No Jayhawks, Wildcats or Longhorns will compete in the Big 12 Wrestling Championship on Saturday and Sunday at the Sprint Center.
But the Bison, Jackrabbits, Falcons and Wolverines will battle under the conference banner.
For the first time, the Big 12 Wrestling Championship is a 10-team competition on the strength of six newcomers as affiliate members.
Air Force, Wyoming, South Dakota State, North Dakota State, Northern Colorado and Utah Valley join Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Iowa State and West Virginia for the event.
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The newbies are former members of the Western Wrestling Conference, but on this weekend they’re part of a power five conference.
“Being associated with the Big 12, with its nationally strong programs and its history, it helps us in a lot of ways,” said Wyoming coach Mark Branch, a former All-American and assistant coach at Oklahoma State. “It helps in recruiting and with our stature and image.”
Affiliate membership has long been part of the college sports, and wrestling is of one of three sports in which the Big 12 goes outside its footprint for competition. Denver competes in gymnastics. Alabama, Tennessee and Old Dominion join Kansas, Kansas State, Oklahoma and West Virginia for the Big 12 Rowing Championship.
The Big 12 had five wresting programs until realignment took Nebraska and Missouri to the Big Ten and Southeastern Conference, with the Tigers now wrestling in the Mid-American Conference. West Virginia brought a fourth wrestling team to the Big 12.
With four teams competing, the NCAA had granted the Big 12 a waiver for its conference champions and runners-up to be granted automatic qualification to the national meet.
But the waiver wasn’t granted last year. Big 12 wrestlers advanced to the NCAA only as at-large invitees. Now, there is strength in numbers.
The 10-team championship is the largest in league history and first since 2005 not on a college campus. It will be the first over a two-day period.
“We had a three-hour event, and it didn’t feel much like a big-time conference tournament,” Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby said. “So our coaches started looking at alternatives.”
The Big 12 was awarded 36 NCAA Championship qualifying spots, at least three in each of the 10 weight classes. After conference championships are concluded 46 more qualifiers will be selected. All weight classes at the NCAA Championships at Madison Square Garden in New York March 17-19 will include 33 wrestlers.
Last year, the Big 12 had 25 wrestlers compete in the NCAA Championships.
Kansas City will be the site of a major wrestling event for the first time since 2003, when Kemper Arena was the site of the NCAA Championships. Oklahoma State won the first of four straight NCAA titles at the event.
“When Kansas City held the NCAA, that was a great location for our sport,” Branch said. “We were all pretty much in favor of a central location.”
Oklahoma State is the highest ranked team entering the postseason, No. 5 in the USA Today/National Wrestling Coaches Association poll. Oklahoma is 11th, Iowa State 17th and South Dakota State 21st.
The event begins at 11 a.m. Saturday with preliminary and quarterfinal matches. The finals begin at 1 p.m. on Sunday.
Big 12 wrestling tournament
WHO: Iowa State, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and West Virginia wrestlers will compete against affiliate members Air Force, Northern Colorado, North Dakota State, South Dakota State, Utah Valley and Wyoming.
WHEN: Saturday, March 5 and Sunday, March 6
WHERE: Sprint Center
TICKETS: Start at $40. Available at Sprint Center box office, SprintCenter.com, or by phone at 888-929-7849
SCHEDULE: Session 1, 11 a.m. March 5, preliminary and quarterfinal matches; Session 2, 5 p.m. March 5, semifinal and consolation quarterfinal matches; Session 3, 9 a.m. March 6, consolation semifinals, third- and fifth-place matches; Session 4, 1 p.m. March 6, championship matches.