One of the three remaining original Ohio Valley Conference schools could be moving to the FBS, if their new president has their way. According to the Lexington Herald-Leader, EKU is discussing moving their football program (and presumably the rest of their sports as well) to an FBS conference, possibly the Sun Belt.
They’ve yet to receive an invite, so it’s hard to tell how much interest there is from the other side. But with the school showing interest, there could be an invite soon, even over other OVC teams. And it has next to nothing to do with the school’s tradition.
The number one driver for a conference to pick up football programs is television contracts, which means location is hugely important. Unlike Murray State which, at best, delivers just the third largest city in a split media market, Eastern Kentucky could give a conference hope to gain two major consolidated markets: Lexington, and although a bit more of a reach, Cincinnati. While it’s highly unlikely the Colonels would knock off UK or UC in either market, it is conceivable that a conference such as the Sun Belt could see EKU as a chance to expand into both. That means more homes, which means more money for TV.
The chance to enter two markets could be a more promising buy than even Jacksonville State, whose true distance from the center of the crowded Birmingham market makes it less likely they could deliver a sizable number of homes.
Action could happen sooner, rather than later
Now that EKU’s interest has moved from rumor to stated fact, they could be in play for the next round of realignment, which will almost certainly happen next season, as the Sun Belt and Conference USA continue looking for teams to replace those lost mostly thanks to the American.
In fact, I’d be surprised if both conferences don’t add at least a pair of teams by 2015, at the latest.
Why EKU’s “tradition” doesn’t really matter
Well, the money for one. But also, EKU’s tradition is somewhat overstated, at least in recent history’s view. Sure, they’re in the top half of the OVC year-in and year-out, but EKU has only made three FCS tournament appearances since 2000, and hasn’t won a game in the tournament since 1994.
I understand that EKU is second in all-time FCS tournament appearances. But college football has remarkably short memories, and EKU’s dominance in the 1980’s doesn’t mean much to a conference in 2013.
What are the odds EKU leaves for an FBS conference?
High. If I’m putting a line on it, I’d say the odds were 4:1 they’ll be gone in five years, 3:1 they’re gone in 10. They have enough to offer, and with FBS’ landscape seemingly shifting every off season, I’d be surprised if EKU gets looked over.
Of course, I’ve been betting on Jacksonville State leaving for three years now, and they seem farther away than ever.