Beginning in the fall of 2024, Western Illinois will join the Ohio Valley Conference in football, joining Eastern Illinois. (Photo by Barry Bottino, PrairieStatePigskin.com)
By Barry Bottino
Western Illinois University announced Friday that its football team – and all WIU athletic programs — are changing valleys.
The Leathernecks will play their final football season this fall in the Missouri Valley Football Conference, where they have played since the league was founded in 1985, to join the Ohio Valley Conference beginning in 2024.
All other WIU athletic programs will make the jump this summer, departing the Summit League for the OVC on July 1.
“When you look at the schools in the Ohio Valley Conference, you see schools which are similar in enrollment, the size of the communities where they exist, and the athletic budgets each has to work with at the Division I level,” WIU athletic director Paul A. Bubb said in a press release.
Over the past four seasons, the Leathernecks have struggled, posting a 4-26 record in the MVFC, considered by many to be the strongest FCS conference in the nation.
But they have won or shared the league title five times, most recently when they shared the crown with Western Kentucky in 2002.
“I’m sorry to see them go,” Illinois State head coach Brock Spack told Prairie State Pigskin. “They’ve been a long-standing member and they’ve had success. I was a little surprised by it.”
Spack said he hopes the two schools can continue their rivalry after the Redbirds visit Macomb on Sept. 9.
“I’d be open to that, for sure. I think it would be great,” he said, acknowledging that being in different conferences will make future games “difficult.”
WIU hosts Southern Illinois for the final time as an MVFC member Oct. 28.
The Leathernecks will have an immediate football rival in the OVC with Eastern Illinois, which is 191 miles east of Macomb.
The two teams last played in 2016 in Charleston and have met 67 times dating back to 1930.
“There is a long history of football competition between our programs, and the opportunity to renew this rivalry on an annual basis is good for both institutions,” EIU athletic director Tom Michael told Prairie State Pigskin. “We look forward to Western Illinois being on the schedule in 2024 and them being part of the OVC.”
A WIU spokesperson said the school will have a press conference next week, and the university will comment further on the decision at that time.
Western will become the seventh OVC football program in 2024. The league currently has a scheduling partnership with the Big South Conference, which has four football members.
Spack said playing the Leathernecks always was a challenge, including last year’s overtime win for Illinois State in Normal in November against a winless WIU team.
“It didn’t really matter what the records were,” he said of the rivalry. “They didn’t have the greatest season, but they sure played us well. They gave us everything we could handle.”
What will Spack miss about the 105-mile road trips to Hanson Field?
“I enjoy the drive, believe it or not,” he said. “If you’re from Illinois, it’s the heart and soul of our state. I enjoy the drive through the country and seeing the farm fields. It’s neat in a lot of ways.”
One response to “Western Illinois announces football move from MVFC to Ohio Valley starting in 2024”
[…] While it is transitioning to the Ohio Valley in all other sports for the upcoming 2023-24 academic year, Western Illinois will play its final season in the MVFC this fall before joining the OVC for the 202… […]