PITTSBURGH — The question is one Missouri wrestling coach Brian Smith has received on more than one occasion. He's been asked it so much that he's even perfected the answer he gives.

"I get constantly asked, 'Hey, how have you done in the SEC?' " Smith said last week during the NCAA Wrestling Championships at PPG Paints Arena. "I say, 'We always win it.' "

To be fair, it's not an unreasonable question to be posed to a Tigers head coach. Since 2012, all of Missouri's sports teams have competed in the Southeastern Conference.

Well, all of its sports teams except for one. That would be the one Smith coaches, which has no other peers among the other 13 SEC members since none of the other schools offer the sport anymore.

For Missouri's wrestling program, its conference affiliation has been in the Mid-American Conference. Instead of competing against the likes of Alabama, Florida or LSU, the Tigers are competing against the likes of Kent State, Ohio and Central Michigan.

Although that situation makes Missouri unique in the SEC, it doesn't make it unique in the world of Division I college wrestling. Quite the opposite, actually, when you have less than 100 schools competing nationally.

"It's part of, when you look at the sport of wrestling, there's a lot of it," said Smith, whose team has won the MAC championship every year since joining in the 2012-13 season. "The [Eastern Wrestling League] was not affiliated with a conference, it was just a wrestling league. The [Eastern Interscholastic Wrestling League] is just a wrestling league. The Big 12 now, even though it is still called that, only has four members of the 12 that are in there. It's just part of it."

It's also why, two weeks before the NCAA championships started, the MAC announced that it was expanding to absorb seven new affiliate members: Bloomsburg, Clarion, Cleveland State, Edinboro, George Mason, Lock Haven and Rider. All seven had been members of the EWL, and gives the league 15 wrestling schools.

However, like almost every conference, even the MAC doesn't have full wrestling membership from its full-time members. Only Buffalo, Central Michigan, Kent State, Northern Illinois and Ohio compete in the sport, which is why Missouri, Old Dominion and SIU-Edwardsville have joined as affiliate members over the previous seven years.

"I just think it makes you a much stronger conference," Ohio coach Joe Greenlee said. "Traditionally, those schools have been very good in wrestling. They have a good tradition. I think there's up-and-coming ones. It's going to bring a lot more qualifiers. It's going to bring a lot more opportunities to get to the national tournament. It's going to make your league stronger."

One way, in particular, is in recruiting. Most of the programs that have been added in the latest MAC mat expansion extend the conference eastward, where it did not have a presence previously.

Most notably, it takes the MAC into the extremely fertile wrestling ground of Pennsylvania. For Smith, that's the greatest benefit.

"You can come to Ohio and Illinois and all of the different states it represents," Smith said. "The footprint now, with Pennsylvania being added in, for us is a good thing. We're competing in some of the best wrestling states in the country."

There's also another piece to the puzzle that is undeniable for all of the coaches. It's a piece that is often unspoken, but hangs over the sports at times like a pall.

That would be program survival. That is, after all, a big reason why many of these affiliate members exist in almost every conference except for the Big Ten and the ACC. Even in the ACC, only six of its members — Duke, North Carolina, North Carolina State, Pittsburgh, Virginia and Virginia Tech — offer wrestling.

That fact isn't unknown in the MAC. In the last year, the league lost one of its longtime members, Eastern Michigan, when it dropped the sport.

"Hopefully, the athletics directors there and the presidents will realize how important wrestling is and can be to a school," Kent State coach Jim Andrassy said. "Some of these EWL schools have talked about dropping down to Division II for wrestling, some have talked about dropping altogether.

"Our hope is at the end of the day, the schools that we're talking about realize wrestling is a great thing and they're in one of the most powerful conferences in the country."

Even if it's hard for a school's own fans to remember to which conference they actually belong.