Up for your consideration: A regionally based FCS ‘league’ featuring Illinois teams
today at 5:30 am
The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted life as we know it. The world of intercollegiate sports has been thrown upside down with last spring’s activities being cancelled and the uncertainty of this fall looming.
At last check, seven of the 13 FCS conferences are still trying to have a fall season. Two of those seven are the Missouri Valley Football Conference — which Illinois State, Southern Illinois and Western Illinois are members — and the Ohio Valley Conference, which includes Eastern Illinois.
As of now, the four Illinois FCS programs are opening fall camps and waiting on decisions from their conference university presidents. The MVFC encompasses seven states (Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Missouri, North Dakota, Ohio, South Dakota) while the OVC consists of five states (Alabama, Illinois, Kentucky, Missouri, Tennessee).
With numbers rising on almost a daily basis in many of those states, there is a strong possibility that both the conferences and their football schedules will resemble nothing like in the past. For example, the OVC could well morph into a Tennessee-only league for a season. Perhaps only the Dakota schools will meet each other on the playing field.
Administrators and coaches at all four Illinois FCS universities have publicly shared their desire to play if possible. With that in mind, here’s an idea Prairie State Pigskin wishes to throw into the ring of discussion and consideration. After all, if pro sports can alter the way their games are played and presented, why not ponder every idea that comes along?
A one-year ‘league’
Consider that both the MVFC and OVC decide not to play this fall and have no set plan for the spring. Or perhaps those two conferences proceed with only some of its members while allowing others to play as independents for a season (it’s been done elsewhere in FCS).
Why not set up a one-year “league” with Eastern, Southern, Western and Illinois State?
There is historic precedent. These four teams were all members of the old Illinois Intercollegiate Athletic Association for many years. Yes, SIU dropped out of the league in the early 1960s and the conference disbanded at the end of the 1969-70 academic year, but there are many reasons to at least consider this proposal.
- This is a cost-effective and perhaps safest way to play the season. Each team could travel by bus and even make one-day trips to avoid hotel stays. Macomb to Carbondale (or vice versa) is under five hours one way. Yes, it’s a long day so maybe an overnight would be needed for that game, but the other bus rides would be no more than 3.5 hours. The athletic directors certainly know each other well enough to begin dialogue.
- If you’re thinking four teams is not enough, then add in regional rivals Indiana State and Southeast Missouri and you’ve now got a six-team league. That means a round-robin schedule and each team would get 10 games (even five would be better than none). In addition, Indiana State is a member of the MVFC and also regularly appears on the EIU schedule anyway (the Sycamores and Panthers are slated to meet Sept. 3 in Charleston). SEMO is an OVC member (also on the EIU schedule) and hosted Illinois State in last fall’s FCS playoffs. If you’re wondering, it’s four hours from Macomb to Terre Haute and 4.5 hours from WIU to Cape Girardeau.
- While sports very much live in the present, there’s a constant link to the past. Alumni and fans often reminisce about the glory days of their favorite teams. As stated earlier, the old IIAC disbanded 50 years ago; think of the nostalgic possibilities to revamp the old league for an anniversary season. All four Illinois FCS programs were charter members of the Gateway Conference — the forerunner of the MVFC — when it first took the field in 1985. While EIU left for the OVC 11 years later, the Illinois FCS schools have combined for 15 Gateway/MVFC titles over the 35 years of the league’s existence.
- Okay, so you like to deal in cold, harsh facts rather than sentimentality? Try this on for size: this may be the only way your favorite Illinois FCS team plays. You can guarantee that schools in other parts of the country are kicking around ideas like this.