Last week's announcement that Western Illinois University is joining the Ohio Valley Conference (OVC) came about as part of the evolving process of finalizing a Strategic Plan for Leatherneck Athletics.
A committee, made up of a cross-section of University and Macomb community leaders, has spent many months researching and crafting a plan for the future at the request of WIU Director of Athletics Paul Bubb.
Sixteen of WIU's 17 Division I Athletics programs will join the OVC July 1. Leatherneck Football will join the OVC in 2024, and the Fall 2023 season will be played in the Missouri Valley Football Conference according to the already-released schedule.
"I am extremely excited to lead Leatherneck Athletics into a new era in our sports history," said Bubb. "Not since 1982, over 40 years ago, has Western Illinois University had the opportunity to set a new direction for our athletic program. We have chosen to join a league that offers instant in-state rivals. The OVC will provide us with NCAA Division I competition against other universities that are so similar, including enrollment, mission, location in communities similar to Macomb and programs with a similar Division I history as our own. This is truly a great time to be a Leatherneck."
The OVC, headquartered in Tennessee, celebrating its 75th anniversary this year, is made up of Eastern Illinois (EIU); Lindenwood (MO); Little Rock (AR); Morehead State (KY); SEMO (Southeast Missouri); SIUE (Edwardsville); USI (IN); Tennessee State; Tennessee Tech and UT Martin (TN).
The move to the OVC clears the way for Leatherneck Athletics to add three new sports for women for the 2024-25 season, which is also part of the Strategic Plan. Beach volleyball, bowling and STUNT will bring the total number of sports for women at Western to 12.
Bubb called STUNT an emerging college sport, which combines the technical and athletic components of cheer into a competitive format. He added that both sports have a regional and national recruiting ability, which adds to the growth and diversity of the University's athletic offerings.
"Beach volleyball continues to grow in popularity, both as a single sport, as well as a means to
strengthen our traditional volleyball program," said Bubb. "The Ohio Valley Conference, our new home for all of our sports, offers beach volleyball as a conference sport and conducts an annual championship. Bowling, as a club sport here at Western Illinois University, has a strong history, having won a national collegiate championship in 1999, 2001 and 2002. Leatherneck Athletics continues its strong commitment to be a broad-based NCAA Division 1 program."
OVC Commissioner Beth DeBauche said the OVC is "delighted to welcome WIU as we look to the future with a clear vision for additional growth and success."
"Given the similarity in mission, vision and sports sponsorship between Western Illinois University and the OVC’s members, and our shared commitment to student-athlete academic achievement and athletics excellence, we are confident WIU will be a tremendous addition to our conference," DeBauche said.
The new sports offering comes on the heels of a national celebration of the 50th anniversary of Title IX.
"Western Illinois University Athletics has a long history of success, and we are excited to take the next step in that journey to continued greatness, and to offer new and exciting opportunities to our student athletes," said WIU President Guiyou Huang.