Digging further into the wrestling data set from the Dept. of Education, we looked at how the number of college wrestling programs has changed over time. Certain colleges -- such as public military academies -- are excluded as they are exempt from the reporting requirements, so upfront I recognize there are some holes. Not sure they are meaningful.
As of 2016 there are 349 college wrestling programs in the data set, up from 299 in 2003-04, for a total growth of ~17% or 50 programs. Except for the season following the 2008 financial crisis, there was a net gain of college wrestling programs every season during 2004-2016.
Here's the breakdown by sanctioning body. NCAA is on the left scale, all other sanctioning bodies on the right scale.
From the above chart, here's the year-to-year change in number of programs by sanctioning body. The NCAA had net additions in six seasons while the NAIA had net additions is eleven seasons (out of twelve total).
Here's the cumulative impact of program additions, by sanctioning body on left scale and total on right scale. Since 2003-04, the NCAA has added (net) eight programs and the NAIA has added (net) thirty programs. During the entire period, non-NCAA colleges accounted for 84% of the growth in the number of college wrestling programs from 299 to 349.
NAIA is growing substantially faster than other sanctioning bodies, albeit from a much lower base relative to the NCAA. Still, the NAIA accounted for 60% of the total growth in number of programs from 2003 to 2016.
What to make of this? NAIA seems to be doing well, wrestling-wise, and that's great news. In contrast, the NCAA added a total of eight programs (net) over the period on a base of 217 (2003-2004). I'm not sure that kind of growth is going to get us where we need to be. I know there are organizations trying to fix this very hard problem and I don't envy their task.