COLUMBIA, Mo. — While most of Missouri celebrates the Tigers joining the Southeastern Conference, one of its major programs is feeling a bit differently.
Like lonely and stranded.
Because no SEC schools have wrestling teams, the Tigers are adrift.
“I’d lie to you if I said (the SEC) was great for our program,” MU wrestling coach Brian Smith told the Columbia Daily Tribune.
It appeared the problem was headed toward a solution last week, but now the Tigers will likely wait until August for an answer.
In June, Smith told multiple media outlets he planned to join the Western Wrestling Conference, a wrestling-only league composed of Air Force, Northern Colorado, North Dakota State, Northern Iowa, South Dakota State, Utah Valley and Wyoming.
But North Dakota State Athletic Director Gene Taylor said Missouri AD Mike Alden put the kibosh on that plan. In an interview with Inforum, a news website in Fargo, N.D., Taylor said Missouri will wait to make a decision until after the National Wrestling Coaches Association discusses conference realignment at its annual meeting from Aug. 3-5 in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla.
Smith was traveling and not available for comment.
With teams switching conferences all over the country, there are others searching for new homes as well, such as Old Dominion, which joins Conference USA next July. Mizzou’s departure left the Big 12 with just three wrestling teams (Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Iowa State), but the addition of West Virginia will hold the total steady.
Smith told the Daily Tribune he would love to stay in the Big 12, but the conference has not offered to let MU remain for wrestling, as it does not have affiliate members in any sport.
Luckily for Missouri, they have a powerful advocate in Smith, who also serves as the president of the NWCA. He favors forming conference alliances, where two conferences would join to create larger groups of teams while maintaining regional ties and rivalries.
“It’s affecting the whole sport right now,” Smith told the Daily Tribune. “All these changes that keep happening help the schools but not certain programs.”
Smith’s program will still see some benefits, such as raising Missouri’s national profile, not to mention the SEC revenue sharing that handed its members a record $18.3 million last year.
In the short term, the Tigers’ schedule for 2012-13 should not be affected (they will face their old Big 12 foes), and Missouri will be able to earn at-large bids to the NCAA Championships.
Still, it’s an odd predicament for a team coming off one of the best years in its history.
In 2012, the Tigers won the Big 12 Conference for the first time — at home — and was the only team in Division I to qualify all 10 starters for the NCAA Championships.
That landed Smith a five-year contract extension in June, recognizing a 14-year career that has brought MU to new heights: four national champions, 26 All-Americans and 14 Academic All-Americans.
For now, his next big task is just finding a home.