By David Ford
In their athletic programs, Youngstown State University participates as a Division I program. For the majority of their sports (both men and women), the Penguins compete in the Horizon League, with the exception of their football and bowling programs.
Since 1997, the football program has competed in the Missouri Valley Football Conference, formerly Gateway Conference, while the bowling team is in the Southland Bowling League. The location of their conference opponents and travel schedules in all sports play an important factor in debating whether or not YSU would consider a move to the Mid-American Conference.
The majority of the institutions who compete in the MAC are located within viable distances of YSU. Six schools are located in Ohio, including the University of Akron, Bowling Green State University, Kent State University, Miami University, Ohio University and the University of Toledo.
If YSU left the MVFC and Horizon League and joined the MAC in all their respective athletic programs, it would allow the Penguins teams, students and fans to travel to away venues, and vice versa. In addition, the Penguins could form in-state rivalries with their sister institutions, like Kent State and Akron, among others. YSU also has the talent to compete with the MAC programs, both on the field and on the recruiting trail.
YSU Athletic Director Ron Strollo said the MVFC presents geographic challenges for the Penguin football team; however, the level of competition is at an extremely high level.
“It’s a challenge with the Missouri Valley Conference, since we’re on the far eastern end of all the teams. Really, the only place our fans have the chance to drive to is Indiana State, and even that is still six or seven hours away, but it’s unbelievable football. Our conference [in football] is by far the best at our level, although we might not have those typical rivalry schools, the level of football is at a very high level.”
While the Penguins could recruit and compete with MAC programs in football, YSU wouldn’t necessarily consider the move. In terms of their other programs, Strollo said the university is content where it currently stands; a conference move isn’t in their plan.
Strollo said the funding would be just one issue the Penguins would face if they moved conferences. If the Penguins football team moved into the MAC, a complete Division I upgrade would also result. YSU competes in the Football Championship Subdivision, while the MAC schools compete in the Football Bowl Subdivision.
“The challenge is how athletics are funded. You’re looking at a conference that probably spends double what we’re spending. To get in there, you’re probably talking a $15 million a year investment, and I don’t think that’s necessarily appropriate or needed,” Strollo said in an interview last semester.
In addition, Strollo said YSU athletics are in a good spot where they are.
“We have just as many sports as those schools, and we’re able to operate at half the price, and our kids ultimately have really good experiences,” Strollo said. “At the end of the day, some of our athletes will be able to make some money playing their sports. You want them to feel good about the decision they made to come to Youngstown State. I think we’re in the right spot; the Horizon League is a great league.”
While the MAC presents the opportunity for the Penguins to develop in-state rivalries and the chance for fans and students to travel efficiently, it’s not in YSU’s future plans.