Belmont president Dr. Bob Fisher opened a quickly-called press conference Friday afternoon by signaling for the curtain behind him to be dropped.
As the curtain fell to unveil the logo of the Ohio Valley Conference, the athletic conference Belmont will join in 2012, a new era began in Bruin sports.
“We were invited to join the OVC, and have enthusiastically accepted the invitation,” Fisher said. “The OVC is one of the most tradition-rich and respected athletic conferences in NCAA Division I.”
Belmont will join the now 11-team conference in the fall of 2012, joining schools from around the state like Tennessee State, Tennessee Tech and Austin Peay, as well as schools from Kentucky, Alabama, Missouri and Illinois.
Beth DeBauche, commissioner of the OVC, is enthusiastic that Belmont has joined the conference, the eighth-oldest in the NCAA..
“Truly, today is going to go down as a hallmark day for us,” she said. “We were a great league yesterday, and an even better league today.”
Until July 1, 2012, Belmont will continue to compete in the Atlantic Sun Conference before they move to the OVC. Typically, moving to a new conference requires a two-year transition, but a $200,000 buyout to the Atlantic Sun allowed the university to move in half the time. The steep cost of the buyout will pay itself back in the long run, Fisher said.
“We will be saving twice that much each year in travel expenses,” he said.
It was the cost and length of travel, which had previously required student-athletes to miss multiple days of class for lengthy road trips, that made a OVC move a good option, Fisher said.
The conference’s television deal with ESPN, reputation, and quality of teams made the agreement even better for the university.
“[The deal] brings as much to us as we could possibly give to them,” Fisher said.
Officials are confident Belmont’s location in Nashville will boost awareness and attendance for the conference.
“Belmont is right in the heart of our OVC footprint,” DeBauche said.
Head basketball coach Rick Byrd predicted mens’ basketball games with have twice as many people than there are now because of the move.
“I think it’s a great move for Belmont,” he said.
At the same time, the OVC will be unable to house the Belmont’s mens’ soccer team. The team, currently without a conference affiliation after next season, expects to be in a new conference by then. All schools in the OVC with a men’s soccer team currently play in the Missouri Valley Conference as affiliate members. In addition, Belmont will be the third team in the conference not to field a football team.
The conference move will not affect the Battle of the Boulevard rivalry with Lipscomb. The annual battle with the Bisons will now be scheduled as a non-conference game, Fisher said.