Western Illinios University Studying Summit League Exit

Western Illinois University is actively exploring the possibility to exit the Summit League. In a report from The McDonough Voice, school president Dr. Guiyou Huang and athletic director Danielle Surprenant have formally met with the school’s Board of Trustees to discuss the issue. The university is exploring its current conference affiliation with the Missouri Valley Football Conference and the Summit League.

“Without disclosing too much, we are doing this very thoughtfully, we have options on the table to stay or leave, those are the two options,” said Huang. National rumors have the Leathernecks exploring a move of all their sports to the Ohio Valley Conference, a more appropriate regional fit for WIU. The Ohio Valley Conference football teams include Eastern Illinois, Murray State, Southeast Missouri State, Tennessee State, Tennessee Tech and UT Martin. Murray State is said to be a candidate for the Missouri Valley Conference. Austin Peay recently announced their intention to remove their football program from the OVC.

According to President Huang, AD Surprenant is said to be leading “difficult conversations, Title IX, other related topics. She’s now collecting data to help us determine the pros and cons of staying and the pros and cons of leaving.”

In a somewhat cryptic take, Huang went on to state, “Resources are the biggest challenge now and expectations, hopefully, before the end of the semester we’ll have the data collected and analyzed. It is not a decision I am making alone. Right now I did have a change in my head, I was in one place three months ago, but I’m in a different spot now.”

The key decision for Western Illinois is whether to move out of the Missouri Valley Football Conference where they are a founding member. A secondary consideration in the Leathernecks’ final decision is moving all their other sports away from the Summit League to the Ohio Valley Conference.

The reality is that the Summit League is a conference of convenience for the non-Dakota schools. While non-Dakota schools and fans complain about the Dakota-centric focus of the Summit League, the reality is that these are the only stable schools in the conference. Many fans from the Summit League’s newest member, St. Thomas, see the Summit League as a temporary landing spot before seeking greener pastures.

Photo courtesy of Western Illinois University

18 thoughts on “Western Illinios University Studying Summit League Exit”

  1. It’s sad and pathetic that DU is in this conference, given DU’s excellent academics, facilities and well-rounded and successful athletic program. The clear ideal fit is the West Coast Conference. From an athletics perspective, all time, energy and money at DU should be spent on doing whatever is necessary to get into that conference.

  2. No one will miss the road trips to Macomb, Illinois if the Leathernecks decide to leave. WIU is an underfunded, low endowment school is that struggling big time with a total student headcount that is about half as big in fall 2021 (5,581) as it was in Fall 2014 (9,455), and the school is under financial pressure to cut costs. The Summit is probably not a good fit for them geographically, either.

    The problem for the Summit is how to fill the space if the Leathernecks go. There aren’t many options, let alone good backfill options here at the bottom of D-I and in the Dakota-centric footprint. Augustana? That sucks. Northern Colorado? That sucks, too. D-II move ups? St. Cloud? UMD? MSUM? Colorado Mesa? Not very appealing, either.

    Let’s hope the WCC sees the value DU can offer if it expands, but I’m also still hoping someday that DU hoops gets good enough that the Big East will be a viable option. We’re already adding value in the Big East for m and w lax, and If Creighton can get there as a full member, DU could too (perhaps) someday…

    DU’s athletic future is predicated on what it is willing to spend to get out of the Summit…

  3. The other option for DU’s athletic future is to be part of improving the Summit League. Your location and the mix of sports you sponsor don’t make you an attractive candidate for any conference looking to expand. Besides that, as I am nearing my retirement years, I look forward to some road trips to Denver to cheer on the Yotes.

    If the Leathernecks head to the OVC, Milwaukee & Green Bay could both be targets for the Summit League. If UIC leaves the Horizon for the Missouri Valley, it will somewhat leave the 2 Wisconsin schools on an island.

  4. There is little Denver can do to make the Summit League materially better than it is now, beyond improving our basketball programs, which is starting to happen with a new coaches and new players this year…

    DU has already won 51 Summit League sports league championships in less than 10 years since joining the league in 2013, which is already third all time behind ORU and NDSU, who both have longer total histories in this league. DU more than pulls its weight from a overall competitive standpoint, and our sports budgets lead the league too, as do our academics, endowments, etc. Facilities are all in the league’s upper echelon, too. DU brings the Denver market, which is a top 20 national TV market #17, the second largest in the league, after Minneapolis at #14. Denver is also by far, the best destination travel market for fans of other schools, and offers easy access with direct flights to many league cities.

    In terms of sports mix, I don’t see DU changing much. DU competes for NCAA titles (and achieves its highest revenue/national visibility) in sports not sponsored by the Summit – Ice Hockey (ranked #7 currently), lacrosse (ranked #10 M and 20 in women’s in preseason, Skiing is top #4, and women’s gymnastics is ranked #10 and triathlon is #4 in its first full season.

    Could DU add sports? The campus is landlocked and city real estate is hugely expensive, so football, baseball, softball and track are non-starters unless they were to be played off campus (making basically them irrelevant in this oversaturated market). DU could probably add sports that don’t require new facilities to be built (e.g. water polo, beach volleyball, cross country, etc.) but those won’t move the needle for the Summit or make Denver more attractive to other conferences.

    For DU right now, basketball is the focus…

    1. Why not venture into a partnership with the DPS and upgrade the Baseball and Football Stadiums. I have always saw value in Pioneer League Football. The Pios have a lot in common as far as academic credibility. Plus the league offer great exposure for DU in other parts of the country.

  5. On related news, Murray State and UIC are going to the Missouri Valley Conference so Omaha did not make the cut.

  6. It’s interesting to me that DU fans seem to find the Summit League so reprehensible, while at the same time, your premier sport is in a conference composed of by two Summit League schools, a D3 school, MN D2 schools, and 2 mediocre Mac schools. Are DU fans happy with the NCHC? Your biggest hockey rivalry is UND – is there no chance to see similar rivalries grow with the other Dakota schools as DU gets better at basketball? As another school with similar attributes to DU, St. Thomas could become a fun rivalry as well, if given time to develop. Is there no benefit for DU in playing in the same conference that has some membership overlap with the NCHC?

  7. Fair question. The NCHC is seen as a great fit because hockey is a northern tier sport – plus there are only 60 teams in all of college hockey. DU had a major role in the formation of the conference. It is not that DU fans hate Dakota’s schools or the Summit League. Rather, those schools in the Summit League are generally large, state-run schools while DU is a relatively small private school. If not in the Summit League, most fans would prefer that DU compete in a conference with their Olympic sports against ‘like schools’. The Summit League is not a terrible fit based on geography but most DU students come from the East Coast or West Coast and they would relate more closely to similar schools.

    1. Is there anywhere to find an official breakdown of what states DU students come from? With Colorado being such a popular vacation destination for many in the Twin Cities, I’d be curious to know if a meaningful percentage of students come from that area, especially now that St. Thomas has joined the Summit League.

  8. DU has always recruited athletes from Minnesota because, at the time, there was only one D1 program. 64.19% of students are from out-of-state from 48 states. 5.6% out of the country. The top ten: Colorado 37.2%, California 11.2%, Illinois 7%, Texas 4.7%, Mass 4.5%, Washington 3.3, Conn. 3.0%, Florida 2.5%, New York 2.0% and New Mexico 2.0%.

  9. UND is not DUs biggest hockey rivalry. I know CC sucks, but still. As to why DU couldn’t develop rivalries with other Dakota schools? The rivalry that DU has with UND is good, because the schools have each won a ton of national titles, are perennial contenders, and have played each other in very meaningful games in the marquee sport of hockey. Doesn’t translate to other sports like basketball, where DU and the Dakota schools are not nationally significant (especially DU). Could be some rivalries between the players, but any passion would not be absorbed by fans in Denver. The conference is just not a natural fit for Denver, unfortunately.

  10. Would like to see Minnesota State added to replace WIU. Could then bring them into the NCHC with ASU to replace the MAC schools. That would give us 4 Hockey schools in the Summit.

  11. Us DU fans can moan and groan until we are blue in the face about the Summit League and its lack of luster, but the reality is until the basketball program can gain some level of relevance (forget nationally for now, I’m just talking about regionally), the school just doesn’t have much leverage when it comes to conference choices. As Puck Swami mentions, basketball needs to be the focus right now.

  12. DU is a private school that happens to be in the West, but who sponsors a successful east coast style sports mix. We also have a fair degree of snobbery about who see as our academic and sports peers, to be honest, as well. The Summit League is never going to satisfy a good chunk of our fan base — 5B West has it right – the student body at Denver is quite national and most of them have very little experience or orientation toward either Minnesota or the Dakotas. The schools of the Summit League are all more than 500 miles away from Denver, so the chances of rivalry will likely always be low. UND vs. Denver in hockey has 70 years of history, but has really only been a heated rivalry since 2004, when DU took out a great top-ranked UND team in the NCAA regionals en route to its own first NCAA title in 35 years, followed by a decade of heated hostility around seriously injured players on both teams, on-ice fighting and other shenanigans with both programs as NCAA contenders.

    There has always been a small pocket of DU students (80-100 or so?) from the Twin Cities attending DU, but nothing that compares to the thousands of former North Dakotans who live in Denver now, and who show up when the Fighting Hawks play in Denver in hockey.

    Curiously, those thousands of Denver-based UND fans who come to DU vs UND hockey games do not support UND teams in other Summit sports when the Fighting Hawks play in Denver.

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