Mizzou wrestling rejoining the Big 12 Conference after nine years
After nine years away from the Big 12 Conference, Missouri wrestling is headed back.
The Tigers will once again take to the mats as members of the Big 12 starting next season, the school announced Thursday.
Missouri was forced out of Big 12 wrestling in 2012 when it joined the Southeastern Conference in all other sports. No other SEC schools sponsor wrestling. The Tigers found a home in the Mid-American Conference the past nine seasons.
MU dominated the MAC, winning the league championship in every year as a member.
"I never thought that moving back to the Big 12 would be a possibility for Mizzou, but I'm appreciative of the leadership and vision that President Mun Choi and (athletic director) Jim Sterk provide and their willingness to help make this day a reality for our program," longtime Missouri coach Brian Smith said in a statement.
"Big 12 Commissioner Bob Bowlsby and Senior Associate Commissioner Bob Burda were instrumental in making this happen for Mizzou. The Big 12 has an outstanding wrestling tradition; having the opportunity to return home is so special for our current and past student-athletes who have helped make Tiger Style what it is today."
Missouri has earned 10 consecutive conference titles overall, also securing a Big 12 crown in its most recent season in the league.
Missouri will become the 12th member of the Big 12's wrestling membership.
Big 12 mainstays such as Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Iowa State and West Virginia all sponsor wrestling. Rival Kansas does not. Affiliate Big 12 wrestling members include North Dakota State, Wyoming, Air Force and Northern Iowa.
"This was an opportunity that coach Smith and I did not believe we could pass up when it presented itself earlier this year," Sterk said in a statement about the return. "Year in and year out, the Big 12 is one of the nation's premier wrestling conferences, and we believe it is the natural home for Mizzou wrestling from both a competitive excellence and geographic standpoint.
"This move also strengthens our program and will better prepare it for achieving its goal of winning an NCAA team championship."
During one of Sterk's first encounters with Smith after he became athletic director in 2016, Smith brought up the possibility of returning to the Big 12.
Now, it's finally a reality.
"Our end goal is to win a national title, so changing conferences isn't going to change anything too much," Missouri wrestler Brock Mauller said of moving to the Big 12. "... A little harder route, but that's good for us. It's good to have competition."
From 1928-2012, Missouri boasted 31 individual conference champions. In its nine seasons in the MAC, the Tigers won 40 individual league titles.
This past season, Missouri qualified 10 wrestlers to the national championships.
The move from the MAC to the Big 12 figures to bring the Tigers a step up in their regular-season competition.
As a member of the Big 12, Missouri won five individual national titles — three by Ben Askren, one by Mark Ellis and one by Max Askren. Since moving to the MAC, the Tigers have won four individual national championships. Three of those were by J'den Cox, with the other won by Drake Houdashelt.
It was against Big 12 rival Oklahoma State that Missouri set a program-record crowd of 4,721 in February 2019 at the Hearnes Center.
"Mizzou's wrestling program has always strived for excellence in everything they do, both on and off the mat," said Darryl Chatman, chair of the UM Board of Curators, in a statement. "This return to the Big 12 Conference continues that tradition of seeking excellence in competition. MU and the state of Missouri can be proud of the team that will represent us in a conference with some of the best wrestling programs in the country.
"I'm very happy for our team and wish them and coach Brian Smith the best as they move to the Big 12."
Contact Eric Blum at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @ByEricBlum on Twitter.
Follow Mizzou athletics with the Tribune’s Tiger Extra newsletter. Sign up at columbiatribune.com/tigerextra for stories, galleries and podcasts in your inbox every Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday.