news-category: Athletics

Big South-OVC Football Association Presidents and Chancellors Sign New Enhanced Agreement

Framework Solidifies Access to FCS Playoffs, Enables Partnership Beyond 2026 Season

BOILING SPRINGS, N.C.—After a successful first season of competition for the Big South Conference (BSC)-Ohio Valley Conference (OVC) Football Association, the presidents and chancellors of the nine regionally-aligned member institutions have strengthened their commitment to each other by approving a new agreement that could extend to 2030 and beyond. 

This agreement, which reinforces the processes for partnership between the two FCS conferences, is intended to provide member institutions with access to the automatic bid to the NCAA Division I Football Championship Playoffs, long-term stability, and a competitive league schedule. All teams will play eight Association games this season, renewing established rivalries and sparking new ones. 

Gardner-Webb President Dr. William M. Downs, who also serves as Big South president, noted the benefits of the agreement. “Football will always, always be part of our core athletic identity at Gardner-Webb,” Downs observed. “We have a rich and storied gridiron history, and our recent championship successes only fuel our hunger and drive our next-level ambitions. By strengthening the Big South’s partnership with the OVC, GWU has deftly secured an annual pathway to the FCS Playoffs. We now have clarity. We now have certainty. We now have stability amidst the nationwide tumult of conference realignment. All that remains is the execution. Let’s go build some new rivalries and win another trophy!”

Gardner-Webb’s football program earned back-to-back Big South and Big South-OVC Championships in 2022 and 2023. Gardner-Webb defeated Charleston Southern 34-10 on Nov. 18, 2023, to clinch the automatic bid to the FCS Playoffs. On Nov. 19, 2022, the Runnin’ Bulldogs defeated North Carolina A&T 38-17 for the program’s first Big South title since 2003.

The original agreement, which was signed in February 2022, provided for Association play from 2023 through 2026. The new agreement, endorsed by the nine institutions, now adds a “look-in” provision following the initial four-year term that was to end after the 2026 season. BSC and OVC leaders have locked in a mechanism that enables the participating football schools to extend the agreement’s length even further, thereby providing additional membership certainty and stability.

The framework also allows for the potential introduction of additional member institutions to the Association.

OVC Commissioner Beth DeBauche and BSC Commissioner Sherika A. Montgomery each praised the benefits of the enhanced agreement. DeBauche stated, “We are delighted that our enhanced agreement will allow us to operate as one cohesive unit, provide long-term stability for our football programs and plan for an exciting future of competitive success.” 

Montgomery added, “This enhanced partnership demonstrates our united commitment to continue the growth and advancement of the FCS. I am confident the reaffirmation of this agreement will continue to elevate football student–athlete experiences while strengthening brand exposure and recognition both regionally and nationally.”

The Big South Conference-Ohio Valley Conference Football Association currently includes nine schools: Charleston Southern University (Charleston, S.C.), Eastern Illinois University (Charleston, Ill.), Gardner-Webb University (Boiling Springs, N.C.), Lindenwood University (St. Charles, Mo.), Southeast Missouri State University (Cape Girardeau, Mo.), Tennessee State University (Nashville, Tenn.), Tennessee Technological University (Cookeville, Tenn.), University of Tennessee at Martin (Martin, Tenn.) and Western Illinois University (Macomb, Ill.).

With a strengthened alliance in place, the 2024 season will kick off on Saturday, Sept. 7, with 2023 co-champion UT Martin visiting Southeast Missouri. On Sept. 28, co-champion Gardner-Webb will host Tennessee Tech in a matchup of the Association’s newest head coaches — GWU’s Cris Reisert and TTU’s Bobby Wilder.

Gardner-Webb University is North Carolina’s recognized leader in private, Christian higher education. A Carnegie-Classified Doctoral/Professional University, GWU is home to nine colleges and schools, more than 80 undergraduate and graduate majors, and a world-class faculty. Located on a beautiful 225-acre campus in Boiling Springs, N.C., Gardner-Webb prepares graduates to impact their chosen professions, equips them with the skills to advance the frontiers of knowledge, and inspires them to make a positive and lasting difference in the lives of others. Ignite your future at Gardner-Webb.edu.

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