MARQUETTE, Mich. – The Northern Michigan University Board of Trustees approved Friday (Feb. 14) the recommendation for the NMU Department of Athletics to begin a women's wrestling program.
Northern will be the first public university in Michigan to sponsor women's wrestling as an NCAA scholarship level program. The team will compete as a club during 2020-21 and will move to NCAA Division II intercollegiate varsity status starting in fall 2021.
"Northern has a tradition-rich history in women's wrestling at the Olympic level and men's wrestling at both the NCAA and Olympic levels," said Forrest Karr, NMU director of athletics. "We are excited to bring women's freestyle wrestling back to campus."
Northern hosted women's wrestling as a non-NCAA varsity sport from fall 2004 through spring 2012. It was part of NMU's then U.S. Olympic Education Center and was under the direction of USA Wrestling. The program saw a total of 76 women participate, including Olympians Randi Miller (bronze medalist, Beijing 2008), Adeline Gray (Rio 2016) and Helen Maroulis (gold medalist, Rio 2016).
Additionally, the program had team members who garnered 29 National Championship gold medals, 14 World or Pan American medals and five USA Wrestling outstanding wrestler awards. The former team competed at the junior, university and senior world championship levels.
Recently, the Women's Collegiate Wrestling Coalition was created to bring the sport of women's wrestling through the NCAA "emerging sport" process, which is the first step toward official recognition of the sport by the NCAA and toward the eventual creation of an NCAA championship event for participating programs. During the Division II Business Session at the NCAA Convention in Anaheim, Calif., held in January 2020, women's freestyle wrestling was added to the emerging sports for women list.
"Being added to the emerging sports list was a big step because it will accelerate the process of reaching 40 institutions sponsoring women's wrestling, which will enable the NCAA to offer a championship tournament for the sport," said Karr.
Karr said a coach will be hired during summer 2020 and will have the opportunity to recruit student-athletes throughout the 2020-21 academic year.
"We plan to renovate locker room space and we are fortunate that our facilities can otherwise accommodate the new women's wrestling program without a major building project," he said.
Karr also noted that as Northern's female population within the university student body has grown over the years, adding women's wrestling will help the institution continue to make sure that the numbers of men and women participating in intercollegiate athletics are substantially proportionate to overall enrollment.
"Providing participation opportunities at rates proportionate to university enrollment is an important component of Title IX," said Karr.
Including women's wrestling, Northern will offer 18 NCAA sports – 11 for women and seven for men – as of the 2021-22 academic year. The department currently sponsors 17 NCAA sports. NMU also offers men's Greco-Roman wrestling and men's and women's weightlifting as part of its National Training Site. Beginning in fall 2020, NMU will also sponsor men's and women's alpine ski teams, which will compete as varsity members of the U.S. Collegiate Ski and Snowboard Association, and a coed esports team, which will be a member of the National Association of Collegiate Esports.