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NCAA tournaments for women’s wrestling could begin by 2026

Women’s wrestling could have a NCAA championship tournament by the winter of 2026. (Photo courtesy Sacred Heart wrestling)

Women’s wrestling took a big step Wednesday toward the creation of a NCAA tournament that could begin in the winter of 2026.

The NCAA Committee on Women’s Athletics voted at its meeting to recommend Divisions I, II and III sponsor legislation to add a national collegiate women’s wrestling championship. The Association-wide committee oversees the Emerging Sports for Women program, which includes women’s wrestling.

“We are excited to recommend women’s wrestling as the 91st NCAA championship sport,” said Ragean Hill, chair of the Committee on Women’s Athletics and executive associate athletics director/senior woman administrator at Charlotte. “We are extremely proud of the work that USA Wrestling has done to make this a reality in such a short period of time. Also, a special thank you to the men’s wrestling community for believing in our young women and championing this process.”

Sacred Heart’s women’s wrestling program is currently ranked No. 7 in the country and is the defending Region I regional champion. The Pioneers (16-3) are in their third varsity season and finished seventh at last March’s National Collegiate Women’s Wrestling Championship (NCWWC) tournament.

Following the committee’s recommendation, the projected timeline to add a women’s wrestling championship is:

  • Each division is expected to review the recommendation and sponsor a proposal by its respective 2024-25 legislative cycle deadline.
  • The recommendation also includes establishing a women’s wrestling committee, which would begin its work in January 2025, to allow time to prepare for a championship in winter 2026.
  • If sponsored, the divisions are expected to vote on the proposals during the 2025 NCAA Convention in Nashville, Tennessee, Jan. 15-18.

If adopted on that timeline, the first women’s wrestling championship would be held in winter 2026.

Before a women’s wrestling national collegiate championship can be established, funding must be considered by the appropriate financial oversight committees among other competing priorities during the relevant annual budget development cycle.

If approved by NCAA members, women’s wrestling will become the sixth sport to earn NCAA championship status through the Emerging Sports for Women program, established in 1994 based on a recommendation from the NCAA Gender Equity Task Force. It would join rowing (1996), ice hockey (2000), water polo (2000), bowling (2003) and beach volleyball (2015).

Before the committee can make a recommendation to add a championship for an emerging sport, 40 schools must sponsor it at a varsity level and meet the sport’s minimum competition and participant requirements. Women’s wrestling, which became an emerging sport in 2020eclipsed that number in the 2022-23 academic year.

“I think it represents our hard work — all the blood, sweat and tears that we’ve put into this sport,” said Maddie Avila, a sophomore at North Central College (Naperville, Illinois), the defending NCWWC champion. “We have to put countless hours into this sport, and we are working just as hard as the men, so it will be really awesome, for women’s sports in general, to have women’s wrestling represented by the NCAA at the championship level.”

According to the latest sports sponsorship and participation data, nearly 800 student-athletes competed in women’s wrestling across 51 teams in 2022-23. More than 70 schools reported that they intended to sponsor the sport for the 2023-24 academic year.

This year’s NCWWC championship meet will be March 8-9 in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

Material from a NCAA news release was included in this report.

Gerry deSimas, Jr., is the editor and founder of Connecticut Wrestling Online. He is an award-winning writer and has been covering sports in Connecticut and New England for more than 40 years. He was inducted into the New England High School Wrestling Hall of Fame in 2018.

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