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Turns out, I really suck at quitting.

You may remember about this time last year, I quit OVC Ball. I wrote an eloquent goodbye, reminisced on good moments from my first six years and actually got a bit emotional after pushing the “publish” button one last time. In fact, I was greeted by Dana Ford in Buffalo with the refrain: “I thought you quit,” so I’m pretty sure that post went out.

But as we got closer to the season I thought to myself, “I could still run Pick ’em.” So, I posted spreads every morning. Then Tennessee State and UT Martin came to Buffalo, and it would have been rude not to go say ‘hi.’ So I headed to Canisius for a couple of matchups, declared TSU as a true contender (my bad) and how the Skyhawks were ready to turn a corner. Later, I went back home for Christmas, and the Racers were playing at home, and how could I skip that? Murray beat TSU is a god-awful game, but it made for an entertaining evening, meeting back up with friends and other friends that are basically family. Every once in awhile I’d get asked a question on Twitter, sucking me back in even more.

For someone who said he was done writing about the OVC, I was really bad at not writing about the OVC.

Back when this was almost a full-time (yet non-paying) gig, I began and ended each season with an essay. Not just about basketball, not about the teams, but often about me, my thoughts about basketball as a whole. I’ve interjected myself into this site throughout each of the 7 seasons I’ve covered Ohio Valley Conference basketball because despite initially creating OVC Ball as a ‘brand,’ somewhere along the line I became OVC Ball, the person.

True story: For the first season-and-a-half or so, I’m convinced Racers head coach Steve Prohm didn’t know my name; he always called me OVC Ball when I walked into the room. He also quite possibly read everything I wrote about his teams while he in Murray. It wasn’t because he particularly liked what I wrote, (he didn’t) he just read everything everybody wrote about his team. He would also constantly text another media and good friend of mine when he didn’t like what I wrote to complain about it. Which was often.

For someone who said he was done writing about the OVC, I was really bad at not writing about the OVC.

In that grand tradition, as college basketball practices officially begin today, I’ve decided to once again return to writing, to return to the site I created in my apartment on a random January morning, and to return to the sport I love.

Even as a dark cloud now hangs above the game.

Make no mistake, the current FBI investigation into the relationship between shoe companies, schools, and student’s families impacts all levels of the game, not just the four or five schools currently involved. Unlike the NCAA, whose punishments far too often range from the laughable to a mild inconvenience, a federal investigation is no laughing matter. Even if no other schools are ever proven to have taken part in these schemes, even if the current coaches are found innocent, it’s hard to imagine that there aren’t changes — likely over-reactionary, poorly implemented, doesn’t-actually-solve-the-problem changes, but changes none-the-less coming to college basketball as a whole.

Is this the final straw in changing the one-and-done? Does paying college athletes help or hurt this problem? Do shoe companies, who have contracts at almost every school in the nation, rethink their role in college athletics as a means of ‘saving face?’

Maybe none of these things happen. Maybe the ‘solution’ is much more tame, much less wide-reaching. I mean, it’s just a few coaches, right?

Call me cynical but I’m not putting my faith in the NCAA to act in a reasoned and measured manner.

Though their clouds are nowhere near as dark, quite a few OVC teams enter the season hoping for sunnier skies. The Sean Woods era was over in Morehead months ago, but the Preston Spradlin era didn’t officially begin until after the season ended. In Nashville, once one of the most terrifying teams to see in March, the Bruins are coming off another surprising setback in the OVC Tournament as the Tigers season went from promise to a fight just to attend. Martin once again found themselves one win away from glory but fell just short of the finish line. In Edwardsville, a team just one game from winless in conference seeks to find their place. An all-time great in Clarksville is gone, while a new coach in Richmond still seeks his first winning season. Fans in Cookeville are looking for their team to rebound, fans in Cape Girardeau saw a division crown slip away in the final week, and after years of success, fans in Charleston once again found themselves on the outside looking in. And in Murray, one of the pillars of the Ohio Valley Conference, a streak lasting nearly as long as my life came to a crashing end.

And then there’s Jacksonville: A football school if there ever was one. Two years ago the Gamecocks were the cock-of-the-walk (pun intended) after a deep run in the FCS playoffs. But last year, with expectations through the roof, the Gamecocks season on the field ended shockingly early. It wasn’t “on to basketball season” for many fans, it was “we’ll wait until next year.”

One of the things that made those losses so crushing was that the Gamecocks weren’t an overnight success. The excitement built all year around that program, from preseason hype to dominating wins. The excitement built and built throughout the year which only made the disappointment that much greater.

No one expected what happened on the court last March. There was no logical reason to pick the Gamecocks to win that tournament. JSU was 9-7 in OVC play, had losses to TTU and EKU, two teams that missed the OVC Tournament, in the final two weeks of the season. Swept by Belmont, lost to a down Murray at home — there wasn’t anything you could point to and say ‘this team will win it.’

There were no expectations. This didn’t build throughout the year. Suddenly, a team that was almost forgettable for four months rose to take the only thing that really matters in small conference basketball — a conference tournament title.

There was no logical reason to pick the Gamecocks to win that tournament.

But that’s also what makes college basketball so great. A 5-7 team doesn’t get to play for a national title in football, but in basketball, it’s essentially a 350-team tournament. If you make your conference tournament, you are in the hunt to win it all. .500 football teams seasons’ aren’t on the line when they step on the field the final time. They aren’t playing for the right to play again tomorrow, to play the game they love one more day, or to make it just one more weekend.

Football is about the season. It’s about the build towards a goal. But for many teams, that build is over by October.

But basketball is about the drama. With few exceptions, it’s not over until it ends in a loss. One final live-or-die 2 hours on the court. Because what Jacksonville reminded us of a season ago is the same thing that Austin Peay taught us the year before.

In this sport, It’s not over until the final buzzer sounds.

In the past year, I’ve tried a few things to replace the enormous amount of time I used to spend on this website. I traveled to games at Niagara, sat amongst packed crowds at St. Bonaventure, (which, if I’m being honest, was an amazing basketball experience) and wrote about the MAC in Buffalo. I left the sports world entirely, creating images and video for another online project, even though it never really got off the ground. Professionally, the last year has been a whirlwind, leaving behind much of what I had been training myself for over the past 10 years to hop to a new endeavor in the same industry, and watching as I went from managing a team in one city to hopping on flights to manage two teams spread hours apart. I haven’t, in the least, lacked for things to do.

Yet, every once in a while, I kept gravitating back to here. Someone needed to unravel the plethora of scenarios left in the final week of the season. Someone needed to correctly prophesize that Jacksonville State wouldn’t finish last in the East or incorrectly suggest it would be Dana Ford’s last year in the OVC. (Although, I did somehow know that Tennessee State would “win a lot of games but never seriously threaten in the East.” No really. I wrote that before the season.)

Maybe I’m not really bad at quitting. Because, maybe, part of me knew I wasn’t really ready to quit. That being said, without traveling to games twice a week, without bluntly asking coaches questions no established reporter would ever dare, this site might not ever return to its ‘heyday’ where we posted six stories a day and had three writers offering their support from across the conference. We’re likely never going back to being the story posting about every recruit and every sickness, and even every game.

But that’s alright. My mission from Day 1 was to cover basketball in the conference in a way that no one else did. For the past seven seasons, I know I’ve done that. Right now, I don’t know what season 8 will look like, although I have some ideas of what I’d like to do if time permits.

But I’m confident the final buzzer hasn’t sounded.

And I fully plan on going out with a loss. Maybe I’ll ask another coach if they’re going to retire. That was fun that one time.

 

Why the photo at the top? That’s actually the first photo taken with my own camera I ever published on this site. Seemed fitting.


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Vote for my OVC preseason ballot (2017-18 basketball edition)

2016 Football Standings

OVC Overall
Jacksonville State 7-0 10-2
UT Martin 6-2 7-5
Tennessee Tech 5-3 5-6
Tennessee State 4-3 7-4
Eastern Illinois 4-4 6-5
Murray State 4-4 4-7
SEMO 3-5 3-8
Eastern Kentucky 2-6 3-8
Austin Peay 0-8 0-11


2016-17 Basketball Standings

OVC Overall

EAST

Belmont 15-1 23-7
Morehead State 10-6 14-16
Jacksonville State 9-7 20-15
Tennessee State 8-8 17-13
Tennessee Tech 8-8 12-20
Eastern Kentucky 5-11 12-19

WEST

UT Martin 10-6 22-13
SEMO 9-7 15-18
Murray State 8-8 16-17
Austin Peay 7-9 11-19
Eastern Illinois 6-10 14-15
SIUE 1-15 6-24


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