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Western Illinois to leave Missouri Valley and Summit League for Ohio Valley Conference

The school was an original member of the Mid-Continent Conference and Gateway Football League.

North Dakota State's TaMerik Williams breaks a tackle to start a touchdown run against Western Illinois during their football game Saturday, Nov. 5, 2022, in Macomb, Illinois.
Michael Vosburg/The Forum

FARGO — One of the original members of the Summit League and Missouri Valley Football Conference is leaving.

Western Illinois University on Friday announced it will leave the leagues they helped found and join the Ohio Valley Conference, with the Summit effective June 30 and football after next season.

North Dakota State and the University of North Dakota are fellow members with WIU in both the MVFC and Summit.

WIU has struggled in football over the last handful of years, with the Leathernecks having lost 13 straight games entering the 2023 season. They did not win a game last fall, which was first-year head coach Myers Hendrickson's first season at the helm.

Men's basketball, however, has seen success over the last couple of years, incuding a fourth place finish in the Summit reglar season this past season. The Leathernecks won the most games they have in a decade. Head coach Rob Jeter left last month to take the head job at Southern Utah.


The school is based in Macomb, Ill., and has seen drops in school enrollment over the last decade. When NDSU traveled to Macomb last November, two dormitory buildings could be seen completely empty because of a downturn in enrollment.

The Summit League was originally known as the Mid-Continent Conference and was formed in 1978. WIU was a founding member of the league, along with what the Missouri Valley Football Conference became, the Gateway Football Conference.

“Despite today’s news, the Summit League’s foundation is strong," Summit commissioner Josh Fenton said in a statement. "Our focus remains on being a leading Division I conference with a resolute commitment to broad-based competitive success, high academic achievement, and preparing future leaders. The League and its member institutions are aligned and will continue working on bold strategies to further strengthen the membership and enhance the experiences for our student-athletes.”

Two sources tell WDAY Sports that it will be a $1 million exit fee that the school will need to pay the Summit League. Scheduling becomes a huge concern for fall sports like volleyball and soccer, which have already been set. Western Illinois was set to host NDSU in soccer on October 8 in Macomb. That game will no longer happen.

"I think that's the biggest challenge when you lose a team especially in this juncture, you have three and a half months to figure it out before you start your fall schedules, I hate to say this isn't the first time this has happened." said NDSU athletic director Matt Larsen.

"We're kind of used to it a little bit, it's not easy. I think adjusting our fall schedules as fast as we can will be paramount and rolling into basketball and the spring sports."

For basketball, the move could have long-ranging effects. Over the last two years, the Summit League has seen stability with ten members, after the addition of St. Thomas in July of 2021. Mirror scheduling went into place for basketball, which will have to change for the upcoming season as the league is reduced to nine members. Also to be decided is what happens at the conference tournament. Last season, all ten teams participated despite the fact that St. Thomas is ineligible for the NCAA Tournament. Does the league go back to just the top eight schools making it to Sioux Falls?

In football, the league schedules have already been set for 2023-27, the league hasn't announced 2025 and 2026 yet. NDSU and UND were each set to play the Leathernecks over the next two seasons. WIU will come to Grand Forks on October 7, then Fargo on October 21. Both the Bison and Fighting Hawks were set to play in Macomb in 2024, which means those schedules will change. It's not known yet if the league will move two of the teams that NDSU isn't playing (Illinois State or Indiana State) into the open date.


The Leathernecks have a strong football coaching pedigree. Former NDSU head coaches Chris Klieman and Matt Entz both coached in Macomb before coming to Fargo. Entz was the defensive coordinator at WIU in 2013, they year before coming to Fargo.

Dom Izzo is the Sports Director at WDAY-TV. He began working for WDAY in 2006 as the weekend sports anchor and was promoted to Sports Director in 2010.
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