The merry-go-round of conference affiliation went for a ride again Thursday.
Lindenwood announced it was departing the Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletics Association to join the Great Lakes Valley Conference for the 2019-20 school year.
For a second, it looked like Lincoln was adding another conference game to its football schedule. Instead, the Blue Tigers' 2019 schedule will now have a completely different look.
With Lindenwood's departure, Lincoln will return to the MIAA for football in the 2019 season.
"The Lindenwood decision happened really quickly for them. The MIAA has been great in communicating throughout the process with Lindenwood," said Lincoln athletic director John Moseley, who confirmed the move for the Blue Tigers on Thursday night. "I felt good as the athletic director with the MIAA's leadership through this process."
On May 31, Southwest Baptist — which was a football-only member of the GLVC — announced it would leave the MIAA and join the GLVC in all sports for 2019-20. With Lindenwood's announcement Thursday, that dropped the MIAA from 12 football schools to 11, leaving an open date for each team on an 11-game schedule.
"I think that there was some kind of agreement in place that said if the league got to 12 teams, then this would be nullified," Moseley said of the Blue Tigers' football-only affiliation with the GLVC, which has been in place since the 2014 season.
Lincoln will fill that void and is expected to take over Lindenwood's schedule of 11 conference games for the 2019 season in the second year of a two-year home-and-home schedule. If that happens, Lincoln will open next season on the road against Washburn.
Other road games would include Central Oklahoma, Pittsburg State, Northwest Missouri and Central Missouri. Lincoln would host Missouri Southern, Emporia State, Nebraska-Kearney, Northeastern State, Fort Hays State and Missouri Western.
"I think that's the expectation right now," Moseley said. "We're still confirming all of that, but I think that's very likely. That's the easiest transition for the MIAA."
Moseley said Lincoln already has agreements in place with non-conference opponents for the 2019 season and will have to break those contracts. He declined to name those opponents, as the discussions are still ongoing.
While the move to the MIAA in 2019 came as a surprise to Moseley, there was a previous discussion of Lincoln returning to MIAA as early as 2020, prior to Thursday's announcement.
"The MIAA has spent time over the last few years studying different scenarios, based on the number of teams they have had in the league," Moseley said. "I think the MIAA's foresight to explore all possibilities was very wise on their part. Now with the changes that are taking place, it's not nearly as much of a shock to the system.
"It speeds up our move a year. I was thinking we would have one more year, so I would have liked 2019 to be in the GLVC, just to see the continued growth in our program, but the MIAA is an excellent football conference. It comes with its challenges, but we're confident in the student-athletes we have and the ones that we're recruiting, and the coaching staffs that we have here now. We expect to see continued improvement."
Although Southwest Baptist and Lindenwood are changing conferences, Moseley said it was never a discussion for Lincoln to go to the GLVC full-time.
"Personally, I love the competitive nature of the MIAA," said Moseley, who is also the Lincoln men's basketball coach. "I think all of our coaches appreciate the opportunity to recruit to a league that competes on such a high level.
"I've told the MIAA the entire time, and speaking with the presidents that have been at Lincoln, it's been clear that the MIAA is one of the premier Division II conferences in the country. We want to be in a position where we're competing consistently in the upper third of that league."
One of the drawbacks to returning to the MIAA is Lincoln loses the opportunity to play a non-conference schedule. The Blue Tigers have four non-conference opponents on the schedule this season.
"This year's Missouri State game provided a money game for our program," Moseley said. "We would like the opportunity to have a game or two per season that we could schedule non-conference."
It also takes away the opportunity for Lincoln to schedule games against Historically Black Colleges and Universities, such as this year's season opener against Lane College. The Blue Tigers have had at least one HBCU on their schedule every year since 2013.
"We're not the only MIAA school that desires the opportunity to have non-conference games in football," Moseley said. "I think that's something that'll continue to be discussed."
Lincoln snapped a 29-game losing streak in the GLVC with a win last month against Southwest Baptist in the conference opener. Five of Lincoln's six remaining games are against GLVC opponents.
The Blue Tigers' final GLVC game is their season finale, Nov. 10 at home against McKendree.
"I think it's been a growing period for us," Moseley said. "We're in the midst of a program transition now with coach (Steven) Smith in his second year. As the director of athletics, I'm very pleased with the progress of the program."