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Murray State Board of Regents accepts invitation to join the Missouri Valley Conference

Missouri Valley Conference

The Murray State University Board of Regents unanimously voted to accept a bid to join the Missouri Valley Conference this summer for all the university’s 15 athletic teams except for football and rifle. The move will largely end the university’s membership in the Ohio Valley Conference, a conference the university co-founded more than 70 years ago.

Murray State will become the eleventh member of the MVC on July 1, 2022, joining other member universities including Belmont University, the University of Evansville and Southern Illinois University.

The university is also “actively engaged in the membership process” for its football team to join the Missouri Valley Football Conference, a stand-alone and independent conference of football teams with most of the same institutions as the MVC. Murray State’s well-renowned and nationally-ranked rifle program will continue to compete in the OVC, according to a Murray State release.

The MVC is the second-oldest NCAA Division I conference, going into 115 seasons of competition, according to an MVC release.

At the Board of Regents meeting Friday morning, Murray State President Bob Jackson and several board members stressed the historic nature of the move, with Jackson ranking the vote up with moments such as when Racer athletics moved up to NCAA Division I competition for sports.

“This is a major institutional decision,” Jackson said. “It’s good for our fans, our supporters, our alumni, our donor base.”

In particular, Jackson said the geographic footprint across multiple states that the MVC covers align well with Murray State’s footprint: 91% of Murray State’s students come from that footprint, and about 80% of alumni live in the region that MVC member institutions are located.

Jackson said the university weighed the financial impact of moving to a conference like the MVC that could obtain multiple bids to the “March Madness” NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball tournament. Conferences can earn windfalls – usually divvied up among member institutions – for having more teams appear and win in the widely popular tournament through lucrative TV deals.

Jackson also thanked the OVC for the support the university had received over several decades. He said the exit fee to leave the Ohio Valley Conference is $1 million, and there could be discussion in the future about if Murray State only partially leaves the conference instead of a full exit.

Jackson said with the football program not leaving the OVC yet for another season, the delay provides the OVC more stability in having enough football teams to automatically qualify the conference a bid into the NCAA Division I FCS postseason football tournament.

“We want to make sure that we leave in the right way,” Jackson said.

Ohio Valley Conference Commissioner Beth DeBauche in a statement said the conference is committed to providing Racer student-athletes with “championships experiences” through the remainder of the university’s membership with the conference, along with Murray State having “affiliate memberships in some sports.”

An OVC spokesperson said he did not have additional information regarding conversations surrounding an exit fee. The OVC sued Eastern Kentucky University and Jacksonville State University in August over the issue of paying an exit fee as the universities were leaving the conference.

Some universities have left the OVC in recent months for other conferences, including Belmont University also announcing a move in September to the MVC.

Much of the board of regents meeting went through details about the MVC as a conference and Murray State’s past presentation to the MVC to join the conference, emphasizing the historical success of its men’s basketball program, the academic achievement of its student-athletes, and the university’s passionate fanbase and market potential.

Murray State Athletics Director Kevin Saal said he’s spent time one-on-one with various coaches of Murray State teams getting feedback on the potential transition.

“Every sport is its own different brand,” Saal said. “A decision of this magnitude has different implications for different programs.”

The CFSB Center is hosting a free “community event” for Murray State fans and supporters on Monday, Jan. 10, at noon as a celebration of the university’s entry into the MVC. A press conference with Murray State and MVC officials will follow the event.

"Liam Niemeyer is a reporter for the Ohio Valley Resource covering agriculture and infrastructure in Ohio, Kentucky and West Virginia and also serves Assistant News Director at WKMS. He has reported for public radio stations across the country from Appalachia to Alaska, most recently as a reporter for WOUB Public Media in Athens, Ohio. He is a recent alumnus of Ohio University and enjoys playing tenor saxophone in various jazz groups."
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