Missouri announced a press conference for this afternoon just a few hours ago and the speculation began. It was slated to be at the Hearnes Center, likely leaving out any major Football or Basketball news... but what could it be?
Wrestling? Fund raising? Maybe the new soccer coach already?
I got word it was regarding something with wrestling, but no further information was available and my Mizzou fan kicked in... the sense of dread. Oh no, What if Brian Smith is retiring?
As it turns out, the news would be of the GOOD kind... I know weird, right?
KOMU Sports Director Ben Arnet got the scoop:
BREAKING: Sources tell me that @MizzouWrestling is returning to the Big 12 Conference. #Mizzou has competed in the Mid-American Conference for wrestling since leaving the Big 12 in 2012. @KOMUnews @KOMUsports— Ben Arnet (@BenArnetKOMU) April 22, 2021
Nine years ago when Missouri joined the SEC, the Wrestling program was cast-off into the Mid-American Conference, or the MAC. A league with a solid wrestling reputation, but nothing in the stratosphere of where Mizzou had taken its wrestling program for the better part of the previous decade.
Mizzou won the MAC each of the last 9 years. So rejoining the Big XII... while a bit weird... makes a lot of sense for the wrestling program. When you say Big XII, you think of the traditional opponents Mizzou used to be in a league with. You may not think of Air Force, Northern Colorado, North Dakota State, South Dakota State, Utah Valley, West Virginia and Wyoming, but you do think of legacy members Iowa State, Oklahoma, and Oklahoma State, who’ve been there all along. But that’s the current makeup of the league. Still it’s a better deeper league than the MAC.
The press conference will be at 3:45 today. We’ll have full coverage and updates.
Surrounded by the wrestling team, who donned black tshirts with the words “We’re Back” scrawled in gold and white with a Big XII logo and the Tigers logo, Mizzou Athletic Director Jim Sterk first addressed the media, talking about how this was something he and Coach Smith had been discussing since 2016.
Sterk wasted no time handing the microphone over to Coach Smith, but from the press release, here’s more of his in-depth thoughts on the move:
“The Big XII Conference has a rich and storied wrestling tradition. This was an opportunity that Coach Smith and I did not believe we could pass up when it presented itself earlier this year... We believe the Big XII 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.”
Next up, Coach Brian Smith came to the podium, talking about how things have changed. When Missouri moved the SEC, he said, he was “homeless for six months” while they attempted to find a wrestling home. “It was not easy,” he said.
But the past nine years in the MAC have been great for the program, calling it “nine years of some of the greatest years probably in athletic history at Mizzou,” and referencing winning nine-straight conference titles and placed in the Top 10 at seven NCAA Championships.
“We’re very excited about the competition level we’re moving into,” Smith said, gesturing to his wrestlers behind him, adding a “Right, guys?” at the end, looking for their approval. Smith continued, “We’ve kept our rivalry going with Oklahoma State and we’ve had some great duels. I think one of the last times they were here, there were over 5,000 people in the stands. That’s part of it, that we can be a part of a great traditional conference.”
When asked if he ever thought this would happen (the return to the Big XII), he said no. While wanting it to happen for years, it just didn’t seem feasible, so when Missouri was extended the invite after the first of the year, it was exciting. “People change, things change,” he said.
While he wanted to get back to the Big XII, Smith said they really just continued to focus on their performance in the NCAA Tourney, and winning their conference. Those consistent performances allowed them to keep recruiting at a high level. Though some schools, he admitted, tried to use the fact that they were in a “lesser” conference against them. “But when you think about the kids we have put out here — the quality of product that we have put out — we overcame that,” he said. “At some point, I was just like, ‘I’ve been here 23 years, I’ve just got to do the best I can’ and the program has got to do the best they can. And that’s pretty darn good.”
When asked about how being in the Big XII will help him specifically, Coach Smith said really, nothing would change. They’ll still be recruiting the same, and they’re still living the Tiger Style culture. “We’ll continue to run the program. Our kids are going to do high level things. We have a lot of kids in grad school who are here to go to school and do great things but also want to compete. We want to get more crowds in the Hearnes Center. So here you go, fans!”
We’re ready, Coach. We’re ready!