Ohio Valley Conference has avoided conference chaos

Ohio Valley Conference has avoided conference chaos

June 24th, 2013 by John Frierson in Sports - College

While its mid-major neighbors in the Southern Conference and Colonial Athletic Association have seen teams come and go, especially in the past year or so, the Ohio Valley Conference has enjoyed a period of stability.

The OVC's only movement in the past five years has been Samford's departure in 2008 to the SoCon -- which came well before the present conference realignment chaos -- and the addition of Belmont in 2012, bringing the OVC up to 12 members.

"You don't want to say that there's a magic plan, because I don't know that there is," OVC commissioner Beth DeBauche said of the league's stability. "We have a similarity in institutional mission, similarity in athletics budgets, similarity in geography -- and all of that helps us. At the same time, we've also had good fortune.

"Given the volatility in Division I, membership changes can happen in any conference, and we're aware of that as well."

While the SoCon historically has been a league of transition -- since it was founded in 1921, 43 schools have been full-time members -- the OVC has had much less turnover. Since it started in 1948, 21 schools have been full-time members.

At its core, the OVC is a Tennessee-based league with five members in the state (Austin Peay, Belmont, UT-Martin, Tennessee State and Tennessee Tech). UT-Martin football coach Jason Simpson said having that core group has given the league strength during these chaotic days of realignment.

"There's your nucleus there, and then Murray State's just right over the state line [in Kentucky]," said Simpson, a former University of Tennessee at Chattanooga offensive coordinator. "I think geographically, it's kind of been the glue and then you branch out from there."

That geography also helps keep expenses down. Simpson said his team will play seven road games this season and three of them will be day trips.

"That's a huge financial advantage for you when you're trying to tighten your belt as much as you can," he said.

Simpson's Skyhawks will open the 2013 season on Aug. 29 at Finley Stadium against the Mocs. UTC will host Austin Peay on Sept. 14.

The Mocs will play Austin Peay and Tennessee Tech in 2014, and there are more games scheduled against Tech, Austin Peay and UT-Martin in the future.

There's a vocal segment of UTC's fan base that would like to see the Mocs move to the OVC, or at least seriously consider such a move.

"I haven't talked to anyone about that, but logistically I could understand why that would be out there," Simpson said.

For OVC teams that might be thinking of moving out, the cost of doing so just went up. At its spring meetings, the league voted to raise exit fees to $500,000, plus forfeiting year-end and basketball revenue distributions, for departures with two years' notice. It's $750,000 and revenue forfeiture for less than two years' notice.

The OVC also voted in a $100,000 fee, plus administrative costs, to join the league from a Division I conference. It's $150,000 to join from Division II.

Contact John Frierson at jfrierson@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6268. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/MocsBeat.