This fall, Fresno State returns to the NCAA wrestling mat. Dormant since 2006, the long-awaited action resumes in a matter of months. The next big step happened this week when the school announced it would join the Big 12 Conference.
“We are very pleased and proud to accept an invitation to Big 12 Conference. This is an important step in defining the future of Fresno State Wrestling,” Fresno State head coach Troy Steiner said in a school news release. “The Big 12 offers a strong athletic conference particularly in wrestling as we will compete with some of the best teams in the nation, giving the Valley an opportunity to see some competitive home duals and to continue the strong tradition of wrestling at one of the toughest conference championships in the NCAA.”
The membership of Big 12 wrestling is slightly different than its lineup for football or basketball, since not every full-time member supports a wrestling program. Likewise, the Mountain West Conference, home to most Fresno State sports, does not have enough programs for a full-time wrestling conference.
The Big 12
It is not unusual for schools like Fresno State to join other leagues as associate members. Only four full-time Big 12 schools (Iowa State, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and West Virginia) have wrestling programs. [Note: despite its name, there are only 10 full-time schools in the Big 12].
With the addition of Fresno State (and Northern Iowa, also joining this season), Big 12 Wrestling now has 12 programs. It expanded from the four full-time members to 10 for the 2015-16 season, adding six associate members (that came from the disbanded Western Athletic Conference, of which Fresno State belonged to before dropping wrestling). One of those schools was South Dakota State.
That could be a problem in future scheduling for the Bulldogs. That is because of AB 1887, a state law that went into effect this year that bars taxpayer-funded travel to other states that are perceived to have laws that discriminate against the LGBT community.
According to the office of California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, South Dakota is included in the ban because:
SB 149 was enacted March 10, 2017. SB 149 could prevent qualified LGBT couples from adopting or serving as foster parents.
Although Fresno State has not officially released its 2017-18 schedule yet, South Dakota State has. The two schools will not meet this upcoming season, at least not in South Dakota.
“The wrestling members have formed a scheduling alliance. The conference office produces a schedule to assist the wrestling members in scheduling matches among themselves,” Big 12 Associate Commissioner Bob Burda told GV Wire via e-mail. “However, the Conference does not conduct a ‘regular season’ or recognize a regular season wrestling champion. Matches identified through the scheduling alliance are executed by the participating teams.”
Burda clarified in a phone conversation with GV Wire that the conference does not mandate teams face each other in the regular season (unlike with other sports). Thus, Fresno State would not be required to wrestle at South Dakota State, unless the schools agree to it.
The Big 12 championship takes place in Tulsa, with the NCAA championship in Cleveland.
Why not the Pac-12?
The only other collegiate athletic conference in the west that sponsors wrestling is the Pac-12 Conference, with a current five-team line up (full-time members Stanford, Arizona State and Oregon State, along with associates Cal Poly and CSU Bakersfield). Also, the Pac-12 has their own televised network that airs wrestling matches.
As to why Fresno State joined the Big 12 over the Pac-12, team spokesman Travis Blanshan says the Big 12 provides more stability, competition and opportunity. Blanshan says it is up in the air on how to handle a scenario of Fresno State wrestling at South Dakota State.
2017-18 Big 12 Wrestling teams:
- Air Force
- Fresno State
- Iowa State*
- North Dakota State
- Northern Colorado
- Northern Iowa (also entering the conference in 2017-18)
- Oklahoma State*
- South Dakota State
- Utah Valley
- West Virginia*
*indicates full-time Big 12 member
[Note this story has been updated with Burda’s clarification on Big 12 regular season scheduling]