APSU

The ASUN conference is growing into a force to be reckoned with, and it’s coming mostly at the expense of the Ohio Valley Conference.

On Thursday, Matt Brown of Extra Points reported that Austin Peay is set to leave the OVC for the ASUN, which the school confirmed on Friday morning after a board of trustees meeting.

Austin Peay brings a tradition of success and a recognized brand that speaks to overall institutional achievement," ASUN commissioner Ted Gumbart said in a release. "The entire Clarksville area is growing and APSU is central to that dynamic. The Governors carry an institutional reputation of academic and athletic success that we are extremely proud to add to the ASUN.

"...The ASUN will provide a tremendous home for Austin Peay, and our entire membership will benefit from having APSU as an ASUN member. This is a perfect example of a win-win partnership."

The move makes APSU the third OVC program to jump ship for the ASUN, joining Jacksonville State and Eastern Kentucky University, which officially joined the conference on July 1. 

Currently, five ASUN schools — Bellarmine, Florida Gulf Coast, Jacksonville, Lipscomb and North Florida — don’t have a football program. In adding EKU, Jacksonville State and Central Arkansas, the ASUN will reach its stated priority of fielding a six-team football conference with Austin Peay serving as the sixth member.

The ASUN currently partners with the Western Athletic Conference for football, with the winner of the division earning an automatic bid to the FCS playoffs. 

“This is an incredible day for our University, our athletes and coaches, and all citizens of Stacheville,” APSU athletic director Gerald Harrison said. “I could not be more excited to help lead Austin Peay into a new era of growth, which will help expand and enhance our brand, our footprint and the quality of our product both athletically and academically. As challenging as this opportunity is — and make no mistake, we are facing a step up in competition level — it’s even more exciting to embark on this journey to elevate the profile of this department.

“From the beginning, I’ve said Austin Peay is a sleeping giant, a juggernaut hiding in plain sight with the right people in place to become great. Today is the next step down the path to greatness, and we are closer than ever to achieving the status we covet—to be the most complete athletics department in our league. And now, that league will be the ASUN.”

With Austin Peay leaving, the OVC could be on shaky ground. Belmont and Murray State have long been coveted by the Missouri Valley Conference, and with the Govs bolting to the ASUN, it might not be long before the Bruins and Racers are out the door. 

Should the OVC lose Murray State, it would be left with only five football programs: Eastern Illinois, Southeast Missouri, Tennessee State, Tennessee Tech and UT-Martin.

“We have received notification from Austin Peay that they will be leaving the OVC effective June 30, 2022," OVC commissioner Beth DeBauche said in a statement. "...We are clearly in a time of change for intercollegiate athletics, and the Ohio Valley Conference embraces this moment, committed to the institutions and student-athletes whom we serve and confident in our future.

"That future is rooted in membership growth, and  we are currently in discussions with other institutions that share our philosophy and want to prosper in today’s intercollegiate athletic environment by being part of the OVC...We look forward to adding schools who, like the members of the OVC, are committed to our principles and our goals. We invite other colleges who are seeking this type of conference experience, for the betterment of their institutions, to contact us.  The OVC welcomes those conversations.”

Chattanooga, East Tennessee State and Western Illinois are rumored candidates for potential OVC expansion.

It’s unclear where TSU stands in the thick of things. A case could be made for the Tigers staying put and reaping the benefits of a weakened conference, provided the OVC adds a sixth football program, and maybe exploring the possibility of adding a few more HBCU games to its schedule.

Follow Michael Gallagher on Twitter @MGsports_

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