New face in Ohio Valley Conference leads to scheduling adjustment for Eastern Illinois, other league members

New face in Ohio Valley Conference leads to scheduling adjustment for Eastern Illinois, other league members

First-year Eastern Illinois head coach Chris Wilkerson’s Panthers host new Ohio Valley Conference member Lindenwood Oct. 15 in Charleston. (photo courtesy Sandy King, EIU Athletics)

Perhaps the only thing busier than the transfer portal these days in college football is tracking the ever-changing world of conference membership.

The Ohio Valley Conference certainly had seen its share of adjustments in recent seasons. That trend continues with this fall’s football schedule, which will directly affect Eastern Illinois.

How did the OVC get to its current state?

Charter member Eastern Kentucky and Jacksonville State, which joined in 2003, left the Ohio Valley last summer.

The defections of Eastern Kentucky and Jacksonville State left OVC teams playing a strange 2021 schedule in which schools played other league teams twice in the same fall with only one of the games counting in the conference standings.

Austin Peay football, which joined the Ohio Valley in 1963, departed the OVC following last fall’s schedule.

Murray State left the league to join the Missouri Valley Conference, however the Racers will remain in the OVC for football this fall.

In Oct. 2021, the OVC and the Southland Conference announced plans for a football scheduling alliance between the two FCS leagues for the 2022 and 2023 seasons.

Meanwhile, the Ohio Valley added Lindenwood, located in St. Charles, Mo., as a new football-playing member. The Lions are moving up from Division II after two straight playoff appearances.

What does all this shifting mean?

Entering this fall, the Ohio Valley Conference has seven football-playing members:  Eastern Illinois, Murray State, Southeast Missouri State, Tennessee State, Tennessee Tech, UT Martin along with newly added Lindenwood.

EIU will host Lindenwood Oct. 15 at O’Brien Field in Charleston. This game happens to be the Panthers’ homecoming game. However, it will not count in the OVC standings.

Kyle Schwartz,  OVC Assistant Commissioner for Strategic Communications, explained the complexities of the league scheduling to Prairie State Pigskin Wednesday.

“When Lindenwood joined, most OVC schools’ schedules were almost complete full, especially with the Southland Conference collaboration.  There was no way to make it a true round robin (six OVC games for every team),” Schwartz wrote in an e-mail.

Thus, the OVC determined that every team would play five conference games to work around their other scheduled games and make things even across the board, Schwartz explained.

“However, Lindenwood (who couldn’t play Tennessee State because its schedule was full) needed games, and EIU had an opening on its schedule, so we determined they would play, it just wouldn’t count in the standings.  If that counted in the OVC schedule, EIU would have had six games and everyone else would have had five (which we wanted to avoid),” Schwartz said.

While Lindenwood will only have four conference games on its schedule, Schwartz noted that the Lions are eligible to win the OVC championship. However, per NCAA rules, Lindenwood is not eligible for the the automatic qualifying berth into the playoffs since the Lions are reclassifying divisions.  

“We felt this was the best way to move forward this year,” Schwartz said.

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