The UNI Panthers wrestling team will join the Big 12 Conference, effective with the 2017-18 season.

Last season, the Panthers earned the Mid-American Conference (MAC) championship, while finishing 8-0 in league dual meets. Now, UNI will face new challenges and teams with the move to the Big 12.

“We are extremely excited that our wrestling program has been accepted into the Big 12 Conference as an affiliate member,” David Harris, UNI Director of Athletics, said in a statement released by the school. “The Big 12 is one of the best conferences in all of college athletics, and it contains some of the very best student-athletes and coaches within the sport of wrestling. We look forward to the challenge of competing in the Big 12 and expanding the brand of UNI wrestling.”

The Big 12 has added Fresno State and UNI as affiliate members in the sport of wrestling to give the conference a 12-team field. The new additions will join Air Force, Iowa State, Northern Colorado, North Dakota State, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, South Dakota State, Utah Valley, West Virginia and Wyoming in future regular and postseason competition.

“We are excited to add Fresno State and Northern Iowa as affiliate members in the sport of wrestling,” said Big 12 Commissioner Bob Bowlsby, a Waterloo native. “We already compete at a high national level in the sport, and look forward to welcoming coaches, student-athletes and fans from each institution.”

“The Big 12 is predominantly one of the best conferences,” UNI wrestling coach Doug Schwab said in the press statement. “Five years ago when we made the transition to the MAC, it was the best choice at the time. It created a good rivalry with Missouri and Central Michigan and some of those other teams. Now, we have the opportunity to move to the Big 12. It puts us in a conference with Oklahoma State, one of the best teams in the country, perennially. It puts us with Iowa State, an in-state rival. We haven’t been able to have that ever, so I think that adds to it. People know the Big 12. People know that name. It’s a brand.”

The 2018 Big 12 Wrestling Championship will take place for the second consecutive year at the BOK Center in Tulsa, Oklahoma, on March 3-4.

“I am looking forward to winning a Big 12 title,” Schwab said. “Once you can do that, then you are in the hunt for a national title. The work has already started.”