The NCAA recognized women’s wrestling as an emerging sport in all divisions in 2020. There are 45 women’s intercollegiate wrestling programs, including five in Iowa.
The sport is growing at the high school level — 32 states have a sanctioned girls high school wrestling state championship. Girls wrestling is not sanctioned by the two high school athletic associations in Iowa, but has a state tournament sponsored by the Iowa Wrestling Coaches and Officials Association. More than 600 girls participated in wrestling in Iowa last season.
The Hawkeye Wrestling Club has been sponsoring female wrestlers since 2017. Terry Steiner, the U.S. women’s national coach, won an NCAA individual title and was part of three NCAA championship teams when he wrestled at Iowa in the early 1990s.
“Women’s wrestling is awesome,” Brands said. “There are little girls around the country, around the planet, who are going to see this. It’s that impactful.”
Brands has long supported female wrestling, telling the NCAA Board of Governors in a 2017 letter that “it is long overdue for women to share in the opportunities of this great sport.” The university’s new wrestling building planned for construction in 2022 includes training facilities.
“Frankly, Tom was in my ear three, four, five years ago saying, ‘Come on boss, let’s go. Let’s get women’s wrestling added,’” Barta said. “We were not ready to do that yet, but we were watching it.”
Brands will be involved in the coaching search, but he emphasized the women’s program will be separate.
“The women will have their own practice times,” Brands said. “The women will have their own head coach. The women will have their own structure. They will run their program as they see fit. We will hire a coach. It will be the best coach in America. Look out.”
Barta said the discussion about adding women’s wrestling was halted because of the pandemic. The university eliminated men’s gymnastics, men’s tennis and men’s swimming and diving after last season because of financial concerns related to the pandemic. Women’s swimming and diving was originally among the sports being cut, but it was reinstated.
A settlement currently being finalized in a Title IX lawsuit filed by several women’s swimmers after those cuts included the addition of a women’s sport.
“In general, it was about Title IX, and specifically it was about adding women’s sports, the counting of women’s sports,” Barta said of the settlement. “We had already agreed on reinstating women’s swimming permanently. Part of the agreement was adding a women’s sport, and we chose women’s wrestling, for all of the obvious reasons.”
Women’s wrestling can offer 10 scholarships that can be divided among participants. The roster size is expected to be 30-35 wrestlers.
Iowa will now offer 22 sports — eight men’s teams and 14 women’s teams. The university added women’s rowing in 1994 and women’s soccer in 1996.