The Southern Conference has awarded affiliate memberships to three schools and has upped its wrestling membership to eight with the addition of Gardner-Webb, Campbell University and Southern Illinois-Edwardsville.
“Wrestling is in a very vulnerable position right now and adding three teams gives us two above the mandated six teams necessary to have automatic [NCAA] tournament qualifiers,” said University of Tennessee at Chattanooga coach Heath Eslinger said. “We don’t have to worry on a year-in and year-out basis.”
The league fell to five wrestling members when UNC Greensboro, the SoCon tournament champion in 2009-10, dropped its program following the 2010-11 season.
“I’m excited about the programs that were added,” said Matt Pope, the Mocs’ senior associate athletic director. “Adding these programs gives our conference a bit of an edge should anybody decide to change how the handle wrestling. [The additions] help us competitively. It makes the conference stronger and SIUE puts us in a different market which enhances our recruiting base.”
Pope feels the additions shouldn’t put a strain on the Mocs’ travel budget.
“We were already competing against Campbell and Gardner-Webb. The biggest change will be in the conference tournament. That looks to need a little tweaking and I think it will remain in a one-day format,” he said.
Gardner-Webb is located in Boiling Springs, N.C. and Campbell in Buies Creek, N.C.
“We’ve been wrestling all members of the SoCon almost from the time I arrived here in 1990, so our schedule won’t change all that much, if at all,” GW coach Dick Wince said. “However, to finally have a conference home, and to be part of one of the oldest wrestling conferences in the nation will certainly enhance our recruiting.”
Garner-Webb had five current SoCon teams on its 2010-11 schedule and lost to UTC, VMI, UNCG and the Citadel. They beat Davidson. As for new co-members, GW defeated Campbell and lost to SIUE. GW also wrestled Purdue, Virginia, Indiana, Eastern Michigan and Duke.
Southern Illinois-Edwardsville is making the transition into Division I wrestling and won’t be eligible for postseason competition until the 2012-13 season. Regaradless, SIUE coach David Ray was delighted about the prospects of joining the Southern Conference.
“This is a great day for SIUE wrestling, becoming a member of the Southern Conference, a conference with history and longevity that will be having its 75th anniversary in 2011-12. Finally SIUE wrestling can focus on who we need to compete against to gain entry to the NCAA D-I national championships,” Ray said. “Four years of not being associated with a conference, of not being able to compete in the NCAAs makes it difficult to focus on the future. Being part of the Southern Conference brings closure to the whole process of reclassification.”
Southern Illinois-Edwardsville competed in the National Collegiate Wrestling Association tournament last year and finished fourth. Among its 2010-11 opponents were Cornell, Northwesstern, Indiana, Missouri, Illinois and Eastern Michigan.
Ward Gossett is an assistant sports editor and writer for the Times Free Press. Ward has a long history in Chattanooga journalism. He actually wrote a bylined story for the Chattanooga News-Free Press as a third-grader. He Began working part-time there in 1968 and was hired full time in 1970. Ward now covers high school athletics, primarily football, wrestling and baseball and University of Tennessee at Chattanooga wrestling. Over a 40-year career, he has covered ...