Pandemic claims oldest college football rivalry in Illinois
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The COVID-19 pandemic put a halt Friday afternoon to the oldest college football rivalry in Illinois – the Mid-America Classic between FCS programs Eastern Illinois and Illinois State – when the schools announced via their websites that the game will not be played.
The two schools, who have played football since 1901, announced Friday that the game was off for the first time since 2001, when it was cancelled after the 9-11 terrorist attacks in the United States.
This year’s matchup in Normal on Sept. 12 would have been the 109th time the two teams have played.
In 2018, the game was selected as an official Illinois Bicentennial Event when the state celebrated its 200th birthday.
According to the news release, “administrators at both schools stated that based on what other institutions of higher learning in the region were doing, it was not in the best interest of the health and safety of either teams’ student-athletes to try and play the Sept. 12 contest.”
Eastern announced Friday that the Ohio Valley Conference has postponed its league football schedule until the spring, which the Missouri Valley Football Conference previously announced it would do a week earlier.
Though the OVC said Friday that football teams that can meet NCAA health and safety guidelines can play up to four non-conference games, the Panthers have now lost an opponent in ISU that is a mere 103 miles from Charleston.
Previously, EIU’s non-league game against Indiana State – which is 47 miles away in Terre Haute, Ind. – was called off when the Sycamores chose not to play any games this fall. A game against FBS Kentucky also was called off when the Southeastern Conference dialed back its schedule.
Illinois State previously had Illinois of the Big Ten Conference and FCS newcomer Dixie State cancel non-conference games.
Thus, any fall football in the state among FCS teams is growing more unlikely by the week.
OVC Commissioner Beth DeBauche said in a statement Friday, “while we understand there are many student-athletes, families and communities that are disappointed by the lack of conference competition this fall, and we deeply share that disappointment, it is the OVC’s ardent intention to ensure seasons postponed are not seasons canceled if the facts support it.”
MVFC member Southern Illinois announced Friday via Twitter that Southeast Missouri has called off the teams’ annual “War for the Wheel” rivalry game and that the Salukis no longer will pursue any football games this fall.