Women’s wrestling receives NCAA Emerging Sport Status after approval from Div. II and Div. III

By Gary Abbott, USA Wrestling | Jan. 25, 2020, 12:58 p.m. (ET)
Photo of NCAA women's wrestling program McKendree University celebrating at a recent competition. Photo courtesy of McKendree University website.

Two different NCAA Divisions, NCAA Division II and NCAA Division III, voted to approve women’s wrestling as an Emerging Sport during the NCAA Convention in Anaheim, Calif. today.

The vote was the latest major step forward for women’s college wrestling, which is growing rapidly and gaining momentum all across the United States.

Wrestle Like A Girl, on site at the NCAA Convention, reported this great news on its Twitter feed.

“This is another exciting and monumental step forward for women’s wrestling in America. This will indeed change the lives of many young people across the nation, and also impact the lives of generations of female wrestlers to come. We thank the tireless efforts of the vast coalition of organizations and leaders that have worked together to reach this great achievement. We look forward to continued growth and expanded opportunity for women in college wrestling,” said Rich Bender, Executive Director of USA Wrestling.

“Along with high school state sanctioning, nothing is more important than opening up more opportunity at the college levels. As a sport, we have been fighting for many years to create opportunity for girls and women to wrestle at all levels. For Team USA, this will help the United States be a perennial World power in the sport. With opportunity comes growth and with growth comes numbers. We are seeing now what opportunity can do to fuel growth. This decision gives complete legitimacy for the sport, and shows that women’s wrestling is a fully functioning sport in our nation,” said National Women’s Coach Terry Steiner.

NCAA Division I did not address the issue of Emerging Sport Status for women’s wrestling this week, and will vote on that proposal in a meeting later in the year.

The sport of Acrobatics and Tumbling also received approval from both Div. II and Div. III. The most recent sport which had been added to the list of NCAA emerging sports was Beach Volleyball in 2010.

The next milestone for the wrestling community will be reaching at least 40 NCAA-affiliated varsity women’s wrestling teams, which is required to achieve an official NCAA Championships in the sport.

To date, five women’s sports have moved from NCAA Emerging Sports Status to Championship Status: rowing, ice hockey, water polo, bowling and beach volleyball

In June 2019, the NCAA’s Committee on Women’s Athletics (CWA) has “recommended that all three divisions of the NCAA governance structure add women’s wrestling as an NCAA emerging sport, effective August 1, 2020.”

Beginning in August 2017, a coalition of wrestling organizations, including USA Wrestling, Wrestle Like A Girl, the National Wrestling Coaches Association, the National Wrestling Hall of Fame, the U.S. Olympic Committee, and expanding to include the National Collegiate Wrestling Association, worked together to submit an application to the NCAA CWA for women’s wrestling to attain Emerging Sport Status.

This group has since formally created The Women’s Collegiate Wrestling Coalition (WCWC), which is working on supporting the Emerging Sport bid and building the NCAA women’s wrestling program moving forward. The WCWA is an ad-hoc committee of USA Wrestling.

One of the big projects of the coalition is the creation of the First Annual Cliff Keen National Collegiate Women’s Wrestling Championships (NCWWC), set for Adrian College in Adrian, Mich. on March 6-7,, 2020. All NCAA varsity women’s wrestling programs at the DI, DII, and DIII levels are eligible and welcome to enter. This will serve as the national championship event for NCAA-affiliated women’s wrestling programs until official NCAA Championship status is achieved.

Women’s college wrestling has existed since the early 1990’s, with the first varsity team created in 1993. There have been women’s college wrestling national championships, including institutions from all affiliations since 2004. This past year, the NAIA gave invitational sport status to women’s wrestling and held its first national invitational championships at Jamestown University in 2019.

Women’s wrestling has been an Olympic sport since 2004, and will be contested in its fifth Olympic Games in Tokyo in 2020. United World Wrestling has conducted Senior World Championships in women’s wrestling since 1987.