The Mid-American Conference has taken a step to increase future competition for its wrestling programs – a fact that excites Central Michigan.
Missouri and Northern Iowa will begin MAC competition in the conference tournament this season, while Old Dominion will join during the 2013-14 regular season. All three programs signed five-year contracts with the MAC, increasing the number of teams in the conference to nine.
“I’m pretty excited,” senior 184-pounder Ben Bennett said. ” I think in the past few years our conference has gotten tougher, and with the addition of these three teams, it makes it more competitive. All three are tough and have pretty strong wrestling programs. The added competition will help us prepare for the national tournament more.”
Though CMU has won 11-consecutive MAC Tournaments, Bennett said he wouldn’t say the conference hasn’t gotten too easy in recent years.
“We’ve had to put in a lot of work to accomplish that, but at the same time change can be good and in this situation it is good,” he said. “To get some new competition in there and to wrestle new guys, I think it’s good for everyone in the MAC.”
With the addition, the MAC becomes the third-largest Division I wrestling league in the nation, trailing the Big Ten and Eastern Intercollegiate Wrestling Association.
Kent State is the defending regular season champion this season, while the Chippewas will attempt to win its 12th-consecutive MAC Wrestling Championships.
When it comes to all-time records against the MAC newcomers, the Chippewas are 3-1 against Northern Iowa, 4-1 against Old Dominion and 2-3-1 against Missouri.
CMU head coach Tom Borrelli said the move is a great one that will develop new relationships with universities and athletic departments.
“The addition will create more opportunities to get more athletes to the NCAA tournament and it will foster our development to do well in that tournament,” Borrelli said. “Anytime competition gets keener, everyone rises to that level of competition.”
Missouri is coming off a season in which it won its first ever Big 12 Tournament Championship, and ranked 26th in the NCAA final rankings.
The program is led by head coach Brian Smith – the winningest coach in program history with an all-time record of 173-83-3.
“I think the Mid-American Conference is a great fit for our program,” Smith said Wednesday. “Over the past several years, some of the nation’s top teams and best wrestlers – both on an academic and athletic level – have come from the MAC, and we are excited to help continue that tradition. The league has been proactive in expanding themselves on the wrestling side, and we think our program will help enhance the overall prestige of the conference.
Northern Iowa finished the 2011-12 season ranked 34th in the NCAA final rankings, sending five wrestlers to the 2012 NCAA Tournament. Two Panthers – 133-pounder Joe Colon and 184-pounder Ryan Loder – were seeded No.5 and No.8, respectively.
Old Dominion finished last season ranked 24th in the final regular season NCWA poll, sending seven wrestlers to the NCAA Tournament – tied for fourth nationally.
The Chippewas will host Old Dominion this season on Feb. 3 at McGuirk Arena as a non-conference opponent. The match will be heavily anticipated following last season’s meeting in which Old Dominion came out on top 18-17.