effective for the 2017-18 season.
An official announcement is not planned until July 1. However, in recent days, various media outlets in Iowa have been reporting that the Big 12 was welcoming the UNI Panthers.
IAwrestle.com, a website covering wrestling in the state of Iowa, late last week provided a wider picture of the conference expansion that goes beyond the Cedar Falls, Iowa-based university.
"The Big 12 will also add the newly reformed team out of Fresno State to its ranks, Associate Big 12 Commissioner Bob Burda told IAwrestle.com in a phone interview earlier today ..."
California State University, Fresno resurrected its wrestling program which had been eliminated due to budget cuts in 2008. This fall, the Fresno State Bulldogs will take to the mats for the first time in nearly a decade.
"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 told Iawrestle.com. "With the addition of Northern Iowa and Fresno State the conference will be stronger going forward."
With these changes effective this fall, there will now be twelve wrestling programs in the Big 12, including full-fledged members Iowa State, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, and West Virginia ... as well as wrestling affiliate members Air Force, Northern Colorado, Wyoming, Utah Valley, South Dakota State and North Dakota State which were part of the Western Wrestling Conference ... and, now, Northern Iowa and Fresno State.
UNI has already notified the Mid-American Conference that it would be leaving its present conference home of the past five years. (The MAC recently announced it would be welcoming the wrestling program at Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville.)
Northern Iowa wrestling has attempted to join the Big 12 in the past, most notably five years ago ... and then again just last fall.
"We tried to get in the Big 12 before and they weren't open to it and now they are," UNI head wrestling coach Doug Schwab told the (Cedar Rapids) Gazette this week. "I'm excited because you do have perennial powers like Oklahoma State, Oklahoma and Iowa State, an in-state rival. I think that's something to me. Not that I need too much to get excited for competition but I think having that is a big deal."
"There's a lot of pieces to it. It wasn't just one thing," Schwab continued. "We were kind of looking at the big picture, too. It's not just going to be a benefit for a year or two, but for 20, 30 and 40 years from now.
"It's one of the premier conferences in the sport. It elevates the program in a lot of ways."
UNI Athletic Director David Harris also weighed in on the move, telling IAwrestle.com, "We are extremely excited that our wrestling program has been accepted into the Big 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."