The UNI Panthers wrestling team will join the Big 12 Conference effective with the 2017-18 season.

Last season, the Panthers earned the Mid-American Conference championship, where they went 8-0 in conference duals. Now the squad will face new challenges and teams with the move to the Big 12.

Fresno State will also compete as a Big 12 team making 12 teams in the conference when the season starts this Fall. Schools already wrestling under the Big 12 banner include: Air Force, Iowa State, Northern Colorado, North Dakota State, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, South Dakota State, Utah Valley, West Virginia and Wyoming.

“We are extremely excited that our wrestling program has been accepted into the Big 12 Conference as an affiliate member,” said David Harris, UNI director of athletics in a statement released by UNI. “The Big 12 is one of the best conferences in all of college athletics, and it contains some of the very best student-athletes and coaches within the sport of wrestling. We look forward to the challenge of competing in the Big 12 and expanding the brand of UNI wrestling.”

The conference realignment will take effect during the upcoming season.

“We are excited to add Fresno State and Northern Iowa as affiliate members in the sport of wrestling,” said Big 12 Commissioner Bob Bowlsby. “We already compete at a high national level in the sport, and look forward to welcoming coaches, student-athletes and fans from each institution.”

“The Big 12 is predominantly one of the best conferences,” said head coach Doug Schwab in a statement released by UNI. “Five years ago when we made the transition to the MAC, it was the best choice at the time. It created a good rivalry with Missouri and Central Michigan and some of those other teams. Now, we have the opportunity to move to the Big 12. It puts us in a conference with Oklahoma State, one of the best teams in the country, perennially. It puts us with Iowa State, an in-state rival. We haven’t been able to have that ever, so I think that adds to it. People know the Big 12. People know that name. It’s a brand.”

The 2018 Big 12 Wrestling Championship will take place for the second consecutive year at the BOK Center in Tulsa, Oklahoma, on March 3-4.

“I am looking forward to winning a Big 12 title,” Schwab said. “Once you can do that, then you are in the hunt for a national title. The work has already started.”

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