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Binghamton wrestling realigns to EIWA

In another step toward establishing elite status in the world of college wrestling, the Binghamton wrestling program was granted acceptance into the Eastern Intercollegiate Wrestling Association on Thursday. The Bearcats will no longer compete in the Colonial Athletic Association, as the move to the EIWA becomes effective for next season.

The oldest conference in the nation and one of the top collegiate wrestling leagues, the EIWA announced its plans to add four teams to a membership that already boasts five Patriot League schools and six Ivy League ones, including wrestling powerhouses Cornell (No. 9), Penn (No. 21) and Rutgers (No. 25). Hofstra, Drexel and Boston University, all previously members of the CAA, were the other three institutions to receive invitations.

Binghamton head coach Matt Dernlan called the move a “monumental” one for Binghamton, on both an academic and athletic level.

“The institutions that currently make up the EIWA wrestling conference are predominately the premier private institutions in the United States, and to be extended an invitation to join them speaks to the level of our academic excellence, that we’re seen as being in line and on the same level as every Ivy League school in the country,” he said. “I think that’s great for our institution academically, and athletically … EIWA is … one of the most respected, and also … probably the second most powerful wrestling conference in the country.”

Dernlan said the process of joining the EIWA began in the fall, right before the start of the season, but there had been talk about the idea when he accepted the head coaching job last spring. Dernlan said he was asked about his thoughts on the possibility, and he offered his support.

“I said I think our current conference, the CAA, is a good conference and it served our purposes, but from what President Stenger’s vision is for the institution and where we’re trying to grow as a wrestling program, I think the EIWA would be a perfect fit,” he said. “So it started with the dream; we didn’t know [if] they would extend an invitation to us, and then we started doing our homework, made a formal letter of application [and] there’s been ongoing discussions throughout the year.”

Dating back to its inception in 1905, the EIWA has produced 88 individual NCAA champions. In the 2012-13 season alone, the conference sent 50 wrestlers to the NCAA tournament (45 automatic berths), which was second to only the Big Ten. Cornell has dominated the conference of late, capturing the last seven EIWA titles.

Dernlan said he expects the Bearcats, who have taken on rigorous non-conference schedules regularly in the past, to benefit from a built-in conference schedule “as competitive [as] any program’s in the country.”

“I think it’s gonna be a great selling point,” he said. “I know all the guys that we’re bringing in in next year’s class are excited about it, the guys on the team are excited about it, and, you know, that’s what we want kids coming into Binghamton saying we’re gonna compete against the best kids in the country and those are the challenges …. that we embrace and are excited to be a part of … in the future.”

Arguably Binghamton’s most successful Division I program, the wrestling team experienced a peak in 2010 when it finished tied for 21st at the NCAA Championship. The Bearcats have finished runner-up at the CAA Championship the last three years and have produced 21 NCAA qualifiers in the last four.

Like Dernlan, athletic director Patrick Elliott commended the program’s acceptance to the EIWA. He said he believes it will bolster recruiting on both a regional and national level, but that’s just one of the potential benefits.

“Wrestling is one our sports that has allowed us within athletics to promote our brand,” he said. “By partnering with other nationally renowned institutions that represent high academic achievement and high athletic achievement, it puts us in a conference with similar schools with similar aspirations.”

Binghamton will be eligible to compete for NCAA berths and the conference title beginning next season.