Mike Strickland is flattered Belmont’s name popped up in the latest conference realignment hearsay.
According to USA Today, Belmont is one of four candidates the Missouri Valley Conference will consider if Creighton leaves, as expected, for the newly formed Catholic 7, which will retain the Big East name once those schools formally split from the current conference.
Belmont’s veteran athletics director says the Bruins are content with the conference they just joined — the Ohio Valley Conference.
“We’re very happy in the OVC,” Strickland said on Friday during the OVC basketball tournament at Municipal Auditorium. “If we did get mentioned, it is great that people appreciate the program we have. But we’re very happy in the OVC, thrilled to be here. Missouri Valley is a great league, as a lot of leagues are. A lot of movement now. A lot of people talking about a lot of things. We appreciate people recognizing that our program is great but there is nothing to that at all.”
Along with Belmont, the report mentioned Denver, Loyola (Ill.), and Oral Roberts as potential candidates.
Belmont is in its first year in the OVC after moving from the Atlantic Sun. Without a football team, much of the Bruins’ notoriety stems from a highly successful men’s basketball program and its place in the Nashville market. The last school to leave the conference, Samford, paid a $250,000 exit fee.
Belmont has reached the NCAA Tournament five of the last seven years. The Bruins hope to garner an at-large bid this year if they don’t win the OVC Tournament. Belmont is the No. 1 seed and plays Tennessee State in a semifinal on Friday night.
Even with Creighton on its way out, a move to the Missouri Valley would be ambitious.
In men’s basketball, the Valley is considered one of the top mid-major leagues in the country. It has had four different conference tournament champions in the last five years, including Indiana State, Northern Iowa and Wichita State. In addition, travel expenses would increase as Belmont would be the eastern-most school. Wichita State, 750 miles away from Nashville, is the farthest West.
“There is so much movement in the country and so many people are throwing names at the board and possibilities of this and that,” Strickland said. “Most of it means nothing. It is kind of like a coaching search. They throw a lot of names out there, this coach, this coach and half the time most of the coaches aren’t even interested. Again, we’re just real happy in the Ohio Valley Conference and glad to be here.”
Geography factored in the Bruins’ decision to leave the A-Sun, which featured schools in Florida and South Carolina.
In joining the OVC, which is headquartered in Brentwood and is the eighth-oldest Division I league in the country, Belmont became the fifth school from Tennessee in the conference. The Bruins’ longest conference trip this season was a 310-mile trek to Southern Illinois-Edwardsville. The closest Missouri Valley schools to Belmont are Evansville (153 miles) and Southern Illinois-Carbondale (202 miles). The Valley currently features schools in six states — Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Missouri and Nebraska.
“With all this conference alignment and readjustment around the country, you see some odd geographic mixes everywhere,” Strickland said. “Some of it is television. Some of it is they need somebody. One of the beauties of the Ohio Valley is that we are in the same geographic region. We can all travel pretty close to each other. So I think that makes for a really good league. It is one of the most stable leagues. It has been together since 1948. Most of the schools that started are still here.
“The proximity was a big part of our move and I think we’ve seen that this year in our attendance and our interest and all the things that have come with our move this year. We feel like all the reasons we had for moving to the OVC have played out this year in a very positive manner. “Our interest is in the Ohio Valley Conference. That’s where we are and we’re very happy to be here.”