Belmont University President Bob Fisher said proximity wasn’t the biggest factor in the school’s decision to move to the Ohio Valley Conference.
But he said it was a variable he couldn’t ignore.
“We don’t have to go on a plane to go anywhere,” Fisher said in a press conference announcing the school’s conference switch on Friday afternoon. “It is a factor, which plays out in a lot of ways — expenses, allows our students to be in class more — but it is also has to do with the national brand and the national reputation of the league. We feel strongly that the OVC is a very strong brand and brings as much to us as we could ever possibly give to it.”
The Bruins will begin competing in the Ohio Valley Conference during the 2012-13 season, leaving the Atlantic Sun Conference after a 10-year partnership.
Besides going down Belmont Boulevard to Lipscomb, Belmont’s shortest trip in A-Sun play was a 224-mile bus ride to Kennesaw State (Ga.). The A-Sun features three schools in Florida and two in the Carolinas meaning many plane rides and missed classes for student-athletes.
The OVC is headquartered in Brentwood and is the eighth oldest NCAA Division I conference (1948) in the country. It will now have 12 members in five states — including five in Tennessee. Belmont’s longest trip in league play will be to travel 284 miles to Charleston, Ill., to compete against Eastern Illinois.
“Typically there is a two-year cycle to leave a conference. ... We are taking the option to buy our way out of the second year (2012-13) and that is a $200,000 payment. However, I will tell you we are saving at least twice that much in travel each year,” Fisher said.
While nine of the 11 current OVC institutions compete in football, Belmont does not plan to add the sport. Belmont’s invitation to join the Brentwood-based OVC did not hinge on adding football.
“Football is not on any burner,” Fisher said. “The OVC has an outstanding football league. They don’t need us to play football.”
All 17 of Belmont’s sports will compete in the OVC, except for men’s soccer. Since the OVC does not compete in men’s soccer, the Bruins will seek affiliate membership from a conference outside of the Ohio Valley. OVC schools Eastern Illinois and Southern Illinois University Edwardsville compete in the Missouri Valley Conference, where Belmont’s men soccer used to be a member prior to joining the Atlantic Sun in 2001.