The Missouri Valley has added three schools to the men’s soccer conference, with Bowling Green, Western Michigan and Northern Illinois set to join the fray in 2023.
In a release on Nov. 11, the MVC announced that the former Mid-American Conference (MAC) teams will compete as affiliate members after the five-team conference suspended their men’s soccer sponsorship. They will join Southern Illinois-Edwardsville as the four affiliate schools in the Valley.
“They’re really good, solid teams,” Bradley soccer head coach Jim DeRose said. “Three places [where] soccer is important on their campus, which is a nice thing. The traditions and history at those schools are pretty good.”
The three programs all bring prestige to the league. Reigning MAC champions Western Michigan, who topped Louisville in the first round of the NCAA Tournament on Thursday, finished with a 14-2-2 overall record this season and have beaten seven Power Five teams since 2015. Northern Illinois, who won the conference last year, have had three players selected in the MLS SuperDraft in the last four seasons, while Bowling Green has made eight appearances in the NCAA Championships.
Geographically, the additions seem advantageous to Bradley but could shake up the rest of the conference. Perennial Valley power Missouri State, for example, now has to travel 677 miles to Bowling Green when they play the Falcons and 628 miles to Kalamazoo when they take on Western Michigan, and vice versa.
“We’re not on charter planes,” DeRose said. “They’re 11-hour bus rides so I think, for them, that’s going to be new.”
As for the other MAC teams, No. 15-ranked Akron joined the Big East as an affiliate member on Wednesday while Chicago State, who was already a MAC affiliate member, has not announced where it’s headed. Akron was selected as an at-large team for the NCAA Tournament, giving the MAC two bids in their final year of sponsorship.
Ten teams is the most the Valley has had since 2003, when affiliate members Tulsa, Western Kentucky, Southern Methodist, Vanderbilt and Eastern Illinois got the conference to double digits. Notably, the league had five teams just three seasons ago, but has now doubled that with the MAC additions.
“The Valley is a very attractive place because of the league’s support,” DeRose said. “Men’s soccer has been one of if not its most successful sport at the national level. They support it well, so it’s a good league to be in.”
If history is any indication, the teams will not stay as permanent members, although DeRose does not doubt there will be an attempt to keep the conference at a higher number of schools.
“If you would’ve asked me five weeks ago ‘did I think we would’ve added three teams?’, I would have said ‘I don’t think so’,” DeRose said. “So there is a philosophy out there to try to take as many [teams] as you can to protect yourself with transition and movement in the conferences.”
With the historic successes and recent national acclaim of the programs, the path becomes even longer for Bradley to get back atop the MVC.
“It’ll be a tough, hard league and they’re gonna make it better,” DeRose said.