2021 NCAA All-American Jake Woodley (Photo courtesy of Tony Rotundo; WrestlersAreWarriors.com)
It was recently reported that OU and Texas are moving to the SEC, and now the college sports world is abuzz regarding conference realignment. Will more schools leave the Big 12? Where will they go? Will the conference fall apart?
All of this is very speculative and who really knows what could happen? But I thought it would be interesting to take a look at logically where we could potentially see some of these schools wind up.
Oklahoma-MAC/PAC 12/Big 12? /SoCon
This is one school that will almost certainly be changing conferences. The SEC doesn't have wrestling and they'll need to find a new home soon. Mizzou went to the MAC when they moved to the SEC and are about to return to the Big 12. So that's a bit of a natural direction we could see OU going. The Pac-12 has also made a push to grow their wrestling profile and could make a move for OU, and I think there is one farfetched, but somewhat feasible scenario I could see them staying in the Big 12.
If the conference stays alive but shifts dramatically. Hypothetical example. Texas Tech, West Virginia, Oklahoma State, Kansas, and Iowa State all bail for other power 5 conferences, and are replaced by Air Force, Navy, Houston, SMU, and Wyoming, then the total composition of the Big 12 will shift and the new powers that be may not mind having OU in the conference for wrestling as ultimately their exit will be a positive thing for them and their brand.
But if it basically stays as it is, then there's almost no way I could see OU being allowed to stay in the Big 12.
The final possibility I'll throw in is the SOCON. Hey, the SEC is in the south, right? To an extent, I have a hard time seeing this play out, though.
Oklahoma State-Big Ten/Big 12/PAC 12
The Big Ten is the best situation for Oklahoma State across their entire athletic department, and I would argue it is the best situation for wrestling. A few extra high-profile televised duals every year with PSU, Ohio State, etc.… every few seasons, continued rivalries with Iowa, with an added edge of seeing them at the conference tournament every year. All the way around, it's a positive thing.
The question is, does the Big Ten take them? They're currently in talks reportedly, but there are hurdles. OSU's certainly the most marketable program remaining in the conference and makes a lot of sense in the Big Ten, but who knows how that will play out?
The Pac-12 may be where they wind up, but the Pac-12 is certainly not the wrestling power that is the Big Ten, and in many ways could be a slight step down from what a Big 12 with Oklahoma State, Missouri, OU, etc.… would have been.
The final option would be the Big 12 holding in its current form and Oklahoma State staying put.
There's maybe a very slight chance they could somehow wind up in the ACC, though that doesn't seem likely to me. But hey, all bets are off to an extent with this conference realignment stuff.
Iowa State-Big Ten/Big 12/PAC 12
Iowa State's situation seems to almost mirror Oklahoma State's. You could naturally see them going to the Big Ten to join their in-state rival, Iowa. If the Big 12 stays together, that's a possibility, and the PAC 12 is also out there. If the Big Ten were to expand, Iowa State and Oklahoma State as a pair make a lot of sense, though Kansas is rumored to be a candidate also.
West Virginia-ACC/Big 12
If the SEC picking up Texas and OU is a domino that starts conferences across the country doing more of the same, WVU to the ACC is a natural fit. Geographically, they don't make a ton of sense with their current conference in the Big 12, and they have already reached out to the ACC. It seems almost a given that if the Big 12 goes away, the ACC would be a natural landing spot for WVU. If the Big 12 holds, they may be one of the schools that stays.
Missouri-MAC/PAC 12/Big 12
What a weird world? Mizzou comes back to the Big 12 as the conference seems on the verge of potential collapse. They could just jump back to the MAC potentially. The Pac-12 would seem to be an option, even though it's not a great geographical fit. Little Rock joined the Pac-12 and is nowhere near most of the other member schools. Then if the Big 12 holds in some form, they could stay.
Northern Iowa-MAC/Big 12
If the Big 12 holds, Northern Iowa could easily stay; if it folds, a return to the MAC is a definite potential landing spot for Northern Iowa.
If things break that way and Oklahoma, Missouri, and Northern Iowa all head that direction, the MAC suddenly becomes a very strong wrestling conference.
Air Force, Wyoming, North Dakota State-Big 12/PAC 12
I have two schools of thought with these three teams and the Big 12.
The conference could hold; they'll likely all stay as wrestling members.
They're the only affiliate members I could see with formidable enough football programs to get picked up by the Big 12.
There are so many different directions the main body of the Big 12 could go, but these three programs theoretically "could" find themselves as full members of the transformed Big 12 conference we may see come out of all this realignment. North Dakota State would need to move from FCS to FBS, but they are the powerhouse program of the FCS and have historically beaten FBS teams. Air Force has a strong following and is in the region not far from some Big 12 schools. If a few current Big 12 schools jump ship, maybe this is who replaces them? If that were to occur, that would be a definite shot in the arm for wrestling in the Big 12, because if schools bolt and are replaced by non-wrestling schools, it's going to be damaging for the sport in the conference.
If those things don't happen and the Big 12, or at least wrestling in the conference folds, the Pac-12 would almost certainly be the landing spot for these three schools.
Northern Colorado, South Dakota State, Utah Valley, Cal Baptist-Big 12/PAC 12
I think it's fairly straightforward with these. If the Big 12 stays, they probably remain in the Big 12. If it folds, the Pac-12 is probably their destination. Outside shot, South Dakota State could maybe go to the MAC. It's pretty centrally located between the two conferences.
Ultimately no one knows how this thing is going to shake out and it's all pretty much speculation at this point, but there's almost certain to be some more shifts in the Big 12 conference after this initial domino with OU and Texas has fallen and it's interesting to wonder what's going to happen with the conference and their wrestling members.