For the first time since in program history, Argo wrestling will have a conference affiliation. After competing as an independent since the program began in 2004, the University of Providence men’s wrestling team will join the Cascade College Conference, which recently announced that it would add men’s wrestling to its list of recognized sports for the 2017-18 season.
A decision made by the NAIA National Administrative Council in June to change the postseason qualification process to put a strong emphasis on conferences rather than regions prompted both the CCC addition of wrestling and UP’s move to join the conference. The ruling put an end to regional tournaments and instead broke the NAIA’s 60 teams in conferences.
Initially, due to the team’s status as an independent, the Argos were placed in a catch-all conference of unaffiliated teams from across the country. To avoid long travel to a tournament of teams that change every year, UGF Head Coach Caleb Schaeffer and VP for Athletics Dave Gantt, quickly moved to join the CCC.
The changes will start in the 2017-18 season with individual conference champions earning automatic bids to the NAIA Championships. At large bids will be given to each conference based on the number of wrestlers the conference has in the Top 20 rankings of each weight class.
Joining the Argos in the CCC will be longtime conference members Eastern Oregon University, Southern Oregon University, and Warner Pacific College along with new members added for wrestling, Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University – Prescott, Ariz., Menlo College – Atherton, Calif., Simpson University – Redding, Calif., and longtime Argo rival, Montana State University Northern.
“We are very excited to take the next step in conference offerings with men’s wrestling,” stated CCC Commissioner Robert Cashell. “The sport continues to see growth at the NAIA level and providing a conference home for our current western United States institutions, as well as, the opportunity to recognize outstanding student athletes academically and athletically is important to the long term stability of the sport.”
UP is already an affiliate member of the Cascade Conference, with the school’s men’s soccer, women’s soccer, and softball teams already competing in the conference. Not only will joining the Cascade give Argo wrestlers an easier road to national qualification without having to pay new conference dues, it also makes the team eligible for more awards. Now UP will be able to win conference athlete of the week, all-conference, academic all-conference, and other conference honors, as well as a conference championship for the first time in 13 years.
Joining the conference won’t change the Argo’s regular season schedule, with there being no mandatory regular season meets, and UP usually wrestling most of its new conference members every year already. What will change, is the addition of a conference tournament at the end of the season. Southern Oregon University will be the site of the first ever CCC Men’s Wrestling Championships February 17, 2018. The 61st Annual NAIA National Championships will be held March 2-3 in Des Moines, Iowa in 2018
“Joining a conference will make our program more viable. It gives us the same opportunities that our other sports have, to prove ourselves at the conference level, and not just the national level,” Schaeffer said. “I really think this will help grow wrestling in the northwest because schools are more willing to add a sport when the conference structure is already there.”
Although CCC wrestling is new, the schools participating have a rich history of success. Montana State Northern leads the way with 6 national titles (1991,1992,1998, 1999,2000, 2004) along with 4 runner-up finishes (1990,1993,2002,2016). Southern Oregon boasts 4 national titles (1978,1983,1994, 2001) and 6 runner-up finishes (1986,2009,2010,2012,2013,2015). Menlo (2004), Embry Riddle (2007) and Providence (2014) each have a runner-up trophy. The schools also have a combined 91 individual champions in various weight classes including; SOU (36), MSUN (32), ERAU (8), Menlo (7), UP (4), EOU (1) and WPC (1).
The conference’s recent history has been equally impressive, with six of the conferences eight teams finishing the 2016-17 season ranked in the Top 20.
Five of the schools also sponsor women’s wrestling, but it is not an NAIA recognized sport at this time and the teams compete under the banner of the WCWA.“Women’s wrestling is really gaining in popularity at the collegiate level,” Cashell said. “We will continue to monitor its progression in the NAIA and evaluate if and when it may become a CCC sport.”
Courtesy: University of Providence