Justin Tinder, Information Director
Men’s wrestling has been approved as an official conference sport in the Sooner Athletic Conference, effective immediately, and the SAC is set to crown its first-ever champion this winter. Approval for the decision came Monday in a conference call vote by the league’s Council of Presidents.
SAC Presidents also were unanimous in approving Indiana Tech University and Lourdes (Ohio) University as associate members in wrestling, a move that instantly strengthens the SAC’s wrestling profile and helps the league meet minimum NAIA standards with six teams.
“With four full-time members that sponsor men’s wrestling and the NAIA’s recent decision to give conferences a bigger role in determining national qualifiers, now is the perfect time that we begin to recognize wrestling in the Sooner Athletic Conference,” SAC Commissioner Stan Wagnon said. “It’s especially gratifying to add a national contender like Indiana Tech and an up-and-coming program in Lourdes to help us carry the SAC banner in this new endeavor.”
SAC full-time members sponsoring the sport are Bacone, Central Christian, Oklahoma City and Wayland Baptist. Indiana Tech and Lourdes, both full members of the Wolverine Hoosier Athletic Conference, will share access to the SAC postseason berths, as well as academic and athletic awards, in men’s wrestling only.
The first-ever SAC Wrestling Championships meet is set for Saturday, Feb. 17, in Oklahoma City. The six-team event will feature up to 12 wrestlers per team across 10 different weight classes. It figures to be a strong field, with OCU having won last year’s NAIA South Regional and Indiana Tech coming in as two-time defending NAIA Midwest Regional champion.
The 2017-18 season marks a change in how wrestlers advance to NAIA nationals, with conference championship meets replacing regionals as the way to qualify. The individual champion at each weight class will advance to nationals, along with three wildcards per conference. Additional berths are granted to conferences based upon the number of ranked wrestlers in each weight class.
“The direct qualification model for conferences will make for an exciting atmosphere at our conference meet, and we think there will be enough ranked wrestlers at our event for the SAC to send a strong contingent to nationals,” Wagnon said.
SAC wrestling teams will not be mandated to face each other in a regular-season schedule, but all six teams will participate in the conference meet. The league will recognize weekly awards, as well as all-conference and academic honors at year’s end. The conference champion team will be determined by team point totals at the championships meet.
The SAC is one of eight NAIA conferences to sponsor men’s wrestling as an official sport and now intends to crown champions in 14 sports this year. Other sports determining a league champion in the SAC are volleyball, men’s and women’s soccer, men’s and women’s cross country, men’s and women’s basketball, baseball, softball, men’s and women’s golf, and men’s and women’s tennis.