The invitation isn’t new but the president is.
One of Glenda Baskin Glover’s first decisions at Tennessee State will involve conference affiliation.
Almost exactly two years ago, TSU received an invitation to join the Southwestern Athletic Conference (SWAC). Then-president Melvin Johnson was a month from retirement and preferred not to make that decision. Portia Shields took over as interim president and also wanted to leave that choice up to TSU’s next permanent president.
So SWAC commissioner Duer Sharp has patiently waited. He’ll soon get an answer.
Glover was tabbed as the school’s president last month and will assume the position on Jan. 2. Athletics director Teresa Phillips said she’ll facilitate discussions between Glover and Sharp next month.
Sharp did not return messages seeking comment. Phillips said a decision will come within the next six to nine months.
“That is one of the things we will be talking about pretty early on when she arrives,” Phillips said. “I prefer not to [publically] share my thoughts. I have a lot of different things I’ll be sharing with the president. I have been getting a lot of input from alumni over the years.”
TSU has been a member of the Ohio Valley Conference, which is based in Brentwood, since 1986. The Tigers fit well – from a geographic standpoint – in the conference, which features five schools from Tennessee.
The SWAC was founded in 1920 and is based out of Birmingham, Ala. It is one of four conferences in the country compiled of fellow historically black college and universities (HBCUs). The 10-member league represents five states – Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas – but not Tennessee.
“The OVC is a great league,” Phillips said. “We are basically, geographically, right here in the middle of the league. We have 15 sports, and of those 15 sports the OVC, reasonably over the years, has been a very competitive league. They have done pretty well nationally. ... There is a lot of pluses to that league.
"I respect the SWAC also. They can do a litany of positives too. So we just have to find out what is best for Tennessee State University. Both leagues have value.”
Over the last five years, TSU is 8-4 against SWAC opponents in football and 4-2 in men’s basketball.
In football this year, the Tigers defeated both of the teams that played in the SWAC championship game (Jackson State and Arkansas-Pine Bluff).
TSU coach Rod Reed called Alabama State, Arkansas Pine-Bluff and Jackson State “legitimate” teams. Combined, the three schools placed four players on the Associated Press Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) All-America team. The Tigers, who went 8-3, had three All-Americans.
“You’ve got some competitive people playing in that league,” Reed said. “I think there are a lot of underlying issues that could hinder the process but to say it is a step down in competition I would say not. I mean we battle those guys year-in and year-out and it is always a heck of a game for us.”
A concern Reed did have about joining the SWAC is giving up the opportunity to play in the playoffs.
The SWAC and the Ivy League are the only two conferences that don’t compete in the FCS playoffs. TSU hasn’t made the playoffs since 1999. The OVC last won a playoff game in 2000 and has lost 19 straight postseason games.
Even so, there are some alumni who want to leave the FCS, Phillips said. She has heard from a “nice, little body of supporters” who want the Tigers to move up to the Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS). Before TSU delves into researching that ambitious step, Phillips wants to meet with Glover and other university leaders to see if a move to the SWAC is a wise idea.
“Conference affiliation is a big deal,” Phillips said. “It does really express a little bit of who you want to say you are. You want to be affiliated with bright schools and where you can be challenged, where your fan base can be familiar with your opponent.
"It is an important decision.”