The Big 12 Conference Wrestling Championship has a permanent home for the next eight years, and Oklahoma State wrestling coach John Smith couldn’t be happier.
The Big 12 Conference and the Tulsa Sports Commission announced a partnership Tuesday to host the tournament at Tulsa’s BOK Center – the host venue for the tournament in 2017 and 2018 – through 2024, after they had previously announced earlier this year an extension through 2020.
Smith made sure to mention the help of Dave Martin, formerly a longtime OSU senior associate athletics director, in the process.
“It’s a commitment from Tulsa that has made this happen, and I’m glad that OSU has been a small part of that,” Smith said. “Oklahoma State, and the athletic department – Dave Martin was instrumental in helping us keep it there.
“It’s going to be a nice place, and I know that the Big 12 members in wrestling like it there. They put on a good show for the student-athletes, as well as make it really convenient for the coaches to have an important tournament that qualifies you for the NCAA championship – and being comfortable is important.”
The 2018 tournament, held in March earlier this year, set an all-time tournament record with more than 18,000 tickets sold, per the Big 12 release.
This season’s tournament is scheduled for March 9-10, 2019, while the 2020 Championship will be March 7 and 8.
“Based on the experience through the first two years of our partnership with the Tulsa Sports Commission for this to be the preeminent collegiate wrestling championship, continuing our presence in this market speaks to the dedication of all involved,” Big 12 associate commissioner Bob Burda said in the Big 12 release. “Being able to build upon the foundation already established for the next six years clearly puts a stake in the ground for the Big 12 to grow this championship in Tulsa into the foreseeable future.”
The Big 12 Wrestling Championship is the largest neutral-site wrestling conference championship in the NCAA, with the Big Ten hosting its conference tournament on campuses.
The league used to rotate the host site between its member universities, but following Missouri’s departure from the conference, there was a push for a neutral site. After Missouri left the league, long-standing programs Iowa State, Oklahoma and OSU each got one more opportunity to host before the conference moved the tournament to the Sprint Center in Kansas City, Missouri, in 2016.
The attendance numbers shot up with the new venue – helped along with the increase in Big 12 programs as the conference had added wrestling affiliates. Only twice in the league’s existence had attendance topped 10,000 on campuses – at Iowa State in 1999 (10,551), and in Stillwater in 2001 (10,238).
At the Sprint Center, the attendance came in at 10,126, but the shift to Tulsa proved most lucrative when 17,505 turned out in 2017.
The hope is the increased interest in wrestling for the Big 12 tournament in Tulsa could potentially make the BOK Center a future site for the NCAA national championships – which were last in Oklahoma in 2014 when Chesapeake Arena hosted it in Oklahoma City. The earliest the tournament could return to the state is 2023 with the next four sites – Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania (2019), Minneapolis, Minnesota (2020), St. Louis, Missouri (2021) and Detroit, Michigan (2022) – already announced.
“I think they’ve shown they are capable of, if they get the opportunity, of running the NCAA championships,” Smith said. “I think they’re very capable of it, and they are very committed. It’s been a positive influence in wrestling with the conference meet being hosted by a major city.”
Follow News Press sports editor Jason Elmquist on Twitter @jelmquistSW for updates on Oklahoma State athletics.