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NCAA proposes changes for Big 12 wrestling qualifiers, team title component

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At the time many of us were wrestling to complete our income tax forms, the NCAA Division I Wrestling Committee met to discuss potential changes which would have significant impact on the D1 mat championships, especially for Big 12 wrestlers and for determining team titles.

At its meeting in mid-April in Indianapolis, the NCAA Wrestling Committee recommended that the Big 12 no longer have automatic qualifiers for the D1 Wrestling Championships, but instead top qualifiers at that conference’s championships would go into the at-large pool to determine qualifiers for the Nationals. In addition, the Committee also proposed revisions to its earlier proposal to add a “team component” to determining NCAA team titlewinners.

Big 12 and automatic qualifiers

In what would appear to be a major shake-up in how wrestlers qualify to compete at the NCAA Division I Wrestling Championships, the Committee recommended that the following conferences receive one automatic qualifier berth for each of the ten weight classes: Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC), Big Ten, Eastern Intercollegiate Wrestling Association (EIWA), Eastern Wrestling League (EWL), Mid-American Conference (MAC), Pac-12, Southern Conference, and the NCAA West Regional.

Notably missing from that list is the Big 12.

In its report, the Committee states, “The Big 12 has only four institutions competing in wrestling (Iowa State, Oklahoma State, University of Oklahoma, and West Virginia University). Providing pre-allocated spots to a conference with only four institutions creates a competitive advantage and is inconsistent with the methodology in awarding pre-allocated spots to eligible conferences. Those student-athletes competing in the Big 12 who earn the gold or silver standard for pre-allocations will still have access to the championships as at-large selections.”

The proposed change, if adopted, would be effective with the 2015 NCAA championships.

For the 2014 NCAA Division I Wrestling Championships held in Oklahoma City in March, 285 wrestlers automatically qualified to compete at the three-day event, based on their performance at conference championships and the NCAA West Regional. (A total of 330 wrestlers – 33 in each of the ten weight classes – competed at the Nationals. There were 45 wrestlers who were not automatic qualifiers but at-large selections, who were announced a week after the conclusion of the qualifying championships.)

The Big 12 had 24 automatic qualifiers for the 2014 NCAAs. At minimum, the conference sent the champ of each weight class crowned at the 2014 Big 12 conference championships. In all but the 184 pound weight class, the runner-up also had his ticket automatically punched for the NCAAs. At 125, 141, and 149, the Big 12 had three automatic qualifiers; four 174-pounders earned automatic berths for the 2014 NCAAs.

In 2014, the Big 12 had more automatic qualifiers than four other conferences: the EWL (22 qualifiers), the Pac-12 (17), the Southern Conference (16), and the West Regional (15).

If this is proposal becomes reality, speculation is that the Big 12 wrestling programs will merge with an existing conference, or participate in the NCAA West Regional.

Revisions to the Team Component proposal

Earlier this year, the NCAA put forth a proposal to fundamentally change how team titles are determined at its Division I Wrestling Championships. The new format would include what the NCAA calls a “team component” (or “dual team competition component”) which would be combined with the “individual component” (the NCAA championships), instead of determining the team champ (and overall final team placers) solely by points scored by each team’s wrestlers at the Nationals, a methodology in place since the first NCAA wrestling championships in 1928.

With this proposal, 30% of the scoring to determine the team title will come from this new team component, and 70% from the individual component.

In describing the new team component of its proposal, the NCAA said that 24 teams will qualify for this component. The top qualifier in each of eight conferences would automatically qualify for this component; the remaining 16 slots would be filled by the NCAA Division I Wrestling Committee, “using similar selection criteria currently used for individuals, which would be calculated for team competition,” as the NCAA described it in its original recommendation. The team component proposal would extend over the course of three weekends in February, immediately before the conference championships, and the NCAAs.

In the original proposal, there would be four regional tournaments, to be hosted by the top four seeded teams. Each regional would feature six teams.

“At the direction of the Championships/Sports Management Cabinet, the committee sought feedback from coaches, student-athletes and media partners on the proposed format change,” according to the NCAA Wrestling Committee Report from the mid-April meeting.

According to the committee report, 80% of surveyed coaches liked the idea of a team component to determine team champion, while 59% of coaches surveyed approved of the NCAA team component proposal as originally submitted. Some of the concerns raised by coaches: a need for more teams in the first round of competition; that the new dual championship format did not benefit individual wrestling programs; and the proposed timing may have a negative impact on wrestlers as they peak for the Nationals.

One revision to the original proposal included in the latest committee report was revised point values for the dual meet tournament. Programs participating in the dual meet tournament would earn a minimum of five points, not seven as originally pitched.

Stay tuned. It’s a sure bet that this won’t be the last we’ll hear about these NCAA Wrestling Committee proposals.

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