The OVC basketball tournament tipped off Wednesday at Municipal Auditorium. The tournament is one of my favorite events on the Nashville sports calendar each year.
But for how much longer? The OVC is moving the tournament to Evansville, Ind., in 2018. It will be just the second time it will be held somewhere other than Nashville since 1994.
It's just a one-year deal to move the tournament, apparently due to frustrations with the facilities at Municipal Auditorium and, according to multiple sources, a perceived advantage for Belmont (and presumably Tennessee State) playing in their own city.
Regardless of the reasons, the move creates doubt about the tournament's long term future in Nashville.
It's time for all the parties involved to step back and realize that Nashville has been and will continue to be the best home for what is one of college basketball's most exciting conference tournaments.
For starters, it is the geographical center of a conference that spans from eastern Kentucky to Missouri and from central Illinois to Alabama. Five of the conference's 12 teams are in Tennessee, and the OVC headquarters are located just down the road in Brentwood.
Nashville is also a desirable location for fans looking to travel in the first week of March. The city's backdrop of entertainment, nightlife, restaurants and hotels make it the perfect host for the downtown tournament. How many fans want to travel to Evansville?
The greatest testament to the tournament's appeal in Nashville is the sizable contingents of fans that have come from Murray State, Morehead State, Eastern Kentucky and Austin Peay in recent years. In fact, Murray State and Austin Peay have had just as big, if not bigger crowds than Belmont for recent tournament games, making claims that the Bruins have an unfair advantage playing the tournament on a "homecourt" in Nashville ludicrous.
That assertion from some rival athletic directors and decision makers in the league isn't new. Before the decision to move next year's tournament to Evansville was made, sources tell Newschannel 5 there was a push within the conference to create a rule that would require Belmont and TSU to stay at the downtown hotels booked by the tournament and not on campus. Both schools have chosen to keep their student-athletes housed on campus during the tournament and require them to still go to class.
Think about that for a second. There were administrators in the OVC that were trying to pass a rule that would take student-athletes out of class more.
Sounds like a case of sour grapes to me. After all, Belmont's surpassed even it's own wildest expectations entering the league, winning four of five regular season titles and two conference tournaments already. The result of these politics is the tournament heading to Evansville next year, a less desirable location where zero student-athletes will be able to actually be students that week. I don't see how that's better.
This move also needs to serve as a wake up call to Municipal Auditorium and the city of Nashville. If the old arena wants to keep one of it's bigger yearly events, improvements have to be made. The OVC does a great job of dressing up the 55 year old arena each year to make it a great atmosphere in the arena and an appealing product for television. But behind the scenes, the locker rooms are cramped and antiquated, and media facilities are second rate.
It's time for an upgrade. But that upgrade can be done in Nashville in the same arena that's been the perfect host for the OVC Tournament for 23 of the last 24 years.
So as the tournament continues through a climactic championship game Saturday night, go check out the action because you won't be disappointed. It's the best of what March Madness has to offer; do or die games full of drama and buzzer-beaters with a NCAA Tournament berth on the line. You'll see fans from 11 different OVC institutions that will come to Nashville to have a fun weekend and see their team's one shining moment.
Let's just hope they come back in 2019 for good.