North Dakota Set To Join MVFC, What Next?

mvfc

For those who were sleeping on the OPR retweet Tuesday or the numerous media reports, big news is rumbling across the FCS landscape.  The speculated move of the University of North Dakota Fighting Hawks is nearly official.  Pending a vote of MVFC presidents approving the addition on North Dakota joining the conference, the MVFC’s gain will be the Big Sky’s loss.

 

UND has been stuck in the Big Sky Conference for the last half decade or so.  It’s been more of a marriage of convenience than of love.  Sure, the Big Sky has given North Dakota a platform to thrive, especially in football, recently.  But being situated on the eastern edge of North Dakota(Grand Forks), those road trips to places like San Luis Obpisbo, California(Cal Poly) or Portland, Oregon(Portland State) or Cheyney, Washington(Eastern Washington) are very taxing on a FCS school’s budget.  The move to the MVFC would reunite them with natural rivals from North and South Dakota, all of whom they shared the North Central Conference with back in their Division II days.

 

This prospective move would not take effect until 2020, because of scheduling issues.  This would allow both the MVFC and the Big Sky ample time to get their future schedules in order.  But since this acceptance of North Dakota appears to be all but a foregone conclusion, what is next for the MVFC?  The thought they would stay at 11 teams seems unlikely, although no impossible.  The Southland Conference goes it with 11.  With three years before everything is set into place, who are the best bets to be “on the radar” for the MVFC, to make them a square dozen?  Here are some potentials…

 

  • Central Arkansas (Conway, AR).  Geographically this isn’t a bad move for the MVFC, though it would be more for the Bears.  They wouldn’t be too far removed from Missouri State or even Southern Illinois, but everywhere else would as far, if not further.  Their proximity to ten conference destinations all falling in Texas or Louisiana would be much easier for their travel budget.  The jump into a conference like the MVFC would be a tough decision as well.  Right now, UCA is a big fish in a small pond within the Southland Conference.  In the MVFC, they would be just one of the other fish.  Overall though, this move would both strengthen the MVFC and hurt the Southland.

 

  • Eastern Illinois (Charleston, IL).  Perfect match geographically.  But the Panthers bolted from the old Gateway Conference(predecessor to the MVFC) years ago for the Ohio Valley.  Some of those rumors included they were jumping to find themselves a better path to the playoffs.  That’s neither here nor there, though they have had some pretty decent success in the OVC.  And that’s despite the meteoric rise of Jacksonville State.  It seems unlikely the MVFC would ask them back and even less likely they would accept.

 

  • Eastern Kentucky (Richmond, KY).  Again, another very good match geographically, though a smidge out of the way.  The Colonels definitely have the pedigree to be the 12th member as a former I-AA/FCS National Champion.  Would be a coup if this move were to happen.  EKU is one of only two schools who have been part of the OVC since its inception in 1948(Murray State being the other).  That alone would appear to be the strike against a relocation.  One would think they’d at least listen, but probably unlikely they’d jump.

 

  • Drake (Des Moines, IA).  Sitting right in the middle of MVFC territory, this is an option to consider.  Add the fact that Drake is also a member of the similarly named but unrelated MVC basketball conference, you have another plus.  The big strike here is that the Bulldogs belong to the Pioneer League in FCS, a non-scholarship league.  With an enrollment of just over 3000, a bump to 63 scholarships for FCS football in three years doesn’t loo plausible.  Drake has played some non-conference games against MVFC in recent years and those games have been mostly uncontested.  A move would hurt the morale of a decent non-scholarship school for many years to come before reaping the benefits of a jump.

 

  • Dayton (Dayton, OH).  Dayton, much like Eastern Kentucky, would be a nice bridge geographically between the current MVFC and Youngstown State which is the conference’s great eastern outlier.  Though this would be an even better option as the city lies directly between Youngstown and Terre Haute(Indiana State).  The Flyers also belong to the non-scholarship Pioneer League, but is a larger private school.  The university has long been host to NCAA basketball tourney games and has served as host for the First Four games for several years.  A move by 2020 might be a stretch for them scholarship-wise, but this is an established winner in their league already.  Combine the fact that current PFL members Jacksonville and Stetson may be swooned to join the Big South as part of a Big South/Atlantic Sun co-operative, a jump to the MVFC might seem very attractive.

 

Given these five candidates, it seems like Central Arkansas and Dayton would be the most logical.  In this writer’s opinion, Dayton would be the most likely to accept of all those mentioned.  Central Arkansas would be the best for the aforementioned, by the weakening of a competing conference as well as the strengthening of their own.  How do you feel?  Weigh in in the comments section below.