The Gateway Collegiate Athletic Conference, formerly an all-women's league, has added men's football with six teams from NCAA I-AA schools.
Conference play will begin in September for men's teams from Eastern Illinois, Illinois State, Northern Iowa, Southern Illinois at Carbondale, Southwest Missouri and Western Illinois.
Women's athletic teams at all six schools already compete within the Gateway Conference. Other Gateway members that compete in women's sports are Bradley, Drake, Indiana State and Wichita State.
Jim Sheehan, the conference spokesman, said officials from Drake and Indiana State indicated their men's football teams would not join the Gateway league this season. Wichita State competes in NCAA Division I-A and Bradley has no football team.
"I look forward to the added excitement and challenge that football will bring to this fine conference," said Patty Viverito, who has been the league's commissioner since it was founded in 1982. "In addition, the national prominence of football will also help increase the visibility and enhance the prestige of our women's programs."
Sheehan said Gateway officials hope the league after two seasons will be given an automatic berth to the Division I-AA football playoffs. Conferences currently with automatic bids are Big Sky, Ohio Valley, Southland, Yankee and Southwestern.
The football teams of Eastern Illinois, Western Illinois, Northern Iowa and Southwest Missouri competed last year in the Mid-Continent Confernece. Sheehan said he expects that league will now disband.