Kolpack: Finding a Summit League replacement for Western Illinois looking bleak

With WIU leaving, it looks like the Summit will be at 9 teams for a while

Minnesota State Moorhead's Natalie Jens drives past Augustana's Lauren Sees during their women's basketball game Saturday, Jan. 7, 2023, at Moorhead.
Michael Vosburg/The Forum


The hands-wringing-in-the-face look in the wake of Western Illinois announcing it is leaving the Summit League and the Missouri Valley Football Conference probably came from a lot of administrators and coaches from those two leagues. Now what?

What do they do with scheduling, now, with the Summit down to nine teams? What we learned from past nine-team Summit setups is that basketball games take place in what feels like any day of the week.

Goodbye those nice and comfortable travel-partner Thursday-Saturday conference games. Hello, play whenever.

It’s more about the Summit than Valley football. With the addition of Murray State (Ky.) this fall, the football league is at 12 teams and the subtraction of the Leathernecks after this season won’t make much of a difference. In other words, there shouldn’t be an all-out blitz to find another program.


But the Summit, in most notably volleyball and basketball, would do well to find another member.

But who?

The first look is to Sioux Falls, S.D., where Augustana has made inquiries in the past of bolting the Division II Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference for Division I status. The Vikings are already making the move in hockey, and will put together a team for the first time next season.

The school is building a new hockey arena, has hired a head coach and, with plenty of talent available in junior hockey leagues, putting together a competitive team shouldn’t take a real long time.

The question is also this: Has Augustana put all of its eggs in the hockey basket, and, if so, is there much left for D-I in all sports? Moreover, would nearby University of South Dakota and South Dakota State be OK with another Summit school so close?

Augie football would also need to find a home, with the non-scholarship Division I FCS Pioneer League a likely destination in much the same manner as the University of St. Thomas.

Maybe SDSU and USD would prefer life in a nine-team league over adding Augie. If the Vikings aren’t a fit for the Summit, who else?

It’s doubtful anybody in the NSIC is ready for a jump. That would mean poaching a school from another league. Would Northern Colorado bolt the Big Sky Conference for Summit and Valley football? The Bears and the University of Denver would make nice travel partners.


Or perhaps the Summit dips into the Ohio Valley Conference where Western Illinois is headed. Force a trade.

My darkhorse pick would be Lindenwood University, a small private school just north of St. Louis, which is in the beginning stages of Division I. The Lions live in a nice community, St. Charles, have a campus with nice buildings and the school is the second-oldest institution west of the Mississippi River.

It seems like a place where it takes a lot of money to attend. I walked through the Lindenwood campus over a year ago and saw a lot of Mercedes, BMWs and other nice cars in the student parking lot. License plates were from all over the country.

Maybe Lindenwood can raise the kind of money it takes to be competitive in Division I. If St. Thomas can do it, why not LU?

The problem is in perception. Being in a league with Lindenwood just doesn’t sound appealing. St. Thomas ditched any doubt in a hurry with successful seasons in men’s basketball and football. The Tommies announced plans to build a $75 million hockey and basketball arena.

It takes that kind of cash to be good.

Get used to a nine-team Summit League. At least until somebody steps forward.

The North Prairie all-state lineman is the second Division I football product from the co-op. Karson Schoening was the first in 2015.
North Dakota State more in the hunting mode with FCS title run ending
North Dakota State more in the hunting mode with FCS title run ending
The league announced it is partnering with Collegiate Sports Management Group 'to play a key strategic role in formulating their conference media rights strategy under new Commissioner Josh Fenton.'

Jeff would like to dispel the notion he was around when Johannes Gutenberg invented the printing press, but he is on his third decade of reporting with Forum Communications. The son of a reporter and an English teacher, and the brother of a reporter, Jeff has worked at the Jamestown Sun, Bismarck Tribune and since 1990 The Forum, where he's covered North Dakota State athletics since 1995.
Jeff has covered all nine of NDSU's Division I FCS national football titles and has written three books: "Horns Up," "North Dakota Tough" and "Covid Kids." He is the radio host of "The Golf Show with Jeff Kolpack" April through August.
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