I know we have a lot of Murray State alumni and Murray State fans in our area. Likewise, even if you are not a Murray State fan but just a casual fan of college sports, you have to ask the basic question: What is going on in college football and particularly in the Ohio Valley Conference?
As a Murray State alumnus I have often said that Murray State is the Ohio Valley Conference.
The story goes that the OVC got its roots in 1941 when Murray State Athletic Director Roy Stewart formulated an idea of establishing a regional athletic conference. The idea was put on hold for World War II but in 1948 Murray State, Eastern Kentucky, Western Kentucky, Morehead, Louisville and Evansville formed the Ohio Valley Conference.
Western Kentucky left the conference in 1982 and now in 2021 Eastern Kentucky has left.
The move of Eastern Kentucky and Jacksonville State University to Division I football has left the OVC with the basic question of what to do in football?
The rumors going around are that Austin Peavy University is getting ready to likewise join the Atlantic Sun Conference and go to Division I football. This departure will mean the OVC will only have six schools playing Football Championships Subdivision (FCS) or the formerly called Division I AA football.
The question begs itself what does Murray State and the OVC do with football? There are a lot of options on the table.
ADD FOOTBALL SCHOOLS AND CONTINUE THE CONFERENCE
One option for Murray State is to stay where they are. The OVC has hired a search committee to try to find other FCS schools to join the Conference.
One of the problems is that there are not many schools out there in the geographic footprint of the Conference that play FCS football. The OVC could look to to try to take schools from other Conferences such as Western Illinois or Chattanooga.
ADD BASKETBALL SCHOOLS AND JOIN ANOTHER CONFERENCE FOR FOOTBALL
The OVC has added several schools in the last few years including Belmont and Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville. These are good schools but they are like many other schools in that they don’t play football.
The rumor is that the University of Southern Indiana would like to go to Division I basketball and other sports. However, USI does not have football.
One option for the OVC is to go ahead and add two or three other teams that do not have football. Then they could let the OVC schools such as Murray join a Conference just for football such as the Missouri Valley Conference.
MURRAY STATE BECOMES NON-SCHOLARSHIP FOOTBALL
One option that I have promoted personally that I don’t think Murray State will adopt is to go to non-scholarship football. I am a fan of schools such as Butler and Morehead that have football teams but don’t spend an enormous amount of money on football scholarships.
Morehead is a member of the OVC for all activities except their football that is non-scholarship. It competes in the Pioneer Football League- a conference that only has non-scholarship football programs.
This would work if all of the other OVC schools looked at joining in as Morehead could then be on your schedule as a non-scholarship program. Interestingly, one nearby non-scholarship football program is the university of our sports writer Robert Augsdorfer — Valparaiso University in northwest Indiana.
“I got to know some of the guys on the Valpo football team when I was a student there,” Augsdorfer said. “In general, the players were happy to have the opportunity to put the pads on for a few more years after high school and compete in FCS college football before receiving their degree and entering the workforce. When they graduate, it doesn’t necessarily mean that their career in football is over as alumni have returned to the program as coaches or have gone on to coach elsewhere.
“Making a football program non-scholarship is a huge financial win for the university they represent as a football team guarantees about 100 students paying tuition,” Augsdorfer continued. “The players are still able to apply for academic scholarships and financial aide like any other regular college student. Plus you have to add in any income from ticket sales, TV deals with ESPN, sponsors, etc. for the athletic department. It’s the main reason I could see why schools have kept their non-scholarship football teams but have disbanded other sports they used to give out scholarships for such as men’s soccer or tennis. Football programs also give students who are not on the team other opportunities such as being a team manager or working in the press box with their campus media organizations. I learned a lot while covering Valpo football as a student and I still apply it when I cover Madisonville North Hopkins or Hopkins County Central on Friday nights.”
MURRAY COULD MOVE TO THE MISSOURI VALLEY CONFERENCE
The entire Murray State athletic program was very close to moving to the Missouri Valley Conference. Although it is not currently on the table, Murray State could make a push to try to join this conference.
The MVC is a unique conference. It is good basketball and would be good for basketball and the other sports for the Racers.
However, Missouri Valley football has to bring in schools from other conferences as many MVC schools simply do not field football teams.
The decision of what to do with football and conference affiliations has a lot of moving parts not only for Murray State but many other programs.
The decision of what to do with football and conference affiliations is great for fans to talk about. However, most fans such as myself simply do not know all of the inner workings of the money or expenses with conference moves.
However, I have tremendous confidence in Murray State Athletic Director Kevin Saal and the future of Murray State athletics — whatever their Conference affiliation may be.
Mr. Cartwright is a local attorney and contributing sports columnist. Email: email@example.com