Big Ten decision leaves Illinois FCS programs scrambling
today at 11:36 am
A day after the Big Ten announced it will go to a conference-only season for all fall sports, including football, in the midst of “unprecedented times” during the coronavirus pandemic, FCS conferences are now scrambling to find potential games to fill voids in their own schedules.
Thursday’s announcement means that Missouri Valley Football Conference members Illinois State and Southern Illinois will not play Big Ten opponents this season. ISU was scheduled to open its season Sept. 4 at the University of Illinois, while SIU had a Sept. 12 date at the University of Wisconsin.
In addition to missing the opportunity to play a Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) opponent, both ISU and SIU are losing out of financial guarantee payments that are vital to each program’s budget. Illinois State was to receive $450,000 for its short trip east on I-74, while Southern Illinois was set for a $500,000 payday for its journey to Madison.
“I spoke with (Illinois athletic director) Josh Whitman earlier today and he advised me of the decision made by the Big Ten Conference. I appreciate him taking the time to pick up the phone and speak to me personally,” said ISU athletic director Larry Lyons in a statement released Thursday. “We agreed to let the dust settle and have a follow-up conversation in a few days. Obviously, we are disappointed by the decision as there are many people affiliated with both universities that have had this game circled on their calendars for a long time. The fact of the matter is that the game will not be played, and we will adjust and move forward. That is how we have been operating since March and we will continue to do so as things continue to change due to this pandemic.”
ISU head football Brock Spack was a guest on North Dakota-based Keith Brake’s radio show Thursday.
“That’s disappointing, obviously,” Spack told Brake. “That’s a game that’s right down the road. We don’t even, it’s like a home game for us. We don’t go to a hotel. We stay right here. (We) have our pregame here. We get on a bus and go play. Obviously it’s a good payday for us. I think it would be a very competitive game . . . unfortunately I was expecting that. I heard about it a couple of days ago.”
In an SIU released statement, athletic director Liz Jarnigan said, “I spoke to an athletic official at the University of Wisconsin this afternoon. They were apologetic about the cancellation of our game, and we agreed to work together regarding the resulting impact on our program.”
Are the dominoes falling?
The Big Ten decision came on the heals of the Ivy League’s Wednesday announcement that it would suspend all fall sports to the spring semester.
While the Big Ten is the first of the Power 5 conferences to make an announcement, the SEC on Thursday said it continues to meet with campus leaders “to determine the best path forward” for fall sports, according to numerous media outlets. SEC league officials and athletic directors are scheduled to meet Monday but don’t expect to make any decisions on the fall schedule until the end of July, sources confirmed to ESPN. SI.com was first to report the meeting.
Eastern Illinois, a member of the FCS’s Ohio Valley Conference, is scheduled to play at the University of Kentucky of the SEC in October. Published reports state that EIU is to receive a $500,000 guarantee for the game.
Meanwhile, Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby said in a statement that he has been advised to “move ahead slowly” and plan “for all available scenarios,” according to espn.com.
Western Illinois, like ISU and SIU a member of the Missouri Valley Football Conference, is scheduled to play at Big 12 member Oklahoma State Sept. 19. No financial information was available for that contest, but it likely falls in the range of what the three other Illinois FCS schools were scheduled to receive.
Prairie State Pigskin was scheduled for a Friday interview with MVFC commissioner Patty Viverito, however, she declined in light of Thursday’s Big Ten announcement. Viverito also declined to release a statement.
“It’s our affected institutions’ space to answer those questions for the time being,” a conference official stated in an e-mail response.