With less than ten months remaining before Chicago State University exits the Western Athletic Conference (WAC), athletic director Elliott Charles has been in discussion with several Division I conferences. The Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference, Ohio Valley Conference, Missouri Valley Conference, Summit League, and Southwestern Athletic Conference are among the conferences contacted, according to Charles, who is identifying conferences that mirror Chicago State’s level of competition and profile.
The final decision as to which conference Chicago State University will call home will be a collaborative process. Chicago State University associate, athletic director for communications Jim Christman, explained in an email to the Defender that student-athletes, community members, the Chicago State University board of trustees, and stakeholders will all have an input. He noted, too, Chicago State University intends to continue to compete at the Division I level. At this time, Winter 2022 is the tentative deadline for a news conference announcement.
“Chicago State University is focused on two priorities: making the best decisions for our current and future student-athletes, and building a competitive foundation across our programs as Chicago’s only Southside NCAA Division I institution,” Christman wrote.
But what exactly happened between the Western Athletic Conference and Chicago State University?
“The Western Athletic Conference expansions in Southern and Southwestern states in January 2021 was a shift from building an anchor in the Midwest as was planned when CSU entered the conference in 2013,” Christman wrote. “The expansion meant that CSU was the only member institution remaining in the Midwest, making continued membership geographically unsustainable. The Western Athletic Conference’s membership expansion strategy created an opportunity to identify a Division I conference that provides not only geographic alignment but also the level of competition that is consistent with the strategic plan and mission of our University.”
Christman explained that Chicago State University and the Western Athletic Conference mutually agreed to the exit, and no exit fee would be assessed. Another reason for Chicago State University’s departure from the Western Athletic Conference can be attributed to Charles’ directive of putting the overall wellness of student-athletes first.
“When you are on a travel leg competing against two schools, or even one school that’s really far away, you miss multiple days of class. If you’re in a sport that has several games going on in a week, you know, more than 10 in a month, that can be really tough,” Charles said. “We found ways to support ourselves as part of the membership, and the [Western Athletic Conference] found ways to support us, but at this point, we’re looking at coming out of the last couple of years as an opportunity to improve our student-athlete experience.”
In the interim, Chicago State will continue to execute its recruitment strategy for local and international student-athletes. Charles said his approach is a blend of sharing positive stories about the University and diffusing misnomers that may exist. He described the University’s staff as its “best asset.” He emphasized the importance of prospective student-athletes visiting the campus and touring the Emil & Patricia A. Jones Convocation Center, located on-campus.
Contributing Writer, Lee Edwards is a multimedia journalist based in Chicago. Find him on social media @mario_demiuex.