OVC conference movements change  rivalries for Cougars, college athletics

The Cougars will be seeing a change in opponents next season when Murray State and Belmont leave the Ohio Valley Conference  and join the Missouri Valley Conference, while the University of Arkansas at Little Rock joins the OVC in July. 


Both the basketball and the soccer teams will gain and lose some opponents due to this change. While women’s soccer will no longer compete against Belmont in the OVC, men’s soccer will be facing them in the MVC next season. The Cougars OVC teams will also find new opponents in the Little Rock Trojans next season. 


Joe Pott, director of athletic communications and broadcasting. said these conference changes have become more common in recent years. 


“I don't really like the term new normal, but that's kind of what it is,” Pott said. “And it was like this several years ago, when it kind of started, as did this time, it started with some teams moving in the big football conferences.”


Pott said this wave of conference moves began when it was announced in July 2021 that Oklahoma and Texas would be leaving the Big 12 to join the SEC. 


SIU System President Dan Mahony said these movements are usually due to finances or reputation. 


“So either they think that the allocation or money they'll get from the conference is greater by moving or they can reduce costs by moving conferences,” Mahony said. “Sometimes it's more kind of reputational, or they're trying to raise their profile in some ways.”


SIU Carbondale is also a member of the Missouri Valley Conference, which means the Salukis will be playing against Murray State and Belmont next season. Mahony said the conference change could be due to recruiting region, but isn’t sure. 


“For example, I know Murray State recruits a lot in the Carbondale area,” Mahony said. “I don't know what their rationale was for changing conferences, but if they believe having regular games in Carbondale would help them recruit students from that area of the state, then they may feel that some reason to do that.”


Mahony said these conference moves can make it difficult for universities to maintain rivalries.


“You're trying to kind of constantly recreate good rivalries, which get fans excited and students excited,” Mahony said. “So that becomes a little challenging when you're constantly seeing that change in conferences.”


Pott said conference changes have also impacted local rivalries.


“A perfect example of this, you know, somewhat locally is Missouri and Kansas,” Pott said. “They were huge rivals forever and ever and ever, and they were in the same conference forever and ever and ever. And this year, they played basketball for the first time against one another since Missouri left the Big 12 for the SEC [in 2012].”


Mahony said these changes also impact student-athletes if they based their enrollment on the conference their university was in.


“I know, even for athletes, sometimes they want to go say, ‘I'm going to go to this school, because I know a lot of my games will be in this area based on the other conference members,’” Mahony said. “And then all of a sudden they get there, they change conferences, and now my parents can't come, my family members can't come to games regularly, because we're playing in a different place.”


Mahony said he is interested in seeing if conferences will begin to work together in the future on scheduling to make these changes less volatile.


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