With all the chaos and uncertainty in the conference situation for Oklahoma State right now, I thought I’d take a look at what in my opinion is the best-case scenario for Oklahoma State, and that is the Big Ten Conference.
As most reading this probably already know, I’m the wrestling guy. I’ve covered Oklahoma State on this site and previously for FloWrestling, and I cover the Big 12 for Intermat (for now). I also write for OWrestle.Com and WrestlingTexas.Com. I’m obviously very invested in that sport and hope for its best situation for Oklahoma State.
I’m of the opinion that the Big Ten would be the best fit and situation for OSU across the board, but throwing out my opinion on other sports, wrestling’s best situation would undoubtedly be in the Big Ten Conference, the premier wrestling conference.
Penn State has been the dominant team of the decade. The only program anywhere near Oklahoma State historically is Iowa and it won last year’s NCAA tournament. Ohio State recently won a National Championship. The best American wrestler in the World the past 10 years is Jordan Burroughs out of Nebraska. Beyond all of that, there are a number of other quality programs in the conference.
There is a big roadblock to my understanding, and that roadblock is the Big Ten requires its member institutions to be a part of the Association of American Universities, which Oklahoma State is not. But Nebraska is not either, though they were when they were accepted into the conference originally.
If you ignore the academic situation and just look at the general fit for Oklahoma State in athletics in the Big Ten, you mainly look at football and basketball. Oklahoma State is not the cash cow that is an Oklahoma or Texas, but they can certainly hold their own in regards to fan attendance, revenue, and viewership with most Big Ten schools.
But what really adds an extra edge for Oklahoma State with the Big Ten is their wrestling program. The generic thing said surrounding wrestling, is that it doesn’t really matter in these conversations, and there’s some truth that. Football and basketball are what truly move the needle and what conferences look at. But the Big Ten cares about and is heavily invested in wrestling.
Most conference’s No. 3 sport is baseball, but that’s not the case for the Big Ten, according to Cody Goodwin at the Des Moines Register. He posits that the Big Ten’s No. 3 rated sport is wrestling. And its viewership and following are growing rapidly. So if Big Ten brass is adding a program, they’re going to want it to be relevant in wrestling.
Further, when OSU wrestles Big Ten schools, they tend to draw big crowds. The last four matches Oklahoma State has had with Big Ten programs have averaged nearly 10,000 attendees! That’s more than some schools average with basketball.
Those numbers don’t compare to a packed Saturday night football game obviously, but they’re still relevant. There are reports that Kansas is set to speak to the Big Ten. While it’s basketball program is elite, Kansas is not a draw in football and the Jayhawks don’t have a wrestling program at all.
If I’m an athletic director at Penn State or Ohio State, that’s a red flag when I compare programs that I want in my conference. They know an annual dual with Oklahoma State at 10,000 fans averaging $20 is $200,000 in their budget, and they know it means more eyeballs on the Big Ten Network and at the Big Ten Tournament.
The Rutgers dual was largely driven by the Daton Fix-Nick Suriano match. The biggest rivalry in college wrestling over the next few years is almost certain to be AJ Ferrari and Wisconsin’s Braxton Amos. Their matches will create environments at Wisconsin like that one at Rutgers and help them set records.
This is a conference that truly cares about wrestling, and Oklahoma State is one of the elite programs in the sport. If you asked any Big Ten wrestling fan if they want Oklahoma State in the Big Ten, they’re probably going to say yes. If you ask any Oklahoma State wrestling fan, they’ll likely say the same.
There are so many moving parts to all of this and it’s so incredibly far above anything any of us know or have any control over, but there are going to be a lot of schools from the Big 12 vying for a spot in the Big Ten and Oklahoma State’s wrestling relevance could/should legitimately play a factor in the conversation.
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