Big Ten shines on wrestling mat

By Ethan Swanson

As the Big Ten took a commanding 5-0 lead in this year’s Big Ten/ACC Challenge on Tuesday, it seems as if the Big Ten has solidified itself as the nation’s premier basketball conference. Schools put an emphasis on sports that bring in the most revenue: football and men’s basketball. In the midst of all the chatter regarding March Madness and the college football postseason year after year, many are oblivious to the fact that basketball or football will most likely never be the Big Ten’s most successful sports. The Big Ten is first and foremost a wrestling conference.

Since 1975, the Big Ten has claimed 30 NCAA team wrestling championships, nearly four times the number of the next most successful conference, the Big 12, which has eight. Just last year at the 2013 NCAA Wrestling Championships, the Big Ten crowned five individual champions of the 10 overall weight classes.

According to this year’s InterMat NCAA wrestling rankings, 11 of the 14 schools in the Big Ten are in the nation’s top-25, six of which are in the top 12. Three-time Big Ten champion and All-American Jesse Delgado described the Big Ten as the epicenter for wrestling’s elite and its competitive nature played a factor in his decision to attend Illinois. Delgado also attributed a large part of his national success to a rigorous Big Ten schedule.

“The Big Ten is the hot bed for wrestling,” Delgado said. “I started at Cal Poly, and when I got the chance to come here, it’d be the same as if a running back from Southern Illinois got the chance to play at USC. Big Ten wrestling is a grind, there are points in the season when you’ll have five weeks going against guys in the top five, All-Americans. I’ve had a road trip where I wrestled two top-three wrestlers back-to-back. It prepares a lot of guys for nationals.”

Geographically, the Midwest is tailor-made for producing wrestling elite. Littered with hard-nosed cities such as Lincoln, Detroit and Chicago, the Midwest just breeds blue-collar toughness. When a harsh Midwest winter drops two feet of lake-effect snow on the Minnesota landscape, kids really have no choice but to resort to an indoor sport. During the winter, Midwest youth can either trade their snow boots for basketball shoes or a singlet, and it seems pretty clear that many choose to strap on a singlet. Michigan-native and Illinois senior Jackson Morse described wrestling as a staple in the Midwest.

“Wrestling is important to the culture out here,” Morse said. “Every state is pretty competitive from a young age and that translates to success at the college level too. The Big Ten is the best atmosphere for wrestling. Growing up in the Midwest, I never thought about going anywhere else.”

As a result, TheOpenMat.com has determined that out of the top-25 states for high school wrestling, 10 host a Big Ten university.

So as the Big Ten/ACC Challenge wraps up, it’s important to remember that the Big Ten has always stood alone in one regard: collegiate wrestling.

Ethan can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter @EthanSwanson88.