At the 2016 Olympics in Rio De Janeiro, Helen Maroulis became the first American women to win a gold medal in wrestling since women’s wrestling was added to the games in 2004.
In turn, she helped continue to launch the rise of the sport which has taken off within the last decade among young women.
Maroulis, however, did not attend some powerhouse, name-brand college. She started her college wrestling career at Missouri Baptist and finished at Simon Fraser in Canada.
Both schools are members of the Women’s College Wrestling Association, or WCWA. There are currently 38 members of the WCWA. Nearly 60 programs offer scholarships for women’s wrestling, most of them you’ve never heard of. Graduates of these schools also make up the majority of the women’s national team that is considered by many to be the second-best in the world.
While a number of traditional Division I powerhouse athletic programs offer wrestling as a club sport, none of them actually sponsor the sports.
This is where Penn State comes in.
On Monday, the NCAA recommended women’s wrestling “emerging sport” status across all three divisions. If the recommendation is accepted, it would be added as an emerging sport in August of 2020 and be one step closer to having an NCAA-sponsored championship.
A sport must have at least 20 varsity teams and/or competitive club teams to be considered for the program, and at least 40 varsity teams for NCAA championship consideration.
The Wrestle Like a Girl organization and USA Wrestling said there are 23 NCAA schools with women’s wrestling teams, including Texas A&M and Colorado State (both clubs). There are 13 other schools planning to add the sport either next year or in 2020-21.
So why shouldn’t Penn State be the one to help put the sport further on the map?
Pennsylvania is a wrestling-crazed state, albeit behind the times with adding girls wrestling in high school. The support for the Nittany Lions men’s wrestling program is the best in the country, and we already know Penn State fans love to support a winner.
The choice, to me, seems obvious.
Even with Penn State sponsoring 31 varsity sports already, the addition of women’s wrestling could be relatively easy. The facilities are all already in place and the addition would help you with Title IX compliance should you choose to add scholarships elsewhere.
Penn State adding women’s wrestling would give elite talent a chance to compete in college on the highest level and on scholarship without having to sacrifice the potential experience of attending a larger school. While that’s not to knock any of the current schools that offer women’s wrestling as a varsity sport, you have to imagine that would be an appealing offer.
The Nittany Lions have an opportunity to help be a pioneer in a sport that is growing whether they help it do so or not, and Sandy Barbour has an opportunity to leave her mark with the addition of potential powerhouse 32nd athletic program.