Western Illinois opts out of spring football season
today at 7:25 pm
Western Illinois University announced early Monday evening that its football program was opting out of the spring Missouri Valley Conference season.
The official university release opened with, “Out of concern for the safety and wellbeing of its student-athletes, Western Illinois will opt out of the remainder of the 2021 spring football season, the athletic department announced Monday (April 5).”
Head coach Jared Elliott said in the release, “As we evaluated our current situation, in terms of the numbers of players available, and specifically at a few key positions, I believe it is in the best interest of our team to forego the remaining two games of the spring season.
“I could not be prouder of how our guys have battled through unprecedented challenges due to COVID and lack of depth. This was not an easy decision, we enjoy every opportunity to compete, but I feel this is the right one for the health and safety of our players. We are excited and committed to putting a healthy and hungry Leatherneck football team on the field this fall.”
WIU has scheduled a virtual media conference at 3 p.m. Tuesday.
Western is coming off its first win of the season, a 27-24 triumph over Youngstown State. The Leathernecks were 1-5 this spring.
WIU joins Illinois State, which opted out March 21, as the second state FCS school to do so. Ironically, ISU was coming off its only win of the spring, a 26-18 over WIU.
Following Illinois State’s opting out, the Missouri Valley issued a statement that games would not be forfeited but rather ruled as no contest.
According to national FCS writer Sam Herder, six teams have now opted out in-season.
Adding to the storyline, both opt outs directly affect Southern Illinois. The Salukis were scheduled to play Illinois State the following weekend after the Redbirds opted out. SIU was scheduled to host Western Saturday in Carbondale.
SIU certainly wanted to play the game as the 16th-ranked Salukis are clinging to hopes for an at-large into the FCS playoffs. Southern is 4-3 overall and 3-3 in conference games.
SIU head coach Nick Hill released a statement: “I am deeply disappointed — disappointed for our players, our coaches, our fans and for our league. Ten conference schools stood together in January and made an ‘unwavering commitment’ to each other to play a full spring schedule. Our last two opponents have now backed out of that pledge.
“Here at SIU, our players and coaches remained committed to do the right thing the entire season. No excuses. We had a freak blizzard that kept us from practicing during the 10 days leading up to our season opener at North Dakota. When other teams opted out due to weather, WE PLAYED. We started the season 4-1 and ranked fifth in the country, then lost two starting quarterbacks and two starting defensive tackles. When other teams opted out due to injuries, WE PLAYED. Last Saturday at Missouri State, we were down to five defensive linemen and travelled 11 true freshmen. WE PLAYED. Not one time this season has our team complained or looked for an excuse. We’ve lost two games in a row, and the experts say we’re out of the playoffs, and still not one person has questioned continuing to play. We practiced on Easter Sunday. We could have taken the easy way out. WE PLAYED.
“When the selection committee looks at the resumes of the teams that are still competing this spring, they will see our Top 25 wins over SEMO, Northern Iowa and North Dakota State. More importantly, I hope they see that, regardless of the circumstances, THE SALUKIS PLAYED. I am incredibly proud of our football team.”
Athletic directors weigh in
Both Western’s and Southern’s athletic directors also shared their thoughts on the matter through university releases.
“The health and safety of our student-athletes is top priority, and while I fully support this decision, my heart aches for the program,” WIU Director of Athletics Danielle Suprenant said. “Our student-athletes, coaches, and staff have done everything we’ve asked of them during this uncharacteristic time. I’m proud of what they’ve accomplished this spring and look forward to returning to the field for the upcoming fall season.”
SIU Director of Athletics Liz Jarnigan said, “I am extremely disappointed for our student-athletes to lose this opportunity to play Senior Day against Western Illinois. Our program has followed every protocol and battled through so much adversity to get to this point, and we hurt for our student-athletes and coaches. My hope is that our community is proud of the commitment they have demonstrated.”
Jarnigan said she is looking to find a potential replacement game that could take place before the playoff announcement.