Huskie helmets to clash in Big West

By Steve Dennis

Relinquishing the reins on independent status, NIU Athletic Director Gerald O’Dell announced in early May that the NIU football program is galloping West … as in the Big West.

After spending six seasons soul-searching in the ranks of Division I-A collegiate independence, the Huskies will begin official participation in the 11-team Big West Conference starting with the 1993 campaign.

Arkansas State, Louisiana Tech and Southwestern Louisiana join NIU as the other three Midwest independent inductees into the consortium. Already there are: Cal State Fullerton, Nevada-Las Vegas, New Mexico State, University of the Pacific, San Jose State, Utah State and the University of Nevada.

Two other schools from the East are expected to join the conference to produce 12 teams aligned into two six-team divisions with the conference championship determined by a playoff.

As it stands now, all four of the new members will comprise the Eastern Division, while all of the existing institutions, excluding Cal State Fullerton which seems to be on the way out, will make up the Western Division.

The Big West champion will take on the Mid-American Conference champ in the Las Vegas Bowl in mid-December at the 32,000-seat Sam Boyd Silver Bowl.

“This is a significant step not only for Northern Illinois University and our football program, but also for the participants in the Big West Conference,” O’Dell said.

“This is particularly positive since intercollegiate athletics now transcends traditional geographic boundaries. The Big West member institutions are definitely progressive in their thinking,” O’Dell continued. “This expansion parallels the recent growth of the SEC, the emergence of the Big East Conference in football and what the Great Midwest has done in basketball. This is the wave of the future.”

Ironically, the last time NIU resided in a conference was between 1975 and 1986 when the Huskies went 35-45-2 in 11 years of competition in the MAC. NIU’s best ledger came in 1983 under the direction of Bill Mallory at 10-2-0. The Huskies won the MAC title that year and went on to beat the Big West champion, Cal State Fullerton, 20-13, in the California Bowl.

Eventually, O’Dell said the conference would like to add a 12th game as the playoff for the bowl bid similar to the situation in the SEC.

For now, NIU will play each of its Eastern Division opponents once a year, while the Huskies travel west once or twice per year on an alternate basis. Each conference contests offers NIU a $50,000 guarantee.

The six-game conference schedule per year allows NIU to schedule five other non-conference opponents every season.

“This gives us the best of three worlds,” O’Dell said. “Flexibility in non-conference scheduling, conference affiliation against quality Division I-A opponents and the chance to play in a bowl game every season.”