The NCAA committee on women's athletics recommended Monday that all three divisions add women's wrestling as an emerging sport, a key step toward making it a championship-level sport.
If the recommendation is approved, women's wrestling as well as acrobatics and tumbling would be added as emerging sports Aug. 1, 2020.
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. There are 13 other schools planning to add the sport either next year or in 2020-21. The National Collegiate Acrobatics and Tumbling Association said 29 NCAA colleges and universities sponsor the sport.
The emerging sports program, which offers sponsorship options and helps schools meet financial aid and other requirements, began in 1994. It has helped several sports have reached championship status, including beach volleyball and ice hockey. Equestrian, rugby and triathlon are all currently competing as emerging sports.
A coalition of wrestling organizations and the U.S. Olympic Committee submitted an application for emerging sport status in 2017. The committee said it applauded the continued growth of women's wrestling, noting the sport is relatively inexpensive to sponsor and that doing so would add coaching opportunities for women.
"This is a great day for wrestling," said Rich Bender, executive director of USA Wrestling. "We are encouraged by today's decision, and fully expect it to help accelerate the growth of women's wrestling."
Increasing opportunities for women to wrestle has been a major focus for the sport in recent years after it was briefly dropped from the Olympic program in 2013. A lack of gender equity played a role in the decision by the International Olympic Committee. Six of the 18 weights contested at the last two Olympics, in London and Rio de Janeiro, were for women, and a women's gold medal match will cap the competition in each of the last six days of the tournament at the 2020 Tokyo Games.
Japan has won 11 of the 18 Olympic gold medals given out in women's wrestling.
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