Big Ten Tournament, Minnesota, Sandy Barbour

Vice President of Athletics Sandy Barbour observes the game against Minnesota in the Big Ten Tournament in the United Center on Thursday, March 14, 2019. Minnesota defeated Penn State 77-72.

When one of your friends asks you to name a progressive state, I’d be hard pressed to believe Iowa is the first one that comes to mind.

The Hawkeye State voted for former President Donald Trump in each of the past two elections and is currently governed by Republican Kim Reynolds.

These facts do not serve as part of a greater insult toward the great state of Iowa, which is an essential producer of soybeans, corn and raising livestock. Rather, they paint the picture of what is an integral part of the United States.

Yet cradled in the eastern part of the state is Iowa City, the home of the state’s namesake public university.

And as of last Thursday, the Hawkeyes’ athletic department is adding women’s wrestling as an intercollegiate program. In doing so, Iowa is now the first NCAA Division I program from a Power Five conference to offer the sport.

In the neverending fight for gender equality within our country, Iowa’s athletic department is deserving of an applause.

The NCAA only recognized women’s wrestling as a sport in 2020, yet, there are now 45 intercollegiate women’s wrestling programs, including five in Iowa.

The growing popularity of women’s wrestling in Iowa shouldn’t come as much of a surprise, especially considering the Hawkeyes’ success in the men’s arena. The 2021 national champions, Iowa has also won an additional 23 national championships since 1975.

Given the love for wrestling in the state of Iowa — and the Hawkeyes’ dominant history — it's only logical that their program would be at the forefront of establishing women’s wrestling as a legitimate Division I sport.

But dissimilar to sports like men’s hockey, which only six full-time Big Ten institutions field a squad for, all 14 universities have men’s wrestling programs.

Now the question arises — when will the other Big Ten schools hop aboard the forward-thinking train with Iowa?

I think there’s an obvious answer to which institution is up next: Penn State.

Though not in possession of the same time-honored history that Iowa is, the Nittany Lions won eight national championships in a nine-year stretch last decade, only coming up short in 2015.

With Cael Sanderson leading the wrestling program, women in power within the sports community, like women’s basketball coach Carolyn Kieger and, perhaps most importantly, athletic director Sandy Barbour, Penn State is the perfect candidate to add on women’s wrestling.

Unlike other universities such as Stanford, which sought to cut 11 athletic programs in light of the coronavirus pandemic, Penn State was adamant about keeping its department intact.

Certainly the pandemic is far from over, but with stadiums back at full capacity on campus, and the Nittany Lions’ football team drawing crowds like the 109,958 fans who attended the White Out, one has to believe the athletic department’s finances are reverting back to normalcy in some respect.

Yet, there are logistical factors that go into adding another program on campus.

Rec Hall is already busy enough with men’s wrestling, men’s and women’s volleyball, and men’s and women’s gymnastics calling the building home.

The Bryce Jordan Center is another option, but of course men’s and women’s basketball duke it out in there on a regular basis. Not to mention, there are a plethora of concerts within the BJC every year.

Still, none of these deterrents should prevent women’s wrestling from coming to State College at the collegiate level.

Rather than follow the example of other universities in the conference, Penn State must lead the charge of what will almost certainly turn out to be a quantum leap in the pursuit of gender equality in college athletics.

Should the Nittany Lions’ athletic department sit on the sidelines and wait for other universities to follow Iowa’s lead, it’s entirely possible the Hawkeyes go at this idly.

And should that be the case, the Big Ten’s involvement in collegiate women’s wrestling could be greatly reduced, or not happen altogether.

I have no evidence to support this assumptive fear of mine, but this much is clear to me: Penn State wrestling has a platform that other schools in the conference, barring Iowa, do not.

In the wake of the Hawkeyes’ modern approach to collegiate sports, the Nittany Lions’ athletic department should do the same and adopt a Division I women’s wrestling program.

If you're interested in submitting a Letter to the Editor, click here.