NIU men’s soccer jumps to Missouri Valley Conference

MAC to cease sponsorship of men’s soccer

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Northern Star File Photo

Redshirt senior forward Enrique Banuelos in possession of the ball during NIU men’s soccer match Sunday night at the NIU Soccer & Track and Field Complex. (Marco Sotelo Avila | Northern Star)

By Skyler Kisellus, Sports Editor

DeKALB – The NIU men’s soccer team will be competing in the Missouri Valley Conference following the announcement that the Mid-American Conference will no longer sponsor men’s soccer beginning with the 2023-24 academic year due to a lack of membership.

The MAC will cease sponsorship of men’s soccer upon the conclusion of the 2022 NCAA Division I men’s soccer championship.

“The Mid-American Conference has an enviable and proud men’s soccer tradition,” MAC Commissioner Dr. Jon Steinbrecher said. “However, the challenges of maintaining sufficient membership, given the small number of full members sponsoring the sport, finally caught up to us. If in the future the Conference membership includes more institutions sponsoring men’s soccer, this decision will be reexamined.”

The conference has seen a dip in its membership numbers in recent years. Three affiliate members, West Virginia University, Georgia State University and Georgia Southern University, departed the league after the 2021 season. The conference carried four full members and one affiliate member, Chicago State University, during the 2022 season.

The Missouri Valley Conference is the nation’s second-oldest NCAA Division I conference, getting its start in 1907, according to the conference’s website. The MVC is younger than the Big Ten Conference which was founded 11 years earlier in 1896. The league has sponsored men’s soccer since 1991.

“The MAC has been an outstanding home for our men’s soccer program, as it is for our entire athletic department, but when it became necessary for men’s soccer to find a new conference,” said Sean Frazier, NIU’s director of athletics and recreation, in an NIU Athletics news release. “I believe we found a great geographic and competitive fit in the Missouri Valley. We look forward to a bright future for our men’s soccer team in The Valley.”

NIU will be accompanied by fellow MAC members Bowling Green State University and Western Michigan University in its move to the MVC as affiliate members. The league already has membership from Illinois schools such as Bradley University, the University of Illinois Chicago and Southern Illinois University Edwardsville.

“The addition of these three institutions will not only enhance the student-athlete experience for all participating, but it will establish the MVC as one of the top conferences in the country for men’s soccer and strengthen its footprint in the Midwest,” MVC Commissioner Jeff Jackson said.

The remaining members of the MAC from the 2022 season, the University of Akron and Chicago State University, have yet to announce their next destinations.

Men’s soccer will become the only athletic program at NIU to compete in a conference outside the Mid-American.

“I’m very happy that our team is joining the Missouri Valley,” head men’s soccer coach Ryan Swan said. “It is a really good conference, one I’m very familiar with having lived in Springfield, Mo.i, so I’ve seen Missouri State play many times. Also having the likes of UIC, it is a great geographic fit for us and an exceptional level. The Missouri Valley has been growing in stature every year and we look forward to helping enhance the conference. We are very excited about it and looking forward to starting next fall.”

The regular season scheduling model and the conference’s tournament format for the 2023 season will be announced at a later date.

Men’s soccer concluded its final season in the conference with a 5-8-4 regular season win-loss record. The Huskies did not qualify for the MAC Tournament after finishing fourth out of five times in the league standings, boasting a 2-5-1 record against conference foes.

The MAC’s sponsorship of men’s soccer ended with the 2022 Men’s Soccer Championship where Western Michigan triumphed over No. 12 Akron at FirstEnergy Stadium in Cleveland, Ohio.