Missouri wrestling may have found a new home

Wednesday, June 27, 2012 | 8:03 p.m. CDT; updated 8:30 p.m. CDT, Wednesday, June 27, 2012

COLUMBIA — Missouri athletics will move to the Southeastern Conference on Sunday, but the wrestling team will not.

No SEC school has a wrestling program, which has left the Tigers in limbo since the official declaration in November.

Missouri coach Brian Smith said the team will most likely join the Western Wrestling Conference for a year and then examine the status of NCAA conference realignments. The WWC includes the University of Wyoming, the University of Northern Iowa, North Dakota State, Air Force Academy, the University of Northern Colorado, Utah Valley University and South Dakota State.

Any move will not be official until the leaders of the WWC give Missouri the OK.

If Missouri does not join the WWC, it will look at other wrestling conferences. But the Tigers see it as the best option since their conference future is not guaranteed.

The WWC is considered a regional, grouping wrestling teams without a conference. Some WWC's teams are already on Missouri's 2012-2013 schedule, including Northern Iowa, North Dakota State and South Dakota State, which Smith cited as a positive.

The complication of finding a conference home has less to do with the SEC than it does with the state of wrestling in the NCAA. With many schools changing conferences, some wrestling teams are left without a home since many conferences do not have the sport.

"It's more of a sports issue than a conference issue," Smith said. "The sport is going to have to do something."

Smith is an advocate for a "conference alliance format" in which two different conferences would join together — rivalries intact — so schools do not face the complication of not having a conference.

Missouri wrestling is not the only program dealing with conference realignment. Old Dominion University, for example, will leave the Colonial Athletic Association to join Conference USA on July 1, 2013. Its new home does not have wrestling.

Since wrestling isn't supported by every conference in the NCAA, leagues like the WWC are formed.

The WWC, the Eastern Wrestling League and the Eastern Intercollegiate Wrestling Association are all formed for the sake of the sport. Some conferences, like the PAC-12, have affiliate schools that are typically not in that conference.

Even though Missouri wrestling might not have a stable home, its upcoming season schedules should not change. Missouri will still wrestle in major tournaments and will compete against Big 12 opponents Iowa State, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State. Having competed in the four-team Big 12, a heavy non-conference schedule was not unusual for the Tigers.

As for the post-season, Missouri wrestlers will still be able to qualify for the NCAA Championships through at-large bids. At the Division I level, wrestlers qualify for the NCAA Championships based on individual performances throughout the year, including meets against non-conference teams.

Smith, who is also the president of the National Wrestling Coaches Association, said he and other coaches around the country are working on this ongoing issue of where to place programs that don't have a conference home.

The NWCA will meet in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., Aug. 3-5 for an annual convention. The conference realignment issue will be on the agenda.

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