ASHLAND — The Southern Oregon University men's wrestling team is officially a new member of the Cascade Collegiate Conference.

On Wednesday afternoon, CCC Commissioner Rob Cashell announced that the conference will begin sponsoring men's wrestling starting with the 2017-18 season. It becomes the seventh men's sport recognized by the conference — joining baseball, basketball, cross country, golf, soccer, and track and field — and the first new one since soccer was added in 2007.

The rest of the conference's men's wrestling members will be Eastern Oregon, Embry-Riddle (Ariz.), Menlo (Calif.), Montana State-Northern, Providence (Mont.) (formerly known as Great Falls), Simpson (Calif.) and Warner Pacific — the exact outfit that formerly made up the NAIA West Group. As a corresponding action, Embry-Riddle, Menlo, MSU-Northern and Simpson have been accepted as associate members of the CCC.

The move follows an NAIA-wide trend of regional "groups" being abolished and conferences being established heading into the new season. According to the CCC press release announcing the decision, "the process to qualify for nationals was recently changed at the NAIA National Administrative Council (NAC) meeting in June. The new model places an emphasis on conference direct qualification aligning wrestling with other NAIA sports. Past models tried to balance the number of programs in regions which, at times, required programs in the same conference to compete in different regional qualifiers. The new model also guarantees that the champion at each weight class from the conference championship will automatically advance to the NAIA Championships."

SOU's regular season schedule will not be affected; the Raiders met each of the aforementioned schools in dual action at least once last season.

SOU will host the inaugural CCC Men's Wrestling Championships on Feb. 17, 2018.

"We are very excited to take the next step in conference offerings with men's wrestling," Cashell said. "The sport continues to see growth at the NAIA level and providing a conference home for our current western United States institutions, as well as the opportunity to recognize outstanding student-athletes academically and athletically, is important to the long-term stability of the sport."