Old Dominion's wrestling program will join the Mid-American Conference as an affiliate member in 2013, as part of expansion that will make it one of the nation's best Division I leagues.
The MAC announced the additions of ODU, Missouri and Northern Iowa on Wednesday, giving the league three more nationally-ranked programs.
"A game changer for us," ODU coach Steve Martin said. "We had several options, but this was the best one for the program."
ODU sought a home for its wrestling program due to the school's impending move to Conference USA, which doesn't sponsor the sport. Likewise, Missouri wrestling, last year's Big 12 Conference champ, needed a home after the school's move to the Southeastern Conference, which also doesn't sponsor the sport.
Old Dominion will compete within the Colonial Athletic Association for the coming season. The Monarchs cannot compete for the CAA team title, but still can qualify its wrestlers individually for the NCAA championships.
ODU, Missouri and Northern Iowa give the MAC nine wrestling schools, making it the nation's third-largest Division I conference, behind the Big Ten and the Eastern Intercollegiate Wrestling Association (EIWA).
The MAC already has a pair of nationally-ranked programs in Central Michigan and Kent State. The Monarchs regularly faced both under Martin, as well as MAC members Buffalo, Northern Illinois and Northern Iowa.
"This will help us in recruiting," Martin said. "We go into the Midwest a lot and these are schools a lot of those kids are familiar with."
It should help scheduling, as well, since the Monarchs will be able to combine trips to conference schools with matches against other Midwestern powers and non-league schools.
The MAC sent 24 wrestlers to the NCAA championships last year, a number that should increase given the additions. The CAA had 27 qualifiers in last year's NCAA meet, but with the eventual departures of ODU and affiliate member Boston U. (the Terriers will join the Patriot League, whose wrestling programs compete in the EIWA), the conference's depth takes a hit.
ODU qualified a school-record seven wrestlers to last year's NCAA meet, from an exceptionally young team. The Monarchs have had an All-American four of the past five years, and Martin's teams have had 35 NCAA qualifiers in his eight years.
"We had a couple of options where we could have gone into conferences where we'd have won the championship every year," Martin said. "But if you want to challenge your kids and your program, you go find the toughest competition you can. This makes the MAC one of the top conferences in the country. It's great for us."
ODU still seeks conference homes for its nationally-ranked field hockey program and women's lacrosse program.Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times