Western Illinois will leave the Summit League after the 2023-24 academic year to become a member of the Ohio Valley Conference. The Leathernecks will play the 2023 FCS season as a member of the Missouri Valley Football Conference and join the OVC in 2024.
The move by WIU may help them become more competitive on the football field. WIU has made only three appearances in the FCS playoffs since 2010 during a time when the MVFC has dominated the FCS landscape. WIU has gone a combined 5 and 36 overall in the last four seasons. The Leathernecks will also be joining an OVC that has suffered numerous membership losses due to realignment including Murray State, which left the OVC to become a member of the MVC in 2022 and MVFC in 2023.
In response to the membership changes, the OVC has partnered with the Big South to form a scheduling agreement that will provide all eligible members in each conference a chance to win the automatic qualifying bid to the FCS playoffs. The scheduling agreement will begin with the 2023 season. As of this writing, the OVC will have Eastern Illinois, Lindenwood (transitioning from Division 2), Southeast Missouri State, Tennessee State, Tennessee Tech, and Tennessee Martin as football members in 2024. The NCAA requires that a conference have at least 6 fully eligible Division 1 members to maintain an automatic bid to the FCS playoffs.
Western Illinois has been a member of the MVFC since it was called the Gateway Collegiate Athletic Conference in 1982. The conference was later renamed the Gateway Football Conference in 1992 and then to the current name Missouri Valley Football Conference in 2008.
Photo courtesy of Western Illinois University Athletics.