Michael discusses recent OVC departures


Adam Tumino, Sports Editor

The current realignment of the OVC is a new experience for Eastern Athletic Director Tom Michael. 

The conference had been 12 schools strong when Michael took over at Eastern in 2014, and remained that way until earlier this year. 

The conference is currently at 10 members, and will drop down to eight on July 1, 2022. 

Michael said that it is disappointing to see schools leave the conference, but understands they had their reasons for doing so. 

“It’s disappointing that there’s been some institutions that have left,” he said. “I don’t think that there’s any way to get around that. We wish that the four institutions would still be in our league, but for a variety of reasons they’ve chosen to go down a different path that they think is better for them.”

The shuffling of the OVC began in January of this year when Jacksonville State and Eastern Kentucky announced they would be leaving for the ASUN Conference. Both programs left on July 1, 2021. 

Just two weeks ago, Austin Peay also announced it would be leaving the OVC for the ASUN and then on Tuesday, Belmont announced a move to the Missouri Valley Conference. 

Both Austin Peay and Belmont will officially leave the OVC on July 1 of next year.

Eastern Kentucky had been with the OVC since its inception in 1948. Austin Peay joined in 1962, Jacksonville State in 2003 and Belmont in 2012. 

Michael said that Eastern, which joined the OVC in 1996, has no intentions of leaving the conference. 

“For us, we continue to strongly believe and feel that the Ohio Valley Conference is the best place for us here at Eastern Illinois,” he said. 

Michael said that the aim is to now work on adding schools to the conference, especially schools with football programs. The OVC will be down to just six football teams when Austin Peay leaves, the minimum number required for a conference to receive an automatic bid for the FCS Playoffs. 

“I think there’s a real need and desire for us to figure something out with the football piece, something in regards to the scheduling side of things,” he said. “That’s the only sport that is scheduling things six or seven years out, and when you all of a sudden have holes in your schedule, you’re not able to fill that. That’s why we’re playing Murray State twice this year, because when EKU and Jacksonville State left that left some holes.”

Michael added that what is happening in the OVC is part of a larger trend of conference realignment across all of collegiate sports. 

Recently, both Texas and Oklahoma accepted invitations to join the SEC while the Big 12 will be adding BYU, Cincinnati, Houston and UCF. 

“Where does that take everybody and what is that going to do for the future of college athletics?” Michael said. “I think there’s a lot of those questions that are sitting there to try and make sure we have some competitive balance in all of our leagues, to make sure that geographically somehow they fit, because expenses aren’t going down. And how do you manage those budgets? That’s a challenge for everybody. It doesn’t matter if you’re at Texas and you have the largest budget or you’re at another institution that doesn’t have nearly as much.”

Michael also said that he believes Eastern looks forward to playing a role in the future of the OVC, whatever that future may hold. 


Adam Tumino can be reached at 581-2812 or [email protected]