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AMES | After losing its automatic qualifier status following the 2014 NCAA championships, the Big 12 Conference will expand, in wrestling, for 2016.

Between sessions of the 2015 Big 12 wrestling championships at Hilton Coliseum Saturday, Iowa State head coach Kevin Jackson was asked what the future of the Big 12 championships, in its current format, would be like.

"We should be a 10-team conference next year," Jackson said. "We will have affiliate members in wrestling. It will be the Western Wrestling Conference and we will have all six of those teams join our conference.

"I think T's are being crossed and I's dotted, but we are even looking to expand more teams after that so we are looking to grow the Big 12 Conference because we think it is important to wrestling."

The Western Wrestling Conference is made up of Air Force, Northern Colorado, North Dakota State, South Dakota State, Utah Valley State and Wyoming.

The Big 12 up until this season had always been granted a waiver by the NCAA to allow the Big 12 championships to be an automatic qualifying tournament despite not having a minimum of six teams in its conference.

Jackson said the Big 12 had the option to move up its tournament and compete in the WWC regional this season but choose not to do so.

"It is really huge because we need to be an automatic qualifier tournament," Jackson said of the new affiliate members. "We got a waiver for so many years and they decided not to give us a waiver this year.

"We had the opportunity to go wrestle in that WWC qualifier and still have our Big 12 conference tournament, and looking back that might have been the better decision. But as a conference us coaches felt that we would still get a large number of qualifiers and get our guys who deserved to be there, there. We just wouldn't have an opportunity to steal somebody's spot."

Jackson believes the Big 12 will get 27 or 28 at-large qualifiers for the NCAA championships set for March 19-21 in St. Louis, which is more than the 24 it had as an automatic qualifier last season.

Jackson also said the Big 12 wrestling conference could expand even further and that nearly happened as part of the WWC and Big 12 merger for next season.

"It will be called the Big 12 and for those programs (WWC members) it would solidify wrestling on their campus with having the ability to attach the Big 12 to their wrestling programs," Jackson said. "We are going to be reaching out to other programs ... there was some communication with the Pac-12 and ACC and we had really detailed conversations with both of those conferences and when it came down to it they weren't able to pull the trigger for one reason or another."

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Sports Reporter

Sports reporter for The Courier

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