After 62 combined conference championships and 47 NCAA Tournament appearances across all sports, Belmont University accomplished about all it could athletically in the Ohio Valley Conference.
So, when an opportunity presented itself for the school to join the Missouri Valley Conference, Belmont President Greg Jones knew he couldn’t pass it up, announcing the university would join the MVC in July 2022 as its 11th member.
Extra Points’ Matt Brown first reported the news last week.
Belmont will pay the OVC an exit fee of $1 million.
"The MVC has long established itself as one of the premier leagues in the country — especially in the sport of basketball,” MVC Commissioner Jeff Jackson said. “I have no doubt that Belmont University will prove to be an outstanding partner and further enhance the brand and status of The Valley."
Belmont men’s basketball coach Casey Alexander said called the move an "exciting time" for the university.
“Anytime you make a conference affiliation move, you’re doing it for the best interest of your student-athletes and the university as a whole,” Alexander said. “The Missouri Valley Conference with its history, its success and the challenge that we’ll face. It’s a new day for us and we’ve got some work to do.”
Belmont is the fourth OVC school to leave in the last three months, joining Austin Peay (read here), Jacksonville State and Eastern Kentucky, which all jumped ship to join the ASUN.
BU now joins a conference that is nationally perceived as athletically superior to the OVC. The Valley features Bradley University, Drake University, the University of Evansville, Illinois State, Indiana State, Loyola University of Chicago, Missouri State, the University of Northern Iowa, Southern Illinois University and Valparaiso.
The MVC landed multiple bids to the NCAA Championship last year in men’s basketball, women’s basketball, baseball, and softball. The conference has had multiple NCAA Tournament bids 16 times since 1994 and 20 NCAA Tournament wins over the last eight seasons, including two trips to the men’s Final Four (though one was achieved by Wichita State, which is now a member of the American Athletic Conference).
The Missouri Valley also has media contracts with both CBS and ESPN.
"Joining the MVC will elevate our level of competition, enhance our recruiting, and increase our opportunities for national exposure,” Belmont Athletic Director Scott Corley said. “We look forward to competing for championships in The Valley against so many quality institutions."
“The strength of the league puts you in a better seeding position for the NCAA Tournament,” Alexander added. “The better your seed for the tournament, the more likely you are to win that game. The more you win first-round games, the easier it is to get to the Sweet 16. This gives us, not an easier path because the road to get there will be difficult, but as we continue to elevate our program and put ourselves in position to be in the NCAA Tournament, then those are natural steps that we can take moving forward.”
Belmont officially became a Division I athletics program in 1996, spending five years as an independent university before joining the Atlantic Sun in 2001. After an 11-year run, the Bruins jumped to the OVC in 2012, where the school established itself as one of the premier mid-major men’s and women’s basketball programs in the NCAA.
The Belmont men’s basketball program has won 19 or more games in 16 straight seasons with nine NCAA Tournament appearances, including the school’s first-ever at-large bid in 2019. Belmont has 20 conference championships since 2006 — third-most nationally behind Kansas and Gonzaga.
The women’s basketball program has won five conference championships in the last six season and has made five NCAA Tournament appearances since 2016, upsetting No. 5-seeded Gonzaga in last year’s tournament.
“To think in 25 years what Belmont has done by going from an NAIA school to now today joining one of the oldest and most prestigious, competitive conferences in all of Division I, it’s really humbling,” Corley added.
There are rumblings that the OVC might also lose Murray State to the MVC. If so, the league would be left with only five football programs: Eastern Illinois, Southeast Missouri, Tennessee State, Tennessee Tech and UT-Martin.
It’s unclear where TSU stands. 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_