The Battle of the Boulevard rivalry won’t fade away but it most likely won’t be the same.
When Belmont announced Friday it would leave the Atlantic Sun Conference after the 2011-12 season to join the Ohio Valley Conference, it meant that any games, matches or meets against rival Lipscomb, which is just three miles down the road, would be non-conference contests.
Belmont intends to compete against Lipscomb in all 17 sports, although not necessarily on an annual basis.
“We don’t want to give that [rivalry] up if we can help it,” Belmont Athletics Director Mike Strickland said.
As for men’s basketball — arguably the most intense of the matchups — the schools would like to continue to make it an annual affair. Maybe not twice a season, but perhaps in November or December before league play begins.
“We know it is good for Belmont,” Belmont President Bob Fisher said. “We think it is good for Lipscomb and we know it is good for Nashville and we are going to continue to build on that.”
Still, the rivalry might lose some of its allure now that the teams will be competing in separate leagues.
“I don’t think a [non-conference] rivalry can be quite the same,” Belmont men’s basketball coach Rick Byrd said. “Duke and North Carolina would be great. But if one changed conferences, it wouldn’t be quite the same.”
Lipscomb Athletics Director Philip Hutcheson, however, thinks the rivalry won’t lose interest or excitement.
“Kentucky and Louisville have never been in the same conference and that does nothing to diminish the rivalry when they meet one another,” he said. “I certainly hope that we would continue to compete against each other whether or not we are in the same conference. We certainly hope to be playing in all of the sports just because it is a great rivalry and one I would anticipate would continue, as far as I’m concerned.”
Last year, Belmont’s men’s basketball team lost just one Atlantic Sun game — to Lipscomb. The Bruins still won the conference’s regular-season and tournament titles. But the fact that the Bisons could have thrown a wrench into Belmont’s postseason hopes makes the rivalry that more intriguing and important.
“It doesn’t mean it won’t be big,” Byrd said. “[But] because you are vying for the same championship, I think that adds one more layer to a rivalry game that doesn’t exist in a non-conference game. But that is all. In fact, a November or December game, to have one of high intensity will be good. The intensity ratchets up as the season goes along. It will be nice to have one like that early.”
When Belmont left the NAIA in the mid-90s and joined the Atlantic Sun in 2001, Lipscomb followed suit shortly thereafter as it left the NAIA and became a member of the A-Sun in 2003.
Hutcheson, however, said there are no plans for Lipscomb to leave the A-Sun.
Along with Belmont, Campbell is also on its way out, as the North Carolina school will officially re-join the Big South Conference in July. That will leave the Atlantic Sun with just nine member schools by the time the 2012-13 season rolls around.
“The landscape is changing in college athletics and the past couple months have been pretty turbulent from the top to the bottom,” Hutcheson said. “So I think we like everyone will continue to watch what goes on. We will continue to evaluate where we are as we do every year. That doesn’t change. We like where we are right now… We are happy in the Atlantic Sun. I think it is a good fit for us in terms of academically and athletically, the types of schools that are in it. The OVC is a great conference too and I certainly think that will be a good move for Belmont. But we like the conference we are in and we like the schools that are a part of it.”