CHICAGO – The University of Chicago announced on Wednesday that its varsity football team will join the Midwest Conference as an affiliate member starting in 2017.
UChicago football returns to a familiar league from its past – the Maroons previously competed within the Midwest Conference (MWC) as a full member from 1976-87.
"Returning to the Midwest Conference in football is a terrific outcome in achieving our goal of providing an excellent competitive experience in a regional conference for our football team," said UChicago Director of Athletics Erin McDermott. "Although this agreement requires ending some long-term competitive UAA rivalries, we look forward to reuniting Midwest ones. We will play a consistently competitive schedule within a philosophically-aligned conference, with the champion earning an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament.
"We thank Executive Director Heather Benning and the Midwest Conference members; we are honored and excited to be a Midwest Conference affiliate member in football."
"We are proud to have the University of Chicago rejoin the Midwest Conference as a football affiliate member," said Teresa Amott, Chair of MWC Presidents' Council and Knox College President. "The University of Chicago athletic program embodies the MWC ethos of excellence in academics and athletics and will represent the MWC ably, both on and off the field. The University of Chicago competed in the Midwest Conference from 1976 to 1987, so we welcome the Maroons back to the Conference and look forward to the contests ahead."
In 2016, the Maroon football team will compete within the Southern Athletic Association (SAA) and also play its traditional opponents from the University Athletic Association (UAA) – including Case Western Reserve University, Carnegie Mellon University and fellow SAA-member Washington University-St. Louis. The 2016 schedule features eight SAA conference games and two non-conference UAA games.
Beginning in 2017, UChicago will become the MWC's 12th institution that sponsors football. The league is comprised of the 10 full-member schools and football-affiliate member Macalester College. The MWC competes in a divisional format with six teams in the North Division and six teams in the South Division; UChicago is scheduled to join the North Division for the 2017 and 2018 seasons. The winners of the North and South Divisions then play each other for the conference title, with an automatic bid into the NCAA postseason on the line.
"We are thrilled to be rejoining the Midwest Conference," said Head Coach Chris Wilkerson. "The Midwest Conference is an excellent fit for UChicago football. It is a highly-competitive league featuring some of the country's best institutions. We are excited about the quality experience that our football student-athletes will receive while participating in our new league. We will enjoy a competitive regional schedule year in and year out, and have the opportunity to earn a conference title and berth into the NCAA postseason. Moving to the Midwest Conference, with its strong history and tradition, makes sense for our future goals as a program."
UChicago remains a proud founding member of the UAA and will continue membership in all other sports that currently compete in the UAA. The UChicago and Washington-St. Louis football teams will continue playing each other in the Founders Cup game on an annual basis.
The Maroons compiled a 6-4 overall record during the 2015 season. Entering his fourth year as UChicago's head coach, Wilkerson has led the team to a three-year record of 20-9 (.690 winning percentage) and a 2014 UAA title.
In the modern era, Maroon football played as an independent from 1969-75 and again in 1987. After spending 11 seasons in the MWC, UChicago helped form the UAA and began football competition in 1988. The Maroons went on to also compete within the SAA as a football affiliate member for the 2015 and 2016 seasons.
The Midwest Conference's membership in 2017 will include 10 private, liberal arts colleges and universities in Illinois, Iowa and Wisconsin: Beloit College, Cornell College, Grinnell College, Illinois College, Knox College, Lake Forest College, Lawrence University, Monmouth College, Ripon College and St. Norbert College.