Will Western Illinois Regret Leaving the MVFC?

The MVFC’s new media deal is the best in the FCS. Will the loss of exposure and revenue make Western Illinois rethink its decision?

WIU left the MVFC and Summit League earlier this year.
Source: Racheal Keating/WIU

Like George Costanza declared the Summer of 1997 "The Summer of George", the FCS has declared this "The Summer of TV Deals." Earlier this Summer, the Northeast Conference announced a deal that granted them two Thursday Night appearances on CBS Sports Network.

Yesterday, the Missouri Valley Football Conference joined the fun with an extension of its rights deal with ESPN. The terms of the extension begin in 2024 and run until 2029. Not only was this deal an extension, but the agreement guaranteed the conference nine appearances per season on ESPN linear networks (ESPN, ESPN2, ESPNU).

The Missouri Valley Conference now surpasses the Ivy League as the conference with the best linear TV exposure in the FCS. This also further solidifies the conference’s membership for years to come.

Unfortunately, the time could not have been worse for Western Illinois. In May, the Leathernecks left the Summit League in Olympic sports and Missouri Valley Football Conference for the Ohio Valley Conference.

The Summit League made their own strides this Summer when it came to media exposure as they signed a national TV deal for the first time. The conference signed an agreement with CBS Sports Network where the network will show six regular season men’s basketball games as well as the men’s and women’s basketball tournament semifinals.

Had Western Illinois stayed in both the MVFC and Summit League, they would have had the rare opportunity to receive media revenue from two different conferences. The revenue for the current media deal for the Ohio Valley Conference is likely on par with that of the Summit League, if not a little more lucrative.

While exact specifications of the media deal are not clear, one can surmise that the MVFC’s contract is worth more than non-football Division 1 leagues like the Summit League and Horizon League. This may cause the Leathernecks to rethink their decision.

Additionally, the Missouri Valley Conference will have the most linear TV exposure of any FCS conference in the country. Being to tell recruits they will likely play on ESPN or ESPN2 more than any other FCS league will win a lot of recruiting battles for the conference.

Yet, there is something admirable in a program understanding their competitive boundaries. Western Illinois is 4-36 since 2019 and had not reached the FCS Playoffs since 2017. With the current state of the Missouri Valley Football Conference, the Leathernecks may not have reached the playoffs for a while.

The missed opportunity of increased revenue hurts, but Western Illinois is in an ideal spot in the Ohio Valley Conference. The Leathernecks can better contend for NCAA Tournament appearances in all sports and have a lighter travel burden. This alone may be a better payoff for Western Illinois than media money.