Back in Black (and gold): Missouri wrestling returns to Big 12

The Tigers are returning to the Big 12 after nine seasons in the MAC.

Missouri wrestling will return to the Big 12 next season. The athletics department made the announcement Wednesday afternoon in a press release and subsequent press conference.

The Tigers have wrestled in the Mid-American Conference since 2012 when the rest of the university’s athletic programs left the Big 12 for the SEC.

Missouri won all nine conference titles during its nine seasons in the MAC, and also won its final Big 12 title in its last season in the conference. They finished with a 10-0 dual record this season and set a record for points in a MAC Tournament.

Coach Brian Smith’s team finished seventh at the NCAA Championships.

"This is an exciting opportunity for our wrestling program," Mun Choi, UM System president and chancellor, said in the press release. "Coach [Brian] Smith has done a tremendous job in his 23 years leading the program. Like many of our fans, I am very excited to see what the future holds for Mizzou wrestling in the Big 12."

MU's Board of Curators unanimously approved the move, per Missouri athletic director Jim Sterk.

“Today our Board of Curators and President Choi took the opportunity for us to accept the invitation from the Big 12,” Sterk said. “I want to thank Commissioner [Bob] Bowlsby for listening … and then extending the invitation.”

The Tigers were left without a conference after the athletics programs left the Big 12, as the SEC doesn’t sanction a wrestling championship. Sterk thanked the MAC for allowing Missouri to compete in the conference.

“From 1929 to 2012, Mizzou wrestled in the Big 6, Big 7, Big 8 and then the Big 12,” Sterk said. “When Mizzou Athletics overall accepted the invitation to join the SEC in 2012, wrestling was forced to find a home … Mizzou wrestling found an affiliate membership in the Mid-American Conference for the past nine years … nothing but respect for those folks.”

Missouri returns to the conference after winning it in its last attempt nearly a decade ago. Smith reflected on the challenges of finding a new conference and the challenges of getting back into the Big 12.

“We won the Big 12 right here, and then we went into six months of not knowing where we were going to compete,” Smith said. ”It was the challenge of how our program and the culture of our program … dealt with that, and now, we have the opportunity for a new challenge.”

Smith expressed his excitement to return to the Big 12. He said that this was an exciting time, not just for the program, but for the fans as well.

“Here you go fans, come on out,” Smith said. “We’re wrestling in the Big 12 again.”

Edited by Kyle Pinnell | kpinnell@themaneater.com

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