OVC Basketball, get ready for division. Divisions, actually.
During an interview with Murray State play-by-play announcer Neal Bradley, OVC Commissioner Beth DeBauche talked about divisions within the 12-member OVC next year:
For some of our sports, it appears that it would make sense to have divisions, most notably our men’s and women’s basketball teams.
You may remember earlier this summer I discussed the pro’s and con’s of dividing the conference, in which I concluded that it would be near impossible to uphold every major rivalry in the OVC, especially for Austin Peay. This is already a minor problem in the current unbalanced scheduling for this year, which the OVC attempted to solve by naming two protected rivals for each team. But some of the rivalries are…manufactured for lack of a better term. These are the actual protected “rivalries” for this upcoming season according to the OVC:
- Austin Peay: Murray, TSU
- Eastern Illinois: SIUE, UTM
- Eastern Kentucky: Morehead, TTU
- Jacksonville State: SIUE, Morehead
- Morehead State: EKU, Jax. St.
- Murray State: AP, SEMO
- SEMO: Murray, UTM
- SIU Edwardsville: EIU, Jax. St.
- Tennessee State: AP, TTU
- Tennessee Tech: TSU, EKU
- UT Martin: EIU, SEMO
So once you’re through snickering at the fact that SIU Edwardsville and Jacksonville State are “rivals,” (or Morehead State and Jax. St) if you try to create divisions based on the current protected rivals, you simply can’t. There’s no combination of 6 teams that have the same collective set of rivals. This is even before you consider Belmont’s entrance into the OVC.
So how do you best divide the conference. In that earlier division post, I discussed two options based on geography.
Dividing the OVC by geography, there’s two splits that make the most sense:
North: Murray, SEMO, EIU, EKU, SIUe, MORE
South: APSU, TTU, TSU, Jax St., UTM, Belmont
East: Murray, SEMO, EIU, APSU, UTM, SIUe
West: TTU, EKU, MORE, Jax St., Belmont, TSU
This was especially troublesome for Austin Peay, because in the first scenario, they would lose their rivalry with Murray State, one of the truly classic OVC basketball rivalries. But in the second scenario, which would preserve that rivalry, they would only play the Nashville area teams once, which would be a shame for a team located just 30 minutes outside of Nashville, but more than 30 minutes from every other school in their division. The first scenario also splits Murray and UT Martin, two campuses just 45 minutes apart.
The problem is that many rivalries are centrally located within the division. It’s the “fringe” teams that tend to create havoc to any type of conference divisions. The best conference setup with “rivalries” as the central aspect would almost place a circle around the center of the league, and force the teams on the borders of the conference to travel to each other, which would hardly be cost effective for that division’s members.
So, the question appears to have become “which rivalry is most important to each team.” Even this presents a challenge, put if we try to pair down each team’s central rival, we’re left, in my view, with the following:
- Austin Peay – Murray State
- SEMO – UT Martin
- EKU – Morehead State
- TTU – TSU
- EIU – SIUe
- Belmont – Jacksonville State
All 6 of these rivalries are protected in the East / West scenario previously given. Not I admit, the list isn’t perfect. Belmont does have a home-away with Austin Peay this season, and have played AP in years past, so the Governors are likely Belmont’s top rival upon arrival to the OVC, but I doubt you would put that rivalry above Murray State, and Jacksonville State needs a rival that’s not on the other side of the conference.
But the biggest point here is that when creating divisions, you can only be concerned with only protecting one single rivalry. Yes, many OVC teams have multiple in-conference rivals, but when it comes down to it, you simply can’t put the conference into 2 divisions and protect all of those rivalries.
The conference now has a tough task on their hand determining how to balance two separate issues: what’s best for each teams checkbook, and what’s best for each teams fans. In the end, there’s no scenario that’s going to make each and every team happy, or each and every fan happy, but it’s important that the conference be clear as to their reasons behind their final decision. Most fans, and teams, understand this is a tough decision, but if clear concise reasons aren’t given, that’s when frustration can, and will grow from both ends.
The entire interview with Beth DeBauche can be found under “Quick Hits.”