The student news site of Eastern Illinois University in Charleston, Illinois.

The Daily Eastern News

The student news site of Eastern Illinois University in Charleston, Illinois.

The Daily Eastern News

The student news site of Eastern Illinois University in Charleston, Illinois.

The Daily Eastern News

‘I’m really excited,’ Wilkerson says entering new conference

Entering the new conference, Head Coach Chris Wilkerson said he’s excited to compete against the Bryant Bulldogs and the Robert Morris Colonials. (File)

Eastern football has new opponents this season, and this is just the beginning of the combination between the Big South Conference and the Ohio Valley Conference.

In February 2022, the Big South Conference and the Ohio Valley Conference announced the creation of Big South-OVC Football.

Head Coach Chris Wilkerson is excited about the new joint conference. “Conference realignment is a big thing right now,” Wilkerson said. “It does show forward thinking, commitment, and it shows a long-term strategic plan by the OVC to remain whole.”

This combination of the two conferences for football begins in the 2023 football season, and it has an initial term of at least four years.

The goal of this combination where two conferences are “stronger together” is to give the Big South teams enough time to join a different conference within the four-year margin.

“The unique agreement combines the two conferences’ football membership to ensure NCAA championship access and stability for the multisport conferences,” according to the Big South-OVC Football Association.

There are a total of 10 teams in the Big South-OVC Football Association:

  • Bryant University (Smithfield, RI)
  • Charleston Southern University (Charleston, SC)
  • Eastern Illinois University (Charleston, IL)
  • Gardner-Webb University (Boiling Springs, NC)
  • Lindenwood University (St. Charles, MO)
  • Robert Morris University (Moon Township, PA)
  • Southeast Missouri State University (Cape Girardeau, MO)
  • Tennessee State University (Nashville, TN)
  • Tennessee Technological University (Cookeville, TN)
  • University of Tennessee at Martin (Martin, TN)

Bryant and Robert Morris are the two Big South schools the Panthers will compete against this season.

Chris Merritt is the head coach for the Bryant Bulldogs. Merritt is in his fifth season with the Bulldogs and is the fourth head coach in program history.

“We’ve stayed in touch throughout the years,” Wilkerson said about his connection with Merritt. “It’s funny how things have come full circle. I wouldn’t have thought in a million years, especially coming back to Eastern, that we would be playing Bryant.”

When Wilkerson played as a junior for the Panthers, Merritt was a graduate assistant for the team. Wilkerson is excited to play the Bulldogs for their last year in the Big South.

This game between the Panthers and the Bulldogs will take place Oct. 21 at O’Brien Field.

Wilkerson is also looking forward to traveling to Pittsburgh to play Robert Morris because it’s “something different.”

Bernard Clark Jr. is the head coach for the Robert Morris Colonials. Clark Jr. is in his sixth season of coaching the Colonials and is the third head coach in program history.

Clark Jr. was a linebacker for the 1987 and 1989 national title-winning University of Miami Hurricanes team.

“He’s a heck of a football coach,” Wilkerson said about the former linebacker. “They’ve got a very smart football team.”

This game between the Panthers and the Colonials will take place on Nov. 18 at the Joe Walton Stadium, and this will be the last game of the regular season for the Panthers.

Zaria Flippin can be reached at 581-2812 or at [email protected].

Leave a Comment
More to Discover
About the Contributors
Zaria Flippin
Zaria Flippin, Sports Editor
Zaria Flippin is a junior sports media relations major. This is her first year at The News.
Ashanti Thomas
Ashanti Thomas, Photographer
Ashanti Thomas is a senior digital media major. She previously served as photo editor and assistant photo editor at The News.

Comments (0)

Commenting on the Daily Eastern News web site is a privilege, not a right. We reserve the right to remove comments that contain obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language. Also, comments containing personal attacks or threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
All The Daily Eastern News Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest