Belmont may be the Ohio Valley Conference’s newest members, but could the Bruins be on the way out? A report today from Dan Walken of USA Today says that Belmont is one of two schools that would have “significant support” from the Missouri Valley Conference to join as members, if, and more likely when Creighton leaves to join the new Big East conference.
There is no indication whether the interest would be mutual. Would it make sense for the Bruins to jump ship? Here are a few factors that could come into play, in no particular order.
Whether or not geographical convenience was a reason for Belmont’s move from the Atlantic Sun to the OVC, (and it likely played a small role) the Bruins would be in the far corner of the conference, both the team furthest to the south and the east. Their nearest conference “rival” would be Evansville, a two-plus hour drive away. To go to Drake, a 10-hour drive, or more likely a flight for the team.
Sure, but Belmont right now in the Valley, and they’re compete. Probably true for the past few years. But how would they make it in the long-term? One indicator is the money spent on the basketball program. Right now, according to BBState, Belmont outspends the rest of the conference when it comes to basketball, spending over $1.8 million in 2011. Second is Murray State at just below $1.6 million. If the Bruins made the jump to the Missouri Valley, their $1.8 million would put them ahead of Evansville and Missouri State, but still less than half of Wichita State’s budget, which would be the largest budget if Creighton left.
It can probably be safely assumed that the Bruins spending would increase if they made the jump, as their athletics revenue surely would. How much is the question. The Bruins athletic revenue last year, $9.4 million dollars, was lower than the entire Missouri Valley but just $300,000 behind Evansville. On the top end is Southern Illinois, more than doubling the Bruins, bringing in more that $20 million. Wichita State, the top non-football school, brought in more than $18 million. Basketball powerhouse Creighton? Just $14.8 million.
How does the Ohio Valley stack up? Murray State brought in $13.5 million in 2011, the most in the OVC. So how much more revenue would the Bruins bring in by swapping? And would it be enough to double their basketball spending to match the top teams in the Valley?
There are a few other things that work for and against a move. First, moving conference so soon would be somewhat of a public relations knock on the school. That would fade, and fairly quickly, but it’s probably something in the back of their minds.
Why should public relations be considered? What if a move is made, and for some reason it doesn’t work out, then what? Will the OVC take you back after you burnt the bridge for a bigger conference?
The Valley In 10 Years
The MVC hasn’t had member changes since the 90’s, but with their heightened status, could more members be plucked for bigger conferences? With conference realignment seemingly never ending, will the MVC in 10 years still be the same as the Missouri Valley today?
Will it be a conference you still want to be a part of? Will it still be competitive? It sure seems like it will now, but it wasn’t long ago when Conference USA was a up-and-coming conference.
Belmont only has heightened status in the Valley if they win, and if the MVC stays competitive. When’s the last time you saw ESPN talking about Evansville, or Southern Illinois? A passing mention when they were Creighton’s opponent? Just being in the Missouri Valley isn’t enough to raise your profile. You have to win.
And if the Missouri Valley, either through their top members being plucked or through just attrition, became just another mid-major, it might not even matter if Belmont does win.
So…will it happen?
A lot of signs currently point to no. Mike Strickland, Belmont’s athletic director, told the Nashville City Paper that his school is “very happy in the OVC,” but that’s what most AD’s say when these kind of stories come out.
When Belmont moved up to Division I, the Bruins wanted to be, and nearly did join the OVC. Now they have. Sure, the MVC is a higher profile conference, but just because an offer is there doesn’t mean you have to jump at it.
The Missouri Valley is clearly looking for another market to expand into. Denver? Really? That’s about as geographically undesirable a selection for the MVC as you can get. But their name is in the mix because of the Denver media market. Belmont’s name is in the mix not just because they’re good, but because of the Nashville media market. It makes complete sense for the Missouri Valley to want both of these schools.
But does it make sense for Belmont? No answers yet, but something tells me this story isn’t going away any time soon.