Conference realignment not a concern for Missouri wrestlers

Wednesday, November 9, 2011 | 10:28 p.m. CST; updated 11:19 p.m. CST, Wednesday, November 9, 2011

COLUMBIA — The Missouri wrestling program will soon be without a home.

When Missouri’s long-awaited move from the Big 12 to the Southeastern Conference became official Sunday, one concern was what the Tigers wrestling team will do in a conference that has no other wrestling programs.

But Missouri wrestling coach Brian Smith said he isn’t concerned because the Tigers' schedule won't change, and they will still be able to compete nationally in the NCAA Tournament.

This season, Missouri, Oklahoma State, Oklahoma and Iowa State are the only Big 12 Conference schools with wrestling teams. West Virgina, which has a wrestling program, will step in for Missouri next season. Still, it's not enough to make a difference at a conference tournament.  

“We’re not getting an automatic (team) champion qualifier at the Big 12 this year, and it’s because we’re below six teams,” Smith said.

But even though a conference needs six teams in order to have automatic team qualifier to the NCAA tournament, the Big 12 teams can qualify for national competition by advancing individual wrestlers in each of the 10 weight classes at the conference tournament.

If a school has wrestlers from nine different weight classes qualify for nationals, then those individuals results in the NCAA tournament make up the school's team score in the competition. Missouri wrestlers will still be able to earn at-large berths to the NCAA Tournament.

Mike Finn, editor of WIN Magazine, said that when Missouri is in the SEC next year, it is possible the wrestling program will join an entirely new region.

“My sense is, a separate wrestling conference in the west will be created, similar to the EIWA (Eastern Intercollegiate Wrestling Association), where teams will be competing on a regional level,” Finn said.

Smith said decisions about regional competition might come down to travel expenses, and that is being looked at.

Even if that does come to fruition, however, Finn said Missouri will not stop competing with Oklahoma and Oklahoma State in wrestling because the programs are too strong. Oklahoma State has won a record 34 NCAA Wrestling Team Championships.

Missouri is currently ranked 14th in the country by WIN Magazine, and 12th by InterMat Wrestling.

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