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Opinion: Western Illinois Leaving the Missouri Valley is a Good Thing for Everyone

The Leathernecks will join the Ohio Valley Conference in 2024.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 02 Western Illinois at Ball State Photo by James Black/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Realignment news hasn’t been quite as prevalent in the FCS this offseason as it was last summer but there’s still been a few noteworthy happenings. One such move came to light last month when Western Illinois announced that it would be joining the Ohio Valley Conference in all sports starting in 2024. While most of the school's athletic teams will be saying goodbye to the Summit League, the football program is leaving the Missouri Valley Conference.

It’s a change that... let’s be honest... doesn’t leave many problems in its wake for anyone in the FCS landscape. In fact, it’s a move that should be seen as good news to everyone involved.

Let’s start with the team itself. It’s no secret that the Leathernecks have struggled during their time in the MVC. Since 2008, WIU has compiled a 59-109 overall record and reached the FCS playoffs just three times. In a league with some of the sport's top heavyweights, the program has faced an uphill battle to gain any sort of prolonged success. In the last 13 tries against South Dakota State, for instance, Western Illinois has won just one game over the Jackrabbits. In their conference series with NDSU dating back 15 years, the Bison hold a 9-2 advantage. Northern Iowa has bested WIU 11 times in the last 15 meetings.

It’s been rough and the Missouri Valley era has been largely one to forget. There's no kind way to say it... things just aren’t working.

Transitioning to OVC play, however, seems as though it can only serve as a positive for WIU. For starters, opponents like NDSU and SDSU won’t dot the schedule every fall and, while the Ohio Valley still has plenty of solid teams, none are on the same plane as the upper crust of the MVC. You'd have to believe the opportunity to be competitive will come much quicker in their home and recent evidence may even suggest as such.

In recent years, the Leathernecks have battled their future conference mates and have shown they could hang around in that league. In 2017, WIU blasted Tennessee Tech 41-14 on the road after beating Eastern Illinois both times in a home-and-home series spanning the two years prior. If that is indeed a glimpse of the future, it has to be a welcome sight for fans in Macomb.

NCAA FOOTBALL: SEP 12 Western Illinois at Illinois
Western Illinois is seeking its first winning season since 2017.
Photo by Keith Gillett/Icon Sportswire/Corbis/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

On the other side of the coin, if you’re the OVC you’re thrilled to welcome another team to the ranks. Just this year the league had to join forces with the Big South as membership was becoming an issue. Currently the league has just six football-playing members after losing Murray State (to the Missouri Valley no less). That number is the minimum the NCAA requires for a conference to send an AQ to the postseason.

With WIU coming aboard, the league won't be skirting that fine line anymore. Heck, there even exists a possibility the conference will no longer feel it necessary to keep up an alliance with the Big South (although this is purely speculation as of now).

The Missouri Valley, meanwhile, will likely remain largely unaffected by the change. The Leathernecks have never been the team that gave the conference its esteemed prowess. Since 2019, the Western Illinois has finished last or tied for last in the league’s standings three times. Where membership is an ongoing problem for the Ohio Valley it certainly is not for the MVC who will still be fielding 11 teams after WIU moves out. As harsh as it may sound, losing a program like Western Illinois is not the same as it would be losing a North Dakota State or South Dakota State.

Overall this is a win-win with of course the biggest being for the Leathernecks and their fans. WIU will likely not be the cellar dweller they’ve been once they settle into their new home. Playoff trips, better records and all the benefits that follow should become a bit more commonplace. In a play that makes sense both geographically and competitively, the school and its supporters ought to be excited for what lies ahead.

Western Illinois will kick off its last season in the MVC at New Mexico State on September 2.