In wake of making the transition, renovations have been under way at L.T. Smith Stadium to expand the facility to proper seating requirements, and the school has already began fielding teams on the schedule for the next five-plus seasons.
This season alone, the Hilltoppers will open up at Indiana on Aug. 30 and will take on Eastern Kentucky the following week in Richmond. In addition, Western will take on the University of Kentucky for the first time in school history on Sept. 27 at Commonwealth Stadium.
The team's future schedule includes home contests against Indiana (2010) and Iowa State (2015) and Alabama in 2012. Western also will take on Nebraska in 2010.
Although it could be argued that Western would have a chance to play those types of teams anyway, the opportunity of putting those same teams at home would be non-existent if the Hilltoppers were still competing in the Football Championship Subdivision.
Despite the surge in rank, one downfall will be the team's series against Eastern Kentucky University.
The Colonels won the Ohio Valley Conference championship in football for the first time since 1997 last year. Eastern lost to Richmond in the opening round of the playoffs, but has a deep history when it comes to winning championships. The Colonels captured I-AA titles in 1979 and 1982 and were runners-up in the two years in between the first title and the last one.
The Ohio Valley Conference isn't the same as it's been in the past, with Eastern, Middle Tennessee and Western often slugging it out for the league championship back in the day. Marshall, once a perennial power in I-AA, has been playing I-A football for more than a decade.
During its heyday, maybe Eastern should have considered leaving its roots (the OVC) and moving up a notch. Middle did, and competed in the Motor City Bowl two years ago.
The change at Western also has effected the EKU-WKU rivalry. Because of Sun Belt conference rules, Eastern and Western won't play each other in a home-and-home arrangement.
Western could host Eastern every other year, but that arrangement wouldn't be fair to both parties. Playing the contest at a neutral site every year could offer a solution. Maybe the two teams could alternate playing at Commonwealth Stadium in Lexington and LP Field in Nashville on a rotating basis.
Regardless, the series is worth saving.