Thursday, September 14, 2017

Solving The Mystery That Was SEC (Southeastern Conference) Wrestling.

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Southeastern Conference 

The Southeastern Conference aka The SEC, arguably the most popular conference in collegiate sports today. Mainly due to the fact that the conference has won 29 NCAA Division I Football titles, and 9 of those titles have been in the last 16 years. Wrestling fans are well aware of the fact that the SEC does not sponsor wrestling as an official sport of their conference, and that the only team currently in the SEC that has a wrestling program is Missouri (Which competes in the MidAmerican Conference for wrestling).

Now what many fans are aware of is that the SEC at one time did have wrestling. Yet what that looked like and who all was a part of it, remains a mystery for many.  With this blog today, I hope to answer a lot of questions.

The first couple of questions are:

When did it start?
How long did it last?
How did it start and why?
How did it end and why?

SEC wrestling started in the 1969-1970 wrestling season. It was the brainchild of long time Auburn head wrestling coach Arnold Umbach (who coached the Tigers from 1943-1973) and a few others who wanted to grow wrestling in the south.  Many top wrestlers from the "wrestling" states were brought in including Tom Milkovich to take over Auburn, Larry Sciacchatano to take over Louisiana State, Gary Schneider to take over Florida and eventually Fletcher Carr who took over Kentucky.

It is also important to note that the SEC hasn't always looked as it does today.

Georgia Tech who at one time was a part of the SEC conference as a school, did have a wrestling program from 1949-1989, but never competed in the SEC for wrestling.

Texas A&M who joined the SEC as a school in 2012, also had a wrestling program in the mid 1950's.

The University of the South who at one time was also a part of the SEC, also had a wrestling program throughout its history, but they too never participated in the SEC for wrestling.

Vanderbilt had wrestling, but dropped sometime in the 50's.

 Arkansas, South Carolina, Tulane, Mississippi and Mississippi State, all SEC conference members never had a varsity wrestling program.

According to Umbach, when Mississippi and Mississippi State were approached with the idea of adding wrestling programs to their schools, both replied with a very quick and very stern, "No!"


SEC Wrestling lasted from 1970-1981

As to why SEC wrestling ended, that is most likely due to a couple of different factors.  In the opinion of the late Dale Ketelsen who coached at Louisiana State from 1968 until he was replaced by Sciacchantano in 1979, it had to do with an inability to recruit locally. He and athletic director Carl Maddot did not see eye to eye on how to build LSU wrestling. Ketelsen believed the key was to recruit local kids from Louisiana and surrounding states, whereas Maddot believed the answer was to recruit top talent from the "wrestling states" up north. Maddot won out and Sciacchantano was hired.

Umbach also voiced his sentiment with this reasoning by stating that high school wrestling in many of these SEC states was still in its infancy which made it difficult to recruit local kids and try and build a top team at the same time.

By 1981, the conference had dwindled down to five teams, and with the announcement of Auburn discontinuing their wrestling program, the conference officially dropped wrestling as a sport.  The remaining four teams, Kentucky, Louisiana State, Tennessee and Georgia held on for a few more years, joining other conferences before they too eventually dropped their programs.  Georgia dropped shortly after Auburn, with Kentucky holding on through the 1983 season, Louisiana State dropping after the 1985 season and finally the university of Tennessee being the last SEC school with a wrestling program to drop after the 1986 season.

Now comes the fun part.

How did SEC wrestling do in the NCAA?  How did they compete team wise?  How many NCAA qualifiers did they produce? How Many All Americans?

In the short 12 year existence of SEC conference wrestling, an SEC team placed in the top ten on three occasions.  Kentucky captured 10th place at both the 1977 and 1980 NCAA championships and the final year of SEC wrestling in 1981, Auburn placed 9th.

It should also be noted that Auburn is the only SEC Conference wrestling team to host the NCAA Division I tournament, when they hosted in 1971.


In the 12 year existence of SEC wrestling, the conference produced 163 NCAA Division I Qualifiers


SEC Wrestling Produced 23 All Americans.
Let's take a look at this by Year

1970 - 9 NCAA Qualifiers - No All Americans
Auburn - 2
Alabama - 1
Louisiana State - 5
Tennessee - 1

1971 - 7 NCAA Qualifiers - No All Americans

 
Auburn - 4
Alabama - 2
Louisiana State - 1

1972 - 10 NCAA Qualifiers - No All Americans
Auburn - 4
Alabama - 2
Louisiana State - 4

1973 - 10 NCAA Qualifiers - No All Americans
Auburn - 5
Alabama - 4
Florida - 1

1974 - 9 NCAA Qualifiers - No All Americans

 
Auburn - 4
Alabama - 2
Florida - 1
Tennessee - 2

NOTE: Kentucky joins the SEC in 1975, which is also their first year of varsity wrestling.

1975 - 9 NCAA Qualifiers - Two All Americans
Alabama - 1
Florida - 2
Louisiana State - 2
Tennessee - 3
Kentucky - 4 (2 of which were All Americans)



1976 - 14 NCAA Qualifiers - Two All Americans
Alabama - 3
Florida - 3
Louisiana State - 2
Tennessee - 1
Kentucky - 5 (2 of which were All Americans)


1977 - 20 NCAA Qualifiers - Six All Americans
Auburn - 1
Alabama - 3
Florida - 6
Tennessee - 3 (2 of which were All Americans)
Kentucky - 7 (4 of which were All Americans)

1978 - 22 NCAA qualifiers - Two All Americans

 
Auburn - 3
Alabama - 3
Florida - 6 (Which one was an All American)
Louisiana State - 4 (Which one was an All American)
Tennessee - 2
Kentucky - 4

1979 - 21 NCAA Qualifiers - One All American
Auburn - 6
Alabama - 1
Georgia - 2
Florida - 3
Louisiana State - 8 (Which one was an All American)
Tennessee - 1

1980 - 18 NCAA Qualifiers - Five All Americans
Auburn - 6 (1 is an All American)
Georgia - 2
Louisiana State - 4 (1 is an All American)
Kentucky - 4 (1 is an All American)
Tennessee - 2 (2 of which were All Americans)

NOTE: Florida and Alabama both drop their wrestling programs after the 1979-1980 season

1981 - 13 NCAA Qualifiers - Four All Americans
Auburn - 5 (Two of which were All Americans)
Louisiana State  - 6 (One of Which was an All American)
Kentucky - 2 (One of which was an All American)


And I know it is a question that is weighing heavily on your mind and here is the answer to that question....

The SEC never did produce an NCAA individual National Champion.

Now some might point that Dale McNair won the 1953 HWT championship for Auburn, but remember that we a talking specifically about the years that SEC officially sponsored wrestling, so that title would not count in this list. The same goes for Chris Edmond of Tennessee who won an NCAA Division I title in 1985 at 167 lbs.


SEC CONFERENCE CHAMPIONSHIPS
Auburn - 4
Louisiana State - 5
Kentucky - 2
Florida - 1


Here are the 1970 through 1981 SEC Team results.


1970
1. Louisiana State
2. Auburn
3. Alabama
4. Georgia
5. Tennessee
6. Florida

1971
1. Louisiana State
2. Auburn
3. Alabama
4. Georgia
5. Tennessee
6. Florida

1972
1. Louisiana State
2. Auburn
3. Georgia
4. Auburn
5. Florida
6. Tennessee

1973
1. Auburn
2. Louisiana State
3. Alabama
4. Florida
5. Tennessee
6. Georgia

1974
1. Auburn
2. Alabama
3. Florida
4. Louisiana State
5. Tennesee
6. Georgia

1975

 
1. Auburn
2. Florida
3. Alabama
4. Tennessee
5. Kentucky
6. Louisiana State
7. Georgia

1976
1. Florida
2. Kentucky
3. Tennessee
4. Alabama
5. Auburn
6. Louisiana State
7. Georgia

1977
1. Kentucky
2. Florida
3. Alabama
4. Tennessee
5. Auburn
6. Louisiana State
7. Georgia

1978
1. Kentucky
2. Florida
3. Tennessee
4. Alabama
5. Louisiana State
6. Georgia
7. Auburn

1979

 
1. Louisiana State
2. Florida
3. Auburn
4. Alabama
5. Tennessee
6. Kentucky
7. Georgia

1980

 
1. Louisiana State
2. Auburn
3. Florida
4. Kentucky
5. Alabama
6. Tennessee
7. Georgia

1981

 
1. Auburn
2. Kentucky
3. Louisiana State
4. Tennessee
5. Georgia


And that in a nutshell is the history of SEC Wrestling.

Will we ever seen wrestling back in the SEC again? Never say never, and I hate being pessimistic but it does not look promising.  The SEC, and college sports in general, especially at the NCAA Division I level have all become about the almighty dollar. At this point, while wrestling continues to grow on many levels it is still a non-revenue sport, along with the other 21 of 23 sports in the NCAA that fit that description.

With the vast amount of talent that Florida produces, as well as Georgia both teams would benefit their local high schools by fielding teams and Tennessee could stand to finally give Chattanooga some company in the volunteer state.



7 comments:

  1. The Florida program was ranked in the top ten of the country when it was dropped. UCF dropped their program in 1985.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Great article. You left out 3 All-Americans from Tennessee: Ethan Reeve 1976 5TH NCAA @ 158, Ben Hill 1980 6TH-NCAA @ 177 and Mike Giustizia 1980 6TH NCAA @ 126. http://nwhof.org/stillwater/champions-database/#type=cdb&school=245

    Also Vanderbilt had varsity wrestling teams in the 1940's and 50"s. Tennessee had a varsity wrestling program from 1934-43 and then again from 1970-86.

    Chris Vandergriff
    865-924-4600

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you for the information. I will make some corrections.

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  3. The great Eliot Gray Simons, one of the best small men in NCAA wrestling history, also held the helm at UT Knoxville for some years.

    ReplyDelete
  4. I WRESTLED FOR THE GATORS FROM 75-78. MY TEAMMATES AND I GET TOGETHER REGULARLY DOWN IN GAINESVILLE FL TO REMINISCE AND SOCIALIZE. 'IM WAITING TO HIT THE BIG LOTTO SO I CAN SPONSOR THE SEC TO BRING BACK WRESTLING.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Awesome! I hope it happens. Gators need wrestling again!

      Delete