NWC History

Northwest Conference History

“The Northwest Conference exists to promote, organize, and supervise intercollegiate athletics competition among member institutions in a way that encourages competition to be equitable, fair, amicable, enjoyable, and educational.” 

In the last 14 years, the Northwest Conference has established itself as one of the most competitive NCAA Division III conferences in the U.S. Comprised of nine private colleges and universities in Washington and Oregon, the NWC is competitive on a national level in a wide array of sports and recognized for its emphasis on academic excellence. 

The NWC was formed in 1926, making it one of the oldest athletics conferences in the western United States.  For 60 years, the Northwest Conference sponsored sports exclusively for men, but in 1984 it joined with the Women’s Conference of Independent Colleges to become the Northwest Conference of Independent Colleges, shortening the name to its current moniker in 1996 when it joined the NCAA. 

The charter members included Willamette University, Whitman College, Pacific University, the College of Puget Sound (now the University of Puget Sound), Linfield College, and the College of Idaho. In 1931, Albany College joined, left in 1938, and rejoined in 1949 using its present name of Lewis & Clark College. Pacific Lutheran University was added in 1965, and Whitworth College in 1970. In 1978, the College of Idaho dropped out of the conference. Whitworth also left in 1984, but then returned in 1988. In 1996, George Fox joined when the conference moved to the NCAA. Seattle University was also a member for one year before it switched to NCAA Division II.  From 2006-2010 Menlo College was also a part of the conference as an associate member in football. 

The move to NCAA Division III in 1996 was embraced as one that would foster equity, sportsmanship and genuine concern for the student-athlete in all endeavors of competition. Athletics competition at the NCAA Division III level is based on the development of student-athletes through a “comprehensive educational experience” (NCAA Division III Identity Initiative). 

The NWC’s current membership includes Lewis & Clark College, Linfield College, George Fox University, Pacific University, and Willamette University from Oregon, and Pacific Lutheran University, the University of Puget Sound, Whitman College, and Whitworth University from Washington. 

Each year, the NWC recognizes the school that excels across all fields of competition by awarding the McIlroy-Lewis All-Sports Trophy, based upon a points system. The trophy is named in honor of Jane McIlroy from Linfield (1950-82) and John Lewis of Willamette (1947-72). The NWC has also won six NCAA Divisional III National Championships; Pacific Lutheran football in 1999, Linfield football and George Fox baseball in 2004, Linfield softball in 2007 and 2011, and George Fox women’s basketball in 2009.

Thanks to Kelly Bird from Linfield for compiling the initial versions of the NWC history.