LITTLE ROCK -- The University of Arkansas at Little Rock today unveiled a plan to add a major sport to its intercollegiate athletics program, a strategic decision that is expected to increase student enrollment. The final decision is conditional on approval from the University of Arkansas System Board of Trustees.
Chancellor Andrew Rogerson said UA Little Rock plans to add wrestling as its 15th sport, becoming the only NCAA Division I wrestling program in the state. The news was announced at the 2018 NCAA Wrestling Championships in Cleveland, Ohio, on Saturday, March 17.
Pending board approval, Little Rock wrestling will begin competition in fall 2019.
"This is exciting news for the university as we continue to elevate and grow our athletics program and find opportunities for enrollment growth," said Rogerson. "Our student-athletes as a group have the highest Division I graduation success rate in the state, so we're confident this program will bring in additional students with high GPAs and success in the classroom."
The addition of wrestling is a major milestone for both the athletics department and the sport. Arkansas has seen tremendous growth with about 200 high schools across the state supporting a wrestling program.
"Little Rock Athletics is thrilled to announce the addition of Division I wrestling to our campus," said Director of Athletics Chasse Conque. "This serves as an exciting milestone for our department, adding a program that will complement and enhance the profile of our existing 14 sports."
The idea came to fruition after a recent $1.4 million pledge from Greg Hatcher to secure funding to begin the program. The gift from Hatcher, a prominent Little Rock businessman and supporter of youth sports, will help UA Little Rock build a wrestling facility, purchase equipment, and fund operational expenditures.
"Thanks to Chancellor Andrew Rogerson and Athletic Director Chasse Conque, Little Rock and the state of Arkansas will now be the home to Division I wrestling," Hatcher said. "This will now bring wrestling at the highest level to our city in the grandest way possible, and I couldn't be happier for our city and state."
"Trojan Athletics is most grateful to Greg Hatcher for his generous commitment, helping take this from a concept to a reality," Conque said. "Greg's passion for wrestling has been felt across the entire state as interest in the sport has gained tremendous momentum in Arkansas over the last decade."
Little Rock will begin the process of seeking the program's first head coach, who will then begin recruiting student-athletes. With the addition of wrestling, as well as increased scholarship opportunities in a number of female sports, the Trojans will bring the number of student-athletes competing for Little Rock to more than 250 in the next few years.
Wrestling is not new to the Jack Stephens Center, which has served as the host venue for the Arkansas State Wrestling Championships since 2008. The Little Rock Trojans will host their home meets at the Jack Stephens Center with the first meet anticipated to take place in late 2019.
Bringing a Division I wrestling program to Little Rock has been a conversation that has been ongoing for a number of years. The decision was reached independently of the ongoing feasibility study, which is expected to conclude in late spring 2018. The possibility of adding a football and marching band program remains viable.