If there was a “controversial” decision the conference had to make when determining the new divisions for the OVC, it would be putting Austin Peay in the West division, away from their 2 nearest teams, Belmont and Tennessee State.
But putting the Governors in a division with Nashville teams isn’t necessarily a slam dunk decision.
I looked at this problem back in September, in a commentary titled The Great Conference Divide. The premise was simple: under this year’s schedule, the conference recognized 2 “rivalries” for every team, but no matter how you divided the team, there was no way to protect both rivalries.
But even if you limited it to one rivalry, a east-west divide was the only reasonable way to preserve what many consider one of the premier rivalries in the conference: Murray vs Austin Peay. Sure, even if the teams were placed in separate divisions, the teams would play once a season. But in basketball, that’s simply not enough to preserve a rivalry, not when you play 6 other teams twice a season.
One argument I’ve seen today is that the OVC is essentially costing Austin Peay a “potential” rival in Belmont, but for the conference to do so, they would be getting rid of an a strong rivalry for one that might someday become strong. And despite playing twice this season, did many Austin Peay fans considered the Bruins a rival? Most teams don’t lose rivalry games by 39 points.
Simply put, when the conference announced division, Austin Peay was placed between a rock and a hard place. Given their geographical position in the conference, they were bound to be losers. Sure, the conference could have been split North-South to put the Govs in a division with Belmont and Tennessee State, but the Racers would assuredly by in the North.
Austin Peay fans may not like it right now. But I’ll bet they’ll love it when the Racers head to Clarksville next season. And the season after that.