McFeely blog: Could Western Illinois be target for Ohio Valley now that A-Sun news is official?

After losing Jacksonville State and Eastern Kentucky, OVC will look for new members

North Dakota State cornerback Marquise Bridges sacks Western Illinois quarterback Sean McGuire, forcing a fumble that Dan Marlette returned for a touchdown Saturday, Oct. 13, 2018, in Macomb, Ill. Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor

BRENTWOOD, Tenn. — Now that the migration of Jacksonville State, Eastern Kentucky and Central Arkansas to the new Atlantic Sun Conference for FCS football is official, what will be the response from the leagues those schools vacated?

And could current Missouri Valley Football Conference and Summit League member Western Illinois be part of the mix? It seems possible, but that's purely speculative.

The departure of Jacksonville State and Eastern Kentucky leaves their former league, the Ohio Valley Conference, with seven football-playing schools: Austin Peay, Eastern Illinois, Murray State, Southeast Missouri State, Tennessee State, Tennessee Tech and Tennessee-Martin.

The league still has 10 schools in what it considers its most important sport of basketball.


Central Arkansas leaving the Southland Conference, combined with the reignition of the Western Athletic Conference that badly shrunk the Southland, leaves the league with six football programs: Houston Baptist, Incarnate Word, McNeese State, Nicholls State, Northwestern State and Southeast Louisiana.

If the Southland hopes to add teams (and it has indicated it wants to), its best bet might be to recruit Texas-based NCAA Division II schools to move to FCS. Angelo State, Texas A&M Commerce and Texas A&M-Kingsville (all with good football traditions) would seem to be the best bets.

(Those of us in football-mad North Dakota State territory, though, must always remember that basketball is often a more important consideration for other mid-major conferences. And, in the new college athletics landscape, reduced travel costs might be more important than anything.)

The Ohio Valley's path to expansion might include a school familiar to Bison fans. One possibility is that the conference woos Western Illinois to leave the Summit League and Missouri Valley Football Conference to join the OVC.

In a statement Friday, OVC commissioner Beth DeBauche indicated the league will "evaluate expansion."

"It is now time for the OVC to look forward. As we evaluate expansion opportunities, our ten outstanding members remain committed to one another and to the student-athletes we serve," DeBauche said. "We are a strong conference that will continue to grow and thrive in the years ahead."

When I recently talked with Matt Brown of the Extra Points Newsletter, which focuses on the business side of college athletics, he said the most common name that came up relating to Ohio Valley expansion was Western Illinois. Nothing official or formal, just talk.


North Dakota State's Vinnie Shahid drives against Western Illinois' Anthony Jones at the Scheels Center on Thursday, Jan. 2. David Samson / The Forum

Such a move would save Western Illinois in travel costs in both the Summit League and the Missouri Valley Football Conference. And from a football perspective the Leathernecks would have an easier path to the FCS success and the playoffs in the Ohio Valley, which is significantly weaker than the Valley (particularly with Jacksonville State leaving the OVC).

Macomb is a long way from anywhere (the two nearest sizable airports are in the Quad Cities and Peoria, Ill.). Leaving the Valley and Summit League would eliminate trips to Grand Forks (730 miles), Fargo (660), Youngstown (football only - 620), Brookings (550) and Vermillion (450).

It would also eliminate fairly easy bus trips to Normal (football only - 100 miles), Cedar Falls (football only - 210), Terre Haute (football only - 230) and Carbondale (football only - 250). But, as indicated, those are for football only and not the other 14 sports the Leathernecks sponsor.

Road trips to the remaining OVC schools would be:

  • SIU-Edwardsville (Edwardsville) - 145 miles (does not include football)
  • Eastern Illinois (Charleston) - 180 miles
  • Southeast Missouri State (Cape Girardeau) - 280
  • Murray State (Murray, Ky.) - 370
  • Tennessee-Martin (Martin, Tenn.) - 375
  • Morehead State (Morehead, Ky.) - 400 (does not include football)
  • Austin Peay (Clarksville, Tenn.) - 415
  • Tennessee State (Nashville) - 450
  • Belmont - (Nashville) - 450 (does not include football)
  • Tennessee Tech (Cookesville, Tenn.) - 530

The Ohio Valley is Tennessee-based as opposed to Dakotas-based.
The other MVFC school on which to keep an eye in this era of FCS and mid-major conference realignment might be Youngstown State. The closest Valley school to Youngstown is Indiana State, which is 425 miles away. The Penguins count no rivalry games for football in the Valley.

Again, any idea of movement with the Penguins is purely speculative.


Youngstown State competes in the Horizon League for other sports, which is perfect as a Midwest-based league. For a football-only move, the Colonial Athletic Association has a handful of schools that are closer than Valley members (Delaware, James Madison, Villanova) but many of the other schools are still geographically challenging for the Penguins.

Youngstown State, with a rich history in football, appears to be on an FCS island.

On a recent podcast I did with Brown, he said FCS realignment is not finished after the WAC and A-Sun moves. He expects more, including the OVC and Southland trying to re-stock and the CAA perhaps realigning for both geographic and "like-minded institutions" reasons.

You can listen to the whole podcast here. It's very interesting for FCS and mid-major fans:

Related Topics: THE MCFEELY MESS
Mike McFeely is a columnist for The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead. He began working for The Forum in the 1980s while he was a student studying journalism at Minnesota State University Moorhead. He's been with The Forum full time since 1990, minus a six-year hiatus when he hosted a local radio talk-show.
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