After surviving the jump from NAIA to NCAA Division I athletics and a move to the Atlantic Sun Conference, the Battle of the Boulevard rivalry has reached another crossroad as Belmont transitions into the Ohio Valley Conference.
Touted by some, including ESPN, as one of the most heated mid-major rivalries in the country, the Battle of the Boulevard has been played off-and-on since 1953.
“The history and tradition keep it going. I don’t know what the Lipscomb people did to the Belmont people to make them feel the way we do, but it’s always fun when we play them, that’s for sure,” senior Adam Barnes said. “ We’re a mile and a half apart from each other. If you ever see them out in Nashville, you just want to rub it in their face.”
For junior J.J. Mann, the Battle of the Boulevard is part of Belmont’s athletic identity.
“I didn’t realize how much of a rivalry it was until I actually played in the game, but to get to see everyone so stoked up – the coaches get extra heated and practice is a little more serious the week of the game,” he said. “It’s just an opportunity to represent Belmont.”
Despite the change in conferences, both Barnes and Mann believe that the implications of the game are as strong as ever.
“Coach Byrd dropped a comment only three practices in, not doing something right could lead to losing to Lipscomb, which isn’t an option,” Barnes said.
Mann said that the rivalry has a new feel since both teams are in different conferences since both were in Division I.
“I think it brings a different aspect to the game because since there are no conference implications that it’s just strictly a rivalry game, so I think it’s going to be a little more amped up, and I’m excited to play,” Mann said.
With Belmont moving to the OVC, scheduling the Battle is still a priority for the Bruins.
“I definitely look forward to going over there and them coming over here, just because it’s one of those games where everyone’s there,” Mann said. “I really hope they don’t ever stop it, even if it turns into one time a year.”
In a statement from the OVC, flexibility is built into the schedule to allow schools like Belmont to continue rivalries despite shifting conferences.
“We are mindful of natural rivalries that exist, and that is part of the reasoning behind playing a 16-game conference basketball schedule,” the statement said. “That gives our schools latitude to have success by scheduling non-conference games of their choosing.”
Belmont coach Rick Byrd also notes the importance of needing to schedule the Battle during non-conference play early in the season.
“For me I’ve never liked non-conference games in a conference season. You just get focused on trying to win that championship,” he said.
The Bruins also hope to keep the tradition of playing the game twice during a season alive but recognize that in the future, it may not always be feasible.
“I like playing twice because I think its a big deal for both campuses for it to be annual, but if it proves not to be, maybe once a year swapping in and out would make it a bigger deal since it only comes to your place once a year,” Byrd said.
Managing editor Autumn Allison contributed to this report.