Sunday, May 1, 2016 | Valley Football
This is the Missouri Valley Football Conference


  Founded in 1985, the Missouri Valley Football Conference has shaped itself into the nation’s premier NCAA FCS conference. During the 2015 season, the league demonstrated its superiority as for the second-straight year, five MVFC teams earned selection to the NCAA Division I Championship, with league member North Dakota State claiming an unprecedented fifth-straight national crown. Last year, the league fashioned a 24-14 non-conference record.

 There’s not much that has eluded the Missouri Valley Football Conference in its first 31 seasons of competition. The league’s first three decades have included national championships, national players of the year, national coaches of the year, No. 1 national rankings, and countless All-Americans. League member North Dakota State is an unprecedented five-time defending national champion, and the league also has NCAA titles in 1997 and 2002.

 Strong coaching and great players have helped make the league a national force, but the stability and leadership of Commissioner Patty Viverito -- the only commissioner the league has ever known -- has helped make the Missouri Valley Football Conference a standard bearer on the FCS scene. Indeed, all signs point to continued national prominence for the Missouri Valley Football Conference as it enters its 32nd season in 2016.

 In June 2008, presidents of the nine-member Gateway Football Conference and the 10-member Missouri Valley Conference approved a rebranding initiative that changed the football conference name from the Gateway Football Conference to the Missouri Valley Football Conference. It represented the second name change for the football league. Initially, the conference competed as the Gateway Collegiate Athletic Conference (1985-91) and the Gateway Football Conference (1992-2007).

 Although the league shares the Missouri Valley name, the football-playing members compete under a separate administrative umbrella, as the Missouri Valley Conference and the Missouri Valley Football Conference remain separate entities.

 Last year, five league teams (Illinois State, North Dakota State, UNI, South Dakota State and Western Illinois) represented the conference in the FCS playoffs, marking the 21st-straight season in which at least two or more teams have participated in post-season play. The league recorded an 8-4 playoff record, giving the league 18 wins in the playoffs in the past two seasons. No other league had more than seven.

 In 2015, the league wasn’t short of individual national accomplishments as a total of 17 different players earned All-America honors. League Offensive Player of the Year Marshaun Coprich of Illinois State finished third in the STATS FCS Player of the Year balloting, league Freshman of the Year Andrew Van Ginkel of South Dakota was third in the STATS FCS Freshman of the Year voting, and NDSU QB Carson Wentz earned the NCAA’s Elite 90 Award for the third-straight year. Wentz, one of three players from the MVFC taken in the 2016 NFL Draft, became the highest-ever draft pick for the league, taken second overall by the Philadelphia Eagles.

 The Missouri Valley Football Conference has seven recent national championships (North Dakota State – 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014 and 2015; Western Kentucky - 2002; Youngstown State - 1997), and league members Youngstown State (3) and Southern Illinois (1) own additional titles prior to their league membership, meaning 11 FCS championship trophies are housed on league campuses, in addition to four (Youngstown State twice, UNI in 2005 and Illinois State in 2014) runner-up finishes. Only five FCS leagues possess more than a single FCS championship trophy, and the Missouri Valley Football Conference is among that elite.

 In recent years, the league has established itself as a leader among FCS conferences. Counting last year, an MVFC member has reached the FCS semifinals 17 times in the past 20 seasons (and 20 times overall). The league has seven national championships in that span.

 The Missouri Valley Football Conference success is not limited to the immediate past. During the decade of the 1990’s, the league compiled a 34-19 mark in the FCS playoffs, bettered only by the Southern Conference, whose members were 37-19 in that decade.

 Team accomplishments have helped solidify the Missouri Valley Football Conference among the FCS elite, but individuals at the league’s member institutions are the real source of pride within the conference. Thanks to great players and strong coaching, the Missouri Valley Football Conference has reached and will maintain its place among the FCS best. Since 2004, league teams have combined for a 51-28 record in playoff games, with five titles – both tops in the FCS. And this decade (since 2010), the Missouri Valley Football Conference has compiled an FCS best 37-15 record in the playoffs. Since 2010, CAA Football ranks second in total playoff wins (23), while only the Big Sky Conference has an FCS title this decade (in 2010).

 In 1997, Youngstown State grabbed the crowned jewel for the conference, as the league had one of its most successful seasons. In addition to claiming the league’s first national championship, the Penguins finished the year ranked No. 1, marking the first time a league member has held that spot in a season-ending poll. That year, Western Illinois was at No. 6, marking the first time the league ended the year with two teams ranked among the top six.

 In 1999, the Missouri Valley Football Conference trumped that, as YSU finished the year No. 2, and Illinois State was No. 3. UNI also finished in the top 20 in both nationally recognized polls.

 In 2002, Western Kentucky added to the league’s national championship trophy case with an FCS crown, while both WKU (No. 1) and Western Illinois (No. 5) finished among the nation’s top five in the season-ending polls. WKU became the first school to earn victories against the tourney’s top three seeds en route to its national championship.

 In 2003, four Valley Football teams represented the league in the 16-team NCAA playoffs, marking the first time any league has sent that many to the playoffs in the same year.

 In 2004, Southern Illinois spent a league-record 11 weeks as the nation’s top-ranked team, while all eight league teams received votes for the Top 25 at some point in the season. LB Boomer Grigsby of Illinois State earned a National Defensive Player of the Year honor, while SIU’s Jerry Kill was National Coach of the Year.

 In 2005, UNI became the fourth league school to reach the FCS championship game since 1997, while Southern Illinois and Western Kentucky combined to hold the nation’s No. 1 ranking in the top-25 polls for five weeks.

 In 2006, Youngstown State won its second-straight league championship and the Penguins were joined in the playoff field by Illinois State and Southern Illinois. That marked only the second time in league history the league had more than two teams qualify for the 16-team playoff field. SIU’s Arkee Whitlock was a national player of the year award winner (College Sporting News) and was third in the Walter Payton Award balloting.

 In 2008, six teams were nationally ranked in the same poll, marking the first time in league history that had happened. Those six teams were ranked for four-straight weeks. North Dakota State held the nation’s No. 1 spot for its first two weeks as a conference member, while rookie coach Dale Lennon of Southern Illinois became just the third to win Coach of the Year honors in his first league season.

 In 2011, North Dakota State won the national crown and finished the season atop the Top-25 rankings. UNI was No. 5 in the final FCS Coaches poll, and Illinois State was ranked No. 20 in The Sports Network poll. For ISU, it marked the first top-25 ranking in a season-ending poll since 2006. Six different league schools cracked into the Top 25 during the season.

   In 2012 and 2013, North Dakota State repeated as national champions, becoming just the second team in FCS history to three-peat as national champions (only Appalachian State has previously accomplished this feat at the FCS level). The Bison went an unprecedented 15-0 and established an all-time FCS record with 33-straight victories before losing.

   The 2014 playoffs ended again with a North Dakota State national championship, but Illinois State reached the title game, too, marking the first NCAA FCS championship game for the Redbirds. It was the first intra-conference matchup in the FCS title game since the NCAA began conducting one in 1978. The Bison narrowly edged the Redbirds, 29-27, in what was the only meeting between the co-champs in 2014 (they did not play one another in the regular season). The final national poll had five MVFC teams in it, and for the first time the league held the No. 1 (North Dakota State) and No. 2 (Illinois State) positions in the season-ending Sports Network rankings. During the 2014 season, the league demonstrated its superiority as eight different MVFC teams achieved a top-25 ranking. The league posted two wins against FBS programs and had a 30-2 non-conference record against FCS peers. And for the first time, the NCAA awarded the league with five playoff teams.

 The original Gateway Conference was founded as a women’s athletic organization in August 1982, following the dissolution of the Association of Intercollegiate Athletics for Women. In September of that year, Patty Viverito was named the first commissioner of the newly founded conference, a position she maintains today. Before moving to its permanent headquarters in St. Louis, the conference spent three organizational months on the campus of Eastern Illinois University.

 In July of 1992, the 10-team conference disbanded as its women’s programs realigned with their men’s teams in their respective conferences. The league assumed its new name on July 1, 1992, becoming the Gateway Football Conference, an NCAA FCS football league comprised of seven Midwest institutions.

 The Gateway Conference football division was born on August 21, 1985, when the Gateway Conference President’s Council voted to add a FCS football division for six of its members to the previously all-women’s athletics organization. Founding members of the football division were Eastern Illinois, Illinois State, UNI, Southern Illinois, Southwest Missouri State (now Missouri State), and Western Illinois. The creation of the football division marked the first time in college annals that football was added to a women’s conference. In June of 1986, Indiana State became the seventh member of the conference.

 In the 31 years of the football division, league membership has been stable -- with only six fluctuations since 1986. Eastern Illinois left the league to join the Ohio Valley Conference in 1996, while Youngstown State joined the conference in 1997 to return league membership to its original seven-member status. League membership reached what was then an all-time high of eight members for the start of the 2001 season with the addition of Western Kentucky. The Hilltoppers left the league after six years to join the Sun Belt (FBS). North Dakota State and South Dakota State joined for the start of the 2008 season, giving the league nine members for the first time. And the league expanded to 10 members in 2012 after the University of South Dakota was admitted.

 The Missouri Valley Football Conference is one of two automatic FCS qualifying conferences (Pioneer Football League the other) that sponsors football as its only sport, as the league completed its service to women’s athletics following the 1991-92 season. Although the league no longer sponsors women’s sports, the league has an historical place in the development of intercollegiate women’s athletics.

 The 10 founders of the original Gateway Collegiate Athletic Conference currently belong to three conferences. Eight members joined their men’s programs in the Missouri Valley: Bradley, Drake, Illinois State, Indiana State, Missouri State, UNI, Southern Illinois, and Wichita State. Eastern Illinois is now in the Ohio Valley Conference, while Western Illinois competes in the Summit.

 Members of the Missouri Valley Football Conference (and initial year of membership) include Illinois State University (1985), Indiana State University (1986), Missouri State University (1985), North Dakota State University (2008), the University of Northern Iowa (1985), the University of South Dakota (2012), South Dakota State University (2008), Southern Illinois University (1985), Western Illinois University (1985), and Youngstown State University (1997).

 Five Missouri Valley Football Conference members also compete in the Missouri Valley Conference (Illinois State, Indiana State, Missouri State, Northern Iowa, and Southern Illinois). Four league schools compete in the Summit League (North Dakota State, South Dakota, South Dakota State, and Western Illinois), while Youngstown State competes in the Horizon League for its other sports.

 In its decade of operation, the Gateway sponsored championships in ten women’s sports and football. The women’s sports were basketball, cross country, golf, indoor and outdoor track & field, swimming and diving, tennis, softball, volleyball and, early on, field hockey.