When the announcement came that Belmont athletics would move to the Ohio Valley Conference, men’s soccer coach Earle Davidson’s team was in store for a problem that many men’s programs face – finding a new home outside of the Bruins’ new conference.
“This happens more in men’s soccer than in other sports, mainly because there are fewer men’s programs than women’s program,” he said. “I wouldn’t say this is common, but it’s not uncommon.”
Since men’s soccer is not sponsored by the OVC and Belmont did not join another conference as an affiliate member, the team will play as an independent this season.
This will be the first time men’s soccer has been without a conference since Belmont moved to the NCAA.
Since the school originally announced its move to the Brentwood-based OVC, the soccer team have been looking for a new conference to join as an affiliate member. They’ve had little luck.
“We’ve been in contact with almost every conference in America that has men’s soccer leagues,” said Mike Strickland, Belmont’s athletic director. “Lot of discussions with a lot of people. They’ve been mostly positive, but we haven’t had anybody to make a decision to extend an offer to us yet.”
Poor timing, unusual dynamics and leagues with sufficient numbers needed for competition were some of the problems encountered during the search, Strickland said.
“A couple of leagues we talked to were so concerned with keeping their leagues together that affiliate membership was just put off for a while,” he said.
Strickland is hoping to find a conference to play in by next season and says there are a couple of viable options that might satisfy both Belmont and the prospective conference.
While the search for a conference didn’t pan out this year, Davidson plans to use the upcoming season as a chance to make the Bruins a more attractive choice and “to get noticed.”
“We’ve built a very strong schedule with an eye towards being seen,” Davidson said. “It’s a very competitive schedule and again it’s designed to be seen.”
The schedule includes top-level teams like NC State, Bradley and Louisville.
While some may see Belmont’s independent status as a setback, players like Bradley Shuck don’t see being an independent for the season as a problem.
“I don’t think it was so much disappointing; we still get to come out every day and we still get to play the game we love,” the senior cornerback said. “I don’t think it really changed anything.”
“I mean we don’t have those grueling conference matches anymore, but I think now it’s going to be every game like that because if we want to make the postseason, we have to play like that every game.”
Shuck and the rest of the Bruins take the field in their final exhibition game at 6 p.m. Monday at Rose Park in a contest with Montevallo. Their first official game is Friday at Missouri State.