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Shannon Scovel | NCAA.com | February 27, 2022

Breaking down what the NCAA wrestling tournament allocations mean ahead of the conference tournaments

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Qualifying for the NCAA wrestling tournament is a unique accomplishment, one that just 33 wrestlers at each weight class experience each year. Earning a bid to this event allows a wrestler to keep the dream of a national title alive for two more weeks and allows the athlete to compete on the biggest stage the sport offers at this level. Qualifying, though, is a complex process — one that relies heavily on performances at the conference tournament. Each conference is awarded a set number of automatic qualifying spots, and any wrestler who finishes within that placement or higher is guaranteed a spot at the national tournament. 

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Anyone that misses that placement can hope for an at-large bid, but those are limited at each weight class to a select number of wrestlers, depending on the strength of the field at that weight and the number of spots already locked up through automatic qualification. The goal of the at-large bids is to reward wrestlers who have competed to a solid regular-season record and have a history of success, and the intention is to build the most competitive 33-person bracket possible in each weight class. 

Let’s break down which weights in which conferences have the most automatic qualifying spots and what these spots mean for those trying to earn a place at the 2022 championship. 

First, the complete automatic qualification allocations by conference: 

CONFERENCE 125 133 141 149 157 165 174 184 197 285 TOTAL
Atlantic Coast Conference 3 5 4 4 5 3 4 5 3 3 39
Big 12 Conference 6 6 7 4 6 4 8 4 7 6 58
Big Ten Conference 10 10 7 7 7 7 8 12 11 9 88
Eastern Intercollegiate Wrestling Association 4 2 4 4 5 7 4 3 5 4 42
Mid-American Conference 1 1 3 5 2 3 2 2 1 2 22
Pacific-12 Conference 3 3 2 3 2 3 2 2 1 2 23
Southern Conference 2 2 1 2 1 2 1 1 1 2 15
Pre-Allocations 29 29 28 29 28 29 29 29 29 28 287
At-Large 4 4 5 4 5 4 4 4 4 5 43

Conference with the greatest number of total spots: Big Ten

The Big Ten earned a total of 88 automatic qualifying spots, 30 more spots than the Big 12, the second-deepest conference in the country. All ten weights in the Big Ten have at least seven qualifying spots, meaning that any wrestler in the conference who places higher than seventh automatically qualifies for the national tournament. The Big 12 guarantees at least four automatic qualifying spots at each of the ten weights with as many as seven auto spots at 141 pounds and a total of eight spots at 174 pounds. 

Weight class with the highest number of automatic qualifiers in a given conference: 184 - Big Ten

All ten weights have at least 28 automatic qualifiers spread across the seven conferences, and at 184 pounds, nearly half of those automatic qualifiers come from the Big Ten. The nation’s premier wrestling conference will award 12 automatic qualifying spots to 184-pound wrestlers, meaning that any wrestler who doesn’t finish in the bottom two at the conference tournament will book a ticket to Detroit for NCAAs. Aaron Brooks currently leads the way at this weight followed closely by Myles Amine of Michigan, a wrestler whose only loss on the year came from Brooks, 3-1. 

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The weight with the second-highest total number of automatic qualifiers across the country is also in the Big Ten, as 11 qualifiers at 197 pounds will also earn their trip to nationals. The 197-pound weight is one of the most wide open in the country, as Penn State’s Max Dean tops the coaches poll but Big Ten finalist Eric Schultz will be pushing the Nittany Lion for a title, as will Iowa’s Jacob Warner and Michigan’s Cam Caffey, the latter of whom has a win this year over Dean. 

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Ten wrestlers at 125 and 133 pounds in this conference also have automatic qualifying spots, making the Big Ten the only conference in the country with double-digit automatic qualifying spots for any weight. Penn State and Iowa have the top two spots at 133 pounds in defending NCAA champion Roman Bravo-Young and Big Ten finalist Austin DeSanto, while 125 pounds is much more interesting with Nick Suriano of Michigan leading the way and the next highest-ranked athlete, Eric Barnett, coming in at No. 5. Penn State’s Drew Hildebrandt is at No. 6, followed by Devin Schroder at No. 7, Drake Ayala at No. 9 and Malik Heinselman at No. 10, creating depth and storylines here as the lightest wrestlers prepare for battle. 

Conference making history: ACC 

The ACC earned a total of 39 automatic qualification spots, a record for a conference that has just six teams and received its last highest total, 37, in 2019. The N.C. State Wolfpack lead the conference and currently have all ten starters ranked in the Top 33, paced by No. 3 Tariq Wilson and No. 3 Trent Hidlay at 149 and 184 pounds. Wilson and Hidlay serve as the top-ranked wrestlers overall in the conference as well, while 2021 NCAA champion Austin O’Connor of North Carolina is fourth at 157 pounds.

The Virginia Tech Hokies will head into the ACC tournament as the next best team in the conference after falling only to NC State during the dual season. North Carolina and Pitt have both also appeared in the national team rankings throughout the year, adding depth to this exciting conference. The ACC had a national champion and three NCAA finalists last year. With 39 automatic qualification spots, who from this group will look to achieve similar success in the postseason? 

Weights in conferences where only the winning wrestler qualifies: Nine 

While the Big Ten awards at least eight spots across every weight in the conference tournament, the MAC, Pac-12 and SoCon require wrestlers to finish higher to book their tickets to Detroit. In nine weights across these three conferences, only the winner of the conference is guaranteed a spot, meaning that a wrestler who makes the conference finals might miss out on the chance for redemption at the national tournament. 

Three weight classes have just one automatic qualifying spot in the MAC: 125 pounds, 133 pounds and 197 pounds. Per the NCAA coaches rankings, Anthony Noto of Lock Haven, Richie Koehler of Rider and Will Feldkamp of Clarion are the top-ranked wrestlers at each of those weights in the conference and the only MAC athletes to be ranked by the coaches, but they’ll need to win the tournament to guarantee themselves a spot at nationals. 

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Noto and Feldkamp have never qualified for the national tournament before, as Noto is in his first year as a starter for Lock Haven, and Feldkamp is wrestling as a fifth-year junior and second-year starter for the Golden Eagles of Clarion. Neither of these two athletes has a conference loss so far this season, as Noto is 26-1 with his lone loss coming against four-time NCAA qualifier Gage Curry and Feldkamp is 17-3 with two losses to Jake Koser of Navy and a loss to Greg Bulsak of Rutgers. 

On the other hand, Koehler qualified for NCAAs last year after coming just short his freshman season. The Rider fourth-year sophomore is 17-7 on the season with his only MAC loss coming against Cameron Soda in sudden victory during the Edinboro-Rider dual back in January. All three of these wrestlers will be the favorites on paper, to earn that qualifying spot, but there isn’t a huge margin for error.

This pressure to win is something that faces five wrestlers in the SoCon conference as the 141, 157, 174, 184 and 197 pounders will all need to finish on top to ensure their place at the national tournament. The conference has ranked athletes at four of those five weight classes with Shannon Hanna leading the way at 141, Dazjon Casto pacing the group at 157, Austin Murphy topping the conference rankings at 174 and Caleb Hopkins holding down the top spot right now at heavyweight. Cody Bond (141) and Thomas Flitz (174) will both be challenging to take down the leader of their weight class right now and pull off the upset next weekend, as they are both ranked and have the potential to push for a nationals bid. 

Murphy and Hopkins won the SoCon tournament outright in 2021, with Murphy taking down Carial Tarter and Flitz and Hopkins beating Zach Brown and Matthew Waddell in his bracket. Waddell also earned an allocation spot in 2021 for his finals performance, but such an opportunity is not a guarantee to this year’s finalist at the weight. The second-place finisher will have to hope for an at-large bid, something Flitz experienced in 2021 after finishing second at 174 pounds to Murphy of Campbell. The 125, 133, 149, 165 and 185 pounds weight classes in the SoCon conference have two automatic qualifier spots, but the third-place finisher will need to look for an at-large bid. 

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The Pac-12, much like the SoCon and the MAC, has a weight class with one at-large bid as well, in this case, 197 pounds. Arizona State’s Kordell Norfleet, ranked No. 10 nationally, leads the way at this weight, and he’s 12-3 on the year after finishing in the Round of 12 last season. Norfleet will enter the postseason as someone expected to not only top the conference but perhaps end up on the podium for the Sun Devils, but he does still have to ensure that he qualifies. Winning gold at Pac-12s is the most certain way to make that happen for Norfleet. 

Across all ten weights, the MAC conference has a total of 22 allocation spots, five of which belong to the deepest weight class in the conference, 149 pounds. The Pac-12 has just one more spot than the MAC with 23 automatic qualifying spots, and four weight classes in the Pac-12 offer as many as three automatic qualifying spots. The SoCon, on the other hand, offers 15 spots, which places more value on conference finishes for wrestlers competing for those schools. 

In total, 287 wrestlers will earn automatic qualifying spots, while 43 spots will remain open for at-large bids. The goal for any wrestler at the conference tournament will be to lock up one of those 287 spots and avoid the stress of waiting for the at-large bid potential. 

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